Careers: Interviews
A+ Certification expert, Internationally renowned Researcher and Design Engineer, and Best-selling Author

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., catches up for an update interview with Charles Brooks.

Charles is an internationally renowned researcher and design engineer, A+ certification expert, best-selling author of several books including five editions of the A+ Training Guides. He also sits on the CompTIA’s A+ and CompTIA Network+ Advisory Boards. He is co-founder of elTPrep, LLP, an online IT exam-prep games and textbook publishing company dealing with Microsoft MCSA/MCSE Certifications. He is president of Marcraft International Corporation and is in charge of Research and Development.

His latest book, “A+ Certification Exam Cram 2 PC Maintenance and Troubleshooting Field Guide”, is a quick and easy reference to installing, troubleshooting, and repair information. A great supplemental resource in exam studies for A+ candidates.

Discussion:

Q:  Charles, thank you for taking the time to update us on your current activities!

A: Glad to. I always enjoy getting to talk about the things we work on. It's like working in a big technical toy box

Q:  Please bring us up-to-date with your activities and those of Marcraft International Corporation in the past year. Describe current projects and what is new on the horizon.

A:  In the past year we have added a complete line of Home Technology Integration training panels to our product list. These panels support students preparing for the HTI+ certification exam from CompTIA. We offer a terrific textbook for this exam but the Lab Guide and Lab Panels really prepare the student for the job they will be doing.

We have also produced a Mobile Electronics Installer Trainer that prepares students for jobs installing high end consumer electronics in automobiles and other mobile environments. This product got a tremendous amount of attention at the ACTE trade show where we introduced it.

We are also completing a line of Digital Literacy products that help students become literate in a number of digital areas. These courses typically don't track directly to an industry certification but they can be used as a precursor to several certification courses.

Q: Provide an overview of your book, “A+ Certification Exam Cram 2 PC Maintenance and Troubleshooting Field Guide.”

A: The A+ Field Guide project emerged from the fact that many of the topics covered by the A+ exam deal with pieces of information that PC technicians and others involved with maintaining and servicing PCs needed to have at their disposal. We had seen all kinds of small reference books that had listings of specs for all kinds of different drives and peripherals, but nothing that just provided quick references to Installation, configuration and troubleshooting information for hardware and operating systems. We also wanted to provide a quick reference to contact information that people working in the field could have at their fingertip. One of the most interesting structures in the book is a Troubleshooting/ Symptoms Jump Table at the front of the book that enables readers (users actually) to locate their symptom in the table and jump directly to the pages where it is covered.

Q: Can you provide ten compelling tips from the book.

A: 1) Step-by-step procedure for troubleshooting a dead system. What does a reading lamp have to do with fixing a computer?

2) Steps for using TCP/IP utilities to troubleshoot and repair networking problems. I'm can't see anyone on my new network connection. How do I go about getting this connection up and running?

3) Step-by-step procedures for troubleshooting system boot or operating system startup failures. Use the single beep produced by most systems, the Starting Windows splash screen, and the appearance of the Windows Desktop to differentiate between different groups of startup problems and their related causes.

4) A list of third-party support Web sites for locating and downloading device drivers and utilities. I want to install the video card I picked up at the tech fair but I don't have any drivers for it. I wonder where I can find them?

5) An overview of key TCP/UDP Well-known port numbers. My network is secure now. How do I get my email through the firewall?

6) CAT5 Twisted Pair Cabling pin outs. I need to make a cable to connect a computer to a hub or router. How did that color coding go?

7) CAT5 Twisted Pair Crossover Cabling pin out.

8) An overview of key Windows Command Line functions and their usage. The Windows Desktop GUI won't come up. How am I going to get this thing working?

9) An overview of key Linux Command Line functions and their usage. Why did the company put in Linux machines anyway? 

10) Tips for troubleshooting batteries in notebook computers and correcting battery memory problems. A new battery for my two-year old notebook costs how much?

Q: Your books are targeted to different markets with the associated different learning styles and the specific support required. This book has a broader audience than just for those writing the A+ certification exam. Who should get this book and why?

A: This book is really not about the A+ certification in any way except that most of the material was compiled by looking at what the A+ Objectives, Job Task Analysis, and Critical Incidence Analysis said that technicians across a wide breath of the industry needed to know. When we researched these areas with people we know who were actually doing this work, we came up with a collection of the things that would be most beneficial to have at the actual work site. A real usable reference for PCs.

With this in mind, the A+ PC Field Guide is for anyone who needs a concise guide to carry with them or have on their reference shelf. I wanted to ad a line to the cover of the book touting it as the “Swiss Army Knife for PCs” but the editors thought better of it.

Q:  The profile in terms of knowledge level, age, and experience of the “typical” student going for certification has changed extensively in the past several years. Courses and products, including books are developed and written as their viability appears in the industry. In what areas have you had to make the most significant adjustments and why?

A: Actually, we have had to write books for the different certification that are appropriate for different markets. For example, the last A+ revision led to five different versions of the book – one for ILT classroom use, one for the Book Store market catering to professionals and self-study users, a concise version for the Test Prep market, a Core Hardware-only book and an Operating System Technology-only version. Three of these required Lab Guides as well as separate and specific Instructor Support packages. 

Some products must be prepared so that they can be delivered to High School level readers while others can be written at a slightly higher reading level for Community College students and professionals.

Q: You have seen a lot of things change in the technical side of computing over the years.  In your opinion what have been the three most significant technical advances in computing technology since 1990?

A: 1) Plug and Play – This really has changed how we construct and use the computer. We can now plug things into the computer or remove them while it is operational and the system basically handles everything for the user (no technician needed for many of the functions that required technicians or tech savvy users in the past).

2) Operating Systems – The second are that has made computers more widely accepted and usable are the advances in operating system interfaces and tools. So many functions are now intuitive in a GUI environment.

3) Wireless communications – What a great thing. Sharing data, programs and files without having to master all the nuances of networking. Walk through airports or coffee shops, flip open your notebook, click a few icons and you're online.

Q: Charles, please consider this question an opportunity to look into your personal crystal ball and provide your own take on the future of computing technology.  Computing and its applications are changing rapidly. Convergence of tools into multi-function devices and significant breakthroughs in human brain - computer interfaces such as the Braingate Neural Interface System are developing at a fast rate.  If you were writing an edition of your book , “A+ Certification Exam Cram 2 PC Maintenance and Troubleshooting Field Guide.” for the year 2010 how do you think it might differ from your current one?

A: I believe the A+ course of 2010 will be less about the central computer and more about all the things that get attached to it. I think the emphasis will shift even more to what happens when some portion of the system won't work or breaks.

The home is becoming intelligent and many new items will be talking to and through the computer. We're bringing in music and video as well as voice and control systems and connecting them to the PC. Eventually, our PCs will likely be hidden away in some closet and be connected to and controlled by all types of new input and output devices working in various facets of our environment. Likewise, the car will increasingly become a computerized extension of our home. Why drop the car off at the dealer for its checkup – just do it from the garage at home using the Internet.

The other development that is still interesting for me is better voice control for the PC. These products are getting better and moving past simple typing programs. I just saw a demo of a home automation control package that responded to spoken key words without training and could recognize different dialects without problems. How long before mice and keyboards just won't cut it for what we want to do?

Q: What book(s) can our readers look forward to in the coming year?

A: Security System Installer Certification; Security + Certification; Mobile Electronics Installer  Certification; Mobile Electronics Installer Certification. I'm sure a couple more will manifest themselves as the year swings into full speed. We seem to always have more projects than resources.   

Q: Are there any additional comments that you would like to add? What thought would you like to leave us with?

A: As I said earlier, working in this industry is like working in a big technical toy box. Can't imagine a better field to be in.

Q: Charles, thank you again for taking the time to do the interview.

A: Thanks to you and your readers for the opportunity.

 

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