Salary Survey Extra is a series of periodic dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our most recent Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.
Some IT professionals look at their next certification exam as being akin to a speed zone on the highway of a fast-paced career. You might tap the brakes a bit, but it doesn't take much in the way of preparation to sail through and get back up to the normal rate of travel. Take an off ramp to study and train before testing? They wouldn't dream of it.
For many, if not most, others, however, passing a certification exam, especially the first time around, requires careful planning and the often extensive use of training materials. Taking and passing the exam is not simply a fairly standard outgrowth of working in a certain tech realm every day and staying abreast of changes.
There are quite a few certification study aids and training materials available, the bulk of which fall into one of two categories: They are purpose-designed and distributed (at a cost) by whatever business or organization curates the certification. They are purpose-designed and distributed (at a cost) by third-party training providers who typically service a range of different credentials.
One is not necessarily more reliable than the other, and the two sometimes act in concert. CompTIA, for example, offers training for key credentials through its CertMaster online training platform. CompTIA also, however, works with many different training partners who provide CompTIA Approved Quality Content (CACQ) to eager learners.
For our 2016 Salary Survey, we asked a couple of questions about pre-certification study and training:
Did you use any learning materials or study aids created by the certifying authority to prepare for your most recent certification?
Yes: 64.5 percent
No: 35.5 percent
Did you use any learning materials or study aids from a third-party training provider to prepare for your most recent certification?
Yes: 34.3 percent
No: 65.7 percent
Given the way that those percentages mirror each other, you could almost make the case that everyone, in fact, uses study aids and training materials. The 35 percent who don't use training materials provided by the certifying authority clearly use third-party training materials, and vice-versa. It's almost certainly not that neat and tidy, but it is funny that things turned out that way.
We asked a follow-up to each question. Namely, who are you getting those training materials from? Among those who prefer to use training materials prepared by the certifying authority itself, the 10 most frequently named training providers are as follows:
4) SANS (GIAC)
8) Red Hat
Among those who prefer to use training materials prepared by a third-party training company, the 10 most frequently named training providers are as follows:
2) CBT Nuggets
3) Training Camp
4) Global Knowledge
6) Exam Cram
8) McGraw Hill
9) Learning Tree
10) New Horizons
You can draw your own conclusions from those lists. The list of certification organizations that provide their own training materials, for example, is somewhat weighted toward IT security certification, with four of the groups listed — (ISC)�, ISACA, SANS and IAPP — focusing either largely or entirely on IT security (and security-related) certification.
If there's a security certification in your future, then perhaps you'd do well to consider the training offerings provided the certifying authority.
On the list of third-party training providers, some are fairly specific to one IT specialization — and often to a single certification entity — while others provide training across many different specializations. INE is noted for its networking training, and especially for its Cisco-specific training, while CBT Nuggets offers training on a wide range of certifications.
One outlier is TestOut, on both lists, which issues its own certifications, but typically aligns them closely with other credentials. TestOut's PC Pro courseware, for example, prepares learners to get the PC Pro credential, but is also an excellent resource for anyone studying for CompTIA's A+ certification (and has the CACQ stamp of approval).