The Foreign Service Journal, September 2006

T he May 2006 issue of the Foreign Service Journal fea- tured a Speaking Out article titled “What are We Training IMSers to Do?” by Carl Stefan, a mid-level IRM employee. This article was high- ly critical of FSI’s School of Applied Information Technology, our staff and our training programs. Some of Mr. Stefan’s points may have been relevant, at least in part, back in 2004 when he was at the Warrenton Training Center. How- ever, information technology changes rapidly, and two years is a long time in IT terms. Over that period, as docu- mented in numerous telegrams, department notices and other media, SAIT (like its sister schools at FSI) has continuously reviewed and updated its curriculum, both for accuracy and relevance. For instance, Mr. Stefan’s article calls into question the conduct of our new-hire colleagues and adds an assumption that they arrive at post with the idea that they are, first and foremost, systems administrators. Today, I am confident that our new colleagues leave SAIT with the under- standing that they will be expected to perform the full range of IMS duties. Mr. Stefan is also critical of the industry-standard certification pro- cess, implying that the primary focus of SAIT instructors is to help the stu- dents pass the exams. Industry-stan- dard certifications set a reference point by defining a base set of skills and are used in many professions. Doctors, nurses, teachers, auto mec- hanics and accountants must all stay abreast of developments in their fields and periodically obtain certifications of their competence. This is of partic- ular importance in the IT field, where rapid changes in software and hard- ware are a constant reality. Certifica- tions are also used as prerequisites for our courses, with the goal of keeping our IT work force up-to-date with the latest technological changes. Contin- ual refresher training is a must, as cer- tification alone is not sufficient to guarantee high performance. Experi- ence and practice are also required. The new-hire IMS curriculum has been completely overhauled since 2004. The Basic Communications course, in particular, has been upgrad- ed through collaboration with the Diplomatic Mail and Pouch Division, the Cryptographic Services Branch, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and other process owners to continu- ally update our training and ensure its relevance to the field. Mr. Stefan should be pleased to hear that the cornerstone of the new- hire curriculum is the two-week Simulated Operations course that takes place in two mock-up embas- sies, which the Warrenton Training Center has been using since 2004. This training includes extensive State- specific systems troubleshooting and exercises for OpenNet, CableXpress Administration, COMSEC, pouch, radios and telephone systems, capped off by a day-and-a-half-long advanced First Responder course taught by cer- tified trainers/Emergency Medical Technicians at the Fire and Rescue Station. Beginning in February 2005, every student attending SAIT training has been informed, on the first day of class, that supplemental test materials such as “Test King,” “Actual Exams,” etc., are not allowed on the premises. This prohibition is reflected in SAIT policy and strictly enforced. While we do sanction one approved commercial and licensed package as a supplemen- tal study aid, the emphasis is on fol- lowing the prescribed curriculum, not just passing an exam. Since October 2005, A+ and Net- work+ certifications have been estab- lished as prerequisites for all FSI/ SAIT systems courses (see 05 State 188485, sent Oct. 12, 2005). In addi- tion, SAIT recently coordinated with the Bureau of Human Resources to include A+ and Network+ certifica- tions among the prerequisites for hir- ing new IRM personnel. SAIT leadership and staff are open-minded and encourage com- ments and suggestions from students, 14 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 6 What We Train IMSers to Do B Y D AVID P. J ESSER I N R ESPONSE We have completely overhauled the new- hire IMS curriculum to prepare specialists to perform the full range of duties.