AITP’s Spicy National Collegiate Conference Sweet and Sour
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Posted by: Ryan P. Kinney, Kent State University - Ashtabula
In the sweltering 90 degree heat of San Antonio thousands of IT students and professionals poured into the Riverwalk's Crowne Plaza Hotel for this year's National Collegiate Conference (NCC). Although comfortable in our air-conditioned conference center, many students were sweating as they took demanding certification tests and participated in a variety of competitions. I attended the NCC with Kent State University Ashtabula Campus (KSUA). While one of most complicated school names, certainly no less valuable than any of the 71 schools in attendance. My experiences were remarkable, although achieving these milestones definitely made me feel like I had bit into a jalapeno.
I have to admit that I entered the NCC with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. For reasons unknown the Microsoft Office certifications were not available this year. These were the very same certifications for which many at KSUA had trained for several months to prepare for. However, once I entered the conference my resentment quickly dissipated. Undoubtedly, the Welcome Mixer activities helped cool my hot head. However, the real benefit came from the professionals representing many IT companies. Mr. Rod Masuda of Certiport spent nearly a half-hour of his extremely busy schedule speaking with me about my disappointment. He suggested many valuable alternatives to achieving the Microsoft Office certifications. He even agreed to speak at our school, should he ever be in the area, in the hopes of setting up a Microsoft certification testing center on campus. The professional networking alone was well worth the price of admission. In addition to Mr. Masuda, I left with several more valuable contacts, including the man responsible for the publication of this article
Our first real heated experience came from the Microsoft Office Solutions competition. Putting our months of training to good use, we spent three hours locked in databases, spreadsheets, presentations, and documents. This competition truly tested our mettle. While none of our teams were able to finish, we all left with a sense that we gave our all and perhaps learned a few new approaches to utilizing the Office programs. Given enough time I'm sure we could all have completed successfully, but in the professional world, deadlines are a very real aspect of the job. Despite the difficulty, all of our teams kept working until the very end.
From then on it was mostly sun and glory. As taught by our mentors at KSUA, we saw our disappointment as another opportunity. Although Certiport wasn't offering the Office Certifications, they did offer Microsoft's Technology Associate certifications at no cost. Among the nine of us we earned four separate certifications, three of which were in Operating System Fundamentals, proving our versatility in Windows operating systems.
For most students at the NCC the ultimate goal of earning an IT degree is to get a job in that field. Classes can teach you the skills, but how do you actually get that IT job when you graduate? Several breakout sessions helped with this, including the benefits and downfalls of social media in the workplace and tips for answering interview questions. In the "Business Etiquette: New Rules in the Digital Age” and the "Killer Interview Questions for IT Professionals” sessions presenters were available afterwards for personalized questions. Based on the enthusiasm of audience participation, students were actively interested in gaining their insights. The presenter for the "Killer Interview Questions” session even personally emailed me the presentation slides when I returned home.
The Institute for Computing Professionals (ICCP) offered a different take on IT certifications. ICCP offers non-vendor specific certifications. Their exam preparation breakout session gave some very valuable insights. Rather than focusing on IT technology in general, the Core and Specialty exams feature a lot of questions geared towards project management. This is a great springboard from simply knowing the skills to applying the knowledge. Make no mistake though, their tests are not easy: 50% is all that is required to pass, but it a hard earned 50%. I am happy to report, with the aid of a very animated proctor named Bruce, I was able to earn ICCP's Associate Computer Professional certification. I would like to thank Bruce for lightening the mood enough to allow students to focus. The only downfall from ICCP's participation is that their certifications are not free of charge. They are, however, offered at a significant discount and only payable if passed.
Perhaps the greatest triumph for KSUA's students at the NCC was the VisualStudio.net programming competition. Each of our two teams once again stayed until the very end, but this time they finished completely. It must have been a tough call for judges, as both our teams earned trophies, second and third, with second place behind first by only one point. KSUA students were so excited when the winners were announced that our entire table rushed to the front to sing the winners' praise. I'm afraid we may have been a little rude in our fervor and I apologize to any photographers or guests we might have obstructed.
Almost every school had some reason to celebrate, as proven by the After-Banquet-After-Party that spilled into the hotel lobby until the early hours of the morning. San Antonio is a gorgeous city and did not disappoint us during our visit. For nine students from Ohio's Snow Belt area, we very much appreciated the Texas weather. There are very few who attended the NCC that did not take the opportunity to explore the city. San Antonio's Riverwalk and free admission to the Alamo left little excuse for anyone not to venture from the Crowne Plaza and explore.
The NCC was not all sweetness, however. There were several small instances that left a bitter taste in my mouth. The presenters' booths were very encouraging and personable, but it seemed there were very few hiring firms in attendance. This is not necessarily a fault of anyone in attendance and could merely be a reflection of the U.S. economy. Certiport's method for accepting students into the testing stations had changed this year too, with no prior communication to students. Rather than the lineup that they usually institute, proctors were signing students into one hour blocks. While I can see the value of this method with limited testing stations, many students missed an opportunity to test due to this change. A lack of communication on the NCC's website for last minute schedule changes was also mildly frustrating.
Very minor annoyances aside, the NCC was an amazing experience for all those who attended from KSUA. The combined personal and professional experiences left us with a lifetime of valuable memories, five certifications, and awards and honors for our school. We worked hard, played hard, and sweated a lot. AITP's 2012 National Collegiate Conference not only spiced up our IT careers, but also our lives.
Editor's Note: See this article from the Kent State University Ashtabula Campus website: http://www.ashtabula.kent.edu/news/newsdetail.cfm?newsitem=881C2509-0067-9503-B06D42C70AB0DFF1