In November 2002, I forecast the eventual extinction of the bench repair tech as we know it. I also shared the story of a TechRepublic member who was disappointed that his A+ certification wasn’t helping him land an entry-level job.

Apparently I struck a nerve, because over 100 TechRepublic members took time to comment on that column. (You can jump into the discussion thread here.) Some members agreed with me about the future of the bench tech and the declining value of the A+ certification, while others thought I had missed the boat completely. This week, I’d like to revisit this important topic by sharing some of those comments and responding to some of the points you raised.

“No such thing as a throwaway computer”
One of the reasons I cited for the disappearance of the bench repair tech is the fact that, in my view, it’s become easier and cheaper—in most shops—to replace a computer than to fix it. Overall, more members disagreed with that assessment than agreed with it. Here are some of the reasons why, in their opinions, the bench tech isn’t going away any time soon.

TechRepublic member gerry disagreed. “I’ve been in this business for 18 years and have seen a lot of changes. On the corporate side there is no such thing as a throwaway computer. It is always cheaper to fix than replace. With a properly set up computer, [a] well-designed network, and a correctly installed OS, the average repair should never take longer than an hour.”

Member Gmccallum, with over ten years’ experience as a “network admin/engineer/hardware tech,” thinks the decision to repair or replace “depends on your hardware vendor. Most of the time we are able to obtain parts cheap enough to repair the crippled PC, thus saving time and money involved in having to order new PCs.”

Member Websight wrote, “This article claims that corporations today would much rather replace a PC than have it fixed. This is nonsense. I don’t know which company he works for but he should ask for a raise; they sure have a lot of money to waste.”

For economic reasons, Lafavor_s “strongly disagreed” with me. Lafavor_s wrote, “I am one of the bench techs in the largest school district in my province (66,000+ students and 4,000+ staff [including] support, clerks, and teachers). A very large part of my work involves repairing damage to the equipment done by both staff and students….With the continuing drop in funding for school districts it is not economically feasible to replace every broken device that comes through our department….If it weren’t for us ‘lowly’ bench techs keeping things running, most of the rest of the IT community would have a tough time doing their jobs.”

I have to admit that Lafavor_s almost made me change my mind. I’ve been working in “big” IT shops so long that I’d almost forgotten that all IT budgets are not created equal. Maybe the lesson for folks who want to break into the IT field as repair techs is to seek opportunities with universities, school districts, and not-for-profit agencies—places where the money isn’t as readily available to upgrade client machines every three to five years the way it typically is in bigger corporate shops.

The future of business enterprise will be thin clients
On the other side of the argument, TechRepublic member Crunchtime agreed with my contention that there’s less demand for bench techs in corporate IT shops. Where he or she works, PCs are “put out of service when their three-year warranty expires. So, the need for a tech to do real ‘repair’ is minimal. If a computer breaks, we send it to the manufacturer.”

Crunchtime added this prediction: “I think the future of business enterprise will be thin clients or something similar. When these bad boys crap out, you simply replace the unit, and give it a device name.…You will still need a handful of techs to do the work. But the days of keeping a ratio of 1 tech to every 75 to 100 devices are gone.”

Another member who agreed with me is rp_rutherford, who wrote, “At one time it was feasible to repair. Not now. Just toss and replace. I have been working with computers since 1983, and the hardware cost is continually going down and so are the hardware tech positions. The future is going to be T&R (toss and replace). You don’t need a cert to do that job.”

The A+ certification is alive, but is it well?
Regarding my opinion that the A+ certification needed an overhaul if it’s going to be of any value to newcomers to the IT industry, TechRepublic member jopa posted a comment that echoed dozens of members’ opinions: “In my opinion, A+ certification is the starting point for any specialized, technical field of computer expertise.”

To everyone who defended the value of the A+ cert as a “stepping stone” for knowledge, I agree with you. Mastering the material covered by the A+ cert can only help you gain an understanding of how computers work—and that’s a good thing.

However, I’ve worked firsthand with dozens of people who paid big bucks to get A+ certified, hoping to get a good entry-level job in the IT field. I’m sorry to report that most of those “successful test-takers” couldn’t troubleshoot their way out of a paper bag in the “real” IT world. Therefore, they aren’t getting the jobs they were promised.

Some TechRepublic members who were in the process of getting their A+ certification wrote that my column made them worry about their prospects of getting a job. To them I say, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

Member kerryp wrote, “I agree with what was said about the A+. It needs a major overhaul. The test is difficult only to the person new to the business. I took it and passed it the first time and I have to tell you that most of the info in the test is archaic at best. It felt more like taking a test to become a printer technician. If technology changes daily, then the certification should require recertification. The fact that having it has become less important is because the information tested is no longer of value.”

I particularly like what kerryp said about recertification. So many of the ads I see for A+ certification now say, “Be certified for life.” I don’t believe there should be such a thing as “certification for life.” Part of the challenge and the fun of working in the IT world is that you can’t stop learning. If you become complacent and think you’ve learned all you need to know, you’ll be obsolete in the workplace before you know it.

Enter your prediction for IT in 0-3

Have you noticed any encouraging or alarming trends in your neck of the IT woods? Share your prognostication by posting a comment or writing to Jeff.