More than 925,000 people have earned the CompTIA A+ certification for IT technicians during the past 20 years, but the very first was Patrick Farley, a training systems developer for Compaq's server tech support, who was certified on March 19, 1993.
"At the time, we hadn't focused on any PC certifications, just on a number of networking ones from Novell and Microsoft," Farley recalls.
Compaq was one of the reseller and vendor companies that allowed representatives to help the Association of Better Computer Dealers (or "ABCD," the organization that became CompTIA in August 1993) develop the certification. Compaq asked Farley to take the new exam to learn how it should prepare its server tech support staff to earn the credential.
Farley is now a systems engineer for IBM Systems & Technology Group, where he has worked since 1996. In addition to the CompTIA A+ certification, he holds the CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Linux+ and CompTIA Security+ certifications, plus numerous credentials from the likes of IBM, Microsoft, Novell and VMware.
"Back in the day, any little highlight on my resume helped me differentiate myself," he says. "I also liked how the articulation agreements in place allowed me to use the CompTIA A+ as an elective credit that counted towards my bachelor's degree" earned online at Excelsior College.
ABCD developed the entry-level certification to remedy the "spotty" quality of PC technical support and training in the early 1990s, recalls Aaron Woods, who in 1993 was director of national service programs for Intelligent Electronics, a reseller/distributor then supporting about 800 computer centers.
"Resellers saw within their own technician staffs, and the OEMs saw from feedback from customers that we didn't have a consistent level of quality of technicians across the board," recalls Woods, now director of Xerox Corp.'s North American Reseller Relationships and Partner programs.
From late 1991 into early 1993, Woods worked with the team of subject matter experts (including vendors such as Compaq, HP and IBM, as well as dealers) to help ABCD develop the test objectives focused on technical and troubleshooting skills needed by PC technicians.
"We knew we needed to provide some level of quality for resellers' technician training," says Woods. "We also believed that a standard would help OEMs' development of their own training programs."
Mission accomplished, Woods believes. "The objectives we had for the certification were met," he says. "The OEMs that took part in the exam development embraced it, and we set the stage for CompTIA Network+ and some of the other certifications that came right after."
Ongoing Exam Evolution
Twenty years after its introduction, CompTIA A+ remains the industry's only vendor-neutral certification that validates potential IT technicians' hardware, software, trouble-shooting and "soft" skills, says Carol Balkcom, CompTIA director of product management.
The exam is currently delivered in 124 countries in multiple languages, with Japanese and German versions of the 800 series CompTIA A+ exams available soon. In 2012, CompTIA's testing partners delivered nearly 116,000 CompTIA A+ exams worldwide, logging double-digit, year-over-year growth rates in the Middle East and Africa.
In addition, the CompTIA A+ certification:
- Is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), generally recognized as the highest standard in personnel certification accreditation
- Conforms to the international standard ISO/IEC 17024 for developing and maintaining certifications
- Is a baseline certification in the U.S. Department of Defense 8570.01-M Directive for the military's Information Assurance Technical Level 1 personnel.
"CompTIA A+ remains a certification that is used for corporation-specific training programs," says Balkcom, citing how companies on the CompTIA A+ Certification Advisory Committee use the certification to strengthen their IT organizations:
- ASI Systems Integration in New York City requires CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+ as prerequisites for employment to reduce the time needed to train technicians from six months to less than 90 days.
- Ricoh sales representatives promote the benefits of Ricoh technicians' CompTIA certifications, including CompTIA A+, when selling company solutions.
- Lenovo requires CompTIA A+ certification of authorized service technicians.
- Dell offers incentives to its support personnel to become CompTIA A+ certified and requires the certification when hiring service technicians.
- Field Nation features thousands of individuals certified in CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+ in its database of independent field service PC technicians. The company reports that customers specifically ask for CompTIA A+ certified technicians, and that technicians can command higher pay when certified.
The CompTIA A+ Certification Advisory Committee updates the exam's objectives every three years to reflect changing technology and industry needs. A continuing education program, introduced in 2011, requires CompTIA A+ certification holders keep their skills sharp.
Twenty years ago, when the exam debuted, computer technology featured Windows 3.1 and MS-DOS, hard drives measured in megabytes, x386 and 486 CPUs, monochrome CRT displays, parallel printer ports, 3 ½-inch disk drives and dial-up 14.4kbps modems. Now, the new 800 series CompTIA A+, introduced in 2012, includes objectives on mobile devices (iOS and Android operating systems), virtualization basics, and an increased emphasis on troubleshooting and security. "Over time, as technology changed and new devices became part of the standard IT environment, the emphasis of the CompTIA A+ exam moved away from focus on standalone PC technology and computer repair," says Balkcom. "The 800 series exams address a broader IT service and support environment."
Given the worldwide IT skills gap, Balkcom expects the use of CompTIA A+ to grow internationally.
"Technology is becoming pervasive in everyday life around the globe in a way that didn't exist 10 years ago," she says. "As countries develop, the need for IT skills and training also develops, and in many cases government is sponsoring training and certification. The CompTIA A+ exam is supporting that growth."