As a complete newbie into the world of Audio Visual back in early 2004 I can look back now and fully admit; “I wish I knew then what I know now”. At the time I was fresh and keen, flattered to be considered for an internal move into a role working within the Video Conferencing team of the large blue chip company that I had started work for a few months previous as a customer service advisor answering the phones, with no idea what I was letting myself in for, and honestly? No idea what video or conferencing was beyond my Betamax VHS player at home.
Back then there was little available in the way of courses to learn more, the basics even! Yes there was manufacturer specific training days where you sat in a small room being spoke at for several hours, aimlessly wondering how large the pile of work was growing on your desk. As the months ticked by I knew that my ‘feet first’ entrance into the industry was where I was meant to be and so I began my search for ways to learn more. I first came across InfoComm as an integrator I partnered with at the time was an Emerald Member. Being the inquisitive knowledge sponge that I am (and also never afraid to ask a good question!) I asked what it was and where it fit into the industry. The answer was what my brain had been hoping for - here was an association representing the commercial audio visual industry worldwide. Here was an organization who provide industry standards as the foundation for quality audio visual solutions. An answer to what I had been searching for - a way to learn more in a non-manufacturer specific way. From that day, I have never looked back - with the exception of one or two specific individuals along the way InfoComm is the main reason I am here, 11 years into the industry; a respected and knowledgeable asset to my customers, still learning and still loving what I do. Why? Because I can understand it and when we understand something we don't fear it anymore.
It wasn't long that I moved companies and in 2007 and it was here in my new role, within a leading integrator, where InfoComm came into its own. I spoke with the MD about becoming certified as a company to allow the employees to benefit from the free courses that are available online. A way to differentiate us from other integrators. Giving us credibility that as individuals and as a company we worked to a globally recognized list of values and standards that the AV industry supported. Bingo! Now we had a tick in a box for tender responses and a whole raft of new resources available to us. From that day I encouraged other new starters to embrace what was now available - the free 'Basics of the AV Industry' course. Looking back now I probably needed a 'What is Audio Visual' beforehand but it served a purpose. It opened my eyes to terms like Aspect Ratio, dB, resolution and other exciting things I had never come across before. The industry was moving fast now, with Video Conferencing making the move to High Definition, leading the way for other new technologies to come along. I was a very hands on 'sales person' - wanting to do my own site surveys, or at least understand a site survey report. The poor engineers over the years had to put up with my endless questions…'Whys, How's and When’s'.
“Essentials of the AV industry” shaped my hunger to delve deeper, beyond just VC. This is still probably the best online course I have ever taken. I even purchased the book as supporting material and still use it today! That combined with my desire to be different, led to the CTS (Certified Technical Specialist). I wanted something with real value, something that would stand me head and shoulders above the other integrators and resellers, and something customers could feel confidence in. I was a tad too long in the tooth to try for a degree at that time in my life and actually researching multiple courses at the time, none of them are specific to AV, not even VC. Sure you can branch a little into Networking in certain syllabuses, but they are IT based - AV 'at the time' was a dark art and seemed to be restricted to skills and knowledge being passed down, hands on experience, rather than a chosen and structured career path.
What is CTS? To quote InfoComm "As an ANSI Accredited Standards Developer Organization (ASD), InfoComm provides industry standards as the foundation for quality audio-visual systems. In addition, as an ANSI Accredited Certification Body, InfoComm offers the Certified Technology Specialist™ (CTS®) program — the only ANSI accredited audio-visual certification under the International Standard ISO/IEC 17024."
The CTS gave me not only knowledge, not only a lovely pin I wear with pride at every customer meeting and InfoComm event that I attend, but it also gave me the title Certified Technology Specialist. A set of very specific tools and the knowledge to talk with confidence and passion about what I do. The course itself I was able to do online...great, something I could fit in around my day job. About 3 months of webinars (early starts and late finishes to fit in around the US team who led the webinars). Do I look back and wish i had taken a CTS Prep Boot camp? I think if I had been doing this on my own I would have yes, but I was able to progress through the CTS with a colleague and friend so it was like my own little boot camp that I could do at my own pace, stop and rewind if I needed to and pause if my workload required it to be. The AV Math module was probably my favorite. You know all of those equations that you learned in school that you thought you would never need? Well in the AV industry you need these and more. AV Math should be a basic requirement for AV personnel to take. It changed how I looked at jobs. Instead of just quoting what I thought the customer wanted, I could now actually calculate the size of a display that a room actually needed! I could calculate the location of speakers! I could advise, recommend and consult based on real foundations. But not just this, the AV Best practices...this should be a bible for anyone in the AV industry worth their salt. We should all be working towards the same set of values, the same set of standards, giving customers the confidence to know that they are in a safe pair of hands. I wonder how many return visits or snagging lists there would be if we all worked towards the same set of instructions. I do hold my hands up here and say yes, the course is theory based and very heavily focused on the US rather than UK, however the book is summarized as 'This industry-encompassing publication presents an overview of the industry, explores the inner workings of AV projects with start-to-finish process descriptions, and concludes with an assessment of what the future holds for the industry.' - Quite a statement.
I remember taking the exam, in October 2010, at an online testing centre nearby to the office, I was so nervous. I forgot everything on the day. Ohms law, inverse square, aspect ratio - my mind was a blank. However, the exam felt easy, I took my time through each multiple choice question and by the time my time had run out I had completed the questions and gone back though them to doubt myself and change a few. I waited. The message on screen appeared - you have passed! I was ecstatic.
Did it change the way I worked? Yes. Did it empower me to have confidence when speaking with customers? Yes. Did it give me tools to show customers what they need rather than what they think they need (or have seen on TV and want!), yes and explain why. I have never looked back. One of the most interesting parts of the CTS is the renewal after 3 years. Your renewal is based entirely on ongoing education. You collect RU points on various manufacturer courses or even with InfoComm courses, when you have enough you can renew. Simple! There are so many RU points out there for the taking. But not only that, so many new areas of Audio Visual to explore and the CTS is a fantastic vehicle to allow this to happen.
So here I am, late 2014, having renewed my CTS in October last year marking 3 years since it was first achieved and also approaching my 11th year in the industry. I am fortunate to have been in many different areas of the channel: a reseller, an integrator, a Channel manager and now lucky enough as a vendor. I am a proud InfoComm member and CTS holder, so where now for me? CTS-D if I can find the time! Attend more InfoComm events and show my support to the fantastic InfoComm team who cover EMEA region, their support and assistance over the years has been invaluable. I always talk openly about InfoComm and CTS when asked about my badge, or what the CTS stands for. I explain the worldwide standards and values, talk through the best practices, hopefully instilling my passion into someone else to open up that search engine and type 'InfoComm International' or 'CTS' to learn more. I always recommend the courses to new people in the industry who cross my path and I also never stop learning. This industry is changing at a rate of knots and if you don't keep up with it then it will simply pass you by. - A.W.
Earn your CTS renewal credits at Revolabs Online Academy here: http://www.revolabs.com/support/training