Imagine, if you will, that you are an experienced IT professional. You have a degree from a respected school and you’ve been employed for a few years. You notice, however, that in spite of your hard work and dedication to the job, you have consistently been passed over for promotion in favor of co-workers.
You can’t figure it out. You know you work as hard and understand as much as your colleagues, but you’re still not moving up the company ladder. What more do you have to do?
This is where certifications come in. Certifications are an easy way to keep your skills up-to-date, but more importantly they send a message to your boss that you are trained and have the proper knowledge and skill set to take on more responsibility.
Certifications are increasingly popular among Indian IT workers. They are inexpensive compared to a university degree, able to be completed in a much shorter period of time, and, unlike established degree programs, more likely to cover new developments and knowledge in the field. In fact, there is presently a debate as to the value of a university degree versus a certification from a trusted vendor.
As a holder of numerous certifications, I’m always interested in new certs and training courseware, particularly the online-versions. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to review TestOut Corporation’s Security Pro courseware and certification. Security certifications are the hot area in IT at the moment, and it doesn’t seem as if there will be a drop-off any time soon.
TestOut is a mid-sized IT training company located in Utah, in the United States. Since 1992, more than 1 million students and professionals worldwide have used the company’s courseware to pass various certification exams. They have a good track record, with more than 90 percent of students clearing their certification exams on the first attempt.
I spent a fair number of hours playing around with the course, and am generally pleased with what I saw. Each area of Security Pro is a deep dive into the proper procedures and best practices of cybersecurity. Because the course is online, it is convenient for studying, especially for those who travel or commute. There are no bulky printed materials or DVDs to carry about. All you need is internet access.
Although not as well-known as other security certifications, Security Pro is a comprehensive piece of training courseware. It covers all the knowledge one would need to find a positon as an entry-level IT security administrator. The training covers nine areas:
- Access Control and Identity management
- Security Policies, Procedures and Awareness
- Physical Security
- Perimeter Defenses
- Network Defenses
- Host Defenses
- Application defenses
- Assessments and Audits
(Full disclosure: My specialty is biometrics, and I found the sections on access control and physical security particularly interesting.)
Each section follows a set format: One or two instructional videos featuring a knowledgeable subject matter expert (SME) explaining the particular concept with a few white board demonstrations and PowerPoint slides as needed, followed by a page or two of notes that you can print off if you choose, and then a series of practice questions to show your proficiency.
The videos are clear and adequately filmed. There is a timer at the bottom of the video screen that shows the duration of the video as well as controls for closed-captioning and even the ability to speed up or slow down the video according to your preference.
Security Pro does make heavy use of visual cues in developing the content, making it much easier for a test taker to not only read the information, but to also understand it on the first attempt. While there were a few instances where I felt that some of the information could have been presented in a manner that was more clear and straightforward, it was understandable with a second reading or viewing.
This is an aspect of the course that really shines. The lab simulations, presented by TestOut’s popular “LabSim” tool, are hands-on exercises that help you gain skills through practice. For example, you don’t just learn where to place IP security cameras, you actually install them in a virtual lab.
The labs were surprisingly up-to-date, including all aspects of security plus the new areas of configuring iPad Security, installing and configuring WAP/Firewall and VLANs, creating a DMZ and hardening a switch/router. I enjoyed the practice labs and can see how they aid students to understand what they are learning. Additionally, by actually doing hands-on tasks in a virtual realm, the labs give a real confidence boost.
The practice exams are informative and applicable to the instruction. Although the layout is a bit sedate, they do look like your typical certification exam, black words on a white background. The questions are multiple-choice.
Once you answer a question you click to move on to the following question. You also have the option to skip a question and return to it later. If you feel the need for a bit more understanding on a particular question, you can receive instant feedback along with the reference for where the topic is covered in the course, by clicking a separate box. The explanations are straightforward and concise.
Additionally, there is a timer at the top of the page showing the time spent on the practice exam. It can be helpful for pacing, but I found it at times a bit intrusive and challenging to not look at it constantly.
Upon completion of the practice exam you receive a report showing your overall performance as well as performance in each sub-area. If you like, the report can be printed.
In my opinion, the most advantageous aspect of the practice exams is that there is no limit to how many times you can go through them. You don’t need to move on to the following section of the course until you feel confident in what you’ve learned. This is also a help when reviewing for the regular exam. You just open the course and with a few clicks easily access any of the practice exams.
Security Pro’s pricing is actually quite affordable. A monthly subscription costs about $79 U.S. If you choose to get a one-year license or even a bundled package — of more TestOut courses — costs will range from $349 to $895. There is also the option for a free seven-day trial to see if you prefer the course. The cost of the Security Pro certification exam is included in the pricing of the course.
The certification exam itself is online. It is a 2-hour exam that has the same format and layout as the practice exams you’ve seen, so there are no surprises. One pleasing feature is that the course is significantly comprehensive and vendor-neutral that it actually prepares you to sit for two certification exams: TestOut Security Pro, and the more well-known CompTIA Security+ (SY0-401).
To be honest, the SMEs, while very knowledgeable, are a bit boring. You view them from the mid-torso and up, standing in front of a soft-colored background, but you rarely see their hands move — it’s almost as if they are trying to not show their hands.
Since most people use their hands when talking, it is somewhat distracting to just have a torso and head speaking at you. I found myself wishing for more conversational interaction and was distracted at just seeing their facial movements.
Additionally, the white board presentations, while understandable, could use some color. Because everything is black writing on a white board it can be somewhat confusing when lines and diagrams cross or clutter up.
I also found the PowerPoint slides to be simplistic and unengaging. I realize there isn’t a great deal of room for designing basic slides, but felt that the developers could have spent more time and effort in choosing colors and word formats.
I’ve been working in the IT field for more than 20 years and have taken my share of exams, most notably the CISSP. To be honest, I’m impressed with the content of Security Pro. When I compare this with the contents for CISSP, the two are very similar. So, if I had my choice, I would opt for Security Pro in a heartbeat.
TestOut regularly updates their courseware with recent IT developments, so there is no need to purchase new material in order to just keep with the latest trends.
TestOut also has a solid reputation for training that differentiates them from other vendors. They make a solid attempt to not only prepare students for clearing certification exams, but to build a long-term relationship with their customers.