Bradford Benn, CTS or: How I learned to stop debating and take the CTS Exam

With apologies to Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Let me put in the disclaimer first, this blog post as well as everything on this site are my opinions and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or anyone else.

One of the interesting things that has been occurring recently has been people around me talking about CTS certifications from InfoComm. It has ranged from ribbing from people who have certifications to people questioning my knowledge base in Audio & Video. I appeared on a Tech Chaos Podcast to discuss this topic during March 2016. During the InfoComm trade-show in June of 2016, I had heard enough. The breaking point was one of my colleagues when I did not know something off the top of my head, said well if you had a CTS maybe you would know.

With me being the sarcastic and acerbic person I am, responded by saying there is only so much RAM to hold information and that question at hand can be looked up as I pulled out my handheld device. The question was how does one calculate the viewing distance from a display. I then asked a question that is just as relevant in today’s AV world, were two IP addresses on the same subnet mask? Yes, I was being petulant, as I said I am sarcastic and acerbic. Basically someone questioning my knowledge base because they had a CTS certification and I didn’t rubbed me the wrong way. As the ribbing continued, I brought out the fact that I teach classes that qualify for Renewal Units (RU). (To maintain a certification, one must acquire 30 Renewal Units every three years.) The volley want back and forth, until I finally pulled out the sledgehammer and asked how many projects that they had designed, fabricated, installed, configured, and commissioned that were the lead story on the national news. It got very quiet.

I was able to formalize my thought after that discussion, many certifications simply indicate that someone can take a standardized test effectively or has sat through a class with not testing. I will give credit to InfoComm for pointing out that certification doesn’t guarantee competency. From the webpage Certified Professionals Directory:

Certification is not a guarantee for performance by certified individuals. Certified Technology Specialist™ (CTS®) holders at all levels of certification have demonstrated audiovisual knowledge and/or skills. Certified individuals adhere to the CTS Code of Ethics and Conduct and maintain their status through continued education. Certification demonstrates commitment to professional growth in the audiovisual industry and is strongly supported by InfoComm.

Chuck Espinoza and I had a discussion about the certification and the process during InfoComm 2016. He made some interesting points, so I decided I was going to sit for the certification.  It would not be equitable for me to have an opinion without having a better sense of the process. Perhaps the other way to look at it, if you want to defeat your enemy learn to sing their songs.

I showed up at the appointed time and was shown to my test computer. The multiple choice test is administered via computer interface at an independent testing center. That makes good sense allowing the test to be taken easily by many people throughout the world. Any test is a combination of testing an applicant’s knowledge as well as their acumen at test taking. During my career I have taught classes for certifications and have also been the creator of the content and testing process. One of the things that I always stress to my students is select the most correct answer if they are not sure. I will follow the non-disclosure agreement I accepted as part of the testing process (yes, I am one of the people that reads the agreements before clicking accept) and be somewhat vague in my discussions.

As one can probably ascertain, I passed the test on the first attempt. However I learned quite a few things that I did not know. I did not know the standard symbols used in a Gannt Chart, despite having read them for over 20 years. I was not sure of the proper time to deliver a bid document package, but most of the projects I have been involved with had documented bid dates and processes. I could deduce what connector was a video connector, despite the fact I would not be able to identify it in the field. I also realized that the test is not solely about certification in technology  but includes other items that are deemed good practices by the committee. To me that is where the certification started to diverge and I saw how this testing process might not be the best evaluative tool. I also realized at that point having the CTS certification be a prerequisite to attaining a CTS-I (Installation) or CTS-D (Design) is not appropriate.

A great installer might know nothing about the sales process, she knows that when there is a question about new additions or pricing to bring in the sales person or project manager. She could be capable of determining how much to derated an wire rope based on the angle of pull in her head. She might pass the CTS-I test with flying colors on the first try, but stumble during the CTS certification process. A Designer might not know how to read a Gantt Chart, but if the project manager keeps the team informed of the deadlines, it is not an issue. The Designer might not be aware of the procedure for service calls, but that is not his skill set. As a specialist, one should not have to take the generalist test first.

My opinion though is a little mixed now about the CTS process itself. I took the test without studying. I did not even open a book, I simply took a practice exam, paid my money, and took the test. I passed. That is reassuring as I have had a career in the AV industry for over 20 years. I was also surprised about the content itself and how much in my opinion it has to do with the full industry. The fact that the testing agency I took the test at said that they have about a 66% failure rate, also told me that I need to reevaluate the measure of the test. I am not hiding the fact that I hold a CTS certification.

I do however standby the point as InfoComm has pointed out, just because one passed the certification test it does not mean that they are qualified. I also know that there are challenges in the continuing education or renewal units (RU) process. Many of the RU classes are simply attend and get the units, it does not prove that anything is being retained. However that is for another blog post.

Here is my certificate, since I don’t have a digital badge yet. Listen to AVWeek, Episode 258: Throwin’ Shade for clarification about that reference.

Bradford Benn's CTS Certification from InfoComm

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