CompTIA Server+ and Low Poly People…

So, I missed a few posts over the past week or so. Actually, I’ve been really busy, but for a good cause. I’ve been fortunate enough to be selected by CompTIA to beta test the new Server+ exam. The busy part is all of the studying I am doing to try to pass the exam. I have a very short window of time in which to take the exam as well. Servers are not a new thing for me, but I have my doubts about passing the test, so I’m trying really, really hard to study up for it.

At work we use a few servers. From file hosts to PXE boot servers, but we don’t use them the way most of the IT world does. Here at work, our servers are offline and not connected to the internet at all. We manage and maintain nodes, as well as re-image them “remotely”, but by remotely, I mean that we do it in the same room from the servers to the machines. We don’t do patch management or updates, either. Some of our servers are running the same way they started out five years ago, because they are closed loop systems. Often component fail, but we don’t upgrade them, we repair them with pre-stocked and approved replacements of the exact same parts, even if those parts are no longer manufactured. Some of the motherboards and graphics cards we use have been out of production before we installed the servers. It’s just not exactly the way servers are typically used, especially in the scope of this exam.

Of course my server at home is a web, FTP, photo, and Jabber server, but I’m not sure that it’s being implemented the way a typical IT setup would be. It is only accessed by myself and my wife, and it is tied specifically to our cell phones with dynamic IP addresses. I manage users on a one on one basis, because there are only 2 users. Not your typical use case, for sure.

So, I’m doing a lot of studying. Fortunately for me, my company provides a video series specific to the Server+ exam, albeit the previous version of the test (of course, the one I’m taking is a beta, after all), which is free for me to peruse. I also picked up a Sybex Server+ book, which I’m reading through as well. Kindle readers can be really handy! If I had to order the book, I would lose a week of study time waiting for it to arrive in Alaska!

All of that to say I’ve been busy.

In the interim, however, I’ve been playing around with the Low Poly course lessons some more, and been trying to make some low poly people. There are several styles of low poly people, so I’m trying out a few of them. If you can see this posts pictures in your viewer, then hopefully you can see the little police man that I made. Well, I guess at the moment, he’s just a man in a blue shirt, but I was going to put a badge and tie on him later.

Linux – keep it simple.

Picked up two more badges from CompTIA!

Well, I’m not 100% sure how valuable they are, but I picked up a few more CompTIA badges recently. I’ve been going through the CompTIA certifications to renew some that I had, and to pick up some new ones. All told, this now gives me eight badges: A+, Net+, Sec+, Linux+, CIOS, CSSS, CSIS, and CLNP. Now I just need a purpose for all of that alphabet soup!

Previously, my job required just one certification, Linux+, but the month that I went to take the test, my work changed the one requirement from Linux+ to Net+. So I finished taking the Linux+ test, and then the next month took the Net+ test. Now, my work actually doesn’t require any certification at all, “sort of”. It is a little bit complicated in the contractor world, but essentially, my actual employer does not require it, but while the company that they contract through does not either, they are pushing for it with bonuses for companies under them to have certified technicians. I get the feeling that my company will one day decide to secure the bonus by mandating certifications.

If that ever happens, well, I’ll be ready. But for now, I just have a lot of alphabet soup. Required or not, though, I like taking these certification tests because I feel it keeps me sharp and in the loop about the IT world. Sometimes we get rather specialized on a certain group of equipment, and we start to loose focus on the IT world as a whole. These certs help me with that by making sure I’m current on best practices, infrastructure, and technology.

Now I just have to decide which one to take next. I think I’ll go for something like Server+. Any suggestions?

Linux – keep it simple.

My take on the CompTIA A+ exam

Aplus Logo Certified CE

Recently, my work “strongly recommended” that I go back and get the CompTIA A+ certification. Interestingly, CompTIA uses a pyramid style of certification, where the higher certifications on the pyramid renew the lower certifications. Oddly, I have two certifications above the A+ lever, Network+ and Linux+, but having a higher certification, though it renews lower certifications, does not grant you the lower certs. So, having two levels above A+ did not grant me A+.

In another twist of irony, most companies that require a certification for a job request the highest level of needed certification, anything above and beyond is great, anything less is not needed. A great example of this is for my own work. They required me to have Linux+ to work on a specific system. So, I procured Linux+ and all was well. Until they then required Network+ to work on another particular system. So, despite a narrow deadline, I did some studying, and by God’s grace, I was able to pass the exam in such short order.

But, in both of the above scenarios, they did not require A+, Sec+, or any other certification. They picked the highest “required” certification for that position. Now, however, due to some changes in the company, it seems that they are requiring employees to “fill in” the underlying certifications to meet up with the highest certification that you hold. Not really a problem, since they are kind enough to pay for the certification exams if you pass, so it just means hitting the books and filling in some blanks in my certificate pathway.

But, enough rambling. Let’s get to the point of the post: my take on the CompTIA A+ exam. It is a two part exam, so I’ll break it down into two groups, the 220-901 and the 220-902.

220-901: This portion many refer to as “the hardware test”. This covers everything hardware, from printers to cables, to hard drives and ram. I’ll be honest, I was a little daunted by this portion of the exam, hearing horror stories about having to memorize the number of pins on a DDR2 RAM stick, and needing to regurgitate USB variant speed tables. So, I memorized all of that stuff. Guess how much of it was on the exam? None.

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure that those questions can be asked on the test. However, none of the questions I had on the test were about that. Rather, I received questions like, “If you want to transfer files from computer A to computer B, what is the BEST/FASTEST way to do that?” Is it USB 3.0, FireWire, Set up a FTP server, or use 802.11ac?

The practical portions involved scenarios with “drawers” full of “parts” (hard drives, graphics cards, etc.) and “computers” that needed parts so they could be used for different purposes. In one question, one was required to be a CAD computer, and the other a media center, and you had to divvy out the parts you had to accomplish both needs.

I do take umbrage with these questions to some degree. Any question that includes BEST or FASTEST in the title are a bit ambiguous. For instance, in the file transfer example that I have here, really depends on the setup of your machines. If both machines have a 802.11ac wireless card, that may be fast, but if they are not on a network together, or depending on the operating system installed, ad-hoc networking may take a while to set up.

USB 3.0 may be swell, but are you using a thumb stick? Again, depending on the OS, you may have trouble with what file system you are using. Do you need to maintain permissions? If so, when transferring via exFAT/FAT32 thumb stick, you may loose the NTFS or EXT3/4 file permissions.

Just how many files are we transferring? File size may come into play as well.

However, I understood the intent of the question and picked the fastest connection for the least amount of user work. The test did not ask me any specific speed or pin numbers. The exam seemed to focus on general ideas and principles rather than the true nuts and bolts of hardware.

220-902: This test was a bit unusual to me personally. The 902 test appears to be the “Operating Systems” test. CompTIA is a “vendor neutral” company that has “vendor neutral” exams. Except that all of the questions on the exam I took were related to Window. Mac/Apple and Linux were part of the study material, but were not actually on the exam that I took. Wait, I take that back, I seem to recall that there was one Linux question on the 89 question exam. I do not recall any Mac/Apple questions at all.

I actually understand that the average technician is going to run into more Windows computers that Linux/Apple ones. I can’t help but wonder, though, if this test should be part of a different certification. Like Windows+. They have Linux+, so why not a Windows+ that covers all of these things? Ironically, having Linux+ renews the A+ (Windows+) so even CompTIA admits that Linux users have more skills that Windows ones. (Sorry, couldn’t help but point that out.)

For the most part, the exam itself was concerned with one subject: malware. In the exam that I took, it seemed as though 1/2 of the 89 question test was about Timmy, Rhonda, and Bob getting a virus, malware, trojan, or worm on their Windows computer, and you as a technician needed to pick the BEST course of action.

In most of these scenarios, several of the listed options would work, but they wanted the “best” one. So, the typical right answer was the safest option that kept as much of the end users data and saved the technicians time as much as possible. The rest of the test focused on boot loader issues and physical security, like man-traps.

Overall, the tests were not quite what I thought they would be. In general, I think that if you can answer the free online questions, like those at the examcompass, then you will probably be in good shape to pass this exam, even though that style of question did not appear on the exams that I took. The scores that I averaged at the examcompass.com more or less matched the scores I got during the real A+ exam.

Linux – keep it simple.

More “Stack-able” Certificates from CompTIA!

Some changes at my work are driving me to renew and gain new CompTIA certificates. What is a bit odd about the system, however, is the “stack-able” feature. Now you can not only get certificates for completing various exams, you can now “stack” some of the certificates to get special combined certificates.

Overall it is nice to have extra fluff for the resume, but I can’t help but feeling like I’m playing Gunstar Heroes and that I’ve just combined the laser beam with the flame thrower.

In any event, by taking one test, I have not only gained a certification, but I also gained two more stack-able specialties. Added to the one I already received, I now have effectively “doubled” the amount of certificates I have, without actually doing anything extra. If this sounds odd, let me explain:

At my work, I was required to get the Linux+ and the Network+ certificates, which I did. When I renewed them a couple of months ago, I was given the new stack-able certification of “CompTIA Linux Network Professional”. I’m now a registered CLNP. However, I’m a CLNP because I have a Linux+ and a Network+. Both of which are required for my job. You cannot be a CLNP without them. But I didn’t do anything extra to be a CLNP, there is no exam to become one.

Conversely, it was “strongly recommended” that I also go back and get the A+ certification, which I did, and received the A+ certificated. At the same time, however, having an A+ with a Network+ made me a “CompTIA IT Operations Specialist” (CIOS), and having an A+ with a Linux+ makes me a “CompTIA Systems Support Specialist” (CSSS). Since I didn’t do anything extra to gain these titles, I am just wondering if they hold any weight or have any real meaning.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not objecting to these new stack-able certs, I’m just not sure I understand the purpose of them. To maintain them, you have to maintain the two or more certifications that were combined to get them. On my certifications for A+, Net+, Linux+, there is a verification number, but there isn’t one for these combined certs. I suppose you would have to look them up by requesting if the applicant is certified in the underlying certifications.

It is pretty impressive, though, that in less than six months I have taken two tests (one renewal, one new) and effectively doubled the number of certifications that I hold. Can’t complain about that!

Linux – keep it simple.

CompTIA stackable certifications!

CompTIA has come out with a new way to “stack” certifications together. Now you can combine certificates that are current to make several different “stackable” badges. I think the overall idea is to have a single badge to take the place of two or three certifications to simplify conveying your competency.

Previously, while working in the IT industry, you would have to say something like, “I am certified Net+ and Linux+”. But now you can just say that you hold a CLNP instead. At least, that seems to be the goal.

I’m not sure if it is really useful or not, as they invented nearly a dozen stackable certifications, there are about as many combinations as there are certifications.

It does sound cooler though! It kind of reminds me of power ups in old video games (maybe new games too, I just haven’t played many recently). Sort of like in Heavy Barrel, if you get enough pieces, then you can have the super gun!

Makes me wonder what’s at the top of the stackable chain?

Linux – keep it simple.

CompTIA Network+ N10-006 exam

Among other certifications, one of the certs that I needed to renew was my CompTIA Network+ exam. The current series is N10-006, and to take the test locally through Pearson View costs $295! That is a hefty chunk of change. However, I need this certificate for my work, so I had little choice but to renew the certification.

Fortunately, my work was willing to foot the bill, provided that I pass the test. Unfortunately, the test is still $295 even if I were to fail. Last time that I took this test, I just barely passed, and I didn’t want a repeat of that.

On the previous test, I was using an outdated study book that was for an older version of the test than was currently in place. Some of the areas I struggled in the most were fiber optics and wireless technologies.

This time I decided to do things right and get the latest study guide, with the intent of doing better than last time. One would think that since I’m working in the IT world, I would be up to date on the latest technology, but I guess that really depends on where you work.

In my case, most of our facilities have rules banning the use of wireless technologies. On to of that, in almost 8 years at my work, I’ve only troubleshot a fiber optic network once, and I’ve never actually installed one anywhere. However, ask me to convert base 10 to base 8, or decimal to binary, and I’m your man!

I can imagine how others in my field may fall into this trap as well. The technologies around us are changing, but our local area network is not. We are required to recertify, even though the scope of our job hasn’t changed in years. In a way, these certification requirements might seem tedious or overwhelming, but really they are a blessing in disguise, as they make is keep up with the times.

So of you are taking the N10-006 test, either for the first time, or as a renewal, here’s what I did to prepare for the test. Not saying this is the only way, but this worked for me. Not only that, but rather than barely passing, my score was decent this time.

Last time I used “exam cram” books. I guess it got me through, but I feel that those are better suited for the technician who does work on the full scope of equipment covered by Network+ on a day to day basis. I needed something with more meat on it to teach me about things I’ve never done, or done very little of. So, I purchased this book:

http://www.mypearsonstore.com/bookstore/comptia-network-plus-n10-006-cert-guide-9780789754080

I didn’t purchase it there, and of you look online, it can be found cheaper, much, much cheaper.

After buying the book, I took a highlighter and highlighted key portions in every chapter. This was a huge help to me on the day of the test, as I thumbed through the book, looking over my highlighted portions just before the exam.

The book comes with a CD and software for practice tests, but I didn’t use it. I have a Linux computer, and the software was for Windows machines. Instead, I used this free online resource to take some practice tests:

http://www.examcompass.com/comptia/network-plus-certification/free-network-plus-practice-tests

With 20 test of 25 questions each, those 500 questions gave new a feel for areas I was weak in. After each test, it tells you the questions you got right or wrong, as well as what the right answer was, which was helpful.

As for the test itself, it has changed since I took it last. Before, it was just a series of multiple choice questions. They still had many of those, but the new test implemented “simulations”, or pop up windows with diagrams and pictures of computers and consoles that you could drag and drop or type in. They seemed a bit buggy to me though, after making a selection the simulation would close, even though you were not done yet. However, opening the simulation again proved that everything you changed was still there.

Hopefully, if you are looking to take the Network+ exam, then some of these notes were useful for you.

Linux – keep it simple.