Mac-specific IT guy in a Windows world?
August 14, 2008 9:50 AM   Subscribe

In the current and near-future markets, are there viable opportunities for a Mac-specific IT guy, and are Apple certifications worth it?

I have been a Windows user most of my life until a few years ago when I switched to a Mac. Since then, I have entered the IT world doing mostly Windows administration, with some low-level Mac and UNIX stuff mixed in there. On my own time, I have become engrossed with the Mac platform, and have spent a large majority of my free time learning more about the inner workings of OS X and its core. Right now, I feel extremely confident in my Mac support, troubleshooting, diagnostics, and repair skills. This has really become my passion, and I am just not excited about Windows administration anymore.

All of this leads me to be looking into taking Apple's certification exams. I would ideally like to take all that are applicable to a general-purpose Mac IT dude, which looks to be about seven exams. The total cost on these exams and the materials I would need to brush up on specifics would be near $2000, which my current job would very likely pay for. Again, I feel very good about my skills, and would likely be able to pass all the tests with little trouble.

So that leads me to two main questions that are somewhat pivotal to my future career decisions:

1. Are these exams worthwhile, and will they be at all impressive to a potential employer, or are they the Mac equivalent of an A+? (As an aside, I am very young, even for the tech industry, so all of my potential employers have been very skeptical about my skills, so maybe these would help?)

2. What does the job market look like for an all-around Mac IT guru that would be competent enough to hold all of those certifications? Are there many places that would hire a Mac-only IT guy, or would I be better off working for myself? Is it a viable career move to go Mac-only with IT? Of course, knowing the Mac means knowing UNIX, which I do, but specifically the OS X platform is what I'm talking about here. Am I going to be out of luck on this unless I move somewhere very tech-centric, such as California?

Answers to either or both of these questions would be hugely appreciated. If you want to get in touch with me... macitdude AT gmail DOT com. (NOTE: This is anonymous because I don't want my current employers to get freaked out and think I'm trying to leave. I love my job right now, so I don't want that to change simply based on information gathering.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There'll be demand for Mac specialists for at least the short- and medium- terms; long-term, who knows with any platform?

You'd be a little limited as to where you can work; but on the other hand, there's a smaller pool of Mac-specific competition for job slots than there is for Windows.

My real-life example: I'm the jack-of-all-trades IT guy for a midsized art museum in the Twin Cities. This place is all Mac all the time, and won't be going Windows any time soon. There are other places like this, if not many. I don't have any certifications, so I can't say that picking them up would for sure help with getting jobs; on the other hand, they certainly couldn't hurt, especially if your employer would be picking up the tab. You'll never totally get out of Windows (even in this all-Mac building, I have to do a lot of interface with the overwhelmingly Windows-y University surrounding us).

One thing I'd say: based on my (admittedly very limited) experience, the all-Mac workplaces I've dealt with have tended to be small and often pretty nontechnical (this could have more to do with being in the museum biz than the Mac biz); this means that patience, decent human skills, and the ability to explain technical things to nontechnical people matter at least as much as certification as far as job performance goes.
posted by COBRA! at 10:43 AM on August 14, 2008

In my experience Windows IT guys don't do Mac. So having experience in both worlds is a plus. I have never been out of a job longer than I wanted to be. I have been working on a mixed environment for 8+ years with mostly the same crew of coworkers and try as I may they have little to zero interest in learning Macs. The tests you should take will give you an A+ certification for Apple. if they're paying for it, then why not take them. However You probably don't need them. Most Macs in the corporate IT environment are orphans. The standard IT people treat them like lepers, so you'll be on your own as far as any networking, security, software etc. The big thing these days is getting the Macs on Active Directory, so a little studying in that area will serve you well.
posted by Gungho at 10:44 AM on August 14, 2008

Most Macs in the corporate IT environment are orphans. The standard IT people treat them like lepers, so you'll be on your own as far as any networking, security, software etc. The big thing these days is getting the Macs on Active Directory, so a little studying in that area will serve you well.

100% lined up with what I've seen in museums/academics. A big chunk of my job now is trying to get our Macs to play nice with AD.
posted by COBRA! at 11:04 AM on August 14, 2008

I think the big reasons to not do it (cost relative to effective job placement) are alleviated by your current situation so I in that regard I say, of course take them, pass them, and add it to your resume. It can't hurt and it certainly will help down the line. As for going Mac-only I highly doubt you will find a career in something like that. Almost every IT job wants you to be proficient in many areas and in that regard the certifications and extensive knowledge will put you a cut above the rest.

If your employer is throwing out funds for this have them buy AppleCare Technician Training. This is what my employer did and it has been an absolute gem helping me studying for the hardware/software portion and the 1 year access to service manuals and inside kb articles is well worth the $299 cost. Don't underestimate the difficulty level of the tests. I've taken two and scraped by on the first by thinking I knew plenty being a Mac user for the past 5 years. But it can get pretty specific regarding protocols, technologies, and legacy information. Again that's where the Tech Training stuff can help you separate all there is to know from what you actually need to know to pass.
posted by genial at 11:09 AM on August 14, 2008

Professional Mac Specific IT Guy Here (Apple Certified ACSA 10.4, 10.5 cert isn't available yet).

Courses that are worth knowing:
Directory Services: The ins and out of Active Directory deployment specifically. As more and more businesses acquire macs, they will find that they can benefit from having someone who knows the ins and outs of OS X, and specifically how to manage it as part of a larger AD/Windows network.

Deployment: How to setup and install 200 macs in a weekend that all follow the same security and configuration guidelines as the rest of the business machines.

OS X Server: Just how to use it, as it covers the technology of how OS X communicates with servers (Open Directory, LDAP, etc.).

Technologies to grasp:
Working with OS X in any administrative environment will actually require knowing a lot more about the underpinnings of the protocols involved. In fact, a lot of Apple's implementations are just wrappers around open source / standard protocols. So while I don't even know where to being to troubleshoot Kerberos in a windows environment (which is there, it is what AD uses to pass credentials back and forth), I know that under OS X klist and kadmin, which are part of the standard MIT Kerberos package, are the tools I can use.

Bash, Python and Perl are languages that you should learn. Especially Python as a great glue between both one off scripts and entire GUI based apps (PyObjC is now a standard feature of 10.5, and supported in XCode, allowing one to build GUI apps easily around python code, and let python code access cocoa frameworks for rich user experience). If you are doing any system administration, you are going to be scripting or writing in something.

LDAP + Kerberos: It could be considered these two technologies are what make up Open Directory, along with some prebuilt apps to manage replication between sites.

In Closing:
There is a growing market for Mac IT guys. Even more if you are extremely strong in the Mac arena, and competent on the Windows side. There are lots of Windows based consulting firms that are getting more and more clients with Macs, and they just can't seem to get their head around to supporting them. Some positions in enterprise may be starting at the Help Desk level (as all the macs are desktops), but there are also other positions for growth in small businesses that are mac only and want someone in house, or how I started, working for a mac only small business consulting firm. In the Seattle area no less, we found plenty of clients to support us.

Also, beware, as there is a love/hate situation with Apple regarding business: the love the money they get from it, but don't seem to understand why it can't be as easy as just selling iPods. In some ways this leaves a vacuum as Apple does things like release their AD plugin (in 10.5) that doesn't actually work in an environment with more than two domain controllers, so knowing how to test this, fix it, and get it running makes you gold in the eyes of company that loves Apple's stuff. On the downside it means that there is not much in the way of technical support directly from Apple (even with their massive enterprise support options, I haven't met people who have found it very useful), so you have to work with and participate in the community. The community is also small, so if you are good you can stand out (of course it is so small that the death of one member can be a huge blow to the combined knowledge base of it), get recognition and really get a career out of it.

Another way to put it is this: Apple sucks at providing support for business and enterprise customers. If you can fill that niche with your skills, it can be a solid career path. It has been for me.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:46 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

1. Are these exams worthwhile, and will they be at all impressive to a potential employer, or are they the Mac equivalent of an A+? (As an aside, I am very young, even for the tech industry, so all of my potential employers have been very skeptical about my skills, so maybe these would help?)

Also, to answer this more specifically: Get the books for Desktop and Server, after studying the courses, and passing those tests, look into take the course for Directory Services specifically. You will be working in a lab with mixed OD/AD environment, and really get to play around with testing it (and more importantly, breaking it then fixing it).

Advanced System Admin is not something I have taken, but looks interesting.

Getting an ACSA is worthwhile, if anything it gives you a nice four letter acronym to put on your business card, and since there just aren't as many of us out there, it doesn't appear as watered down as something like an MCSA/E.

Also, for reference, when I was interviewing at Apple Corporate for a Systems Engineer position, they were more interested in me having 3+ years of linux support background, along with my ACSA than just knowing macs. (the interview did not go anywhere).
posted by mrzarquon at 12:00 PM on August 14, 2008

Oh, also I was 23 when I started (26 now), one of my colleagues is my age, and since he started much earlier than me, has already published the definitive book of leopard security.
posted by mrzarquon at 12:03 PM on August 14, 2008

In all my years I'v never had to troubleshoot Kerberos, write anything in Bash, Perl or Python... We have other people for that. I do spend a lot of time explaining to those people that the Mac usually is not the source of the problem (grin). AppleScript is about all the programming I do. I do have to know Apple servers, but that is just because we have them here. Most larger organizations won't install them because they require different admin skills/ software etc.
posted by Gungho at 12:21 PM on August 14, 2008

Between 2003 and 2006 I picked up all the Apple certs (starting with portables and desktops, moving to Help Desk and Technical Coordinator, and now I have an ACSA.)

This hasn't opened a tremendous amount of doors for me (I'm way under-utilized at my job and just handle Mac hardware repairs), but if your work is paying for it, I vote go for it. All tests are taken at Prometric centers and can be conquered by studying the appropriate Peachpit documentation.
posted by porn in the woods at 12:33 PM on August 14, 2008

Oh, and also: check out or craigslist in your area (or cities that you would consider moving too, I was interviewing for my first job in Seattle while driving cross country). Search for Apple, and see what criteria people are looking for, and how much they are willing to pay.
posted by mrzarquon at 1:16 PM on August 14, 2008

Knowing Macs is great, and I like them fine. I think companies of all sizes are going to increase the number of Macs they buy and it's a better platform in many ways. But realistically, Macs are a minority of the US consumer market. They're a very tiny minority (<5%) of the business market. Apple doesn't make any great effort to sell to or support this market. So yes, knowing Macs is great. But don't put all your eggs in that basket just yet.
posted by cnc at 4:01 PM on August 14, 2008

If you love Macs and want to manage a network of them, then by all means get the certs - especially if your employer foots the bill. However, an Apple cert might not mean much to some employers if you have little experience with their products in a production environment. If you decide to get the cert, create a different version of your resume that plays up your Mac experience at your current job.
posted by bda1972 at 10:09 PM on August 14, 2008

« Older Why does Skype not want to take calls?   |   Colour-changing engagement ring Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.