Sno-Isle Offers CompTIA A+ Certification Program for IT Professionals

Next week, Sno-Isle Libraries, WA, will hold orientation sessions for its second cohort of aspiring IT professionals—nearly 50 residents of Snohomish and Island counties who will spend the next 25 weeks studying for CompTIA A+ certification, a common requirement for entry-level IT and computer service technician jobs.

Sno-Isle logoNext week, Sno-Isle Libraries, WA, will hold orientation sessions for its second cohort of aspiring IT professionals—nearly 50 residents of Snohomish and Island counties who will spend the next 25 weeks studying for CompTIA A+ certification, a common requirement for entry-level IT and computer service technician jobs. Five facilitators—including Sno-Isle IT staff—will lead online “learning circle” discussions for 90 minutes per week, offering support, socialization, and motivation to complete the program.

In addition, the library provides students with access to, study materials, course notes, practice exams, and vouchers to pay for the two certification exams, as well as one-on-one job search help following completion of the course. This second class was launched following a smaller, successful pilot test in 2020.

CompTIA A+ certification “is a credential that we identified with some help with our partners at the [U.S. Department of Labor] American Job Center in Washington State,” explained Emily Felt, adult services coordinator for Sno-Isle and project comanager of the program. “They identified it as in demand and something that’s eligible for funding.”

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in the program’s creation. “It started with a conversation between David [Durante, Sno-Isle public services director and project sponsor] and I in late March/early April” last year, Felt said. “We started with an overarching goal of ‘what can we do? What can the library do to help folks in our service area who have been laid off or had their employment impacted by COVID-19?... What could we do to help them get a job where they could [potentially] work from home and earn a living wage?’”

With the headquarters of Microsoft and Amazon nearby, the region is one of the world’s major tech hubs, and tech workers are always in demand. Felt and Durante took stock of the library’s strengths and ultimately decided that they could facilitate a professional certification course, offering participants something tangible that they could put on their resumes while searching for jobs. “We didn’t want to try and reinvent a four-year degree in computer science,” Felt said, “that’s not our area of expertise. But we’ve got access to materials. There’s some precedent in libraries of convening groups of people to learn something together. There’s the Peer 2 Peer University learning circle model—it’s not something we’ve done here, but other libraries have hosted learning circles, so we started [exploring] that model.”

In addition, they checked with local community colleges to ensure that a CompTIA A+ certification course would not replicate something that was currently being offered in their service area.

“The keyword is worker retraining,” said Nate Cushman, manager of Sno-Isle’s Administrative and Service Center and project comanager. “We were targeting people who were in industries that were impacted [by COVID-19] and hoping to help them transition to an industry that was less impacted.” With the pandemic leading to a massive shift toward working from home in industries where this was feasible, the library predicted that there could also be a spike in demand for tech support. “We were all dealing with Zoom; we were all working on our own computers at home,” Cushman said. “We were thinking, these people need tech support. My understanding is that school districts, one of the big struggles they were dealing with was that teachers were having to do tech support for parents,” for example. “So we were envisioning [IT support] as a growth industry.”



To create the curriculum for the course, Cushman began with existing Sno-Isle resources. “We have a subscription to, and there’s a series of videos…by [Mike] Myers that became the blueprint for our curriculum—how it flows,” he explained. They also used free online training modules from, which complements the Myers videos, Cushman said. “It’s a different style from Myers’s videos, so they match pretty well.” At the suggestion of a course facilitator working in Sno-Isle’s IT department, the library also purchased licenses for practice tests and course outlines from

“We wanted to start quizzing them and getting them used to what is going to actually be on the exams” as part of the course, Felt said. “We also sourced a bunch of additional test questions from some books in the library catalog. And one strength of having librarians working on something like this is that they tend to be curious, and so they went out and found all kinds of other sources for [test] questions…and other supplemental resources on the internet that helped with the curriculum.”

The most difficult part of developing the course, Cushman said, was pacing it out. “How much do we assign each week?” he said. “It’s dense material, especially if you’re new to it. But if we stretch it out too much, it becomes too much of a time commitment.” 

In 2020, the library focused on encouraging applications from people who had become unemployed due to the pandemic, which somewhat alleviated concerns about personal time constraints for a lengthy online course. However, a few of the first cohort’s participants did have to drop out after finding new jobs, and a few dropped out after finding the material too difficult. Applications for the current course closed on February 12, and Felt said that this time, the library had made an effort to be very transparent about expectations for participants and the level of difficulty of the material—including a brief sample test that interested applicants could take, as well as information about how long the prior cohort reported studying each week on average. In addition, students are only allowed three absences—only one without prior notification—to the weekly online learning circle meetings. More than three absences, and students become ineligible for the library-provided vouchers for the certification exams, which can cost individuals more than $200 each.

“This time, we’re trying to be intentional and communicative up front about what the time commitment and challenge is like,” Felt said. “We’ve certainly had people who walked into [the first course] with very little computer experience or IT background at all, and got motivated to study and are passing these tests. So, it can work, but you’ve got to go into it with a clear vision.”

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Matt Enis


Matt Enis ( is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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