The Diversified Trainer

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The best trainers must be experts in the particular areas in which they are training, and they must always be looking for the opportunity to provide “value-add” for their students. But just like with investments, there is great value in being diversified in your certifications, not putting all of your efforts into one area. However, diversification is not without costs and some drawbacks. It takes time and dedication and can sometimes be misunderstood.

In times of economic prosperity, training budgets are large, and the need for lots of training in a particularly popular area is high. In prosperous times, a trainer may be able to get away with being an expert in only one area—perhaps even with being an expert in only one portion of one vendor’s products.

In times of economic downturn, it would seem that the more areas one can train in the better. This would be a true statement if one were able to be an expert in every area in which he is certified. But what does it take to be an expert?

Lifelong Learning
One thing’s for sure; a certified trainer has to be a lifelong learner because maintaining certifications requires retesting and additional learning every time a vendor-specific certification changes or when technologies are updated for non-vendor-specific training. For example, within the past year or two, Microsoft required its MCSEs on NT 4.0 to upgrade to Microsoft Windows 2000, Novell required CNIs to upgrade to version 5.0 and then to 6.0, and in most cases Cisco requires that the CCNA examination be retaken every three years.

Also, a really good trainer brings in analogies and stories comparing one product with another during the course of a class. Students who come to an MCSE course on Windows 2000 server may also have Cisco routers. The trainer who can explain how something like DHCP can be configured from the router or on the server provides a truly value-added service that neither the “Microsoft only” nor the “Cisco only” trainer can provide. This sort of diversification doesn’t just indicate knowledge of two areas; it indicates understanding of how the two vendors’ products actually work together.

So, What Should a Trainer Do?
Pay attention to market demands. Be good, really good, in two or three certification areas, and know enough to be effective in one or two other areas. Take time to do the hands-on practice to be sure you have the real-world experience to support your teaching, whether it be through actual work such as consulting or through working with a test lab in your office or home. If you try to be a “paper certification” trainer, you may talk your way into the first gig, but you won’t get a second chance regardless of how good a performer you are.

Jeanne Anderson at INET Solutions, a corporate training center in Long Island, shies away from the trainer who lists a huge litany of certifications. She feels that a person who is spread across too many certifications may be a certification junkie rather than a professional. Plus, with the wide availability of brain dumps, it is possible for a person to pass a certification examination without really knowing the material.

A person can be really good in few areas, but no one, not even the best of us, can be an expert in a large number of certifications.

When I asked Neal Upton, president of Lantech of America Inc., what he thought about trainers diversifying their certifications, this was his response: “When you say certification diversity, are you referring to cross-platform (Novell/Microsoft) or cross-practice (Cisco/Microsoft)? The former seems not too valuable to our clients; the latter is priceless. Our clients’ environments are always very diverse in their product mix, so having a trainer that can and does step out of the course to apply the material to an in-class client’s platform is real value.

“It’s impossible to implement or manage an IS platform today that does not cross at least three skill sets,” he added, “and having instructors with certifications in at least two of the three allows for end-to-end-solutions discussions in class. From the trainer’s standpoint, it better insulates them from technology shift and also helps keep their excitement level high.”

Diversify Your Expertise
So diversify to hedge your bets and expand your employability. But do so with care, making sure that you truly take the time to be an expert in each type of training you plan to provide. Your students deserve nothing less.

Ann Beheler is executive director/dean of Collin County Community College’s Engineering Technology Division, which houses one of the nine Cisco CCNP academic instructor training centers in the world. E-mail Ann at


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