If you're a Mac geek who wants to make a living troubleshooting Macs, these are the certifications to get because they are your ticket to becoming a member of the Apple Consultants Network (ACN). ACNs can build a relationship with their local Apple store and get references for work that can't be performed by Genius Bar techs, and they're listed on the Apple Consultants Network website. The rest of this article is after the break.
TUAW blogger Steve Sande is an Apple Certified Technical Coordinator and volunteers as the South Central US Regional Champion for the Apple Consultants Network.
The lowest level Mac OS X certification is the Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP). This certification requires demonstrated knowledge of all facets of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. It's aimed at people who support or manage networks of Mac OS X users. You prove your knowledge by taking a proctored exam. You can study on your own, take the Mac OS X Support Essentials 10.5 class, and take a sample exam to see how you do (only 10 questions; the actual exam is much longer).
The next step is the Apple Certified Technical Coordinator (ACTC), which builds upon the ACSP certification for those who support and administer Mac OS X Server 10.5. As with the ACSP certification, there's a text for those who prefer self-learning, a class, and a sample exam. You must pass both the ACSP and ACTC (Mac OS X Server Essentials v10.5) exams to reach this level of certification.
If you are truly a Mac god, then you can amaze your friends and force your boss to give you a raise by becoming an Apple Certified System Administrator. Once again, the ACSA builds upon the previous certification. You'll need to pass five exams to be an ACSA -- the ACTC (Mac OS X Server Essentials v10.5 and Mac OS X Support Essentials 10.5), Mac OS X Directory Services v10.5, Mac OS X Deployment v10.5, and Mac OS X Advanced System Administration v10.5). The ACSA certification is targeted towards "full-time professional administrators and engineers who manage medium-to-large networks of systems in complex multiplatform deployments."
It's highly recommended that you attend the Apple classes for the ACTC and ACSA certifications, since you get a lot of hands-on experience in setup and troubleshooting of complex situations. Of course, none of this is cheap. The classes run about $500 a day at Apple Authorized Training Centers, and to be an ACSA you're going to go through a whopping 19 days of class. Plus, you must take (and pass) five exams at $200 each. That's about $10,600 that either you or your employer will need to spend. Is it worth it? Definitely. You're going to show prospective or existing employers that you really do know your stuff. This is also comparable to what it would cost you to get various other certifications (i.e., Cisco, Windows System Admin, etc...).
Once you have at least the ACSP certification in hand, you can become a member of the Apple Consultants Network. This gives you the opportunity to interview with local Apple stores; if accepted, they may provide customers with your business cards for work that needs to be performed on the customer's site. There are a lot of other benefits, such as being able to legally use the Apple logo on your business cards and website, and taking advantage of special promotions and discounts. The ACN program isn't free ($395 for Basic membership or $695 for the Plus membership), but it can pay for itself quickly with a few referrals. That extra $300 for the Plus membership provides you with quarterly hardware discounts up to $800, Apple NFR software at a highly discounted rate or for free, depending on the package, and access to a hardware pool for demos.
Stay tuned for the next installment of this series, when I'll talk about the Pro Application certifications.