Zend Certified Engineer Exam

This past week I became a Zend Certified Engineer (WooHoo!) and thought I would share my experiences about the process and exam. There are plenty of people who have done this before, and have recounted their experiences, so I’ll keep the standard stuff to a minimum, and try to focus on things that I haven’t read anywhere else.

On the zend website, back in August, they were offering a $75 discount (which I believe is still being offered), so I decided I would give it a shot. My reasons for doing so are two-fold: As many of you know, I’ve been using PHP professionally (read: daily) since version 3.0.5, so I figured I this would be a “capstone” to my experience. Plus, I believe in the corporate future of PHP, and the proliferation of certified professionals is only going to help that. Those who know me know that I’m not a certification junkie, and although I remain neutral on the whole “its just a piece of paper” debate, it is nice to see this available and legitimized for PHP folks.

Back to registration, basically, you paid through Zend, and they send you a voucher via email. You then go to pearsonvue.com website and choose the time and location you want to take the test. I left myself about a month to study, knowing fully well that I probably wouldn’t have time to study until the last moment (the born procrastinator that I am!). I know myself well, because that’s pretty much what I did. 🙂

To some up the stats on the exam:

  • The entire exam is taken on a computer, in a lab, potentially with other students taking other tests
  • 70 questions, 85 minutes, your score, and the number of correct questions needed to pass is NOT public info
  • Multiple Choice (possibly with multiple answers, eg: “choose three”), true false, and fill in the blanks
  • A study guide and practice test book are both available, and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND BOTH!
  • Test Price: $200 (mine was $125 with the discount mentioned above)

    So, what’s on the test? Here’s where my accounts differ from others:

    As I studied for the test, and even as I took it, it became increasingly clear as to the objectives of the test authors. This is not a standard memorization exam. You won’t have any questions that require you to memorize something otherwise useless. I can now see how much of a challenge this was. Why? Because, in the general learning and understanding of PHP, you learn lots of other things that about the web, your, platform, tools, libraries, databases, etc. that THEY CAN’T ASK YOU on the exam, because it is a PHP exam, not a “Web” exam, not a “Database” exam, and not a “Linux or Windows” exam. Does that mean that there aren’t any database, platform, etc. questions on the exam? No, but it means that the questions are related to your understanding of the topic at large, and not a tiny detail about the 4 parameters of a function.

    Now that I’ve been through it, I can see some of the thought processes that the authors went through. They tried hard not to make this an exam that didn’t prove anything, and instead created an exam which very accurately proves your experience level. What they must of done was recount their progession in learning about PHP, and recorded it in timeline form. When you look at it that way, you can see that most of us probably followed the same path. For example, one of the first things you probably did was to learn about form handling. Very soon after, you got into databases. Then email. File Uploads. Reading/Writing to Files. Objects and Arrays. Regular Expressions, etc. Maybe then, you got into Sessions and Cookies. Finally, as a developer with a 1 or 2 of experience, you started really thinking about more advanced topics, like security, software patterns, advanced configuration and debugging techniques. They did a good job of this, IMHO. You’re really not going to do well on the exam if you haven’t had these experiences firsthand, so I doubt the training schools are going to latch on to this test.

    Ok, but you want more. What’s really on the test? Where the test can bite you, and where the practice test book and study guide really come in handy are in helping you determine “what really happens” scenarios. We’ve all looked at plenty of code and can see why something is wrong, but the question is, WHAT is going to happen. You have an array with various keys, what’s the next key going to be and why? You have a complex equation, with all sorts of operators, including bitwise and logical, what’s the precedence?

    You’re also expected to understand configuration issues, on both Linux and Windows. Why? Because the average developer with the right amount of experience will be asked at some point to move their application to another platform – guaranteed. See what I mean? They’ve gotten into the heads of the experienced developer and quantified it. Again, I feel they did a good job on that.

    Is it “worth it” for you to get certified?

    I have a general habit of doing things that “aren’t” worth it. I’m also a notary public, which is handy for friends and family, but it’s not like I’m going to retire off of it, so you’re probably asking the wrong guy.

    So, Tom, are you now a shill for Zend? Are you moving to change the name of LIPHP to LIZEND?

    No, but I am certified, and am pretty happy about it. I learned alot by studying for the exam, and it certainly wasn’t a breeze, but I was well-prepared. The forums at phparch.com state that no one has ever gotten a 100%, and I believe it, as there were definitely some questions that I didn’t know the answers to myself. But, if you have the experience and study hard, you’ll find the test to be challenging, but very fair.