Passed the final exam in Apple's ACSA certification trail today and thought I'd write down some thoughts.
First of all, I'm really glad that the ACSA cert exists. It gives working geeks something to strive for, something meaningful to show when applying for a job and not to mention some much-needed leverage for negotiating a raise. It's also just a great way to learn new stuff, which becomes harder and harder as you become the “go-to-guy”. Owning a cert doesn't automatically make you smarter than someone else, but it does show that you've made an effort and take your job seriously.
I would recommend people take the courses, not because you necessarily need them to pass, but because they are really good (I didn't take any myself but have been involved in Apple's training programs to know that they take it really seriously) and you will get a lot more out of the whole experience as well as meet some smart people. This isn't as easy as it sounds - someone in Finland would have to travel all the way to Denmark to attend the 10.5 Directory Services course, which is not only expensive (the course alone was 2 700 EUR), but also logisitically very difficult for an SA (you have to be away from work for a week).
If you can't take the courses (like me) then fear not - you have some great books to lean on. I've gone through quite a few computer books and Peachpit's Apple Pro Training Series are among my favourites. They're great for self-study and also work pretty well as reference. You can even use them to give classes (all of Apple's own courses follow the same books). Much like Mac apps, the all share the same structure and are very easy to follow.
Here's a short rundown of the books and the respective exams which I hope will prove useful to someone (yes, I read all of them cover to cover):
1. Mac OS X Server Essentials v10.5
The Essentials books are always the hardest - they have to cover a lot of ground and consider the widest range of readers. I liked this one alot more than 10.5 Support Essentials, but it was still quite a chore to get through. And 10.5 server doesn't make it easy either, the different installation types are I think particularly annoying. Some nice questions about ACL's.
2. Mac OS X Deployment v10.5
I think I enjoyed this book and exam the most. Excellent, practical stuff that was really relevant to what I was doing at work. Not too thick, but not missing anything important either. Great reference material. Exam didn't have any silly “we're just checking if you payed for the course” questions.
3. Mac OS X Directory Services v10.5
This one was the scariest for me. The book is really dry and it took a lot of black tea to stay awake while reading it. Lots of theory, also, lots of repetition (which might not be such a bad thing). Difficult to prepare for due to the heterogenous nature of the subject matter (I actually installed Windows Server 2003 on my MBP, but that was it…). If you could only go to one course, I would probably recommend this one, depending how important Directory integration is in what you do.
A lot of facts to remember, some tough questions, stuff you don't just remember, but have to actually think about to get right. I honestly thought I was going to fail this one.
4. Advanced System Administration v10.5
I was really excited about this book (failover, backups, monitoring, documentation… you name it!) and it was indeed really good. I took it with me on my trip to Russia so I had time to really go through it back and forth and indeed learned a lot. I like Mr. Marczack's concise and confident writing style, both in this one and over at MacTech.
I think the part on scripting could've focused on Bash alone and instead of introducing Python and AppleScript, have more practical examples. The exam was a disappointment - I think it had the most “pointless trivia” questions of the four, stuff that no-one should ever memorize (ie what algorithm srm uses or what's the name of the protocol an AP BS uses to talk to a RADIUS server!). It almost felt like the book and exam were done by two different people.
Some random recommendations for people who want to get through without the courses:
- Get all the books
- Read them and make sure you can answer all the Review Quiz questions. This should guarantee you get at least a passing grade.
- Make a plan - say 1 exam every month, or whatever feels good. This helps you keep on track.
- Aim for 90% correct answers. I think over 90 is really good, for 100% you either have to take the course or be really lucky. :)