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Summary:

Although I’ve been supporting Macs since they came out in 1984 (when I was in high school), I haven’t received any “formal” training. It has mostly been learning by doing, reading the occasional book and now of course, TheAppleBlog. Does formal certification really make a difference […]

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Although I’ve been supporting Macs since they came out in 1984 (when I was in high school), I haven’t received any “formal” training. It has mostly been learning by doing, reading the occasional book and now of course, TheAppleBlog. Does formal certification really make a difference as a technician? You tell me.

Recently I got into an argument with a vendor that somehow thought a technician who first started repairing Macs sixth months ago trumped my 25 years experience. Did certification make this person a better technician? Having done quite a bit of hiring myself, I’ve too often found that certification only verifies your ability to take a test and may not have bearing in the real world.

Now that the market has changed and everyone seems to be competing for scarce resources, perhaps a certification would be an additional edge? What’s the business strategy for independent Mac technicians wanting more? The answer took a lot of research — even Apple wasn’t able to answer my questions — so learn from my journey.

Credit goes to both Brian Best of BestMacs and Doug Hanley of MacTEK Training, because without them I wouldn’t understand the alphabet soup of ACSP, ACMT, ACTC, ACSA, AASP, ACN and more. Didn’t we all become Mac users to avoid mysterious terms? As many of you know, the ease of the Apple user interface is equalled only by the frustration of trying to understand Apple’s certifications programs. Figuring out this path was much harder than any video game I’ve ever played, but a “game” may be the best metaphor to describe the process.

The Game

You begin the “game” as a general Mac user. The three worlds you’ll generally see in the game are IT, Pro Apps, and Sales. As an IT person maybe you have skills, maybe you don’t. Nothing stops you from simply repairing Macs on your own, unless you do things that specifically void the warranty and you get caught doing so. You do not need permission per se from Apple to work on Macs. Many folks are happy at this level collecting coins one by one, but you can’t proceed any further unless you get a certification — the key that unlocks the next level in the game.

The first certification most go for is Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP) which used to be known as an Apple Certified Help Desk Specialist (ACHDS). This certifies your ability to understand the operating system and is earned based on the OS version. Therefore, you are an Apple Certified Support Professional in 10.5 (or soon 10.6). Each OS requires certification, but your certification does not expire. Therefore, if you are a ACHDS in 10.3, you can call yourself certified without understanding 10.5 at all. Your can take the test without training (many do), self-study via materials from Peachpit, or attend an instructor-lead course at an Apple Authorized Training Center (AATC). MacTek is one of those centers. You’ll take the test at a Prometric testing center and pay around $200. The test takes about 90 minutes or so and you get the results immediately.

Apple Consultants Network

While certification is the means, the end you may be reaching for is the ability to join the Apple Consultants Network (ACN). Joining the ACN requires any Apple certification, such as the ACSP discussed above, or any number of other certifications (described below, though one source says not all certifications are valid, so beware). Keeping with the video game analogy, the ACN is like an entire new area of the video game you want to explore, but the boss that must be defeated first is Apple, and your weapon is a certification!

After getting a certification you can then apply to join the ACN. The application fee is $60 and the actual fee to join is $395 as a sole proprietor. The full requirements are here. You’ll get lots of benefits such as product discounts as well as the ability to network with other Macintosh consultants. As an ACN, Apple store employees may hand out your card to customers in the store. Now your business can really expand as every Apple store customer is a potential customer for you.

ACN membership is great and many stay at this level of the “game” using the ACN membership as a multiplier for their income. However, you still can’t do hardware repairs under warranty nor order Apple parts. As with the video game, you’re stuck at this level unless you explore further and try to defeat the next boss. Apple always controls the rules. Accept it as part of the game. Fail to accept it and you’ll get slapped back to the beginning of the game quicker than you can click the home button.

Server Administration Certification

From this point, you have a couple directions you can go. You can focus on repair and service, or you can focus on server or advanced software administration (many folks will do both). I will discuss the server administration certifications and the hardware services certifications. You can think of each of these as two separate worlds in the game. You can choose one or the other, or explore them both.

The first level server administration certification is another 4-letter acronym: ACTC: Apple Certified Technical Coordinator. In addition to passing the test for ACSP, you’ll face the Server Essentials test. This extends your workstation abilities to servers. An even higher level of certification within the server realm is an ACSA — Apple Certified Systems Administrator. For the ACSA, you’ll need to pass four tests: Server Essentials, Directory Services, Deployment, and Mobility and Security for 10.6 (or Advanced System Administration for 10.5).

Apple also offers the ACMA (Apple Certified Media Administrator) which includes Server Essentials, Xsan, Final Cut Server and as an option, Support Essentials, Deployment, Directory Services, or Final Cut Level 1. Other certifications are not necessarily IT related and are software-focused. That’s a realm I’m not exploring as we chose the IT track at the beginning of the game.

Hardware Repair Certification

Moving on from server administration to actual Apple hardware repair, the primary certification you will earn is the Apple Certified Macintosh Technician (ACMT), formerly the Apple Certified Portable Technician (ACPT) and Apple Certified Desktop Technician (ACDT). This certification means you are theoretically qualified to do warranty repairs on Apple Macintosh equipment. The skills required for ACMT are those of hardware repair and software troubleshooting. You don’t need an ACSP to be an ACMT, but many people earn both. The educational process for hardware repair is more intense and it’s less likely you’ll pass the test without some training. At this level, you can also go to an AATC and pay about $4,800 for both the hardware and software aspects of the course, or your can purchase self-study materials from Apple called “Apple Care Technician Training” for $299.

Apple Authorized Service Provider

Similar to how passing the ACSP allows you to join the Apple Consultants Network, passing the ACMT allows you to enter the realm of an Apple Authorized Service Provider (AASP). You may not automatically become one though, and only AASP’s get reimbursement from Apple for warranty work. However, being an ACMT is very helpful if you want to get a job as an AASP. You may also apply to do warranty repairs for your larger organization of over 50 Macs via the Self-Service program. If you want to advance to being able to do warranty repairs for anyone, you’ll face that same boss again, Apple. Note that becoming an ACMT will not necessarily earn you any more money than an ACSA or ACTC. Facing the next boss may be too expensive and too restricting, but if you do want the next level, read on.

Getting to that AASP level is really the final level of the game. You’ll need to have an ACMT on staff and follow stricter requirements than joining the Apple Consultants Network. Generally you’ll need a real store front and not be a one-person operation. Apple grants exceptions (doesn’t every game have cheat codes?), but don’t count on it. Once you have your AASP you can be listed with Apple as a service provider and get reimbursed for warranty repairs.

So I’ve loaded the game and pressed Start. Is certification worth it? What about ACN or AASP? Which training should I go for? Is instructor lead training worth it? Any training vendors willing to sponsor me? What about the self-study programs? Share with me your experiences in the game and let’s develop a definitive guide including “cheat codes.”

Apple-authorized Organizations

ACN (Apple Consultants Network)
What it is: Network on Apple professionals, receives discounts and assistance from Apple, and can be referred from Apple retail stores.
Requirements: Any certification.

AASP (Apple Authorized Service Provider)
What is it: Business that is permitted to do Apple warranty repairs for reimbursement and order parts from Apple.
Requirements: Have an Apple Certified Macintosh Technician on staff, among other requirements.

Certifications

Apple Certified Support Professional: Basic understanding of the client Mac operating system and troubleshooting.

Apple Certified Technical Coordinator: Deeper understanding of the Mac OS, including the Mac OS X Server and Server Essentials.

Apple Certified Systems Administrator: Even greater technical understanding of the Mac OS X Server, including passing tests on Server Essentials, Directory Services, Deployment, and Mobility and Security.

Apple Certified Media Administrator: This is a sister track of the “Apple Certified Systems Administrator” with a focus on the needs of media management, and includes training in XSan or Final Cut.

Apple Certified Macintosh Technician: You can do Apple hardware repairs, both in and out of warranty. Required to start (or get a job with) an Apple Authorized Service Provider, or self-service your large organization.

  1. I hope they’ve made becoming an AASP easier. I was fully certified (ACMT for desktops and portables) four or five years ago and went to try and get our company of about 150 employees OKed for AASP. It. Was. A. Nightmare. And we eventually gave up.

    I’ve let my certs lapse since then but I’m thinking of re-upping due to the current economic climate. I do re-up my certification training every year just to get direct access to their tech manuals.

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    1. I’ve been working a AASP for the last 2.5 years and just got my ACMT a couple weeks ago. I thought having an ACMT would be useless without working for an AASP or SSA, but I didn’t know you could still get access to the manuals (Service Source access, I assume?) being certified and not working for an AASP.

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  2. This is awesome…I’ve thought about getting some Apple certifications, but the alphabet soup and general confusion about these is the opposite of how Apple handles everything else. This article is a great clarification, I especially like the “glossary” at the bottom. I don’t think I’ve seen all of these listed out this clearly anywhere else on the web.

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    1. Glad I could help. It only took 3 months, hundreds of phone calls and interviews of about 9 people to get consistent and verifiable answers.

      Apple did not return my calls for this story.

      And I’m sure 3 months from now it will all change!

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  3. [...] It makes a bigger difference for an Apple repair store or in the higher educational market.  Click here to [...]

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  4. A big thank you for this. I second everything Darrin (above) said. Now I can understand my path really better.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this. It made the process make more sense. I also found a helpful table from Apple’s site which distinguishes the Mac OS certifications and the courses suggested to pass them.

    I was hoping someone would weigh in on the value (or lack thereof) of certifications. I bought the Peachpit books to study for the ACTC, but would like to know how useful it may be.

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  6. Thank you so much for this guide. It is very well written and is very helpful in understanding the structure of the apple certification process.

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  7. n1 article and Great job! just what I was looking for.
    Thanks for sharing this.

    have fun
    tb
    my site: nicors.net for MPLS and Data solution

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  8. All I have to say is that you saved my life. I had just about cancelled taking the certification test to be an ACMT after all that studying. I spoke with 5 people in the upper levels of Apple and none of them could answer a simple question. “I was was ACMT cert., could I work on apple computers. I even was going to take a training class to the tune of 3,800 bucks, but the guy said I could only fix computers if I was a business. I was ready to give up. This should be shared with APPLE!

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  9. Well written article Dave. We have come to expect great things from you and these articles are proof positive why we do. This will be a great resource for those out there struggling through the monolith of Apple Certs.

    On a side note; (Ding dong the witch is dead)

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  10. I am signed up to take a course for ACMT certification. I was wondering how much help that certification might be in actually getting a job at Apple. I was recently considered for a part time position at the Mountain View site, but DIDN’T have the ACMT certification they were looking for. Had I had that certification, I might have been considered for the position. I’ve been out of work for about 10 months now, was doing QA work for Sonic/Roxio corp, which basically sold my job to China. Nice.

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  11. BTW, V.2 Consulting is providing the ACMT training course for $2500.00. I haven’t checked the prices on the ACSP course, but it sounds like that might not be a bad idea to take it as well., based on your comments above. Thanks for helping to clarify the Apple Certification questions I had.

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  12. [...] Guide to Apple Certification and Training It describes what some find to be confusing in the names that Apple uses for its levels for support.  I have two certifications but they don’t exist in the current structure.  So I will be [...]

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  13. [...] would be convenient. The Geniuses stay locked behind the bar (pun intended) and Apple relies on independent third-party sources who are often part of the Apple Consultants Network (ACN) or Apple Authorized Service Providers [...]

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  14. [...] would be convenient. The Geniuses stay locked behind the bar (pun intended) and Apple relies on independent third-party sources who are often part of the Apple Consultants Network (ACN) or Apple Authorized Service Providers [...]

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  15. Great info for budding mac users like me. I had been fixing iphones since the original iphone came out and had since realized that i could possibly elevate my skills to computers. I purchased the applecare technician training for $250 at a local apple store (non corporate) and all i could say is that it was really worth it!! It had all the info that you could possibly need to get and possibly pass the ACMT test. I have yet to take it. All of the book knowledge though is absolutely useless if you havent actually seen and fixed real life Mac hardware and software issues like replacing LCD’s and water damaged macbooks. These you can only learn hands on. But ACMT or whatever Apple certs are a stepping stone to getting hired at an AASP or the Apple store. With the resurgence of the Macs nowadays, Im sure there will be some sort of shortage of Mac specialists to service all of these new users. I hope to capitalize on all of the studying that I have been doin recently and getting some sort of a real path to the IT field.

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    1. Hey Jojo, good luck with the ACMT tests. They are hard. There are 2 of them, 1 for troubleshooting Mac software, and 1 for repairing Mac hardware. I took the v.2 Consulting courses in SF, CA for a tidy sum of $3000.00. Even with expert training from v.2, it took me 3 try’s to pass the software test (which was only a 2-day course). You need 69% to pass. I failed with 55%, 63%, and finally passed with 80%. I had to study for a whole second week before passing. I passed the hardware test the first try, needing 73% to pass, and getting 83%. There are a lot of questions like: “Billy brings his computer in to the shop, at startup, the spinning gear just keeps on spinning. Which of the following might be the cause?” Then they give you 4 multiple choice answers, of which 3 sound really close. :-| There are a lot of “year” specific questions too like: Which power supply will work for a Mac Mini (mid 2006)? The good thing is that all of the questions are multiple choice. Also, I believe that ALL of the current Certifications being offered are for Snow Leopard v10.6.x. If you aren’t currently using Snow Leopard, I STRONGLY suggest you go get it and pay close attention to the installation options, as there are at least 8 questions about just that area. I also took the ACSP (Apple Certified Support Professional) course they offered, but haven’t taken the test yet. (scheduled to take it April 19th). April 20-23 will find me in a another course, ACTC (Apple Certified Technical Coordinator). This course is the “server” based support course for Sys Admin career path. I don’t think I’ll pass this course, but I’m going to try. The ACMT tests cost $150 each, and you have to pass both for Cert. The ACSP and ACTC tests are $200 each, but each pass will get you another certification. These 3 courses I just outlined are the logical path to get an IT position. I have about 30 years experience USING computers, and have bee supporting an engineering team using Windows XP for the last 8 years. Even with that, and ACMT Cert, I haven’t yet found a job. But things are heating up and I’m hopeful. Good Luck!!

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  16. Hey Barry, thanks for the heads up regarding the acmt exams. I had been a cellphone technician for six years and my experience with fixing iphones had opened up the door for the shop that i work for to start fixing macs too. iPhone lovers will eventually switch to macs and vice versa. That is my view. This last year alone was just amazing as to how many people do break their phones and their macs. And now the iPad. My skills are limited to work for small to medium sized businesses only but business has never been so robust for me. You could work seven days a week if your body could take it. I guess the key to passing those acmt exams really is a combination of book smarts and street smarts…Working for a local shop, you could be installing snow leopard one minute and as far as panther in the next minute. Ive seen a lot of graphic designers still using the powermac g4s…if you can afford to pay $3000 for a couple of sessions at v2 then you can definitely afford to buy a few broken macs on the cheap and start fixing them and reselling them on craigslist or something. That is how if supplement my income and at the same time learn…Sorry for the lengthy note but im just showing that there is another side to the business than just working for the “big guys”..good luck to you too…

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