Thanks to advancements in the way computers are built and maintained, I predict that the "corporate PC-repair technician" will soon join "buggy repairman" and "TV repairman" on the endangered species list. Perhaps the biggest reason for a decline in the demand for hardware technicians is, in my opinion, the fact that PCs are built better than they used to be. If it can't be fixed by plug and play, it's usually cheaper to replace a machine than to repair it.
Because of this, there has been a change in requirements for support techs—a field once seen as the traditional entry-level position for starting an IT career. Today's tech support pros don't need soldering and electrical skills as much as they need to be superusers with a certification.
The A+ will be the first to go
A recent TechRepublic poll posed this question: "With the current slump in IT hiring, are certifications as valuable as they were 12 months ago?"
When I read the question, I honestly expected the pro-cert folks to post an overwhelming number of Yes votes. However, the results show members were divided evenly. Personally, I believe that professional certifications are going to be around forever. For the most part, I think certs have helped the IT profession.
I'm equally confident, though, that some certifications are destined to go the way of the 5 1/4" disk drive. Specifically, unless the A+ certification undergoes a drastic transformation, it will provide less and less value for job seekers.
What's the market value for a hardware repair specialist?
For testimony from the IT trenches, read what a TechRepublic member had to say in response to this poll on the value of certifications. (The member's name has not been published at his request.)
"In regard to the tech poll on certifications being worth what they were a year ago…I have found that the certifications are worthless if you are applying for work at a local business such as a mom-and-pop shop or Best Buy, Circuit City, Staples, and such.…If you are applying for a corporate position, they are necessary. [But] some certifications are worthless by themselves, more specifically, A+ [certification]."
According to the TechRepublic member, he has applied at many businesses where the managers would "much rather hire students who tinker with PCs and don't expect $15.00 per hour."
The member wrote, "I am currently A+ certified and studying for my Network+ certification because A+ has proven for me to be a worthless certification. I cannot be hired in a corporation with just my A+. So after my Network+, I will also study for a Security+ certification."
Being A+ certified didn't open up doors at small businesses, either. The member wrote, "If I go to a mom-and-pop PC store and show that I have an A+ cert, I am treated as if I will want too much money. Or 'Big deal, you have an A+; our boys most likely know more than you because they have been toying with computers for at least two years.'"
Where to find the money
The TechRepublic member summed up the job market where he lives this way: "I have found that many of the employees hired at [national computer chain]…are nothing more that TechTV kiddies who get paid $6.50 per hour." I hate to admit it, but I have to agree with the member's assessment.
I also really like the member's plan. If you want to earn real money in corporate technical support, become a specialist in network design, administration, and security, and you'll be in a position to land a position that pays a professional salary.
But if you think you can break into the IT profession with only hardware repair skills, you'd better do it soon. Wait too long, and the only places hiring will be the computer museums and secondhand stores.
Et tu, Techie?
Are hardware techs soon to become cyberdinosaurs? Share your opinion by posting a comment or writing to Jeff.