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So in March 2014 Acquia (The company run by Dries Buytaert [buytaert.net], the project founder of Drupal) launched it’s certification program [acquia.com]. Whilst I am not necessarily an advocate of having a certification for every PHP framework or CMS that exists, but I do feel that Drupal did need something.
A little History
As is the case with a lot of PHP frameworks or open source projects, you find a large variety of abilities irrespective of experience level as a PHP developer. One of the best (And worst) features of PHP is that the barrier to entry is extremely low (Pretty much anyone can program in PHP). This also means there are so many ways to work with PHP, so many in fact there is even a PHP community initiive call PHP - The Right Way [phptherightway.com] to try and teach current best practises (Which include more complete use of Object Orientated Principles). This means that whilst there are a lot of incredibly good PHP developers out there, there are also a lot of incredibly poor PHP developers. That isn’t to say it’s a bad thing being a poor PHP developer, you may be a poor PHP developer because you have been using another language for years, or are just starting out in PHP. But our industry is filled with people who know only a fraction of what PHP can do, and CMS communities, including Drupal, are particularly full of people like this. They know how Drupal [drupal.org] uses PHP, or Wordpress [wordpress.org], Joomla [joomla.org] etc. That doesn’t mean they understand how to use PHP (Although they may well be very good at building a website in (say) Drupal).
Certification is good
For an employer to work out whether a developer can do what s/he says they can with a chosen language/framework/etc, other than qualifications, there are predominantly 2 ways: experience it for themselves (Say via a test done during an interview), or via a portfolio of work. In my opinion, portfolio’s of work, particularly for back end developers (No crude jokes please) are less useful, as you cannot always see what the developer did. To know what they did, you have to see the code, and this isn’t always possible (Non Disclosure Agreements can be a huge pain in the backside) As an example, I have worked on a lot of websites, for a variety of industries. I can’t because of NDA tell you whom I have worked for. But I can tell you my CV covers a wide range of industries. I can also say that over the last 12 - 18 months I have tended to work on helping to migrate clients from one type of site to Drupal. Without seeing any code, the only proof of my work is that the content is there. But (OK it’s a very cynical view, but it’s still a potential view) how can you tell that it’s definitely been imported and not reproduced by hand? Or that I (As the the developer concerned) did all the work, or how much of a contribution they made? Just saying “I built davidthorne.net” isn’t necessarily any good, if all I did was write 1 line of code buried deep in a feature that isn’t even turned on. Certifications can help get around this, as they show the developer can demonstrate a set level of competency in X. It also helps that people are used to seeing certifications on a CV (England and Wales have GCSEs/A-Levels, Scotland it’s Standards and Highers, etc). For a potential employer to see a qualification in (say) Drupal when applying for a Drupal role, you would hope it would instantly say to the employer “This person knows what s/he is talking about”. They are also particularly useful for people like me who do a lot of contracting and can’t disclose my client list, or someone who is just starting out in (say) Drupal and doesn’t (yet) have a huge portfolio of work to demonstrate. However…
Certification is bad
There is also an inherant difficulty with certifications. Who sets that level that says “This is a certification worth having”, how widely is it recognised, how many people have it, etc. There is nothing to stop be creating a certification in (say) English right now and the only question be “What is your name?” and as long as you could answer that you’ve passed. The fact that it wouldn’t be worth anything anywhere is neither here nor there, I can do it. And this is one of the huge issues certification in software languages has. There is no recognised standards body for all programming lanugages, nor is there a recognised standard that say’s you’ve got “basic PHP” or “basic Java”, it’s all open to interpretation. Having a company such as Acquia (Who’s CTO is Drupal’s project founder) create the Drupal certification helps, as there is a higher chance it will be accepted and respected by the community. It also helps it that they have made the test more than just an exercise in memory recall. The example question given on the Acquia certification blueprint [acquia.com] page requires you to have knowledge of the Drupal, and not just something you can memorise from a book. Acquia have clearly tried really hard to make this certification useful to developers who take it, but in the long run it will be down to the community, and companies who work with Drupal to know about it, and it’s standards before we can tell if it will be worth the time (90 minutes for the exam, plus your own study time) and money (at time of writing, $250, plus potential lost earnings for time spent studying) needed to be invested to pass.
You may wonder if I am going to take the exam. Well I will definitely take the current release certified web developer exam. At $250 it isn’t so huge a financial investment that it would cause me too much hardship (Such as other certifications which go for $2,000+) particularly when you consider I cannot reveal my client list to people, and as such it may be of more value to me than (say) a pretty empty portfolio. Whether I will invest in further specialist exaiminations Acquia have on their roadmap, I reserve judgement on that for now. I want to see how the community react to this exam, how widely it is taken within the UK/EU before I contemplate that decision.
Are you likely to take the exam? What are your views on certifications, I’d love to hear your views. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know.