Distinguished, Internationally Regarded Design Engineer, Patent
Holder, and A+ Authority...
week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with the
internationally renowned researcher and design engineer, patent
holder, best-selling author, and pre-eminent A+ certification
expert, Charles Brooks.
widely acknowledge authority in the area, Charles is the author of
five editions of the best-selling A+ Training Guide. In addition, he
sits on the prestigious CompTIA’s select A+ Advisory Committee. He
is currently the President of Marcraft International Corporation and
is in charge of Research and Development. His other book credits
illustrate the breadth of his knowledge and remarkable
background—they include: Speech Synthesis, Pneumatic
Instrumentation, The Complete Introductory Computer Course, A+
Certification Training Guide with Lab Manual, Microcomputer Systems:
Theory & Service, Microelectronics – Devices and Applications, and
IBM PC Peripheral Troubleshooting and Repair.
also the cofounder of eITPrep, LLP, an online IT exam-prep games and
textbook publishing company dealing primarily with Microsoft MCSA/MCSE
Formerly, Charles was an instructor and technical writer with the
National Education Corporation on a wide variety of post-secondary
Charles, you are one of the foremost experts in A+ certification.
Thank you for taking the time out of your demanding schedule to
speak with us.
a pleasure. Thank you for giving me this forum to discuss what we’re
involved in. I compare what I do to working in a big technical toy
box, so I hope I can convey that feeling to people interested in our
have an illustrious history in electronics. Please describe your
many challenges and successes. And share the many valuable lessons
you have learned along the way.
first major challenge I had in this industry was getting my
electronics training up to date after working in the instrumentation
industry for a number of years. My skills had been pinpointed to
specific areas of the industry while the general electronics
industry grew rapidly in many directions. Teaching for five years at
a 2-year private, post secondary electronics school gave me the
in-depth knowledge of modern electronics I needed.
went through a tremendous learning process during this time that was
focused on the art of teaching and on developing training materials.
And finally, I had no idea that I could write anything until the
teaching environment presented me with an opportunity to try and I
challenges presented in the classroom gave me the instincts I have
about what should be designed into training materials so they can be
effective in the classroom. You can design things that are very
marketable but just don’t work well in the classroom. Writing a good
book is one thing, designing a complete course that really reaches a
wide variety of students and does not kill the teacher to implement
is another – unless you want to slough off and just let marketing
take care of getting the product into the classroom.
thing that I have learned that I’m not sure many customers in our
market know yet, is that just because a certain product has
marketing sizzle doesn’t make it educationally sound. The whole idea
that Computer and Web Based Training packages were going to
revolutionize the industry and do away with the need for good
teachers has come and gone for now. After many attempts to make
those methods successful, the results have finally brought most of
our industry to the adoption of “blended learning” (i.e., some CBT/WBT,
some hands on, some instructor led training (ILT)) for successful
training. However, for a while you couldn’t get your foot in some
people’s doors if your material wasn’t on line, no matter how good
it was. I’m glad that this experiment has failed for now and
returned to the primary focus of whether the material will really do
the job of training/teaching.
about two stories with a humorous slant?
had two prospective customers from Michigan that wanted to see one
of our urban classrooms in action, so we flew them to see a
classroom in Georgia where we were attending a convention. When we
contacted the host teacher, he set up the visit but asked us not to
come at 2:30 (a time when he had what he described as his Zoo Crew).
We told him that this would not be a problem as they would be in
early and leave right away.
would have it, the teachers were delayed by snow and arrived in
Georgia just in time for (you guessed it) the zoo crew. As we were
showing the teachers around the lab, our host looked very pale but
answered the other teachers’ questions while we told them all the
benefits of working with Marcraft. While he was talking with the
teachers, I heard a sound behind me that sounded like an arc welder
being lit off and turned to see a student with a screwdriver in an
open computer power supply. The student was OK but the screwdriver
was a goner, so I asked the young man why he had stuck the
screwdriver in the power supply and why he had the top off it anyway
since I was sure that there were no instructions anywhere asking him
to do this. His reply was that he just wanted to see what would
happen, and the distraction caused by the teacher answering the
visitors’ questions gave him the opportunity.
sure that our prospective customers were probably never going to buy
anything from us after this, so I asked my sales director to get us
out of there. On the ride back to the airport I was very surprised
when our visitors said that they had no problem with our lab setup,
after seeing that lab environment they were sure they could handle
preparing to make a presentation to a government body in Kuala
Lumpur Malaysia, we found that the overhead projector that we had
rented had no computer cable with it. The meeting was set for the
first thing in the morning and we needed a cable. Our local rep in
Malaysia told us that he would simply have his sister pick one up
from the supplier, which was several miles away, when she came to
the meeting the next morning.
time for the meeting was nearing the next morning, we sat with great
concern, as the sister had not yet arrived with the needed cable.
Finally, 15 minutes before the meeting was scheduled to start, the
sister came in with the cable and in perfect English exclaimed,
“Sorry I’m late, it’s a jungle out there.” She was right, it was.
Describe your current role with Marcraft International Corporation
and your current projects?
you mentioned in your introduction, I am the President of Marcraft
International and I am directly responsible for our product
development. We currently have three distinct product lines that we
offer to different segments of the IT training market.
flagship of our company is still the IT Certification line that
follows the CompTIA line of vendor neutral certifications. We
publish textbooks, lab books, instructor’s guides and practice test
banks for the A+, Network+, I-net+, Server+, HTI+ and Security+
certification programs. For some of these topics we offer multiple
textbooks aimed at different market segments.
addition to the text and lab books, we offer classroom equipment
that enables a fully functional training environment to be
established. These items range from simple fault kits for conducting
break/fix lab procedures to complete trainers that provide in depth
hands on training (the second key element in blended learning
solutions – also the element that insures that the student can not
only pass the certification exam, but can also do the job the
certification says they can do).
second line of products is referred to as the Digital Literacy
Series and focuses on IT skills below the certification level. These
courses have been designed to introduce students to various IT
career paths and provide them with bedrock technical skills that are
now required to be successful in the electronic world they live in.
These 45-hour, student driven courses include Introductory
Computers, Networking, Internetworking, Multimedia, Graphic Design,
Programming, Database Management, and Office Programs.
third line of products is our Connectivity Product line that is
aimed at a different market area and a different student base. These
courses cover Copper Cabling Installation, Fiber Optic Cabling
Installation, Wireless Networking, and Security Systems
Installation. Students who complete these courses and become
certified typically go to work in Trade jobs. The courses provide
them with industry-requested skills that make them employable and
provide the white picket fence and SUV-in-the-yard life style.
our IT courses, we offer great text/lab books, test banks, and
instructor’s support materials for all of these courses, along with
hands on lab equipment to fully implement the blended learning
Where do you see yourself and your company in five years?
you consider that the half-life of a computer technician today is 6
months, it’s hard to say where your company will be in five years.
When you add the shifts and changes that occur in the education
market to this, it is even more difficult. Five years ago, Marcraft
was moving out of an education segment in the public school market
known as Tech Ed. The great ideals that had been set forth at the
beginning of the Tech Ed movement had never been fully recognized
and the market had become full of discount equipment vendors with
questionable curriculum so we extricated ourselves from that market
and placed more emphasis on the IT certification market.
said all that, we see the IT certification market remaining somewhat
stable as it is now for the foreseeable future. We will continue to
improve our existing product line adding items that technology
brings to the forefront and pruning products that become less
believe we will tune up some of the elements in our blended learning
approach. Our text and lab books are excellent but I see
opportunities to supplement those items with electronic instructor’s
notes and some online content.
myself continuing to do what I do now and exploring new products and
delivery methods. Because I really do enjoy what I do, I don’t think
I’ll ever retire from it. I may simply create training products in
other environments. IT has made it feasible to create and deliver
some types of training materials from the beach or the back of the
boat. Those ideas are both appealing to me. State parks also offer
very creative atmospheres to work in.
corporate strategic planning experiences of the past, it will be
very interesting to read this five years from now to see what we
were thinking back when.
Describe in detail your activities with the CompTIA’s A+ Advisory
A: I am
one of the A+ advisory committee members that represent the
education and publishing industry. My input centers on how the A+
exam (and changes to it) affect certain segments of the school
market. I also provide some input about how the timing of test
changes affects publishing text based products.
four times each year, twice by web/telephone conference and twice in
person. As a group, we deal with test performance and exam marketing
issues. We also deal with exam domain structures and topics as they
are going through the revision process.
those uninitiated into A+, what value does the certification have,
and which areas are covered?
first came to prominence when CompTIA organizations like Packard
Bell began requiring their technical services people to obtain the
certification or be dismissed. The value is that it was required.
Over time, the certification has become the entry point for IT
careers. It has become a hiring criteria for many IT companies. When
you stop to realize that this exam is recognized by the Microsoft
MCSA certification, the Cisco CCNA certification and the Novell CNA
certification as prerequisites or as alternatives, you start to
grasp the importance of obtaining this certification. The industry
leaders recognize it as do the mom and pop computer shops. It’s a
mark of achievement.
exam covers two basic areas: the core hardware components and
peripherals that make up the typical PC compatible system and the
Operating System Technologies exam that deals with the Microsoft
stand alone desktop operating systems (i.e. Windows 95, 98, Me, 2000
Pro, XP). In both cases, the exams are built around the topics
technicians work with, installing, configuring, and troubleshooting
hardware and software. There is no consumer level or user level
information involved in the A+ exam.
about the future evolution of A+?
While A+ began as a hiring guide for the computer industry groups
that make up CompTIA, it has evolved into the entry-level
certification for IT. The most logical starting point for anyone
entering the IT market should be the hardware that makes up desktop
computer systems and the stand alone desktop operating systems that
run them. After that, you can network them, make them servers, or
connect to the Internet with them, but it all starts with the
is no good reason why A+ will not remain this entry point as long as
it continues to remain relevant and focused in what its purpose is.
I know there is some consternation in the industry section that A+
can be taught successfully at the High School level. But the skills
required to pass the exam can be reached by those people. That’s the
thing about an independent certification – whoever can get over the
bar has achieved the goal.
There are so many books available on A+ certification. How do you
differentiate your book from others in the market?
write books specifically targeted for different markets that have
different learning styles associated with them. Other companies
typically write a single book and try to fit it into as many markets
as possible – One size fits all. Our ILT books are written in a much
different manner than our Trade and Prep books even though they
cover the same material. They are tailored to specific types of
readers and the support that they need.
to provide the pedagogical elements that prove most helpful to the
types of students using our different books. These include several
different types of questions presented at different parts of the
chapter. Some are open-ended asking the student to explain things in
their own terms, while others are multiple-choice and represent the
types of questions encountered on the exam. We also include
open-ended, scenario-based Challenge Items throughout the chapter,
which make the reader stop and organize what they have digested so
they can apply it to the challenge presented.
many illustrations. We’re not afraid of the cost of having many
diagrams and tables in our books. One of the early victories I won
at Marcraft was having in-house artists on staff. They do wonderful
work and provide insight that you just can’t get from a photograph.
additional tips can you share from your book?
Because the A+ exam is in two parts and very robust, the book has to
be large. But don’t be intimidated. Our book is easy to read and
well illustrated. It also provides many exam tips and help scattered
Provide your predictions about the evolution of hardware? Are there
any areas we should be watching?
most interesting hardware products center around two areas – those
products associated with the new high-speed I/O ports (USB and
IEEE-1394) and wireless devices. The products for the new buses are
actually old devices with new interfaces to use the high performance
of the buses. As we hang more and more devices on our computers, a
wider array of USB and Firewire devices will be developed.
that matter, let’s just make everything wireless so that it just has
to be around the computer to work with it.
Share your top study tips for certification?
Get a good textbook – preferably one certified by a third party to
cover the material.
hands on exercises. Working in the psychomotor domain as well as the
cognitive domain is a much better learning environment. It is also
the domain you will actually be working in when you have the job.
a good prep product – CD or text based. The prep product should be a
small book or online product that does not try to teach you about
the theory of the material, but instead focuses on the exam as much
as possible. You need to get the flavor of the exam itself.
a good practice test bank to work with. You’re going to be answering
questions that have certain slants to them. A good test bank will
help prepare you for this aspect of taking the exam.
your time preparing for an IT exam. Know the stuff; don’t just try
to memorize it long enough to get it down on a test. That works for
high school but not for a career. There’s a Dilbert cartoon that
illuminates this problem quite well.
you’re taking a multi-part IT exam like A+, prepare for the parts
separately. There’s no penalty for doing this and why try to fight
two dragons when you only need to fight one at a time.
to get real experience that is not scripted. Apprentice in an IT
shop for a while before taking the exam to get into non-scripted
hands-on activities. Labs are great for demonstrating key concepts,
but they are written with a defined purpose that has a definite
beginning and end. Real problems are not so. They have no ‘Start
Here’ markers and the end point depends on how well you can apply
what you have learned.
your views on experience versus certification versus an academic
A: As I
mentioned at the beginning of the interview, the biggest challenge I
had in this industry was getting back up to speed when I went
through a job change because my experience was niched and I wasn’t
prepared for another role in the same field. The reason that the A+
certification came along had to do with the industry not knowing
what it was hiring when it asked for a computer technician – an old
electronic guy like me who could use an oscilloscope and schematic
diagrams to fix hardware, or a Microsoft OS person who knew where
Microsoft had hidden everything in those .INI files. This is why
there are two parts to the A+ exam – the Core Hardware exam and the
Operating System Technologies exam – so that people certified as
computer technicians can handle both parts.
entire reason that certifications sprang up and evolved in IT comes
from the fact that modern industry rides on IT products that can be
complicated and require specific skill sets to implement and
maintain. Academic degrees are generic in nature and tend to the
well-rounded approach to a topic such as computer science. You know
a lot of theory about computer and network systems in general but
this does not help a company that has Netware servers that will not
communicate with Microsoft clients and financial transactions are
being held up or users are being prevented from accessing
information they need to carryout their job functions. These are
lost dollar situations where industry just wants to know that you
have the skills to correct the problem and return the system to a
profit making undertaking. That’s what certification is about.
other hand, real experience along with a certification provides the
best job candidate. CompTIA exit feedback identifies the most
successful exam candidates are those who have had good theory
delivery, with hands on labs AND related job experience. If any of
these elements are missing, the percentage of success goes down
accordingly. This should make sense – good theory, practical
experience through scripted labs and exceptional experience through
open ended, non-scripted work scenarios.
single certification, or a grouping of certifications, will get you
a job and some advancement, the thing I see is that the industry
really brings IT professionals back to the classroom several times
during a career. When you’re a great troubleshooter and have worked
at solving problems for a while, it is natural to want something
more in your career – such as managing people who troubleshoot or
administrate IT. At this point, you’re talking about academic
training of some type – probably leading to an AS or other type of
are the most compelling issues facing technology professionals today
and in the future? How can they be resolved?
Staying current – training, training, training either on your own or
through a training media.
Building a career bio that contains the credentials that will take
them where they want to go. Over a career, this usually involves
regular training of some kind, possibly including academic degrees.
Deciding which of the many technology paths to pursue. You could
spend all your time getting ready for and taking certification
exams. Pick and choose to get where you want to go. Refer to the
Tech Career Compass that CompTIA built to show linkages between key
IT job titles, education, and certifications. Marcraft participated
in the creation and population of this database with a number of
other IT companies. This tool is located at www.tcc.comptia.org.
the best resources for technology and business professionals.
Certification magazine. A great source of certification relevant
news and tips.
Internet. There are so many good technical resources on line. I even
include the sites where I do my research in my textbooks.
Microsoft Technet. Microsoft operating systems and software runs on
most of the computers in the world. The answers to problems
associated with these software packages are available through this
bookstore. There are books available for whatever IT topics you want
or need to be up on.
are the qualities that describe a successful technology
ability to focus and think in practical terms. Someone not given to
getting too excited by problems – having the confidence to know that
they can correct them. I think this confidence must come from good
training and a good work environment. Working in the IT field often
means working with people. Good people skills are a must if you are
going to be successful. Fortunately, these skills can be taught and
polished – they are not inherited.
pick the topics: now provide us with those valuable rare “gems” that
only you know.
Technology expansion will slow down vertically (i.e., faster this
and that) but will continue to expand horizontally (more intelligent
items working with host computers and networks).
future books can we expect from you?
A+ book has become a small cottage industry of its own right now.
There are different versions for Instructor Led Training, the Barnes
and Noble trade market and the professional exam prep market. In
addition, the ILT version is also presented as a two-part book, with
one covering the Core Hardware exam and the other covering the
Operating System technologies exam. Most of these versions include
their own Lab Guide and test banks that correspond to each book.
Therefore, I don’t think there will be anymore purely Chuck Brooks
books. At eITPrep, I work with other authors to co-write and produce
series MCSA/MCSE books. At Marcraft, I design new courses as they
appear viable in the industry and coordinate their development with
our production staff. I keep my hand involved in some pretty
interesting products, including the hardware required for the
classroom. Imagine having to put together hardware and software to
support the home networking, automated HVAC, Security systems,
lighting system, and advanced Audio/Video systems involved in the
HTI+ certification. What great toys to play with.
never expected to write any books, so let’s never rule anything out.
do you consider the most important trends to watch, and please
provide some recommendations?
Wireless technologies invading every facet of IT. No more wires to
do anything. Monitor your home security system from the beach using
your cell phone/PDA. Brush up on your TCP/IP and VPN knowledge.
technology integration. The Jetsons are here and coming to your
house. The products we see will continue to integrate into a
cohesive home management system with remote operation and control
functions. Get used to connecting things to computers that are not
printers, monitors, and keyboards.
Security issues. As we get more comfortable with technology doing
things for us we get more comfortable with having more of ourselves
open to inspection – either legally or illegally. As users, we need
to be more aware of what can happen to us in a virtual world and how
to avoid these things while maintaining the good opportunities that
the electronic world offers us.
kind of computer setup do you have?
my office, I have a desktop PC running Windows XP Pro and a notebook
running Windows 98. I also carry an iPac. In my home office, I have
a small network consisting of a Windows 2000 Server, a Windows 2000
Pro workstation, a Windows 98 workstation and a notebook running
Centrino wireless technology. I also have a standalone Windows 98
machine for record keeping and finances. Whow! Where did all those
computers come from? I wonder if my wife has become a computer geek.
you had to do it all over again….?
couldn’t have planned this career I have. I didn’t know it existed.
Like I said, it’s like working in a big technical toy box. I went
off to electrical engineering school, went into industry and had my
feet propped up to do 30 years there. I never thought of being a
teacher and not even being a writer. So would I do it again? In a
drives you to do what you do?
really enjoy what I do. The challenges of learning about new ideas
and devices and then developing training solutions to pass that
knowledge on to others is a real blast. I joke about coming to
Marcraft from the classroom so that I could torture more students
more effectively. That’s a funny way of saying that I could affect
more people’s lives where I am now. If you use one of my products
and it gets you and your family into a better or more enjoyable
career, what could match that?
doesn’t hurt that I find computers and IT-related material
interesting. I don’t play computer games but I do like to see what
can be done with technology to make things easier and better.
addition, I like the people that I work with in this industry. I
have met enough truly interesting people and done enough truly
interesting things since I came into this business to write a novel
(and I just might if technical writing gets boring someday). The
names will have to be changed to protect me.
do you keep up with all the changes?
Customers, committees, trade publications, the Internet.
mentioned above, I work with truly interesting people. Some are
designers and engineers while others are teachers and
administrators, but they all have ideas about new ways to teach and
new products they would like to see developed. I get to listen to
those ideas and weave them into products and product lines. I get to
build off their energies
you were doing this interview, what five questions would you ask of
someone in your position and what would be your answers?
Where is IT going?
It’s kind of stagnant right now, but it is going in every direction.
Everything will be tied together electronically at some point in the
future: schooling, home automobile, communications, entertainment,
everything. Someone has to be knowledgeable of and able to keep
those systems in operation for us. Those will most likely be
does certification help individuals?
gives them a point of recognition for their profession and a resume
item that HR staffs are looking for. Just as I became aware that
even though I intended to be a degreed electrical engineer, I needed
to take the Professional Engineer (PE) exam and be in the IEEE
organization if I wanted to be a practicing engineer, IT
professionals must be aware that they need to have their
certifications and organizations in place.
Q3: Which is better for certification, prep textbooks or online?
technology is just not really there for studying content rich topics
such as computer repair and networking on line. Current research out
of NC State University shows that most online courses do not deliver
material that is effective for training. When you consider that the
resolution of an entire monitor is 1280x768 dots and that the
average print density of a book is 1200 dots per square inch, it’s
not hard to see why it would be much more tiring to read material
from a monitor. The monitor does have great advantage when it comes
to showing complex operations or demonstrations, but those
activities tend to be quite expensive to produce and often get
minimized in the course production.
What are the best certifications to have?
Moneywise, the top paying certifications are the upper level Cisco
certifications. However, the MCSA and CCNA certification provide a
relatively high rate of pay and employability without the extreme
effort required to get the other Cisco certifications. Some
proprietary certifications in security, database management, and
specialized servers can also provide good money and job security.
do we make certifications better at providing workers that can
actually do the job they are certified for?
Offer hands on tests that challenge the exam taker to install a
hardware or operating system component, configure a component, and
troubleshoot a standard failure. This would provide industry with a
much more reliable picture of what certification holders can
Charles, thank you again for your time, and consideration in doing
pleasure. Thank you for giving me this forum to express my opinions.