How to Become a Certified Mac Professional

Anyone in the IT field knows that technology certifications can be a great way to build your resume and showcase your abilities. Microsoft, Cisco, and many PC vendors offer certification programs for systems administrators, engineers, technicians, and support staff. Many companies also offer application-specific certifications such as Microsoft’s MOUS and Adobe’s ACE programs. Along with vendor certification programs there are also independent organizations that provide industry standard and vendor-neutral programs, most notably CompTIA, which provides programs for desktop technicians, network engineers, and Internet professionals among others.

Certifications are an excellent way for employers to quickly size up the skills of a prospective employee without needing to ask a series of very detailed questions. This is one reason why certifications are often listed as requirements for a job or why having specific certifications make your resume more likely to be considered for a job if other candidates are lacking in certifications. Although certification programs have been available for almost every IT profession for over a decade, certifications for Mac-specific knowledge have been almost nonexistent for much of that time. However, in recent years, Apple has moved to provide Mac professionals with a series of certification options that can help make your expertise clear to employers or clients quickly and easily.

Although not as broad as Microsoft’s wide array of certification choices, Apple’s certification program includes offerings designed for users of Apple’s professional software titles, technicians, and support personnel; and systems administrators and engineers. Apple also offers a program for technical trainers. This article looks at the various certifications available from Apple and other vendors that can be important for Mac professionals.

Apple Certified Desktop Technician and Apple Certified Portable Technician

The Apple Certified Desktop and Portable Technician certifications are actually two separate certifications for ensuring that an individual has the knowledge required to diagnose hardware, Mac OS X, and basic networking problems and make appropriate repairs. It indicates understanding basic troubleshooting and repair methodology as well as where/how to find required information for appropriate troubleshooting and repair. It also covers the diagnostic tools and supply channels used by Apple Authorized Service Providers.

These certifications are most helpful if you want to work as a technician in an Apple Authorized service facility. Apple requires that anyone doing repair work in a service center hold a current certification, and only individuals holding this certification are allowed to make warranty repairs to a Mac (and to access warranty-voiding components without actually voiding a Mac’s warranty). The desktop certification is more helpful than the portable certification because many portable repairs are facilitated by mailing computers back to Apple for repair.

Another point of value for this certification is the Apple Self Servicing Account program. Generally speaking, only authorized service centers can perform warranty repairs and have the capability to order replacement components from Apple. However, for companies and other organizations that meet certain requirements can apply to become self-servicing and be granted the capability to perform warranty repairs and order parts. This program requires that any employees conducting repairs be currently certified to work on the hardware in question. This can be a value-added feature if you are applying for a technician job beyond the requisite radius from the nearest service center.

NOTE: Although these certifications grant the right to perform warranty repairs and to access warranty-voiding components, individuals holding these certifications must be employed by an Apple Authorized Service Center or an organization that is a self-servicing facility to perform such work.

Each of these certifications requires successful completion of two Apple exams. For the ACDT certification, you must pass the Apple Desktop Service Exam and for the ACPT the Apple Portable Service Exam. Additionally, you must pass either the Mac OS X Service and Support Exam or the Mac OS X Support Essentials Exam to qualify for either certification.

AppleCare Technician Training Package

The Applecare Technician Training Package is a self-study course presented on a series of CDs (with access to additional web-based information) that covers the material included on the Apple Desktop Service, Apple Portable Service, and Mac OS X Service and Support exams. The package also includes access to Apple diagnostic tools and references used by Apple Authorized Service Providers. In addition to the AppleCare Technician Training package, Apple training centers also offer instructor-led classes covering the relevant material.

Training for the Mac OS X Support Essentials exam is available from Apple training centers. Much of the material covered in Apple’s training program is also covered in the Apple Training Series: Mac OS X Support Essentials book by Owen Linzmayer, including the reference material used in the class and instructions for completing the related exercises.

NOTE: Choosing to take the Mac OS X Support Essentials Exam also grants the Apple Certified Help Desk Professional certification.

Apple Certified Help Desk Specialist

The Apple Certified Help Desk Specialist certification demonstrates that you have a solid understanding of how to troubleshoot and support Mac OS X. It is an excellent choice for candidates looking to work either as a help desk or desktop support technician. Unlike Apple’s hardware certification programs, this certification focuses on troubleshooting Mac OS X and some application problems. It is not designed as a hardware troubleshooting program.

The ACHDS certification is an excellent starting point for Mac IT professionals. It demonstrates a solid understanding of how to work with and troubleshoot Mac OS X. The training materials available also provide very solid coverage of every area of how Mac OS X functions—in addition to troubleshooting strategies. This makes the program particularly attractive to individuals new to Mac OS X as well as experienced Mac OS X users looking to move into the IT field.

Attaining the ACHDS certification requires passing only one exam: the Mac OS X Support Essentials exam. This exam is also required or available as part of the Apple Certified Technical Coordinator and Apple Certified Desktop and Portable Technician certifications, making it an ideal choice for all Mac professionals.

Training for the Mac OS X Support Essentials exam is available from Apple training centers. Much of the material covered in Apple’s training program is also covered in the Apple Training Series: Mac OS X Support Essentials book by Owen Linzmayer, including the reference material used in the class and instructions for completing the related exercises.

Apple Certified Technical Coordinator

The Apple Certified Technical Coordinator program identifies individuals who have significant understanding of support Mac OS X as well as a basic knowledge of Mac OS X Server. The ACTC certification can be a great help if you are looking for jobs that involve basic networking duties. Although the preceding certifications all focus on technical support jobs, this one focuses more on network and server skill sets. If you are interested in pursuing a career focused on Mac OS X Server, this certification is almost a must. This certification demonstrates that you are capable of handling the most common Mac network job functions. In addition to resume building, this certification is ideal for consultants working with Mac platform because it identifies a significant level of understanding about Mac networking concepts.

The ACTC certification requires passing both the Mac OS X Support Essentials Exam and the Mac OS X Server Essentials Exam. As noted earlier, acquiring this certification includes the Apple Certified Help Desktop Specialist certification as well.

Available Training Materials: Training for the Mac OS X Server Essentials exam is available as a five-day training class from Apple Training centers. As with the Support Essentials course, the reference material and exercises for the course are covered in the Apple Training Series: Mac OS X Server Essentials book by Shoun Regan. If you opt to use the book as a training source, keep in mind that you will need two computers to complete the exercises (one to run Mac OS X and one to run Mac OS X Server.

Apple Certified Systems Administrator

The Apple Certified Systems Administrator program is the most detailed certification program that Apple offers. It represents a significant leap upward in the amount of knowledge from that demonstrated by achieving the ACTC certification. The actual certification is designed so that candidates can specialize in various aspects of Mac network management, enabling you to identify specific job functions or environment types to potential clients and employers.

The ASCA is Apple’s most impressive IT certification, and because it offers specialization certificates, it enables you to truly identify yourself as an expert in specific Mac network technology concepts and skills. For individuals interesting in Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server administration and engineering, it is a powerful resume booster. The requisite training also provides you with a solid understanding of advanced technical concepts used in some very specific areas.

All ASCA-related exams are elective and each is assigned a certification credit value. To receive ASCA certification, you must receive a total of seven credits from your choices of elective exams. The exams include Mac OS X Deployment (two credits), Xsan Administration (three credits), Directory Service Integration and Administration (four credits), Security Best Practices (three credits), Podcast and Streamed Internet Media Administration (three credits), and Mac OS X Server Command Lin Install and Configuration (three credits).

Training for the various ASCA exams is offered only through Apple training centers. There are no training texts or guides currently published for these exams, making this the most expensive Apple certification choice (as well as the most impressive).

Apple Certified Trainer

The Apple Certified Trainer program is designed for those individuals who want to teach Apple training curricula. It is a required certification if you want to teach at an Apple Certified Training Center. Training classes offered by Apple Certified Trainers and Training Centers are listed on the Apple Training website.

If you are a technical trainer interested in teaching official Apple courses, this certification is a requirement. However, it is also a powerful certification if you simply have an interest in working as a trainer with a non-Apple facility or consultant because it establishes your credibility not only as a Macintosh technology expert but also as a trainer.

The Apple Certified Trainer program is more extensive than a technical certification program. To qualify, you must submit an application to the program, attend special train the trainer classes, and demonstrate your ability to teach an Apple course. You are also required to pass a background check and are expected to lead an evaluation class. For each course that you want to teach, you also need to pass the appropriate certification exam with an instructor level score. This is a higher score than is required to achieve the related certification and demonstrates that you have a complete understanding of the material that you will be teaching.

Apple Consultants Network and Certification Alliance

In addition to being resume-building, Apple technical certifications have another advantage. They enable you to join the Apple Consultants Network and the Apple Certification Alliance. The Apple Certification Alliance provides various advantages, most notably discounts on Apple Training Series books published by PeachPit Press, discounts on Apple certification exams, and listings in the Apple Certification Alliance Directory. The directory is a public and searchable database of all individuals worldwide who hold current Apple certifications.

The Apple Consultants Network also provides a searchable directory of Mac consultants. However, the Apple Consultants Network allows you to create a page within the directory specifying your certifications and areas of expertise along with highlighting specific projects that you have accomplished. Membership in the Apple Consultants Network also provides discounts on certification exams and training, as well as access to networking opportunities with other Mac consultants including the annual Apple Camp for Consultants. The networking opportunities as well as the referrals provided by both the Certification Alliance and Consultants network websites can be a huge advantage for individual Mac consultants and companies that provide consulting and repair services to the Mac community.

Apple Pro Application Certifications

The Apple Certified Pro program is designed to address Apple’s lineup of pro-level applications, including Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, Motion, Shake, Logic, and Aperture. Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, and Logic offer various levels of certification. Although these programs are meant more for creative professionals who work with the related applications, they might also be of interest to technology professionals—particularly those working in the media field (because they demonstrate knowledge of the products that will be supported in addition to a more general knowledge indicated by a technology certification).

However, the Pro certification exams of most interest to IT professionals are the two technical certifications that apply to Final Cut Pro. These certifications cover how to optimize a workstation and network for video production and how to manage an Xsan environment for video work.

Level one Pro certification can be achieved solely by passing the appropriate exam. Higher levels of certification require attending instructor-led training classes as well as passing the appropriate exams. For many of the level-one exams, the Apple Training Series includes books that cover the curriculum of the class.

Non-Apple Certifications of Interest to Mac Technology Professionals

Beyond the programs offered by Apple, there is a wide range of certification options that Mac professionals might consider. Some of these are application-specific, others are platform neutral, and some are not Mac-related at all. Each of the following programs demonstrates a level of knowledge about commonly used technologies both in the Mac field and in IT in general.

Adobe Certified Expert Program and Quark Certification

Adobe and Quark both offer certification programs for their respective products. Although they are application-specific programs intended to ensure that creative and design professionals are adept in the use of these products, they can also be beneficial to Mac IT professionals. As a general rule, most Mac support jobs exist in either the creative or education fields. For those providing support to creative professionals, a solid understanding of the applications being used can be extremely helpful. Understanding how Quark, Photoshop, and Illustrator are supported to function can make troubleshooting them much easier. It can also aid in understanding exactly what a designer is trying to convey when experiencing a problem and discussing application purchases and overall technical strategies. As such, these certifications, like the Apple Pro certification, demonstrate your understanding of the products and concepts in use, as well as your troubleshooting and/or administration abilities.

CompTIA Certifications

CompTIA offers a number of industry-standard, vendor-neutral certification. The most well-known of these is the A+ for PC technicians. Although the A+ is not the first thought for a Mac technician, it can still be useful because there are very few Mac-only environments. Thus, having a certification that demonstrates you are capable of working with PCs as well as Macs, and that you are capable of troubleshooting Windows and PC hardware issues, can be very helpful.

CompTIA also offers the Network + certification that conveys a strong knowledge of networking concepts and technologies. The Network + exam tests general knowledge of network hardware functions, protocols, and troubleshooting. It is not a test of any specific platform, however. The Network + is a good choice for anyone working in systems or network administration.

Another excellent consideration is the Security + certification, which identifies individuals with a solid understanding of how to identify, prevent, and respond to network security breaches. It covers topics such as encryption and secure communications, as well as network security strategies and general computer and server security concepts. In today’s world, security is a major concern for any network or server administrator, regardless of platform, which makes this a useful certification.

The Server + certification demonstrates an understanding of basic server management and configuration concepts. Although it is vendor-neutral, this can be a good addition to a resume that includes the Apple Certified Technical Coordinator certification. As a general rule, however, it might be better to opt for a vendor-specific certification if you expect to work in a dual or multiplatform environment.

The Linux + certification might also be a worthy consideration for Mac IT professionals. Linux has achieved a solid foothold in the IT industry and the Linux + certification demonstrates a solid grasp of the Linux platform (and, by extension, Unix). However, given the array of Linux releases available, CompTIA’s vendor-neutral approach makes it a good choice for achieving certification of your understanding of the platform.

CompTIA also offers programs of interest to those working in Internet-specific capacities and in project management. Although not of interest to the broad spectrum of Mac professionals, they can be helpful for those working predominantly in the Internet fields or for developers.

Microsoft Certified Professional Program

There are few Mac-only environments out there. Many Windows Server–based networks include Mac clients. Likewise, many networks that include Mac OS X Server also include Windows servers. For this reason, having at least one of the Microsoft server certifications can be helpful to most Mac IT professionals. Depending on the type of jobs you are interested in, having a solid understanding of Windows servers can be critical to systems administration positions.

Novell Certifications

Although Novell does not enjoy the level of market share that it once did, it is still alive and well in many networks. Like Apple, Novell has a long history of use in education. If you are considering jobs in systems and network administration, Novell certifications might be worth considering. In addition to the Certified Novell Administrator and Engineer programs, Novell also offers a Linux certification program. More information on these are available.

Cisco Certifications

The Cisco certification lineup is really intended to demonstrate competence when constructing and managing the physical components of a network. The various exams and certifications focus on how to configure and manage Cisco routers and switches (although much of the underlying knowledge translates to other vendors as well). This places Cisco certification down the line somewhat for Mac professionals unless you are interested in moving into full network engineering and administration jobs. However, some smaller organizations do expect the job roles of network and systems administrator to be handled by a single person, so although this isn’t at the top of the list, depending on your goals, it might be worth considering.
BrainBench Mac OS X Certifications

BrainBench is an online technology certification company. Unlike most technology certification programs, in which the exam is conducted at a Prometric training center, BrainBench enables you to take certification exams from the comfort of your home through a web-based interface. BrainBench exams are typically more general in content and significantly less expensive than other certification (some exams are offered for free).

BrainBench has provided various Mac certification exams for quite some time. In fact they have a longer running history than most of Apple’s current certification options. Although they provide exams for many different fields of expertise, they specifically offer Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server exams as well as a handful of application exams that might interest Mac professionals.

BrainBench exams typically do not bestow the same level of credibility by employers that vendor-specific or industry standard exams do. This is partly because you can take them in an open-book format if you choose. However, they still demonstrate a certain level of knowledge and capability. Although they are not a replacement for other certification programs, they can help build your resume, particularly for areas in which there are no other appropriate certification options. Because BrainBench periodically offers exams for free or at low cost, it can be a way to test and demonstrate your knowledge in new areas without the investment of a more mainstream certification.

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