Assessing the state of IT education at CompTIA's Academy Educator Conference
Posted on
August 3, 2015

CertMag attended CompTIA's Academy Educator Conference in Chicago.

CertMag got some serious schooling last weekend at CompTIA's Academy Educator & Learning Partner Conference. The conference was held July 31 - August 2 at the Hilton in Chicago. One of Chicago's nicknames is "America's Second City," but there was nothing second rate about the conference or its attendees. This annual event brings together top professionals in education, training and business for learning, discussion and power networking.

Like a country-bumpkin visiting the big-city for the first time, CertMag enjoyed wandering around wide-eyed and rubber-necking at the 185 excited and dedicated conference attendees. (Good things come in small packages.) Almost everyone liked being at the conference. According to Kirk Smallwood, CompTIA's Senior Director of U.S. Academic Sales, there is a "99 percent approval rating from attendees," with professionals coming to "look for ideas and best practices," to "learn from each other and see what works and doesn't work."

CompTIA, the Certification Industry's 800 Lb. gorilla, sponsors the event as a way to help schools at all levels appreciate the value of IT certifications. The gathering discussed some long-time obstacles facing schools, like limited budgets for IT training and a lack of awareness of how valuable certifications really are, and presented some useful solutions.

"IT skills can be used and applied in a wide variety of industries including sports, entertainment, health care, etc.," said Smallwood. He talked about the challenge of helping schools see the benefit of IT certs saying that a paradigm shift was needed among some educators and students to "understand and see the value of IT certifications." He especially wanted students to understand the value of certifications "early in school life and that millions of IT jobs are unfilled due to lack of qualified candidates."

Rushing through the doors Friday afternoon, (thanks to my new "friends" at TSA) we were just in time to catch the panel discussion, "Certification Today and Tomorrow: An investigation." We listened to Industry experts discuss certification today and the outlook for tomorrow. A couple of important takeaways for our readers are that hiring managers often don't fully understand and appreciate the value of certifications, and that four year colleges aren't exactly meeting employer's IT needs of employers. According to a recent study, 67 percent of recent IT grads expect their employers to completely train them in their first job. If ever there was an obvious value to being certified this is it.

CompTIA's message, like ours, is that certs can set job candidates apart from the herd. Certifications "allow potential employees to effectively demonstrate that they possess the necessary skills to meet job requirements," said Smallwood.

Of course security is still, and likely will always be, the pressing problem for IT. During the afternoon's "Lightning Round Tech Update" presenters reinforced our uneasiness by sharing a recent CompTIA study that showed companies are very concerned about security, and are in a complete blind panic, but don't know what to do about it. It appears that most of them are following the "junior high-school bully avoidance strategy" - Hope to simply slow down and inconvenience hackers enough that they move on to the next target.

Mobile devices certainly make our lives more convenient, but they've also introduced a much larger attack surface for companies struggling to find a balance between too much security (slow and cumbersome systems) and too little (high risk exposure) - business managers want speed, IT managers want security.

Saturday's lunch was a real delight as Gina London, Emmy award-winning veteran CNN correspondent and anchor spoke. Her presentation, "Amidst Big Data, E-Learning and Google, why does anyone need a human educator anymore?� Motivation and Connection, that's why." was a message of hope for human educators as irreplaceable cogs in the education system. She stressed the importance of being a "geek who can speak" of communicating with purpose in order to inspire students. "Education is all about connecting with people, the human touch," she said.

The Conference was well attended and seemed to pay off for all. First year attendee, Esther Frankel, Professor and Computer Information Systems Department Chair, Santa Barbara City College, when asked about the value of the conference said, "As an instructor, exchanging ideas for helping students become more successful...that's been really valuable.� Also, learning about [textbook] author's thinking...was valuable."

We also asked second year attendee, Bryan Mecklenburg, the Technology Certification Manager for �Goodwill, about what value he got from the this year's conference. He said the "exchange of ideas, it's not only efficient and practical but also inspiring."

CertMag had a great time in the Windy City and was impressed with all the new ideas and the palpable passion of the attendees. Next year's conference is going to be in sunny Orlando, FL, July 26th - 28th. When asked if he'll be attending, Mecklenburg, said, "Yes, without a doubt...positively, absolutely, you won't be able to keep me away."

You won't be able to keep CertMag away either. Remember to bring your sunscreen and we'll see you next year in Orlando.

About the Author

Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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