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Why study Data Recovery?

Due to the evolution of the IBM clone personal computer market over the past 25 years the end user can in many cases install new hardware including Plug-n-Play internal technologies like PCI/PCI-Express expansion cards and external technologies such as USB peripherals with very little expertise or effort. Even in the event of total operating system failure OEM PC's include some form of "Restore CD (or DVD)" which is bootable and will either automatically perform a full sector-by-sector restoration of the operating system and originally installed software and settings back to the way the system was delivered or start a wizard to lead the end user through the process again requiring little expertise or effort to get the machine running again.

To this end, combined with the constantly falling prices of the machines and their components it seems that the market is being drawn inexorably toward the day when the PC will be a small, cheap, and, most significantly, disposable box like televisions are now and the classic conceptual PC Repair Technician will be rendered obsolete.

However, as Plug-n-Play as internal and external devices can be, and as easy as system restore discs can be to use, the end user's data is not nearly as easily recovered in the event of a complete system failure. In the end, it is this data that is by far the most valuable within any IT system whether it is a standalone web browsing PC or a large corporate workstation or server. The hardware is cheap enough and easy enough to replace, the software costs nothing to replace, requiring only reinstallation in the case of a failure. But the hours spent typing a term paper that goes down the drain with a corrupted critical sector are lost if the file cannot be retrieved. And even small businesses would lose millions of dollars in current and future revenue if the customer database were ever lost.

Currently the private IT industry has not recognized the dramatic shift in the state of the PC technician field. CompTIA is still demanding that PC Repair Technicians know that 0x3F8 and IRQ4 are the I/O address and hardware interrupt for COM1 even though almost all end users performed a ceremonial burning of their modems a decade ago. Customers need technicians who are well trained and competent in handling hard drives: technicians who can save all of their data and personal settings out prior to the reinstallation of the OS and then restore all of the files and settings back after the reinstallation. Businesses desperately need technicians who are competent in this expertise if nothing else.

To make things worse, data recovery has been a mystical art reserved for the major manufacturers like Western Digital and their clean room operations performed by engineers with full bachelor degrees in both Computer Engineering and Computer Science and costing customers usually in the thousands of dollars per incident. Yet most employers in the field outright reject the classical liberal arts degrees as a total waste of time. Degree holders can recite classic literature, do differential equations and compare sorting and searching algorithms, but they cannot get the PC to boot up again. Hence the heavy emphasis on IT certifications like the CompTIA A+ Certification or the Microsoft MCSE.

These however have over time accumulated their own problems. First, they are only paper certifications. Anyone with a very good memory, a little reasoning power and who is very apt at taking tests can cram the material covered on any of these certification exams, take them, pass them and hold a critical credential in the field, even though they have never actually done anything useful with a PC system other than click links and buttons. These "paper techs" are a very well known and chronic problem within the industry that has led to the insistence that potential employees possess years of experience in the field or their application will not be considered. Second, these certifications have become saturated with people who simply put, are not competent, yet they hold the credential. There are an estimated 471,000 holders of the MCSE and this seems to be a highly conservative estimate. According to over 600,000 people hold the CompTIA A+ certification, again a number that is probably a conservative estimate. Third, the certifications are functionally obsolete and/or incompatible with the market and its requirements. They are simply not teaching technicians the skills needed in today's IT environment.

Many salary surveys indicate that holders of the CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetworking Engineer) will get the largest increases in pay and will be the most likely to get a top level job based solely on the fact that they hold this certification. Someone holding the CCIE would be hired over someone else holding a conventional bachelors degree in Computer Engineering (obviously depending on the exact job description, if the company is designing computers then they would need the Computer Engineer). And such surveys go on to point out that there are several of these coveted, highly sought certifications and they all have one thing in common: very few people hold them. There are roughly 4,800 holders worldwide of the CCIE. This is because it is extremely difficult to obtain. The test is held at a special facility which means that the person must travel to California to the testing facility. The test takes several days to complete meaning the person must spend money and time on accommodations. The test is hands on requiring the person to actually analyze a real world problem and correct it, eliminating all pretenders who can memorize but do not actually know what they are doing, and finally, the test is far from cheap meaning that the person is risking a lot of time and money on travel, accommodation and the actual test expenses, further weeding out those who might take it on a lark to see if they can pass. In the end, people who schedule a CCIE really do know what they are doing and many do not pass it the first time.

Another problem then is the gap between a simple paper test certification and a formal degree. The Disaster Prevention and Data Recovery Specialist certification intends to bridge this gap and provide the employer with a true technician armed with the knowledge and skills needed in the modern personal computer industry: well trained in the proper material set and well tested to be certain that they actually know how to perform the operations that the certification claims.