One valuable service provided by Infocomm, the trade organization for the audiovisual industry, is a system of certifications for audiovisual professionals. Last week I passed a career milestone in earning my CTS-D (Certified Technical Specialist - Designer) certification. So what are these certifications, why do they matter and, most importantly, what do I do next?
Infocomm has two levels of certification. There's the basic CTS (certified technical specialist) and the two advanced ones for the installer (CTS-I) and designer (CTS-D) tracks. While there are some very talented people in the industry who remain uncertified and, truth be told, some decidedly less talented people with certifications, there is value in a set of standards for what an AV professional should know. Carrying a certification says that an individual took the time to gain certain core knowledge, spent the effort being tested on it, and made a commitment to keep their certification current through continuing education (Infocomm requires a number of "renewal units" to maintain their various certifications). It says that an organization has made an effort to train their workforce and make sure that training is recognized. I've been lucky to work for companies which put a high value on training and education, so have been able not only to acquire certifications but to maintain them through continuing education. For the uninitiated, what are the AV certifications? And where do I go from here now that I've climbed to the top of the AV certification ladder (OK, it was only two rungs. The AV Certification stepladder).
The CTS is a basic, entry-level certification. I've explained it as knowing how to speak the language of AV. A holder of a CTS should (amongst other things), know the difference between balanced and unbalanced audio, different kinds of video transport (composite, component, DVI, Displayport, etc), and the names and standard pin-outs of common connectors used in the AV industry. This is a great introduction to the world of AV, and denotes enough knowledge to be a competent helper-technician or draftsperson at an AV firm (assuming some knowledge of drafting). A CTS by itself doesn't measure enough capability to run a jobsite as a lead technician, but does indicate that if someone asks you to terminate a mic cable you'd not have to ask what kind of wire (single pair 24 AWG), what kind of connector (XLR), and which pins go where (2 is plus, 3 is minus, 1 is shield).
At the next level - the top of the stepladder - are two choices. The Installer track is just what it sounds like - everything you need to be a lead tech. From cable terminations (including hands-on testing) to rack building to final testing and commissioning of a lead system. I've known several installers with CTS-I certifications. Those who've put in the effort to get that far are the kinds of technicians who can run a job site themselves. This isn't a certification I'd likely ever achieve; I've done my share of installation, testing, and commissioning, but it's never been my primary role and that's not likely to change. Now that I'm on the consulting side of the industry I'm even less likely to be "hands on" to the point where the installer certification is appropriate.
This brings us to the -D which I just earned. As you'd expect, the skillset leans towards design. There are things like projector brightness calculations, acceptable image size for different viewing tasks, lens throw calculations, amplifier power, and the dread PAG/NAG equations (the last of which, to be fair, the test actually gives you in a little pop-up window. There's a minimum of formula memorization required). There are also quite a few questions - enough that you'd not pass the test without them - on process. What goes into a program report. When submittals are sent and who has to approve them. The relationship between specifications and drawings. Overall workflow on a construction project. Some of this is as much project management as it is AV design, but that's OK. An AV Designer who doesn't know how or to whom to communicate plans for an AV system can't really be successful. We work with technology but, as is the case with all things, we ultimately have to work with people.
So now that I've achieved a career milestone, the obvious question is "what next"? There are, of course, plenty of answers to that question. I could follow up with my study of project management principles on the way to a PMP (Project Management Professional) from the Project Management Institute. The last time I was looking into project management study was several years ago when I didn't have the required amount of experience to qualify for the higher certification. Now I do, and a refresher on those skills is always valuable. I'll talk more about project management, perhaps, in a later post. This won't be my next stop, but is on the list.
What is the next stop? One trend in AV is a blurring of lines between AV systems and network-based unified communications - especially in the corporate realm. This sometimes blurs the line between the AV and IT disciplines and many AV professionals - myself included - lack the depth of knowledge to intelligently weigh the benefits, drawbacks, and IT requirements for various communications systems which would be integrated with an AV project. With AV and IT converging, it's a good time for us all to learn at least a bit about eachother's space.
So, I'm now filling my head with things like the OSI model, network routing, private vs. public IP addresses, CISCO switch commands, and the like. It's genuinely fascinating to better see how data gets to where it's going once it leaves through that RJ45 jack in the back of your PC, and I'm looking forward to this part of the journey. There will, perhaps, be more of it in this space later. In any event, the technology field is much like the rest of life in that there's always something new to learn.
Thanks for sharing the journey with me.