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An In-Depth Look At The Zend Certified Engineer (ZCE) Certification

The ZCE, or Zend Certified Engineer, is based on the popular PHP language from Zend, the PHP company

LWM: When and why did you decide to get your employees Zend certified?
Two reasons:

  1. To demonstrate to our employees that we are committed to their continued growth and professional development. Achieving a certification regardless of the particular technology area helps to build a sense of confidence and provides the employee with a tangible accomplishment that he can take with him should he decide to leave.
  2. To demonstrate to our clients and our non-development employees that our development team has the skills and abilities required to support them. It's difficult for non-technical people to really understand whether a particular programmer knows what he's doing or not, particularly when working in the context of a large and growing team. Certifications help to demonstrate competence.
LWM: Did you notice improvement in their work after being certified?
Nothing that I would attribute to the certification specifically. Our team is constantly evolving and experimenting with new approaches to tackle the challenges we face. Our team is talented and experienced. The certification was one objective method of validating our belief in its capabilities. Each and every member of the team has taken and passed the certification exam but they joined the team with some background in PHP.

LWM: How would you rate it in comparison to other certification programs that you have sponsored employees for in the past?
The Zend certification is the first certification program that Direct Response Technologies has formally supported. In past roles, I've had members of my team seek other certifications like the Novell CNE or Microsoft or Red Hat certifications. Those certifications comprise more than a single test and are more difficult to attain. Zend certification is a single test that takes less than an hour to complete. It certainly helps having some real-world PHP development experience prior to preparing for the test. However, it is just a single test.

LWM: Would you as a company/manager do it again? Future hires?
Yes, we'll certainly continue to support certification. In fact two team members took and passed the exam last week and all future team members will know from the start that they will be expected to achieve the same goal. We're also going encourage all of our team members to achieve the MySQL professional certification.

LWM: What were the employees' thoughts on getting certified?
The members of the team were universally excited about the certification. They all studied hard, coached each other, and many scheduled their exams for the same day. Not a single member of the team expressed any reservations. Some of the team members who took the test later in the process expressed some nervousness over the results not wanting to get shown up by their peers but were nonetheless excited to participate.

LWM: What were some of the comments about the exam itself (easy/hard)?
Most found the test acceptably challenging. There were some comments about some of the questions being outside of the scope of PHP development. However, those questions were relevant to the skills being tested.

To complete the puzzle, we wanted to get insight from a current ZCE on his/her experience after getting this certification. For this we turned to Marcus Whitney, chief Architect of MyEmma.com. He offered us this insight on why he believed it was so important for him to get his ZCE:

LWM: Could you tell me about your work/development environment and why the Zend certification was important?
It was important to establish a standard here for new employees that we only hire the best PHP professionals. I couldn't demand others be ZCEs if I wasn't one myself.

LWM: How long have you had certification, and why did you decide to get it?
I got it in September 2004. I got it because it was a stamp of approval to my peers at the PHP|Works conference.

LWM: How would you rate it compared to other certifications that you've gotten in the past?
I've only done BrainBench certs in the past. Being in Open Source, I see the ever-increasing role that certifications are playing, but when I got into the industry they just weren't as relevant.

LWM: As a manager, are you considering making it part of your company policy for your current developers? Future hires?
Yes, absolutely.

LWM: What were some comments about the exam itself (easy/hard)?
The test is not simple. Many PHP programmers use PEAR and third-party libraries.

LWM: Do you have plans to get any other LAMP-related certifications?
I think so... but I'm not sure which ones at the moment. I'm thinking MySQL is probably next for me.

After doing the interviews, it appears that the ZCE is gaining clout in the corporate world. In the last few months, we at HotLinuxJobs have started seeing corporations ask for the ZCE; as a result, it's become a focus of a number of our searches. With the increased use of PHP in the enterprise, the ZCE has positioned itself for a bright future.

More Stories By Brent Marinaccio

Brent Marinaccio has been with HotLinuxJobs since its inception in early 2000. HotLinuxJobs is a recruiting firm that specializes in the placement of Linux/Open Source professionals. As director of open source recruiting, Brent has gained considerable insight in the subtleties of recruiting in the Open Source world.

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Most Recent Comments
Peppie 06/18/07 09:56:36 AM EDT

Any news on the layout of the new Zend Zertified engineer exam? Since Vip Malixi comments I am anxiously awaiting answers from Zend, but alas nothing. I am recertifying on PHP5 and would love to know if the exam has changed, eg open-book, etc.

vip malixi 01/10/06 10:07:27 PM EST

I thought you might be interested in comments about the PHP Certification exam (ZCE):

I was planning to take the PHP Certification exam but, as a Psychology Major who has studied Testing Methods, I am disappointed with how your test has been designed. It clearly fails to measure a person's understanding of PHP. It also does not measure a person's PHP coding ability. What your test does measure is a person's ability to memorize and understand manuals as well as handle trick questions.

A proper test must measure what it is supposed to measure. Thus, for example, a test to measure a person's spelling ability shouldn't require the examinee to know the meaning of the words being spelled. If the test was to measure the examinee's spelling and comprehension ability, then and only then, should questions about word meanings be included.

In your test, a lot of its difficulty stems from having to memorize large portions of the PHP manual, mainly function syntax. If part of your purpose is to measure the examinee's memorization capability, then this is valid. Unfortunately, this will more often than not run counter to your main goal of measuring a person's understanding of PHP. What I mean is, a person who is adept at PHP, may, for the sake of economy, speed and accuracy, always depend on consulting the manual or a glossary of functions to make sure their syntax is always correct and up to date--thus never really relying on memory. It is for a similar reason that pilots and astronauts go through a written checklist rather than depend on memory to avoid disastrous syntax/memory errors--but doing so, doesn't mean they are bad pilots or astronauts, it actually means they are thorough at what they do. Similarly, a good PHP programmer would invariably always consult with the manual or copy/paste from his glossary to make sure his syntax is correct. Thus for your test to require the examinee to memorize large portions of the PHP manual is actually counter to measuring whether the examinee has a good understanding of PHP.

It would be better then to allow examinees to have a copy of the PHP manual available during test taking and to inform them that it would be available. What this would do is allow the examinee to concentrate on his "understanding" of PHP rather than his memorization skills.

I suggest you make this correction to your certification exam. Another problem with the exam is the use of a lot of trick questions--questions that are not straightforward (in your exam, you can tell something is a trick question by asking yourself if the question-problem or code snippet example is actually used or can possibly be encountered in real-world situations--if it cannot, then it most probably is a trick question). Again, this is a "no no" in testing methods. If you are measuring a student's ability to uncover and overcome trickery, then well and good, but it has no place in a properly-designed test.

It would help greatly if you consulted with a good Testing Methods professional to check if your Certification Exam has other aspects that need improvement.

I suggest you have the people who developed the test to take a look at...


...which gives a good overview of proper Testing Methods.

Thank you and keep up the good work.

Vip Malixi

LinuxWorld News Desk 07/28/05 03:36:45 PM EDT

An In-Depth Look At The Zend Certified Engineer (ZCE) Certification. Welcome to my first installment as a LinuxWorld Magazine writer. I'm taking over from my colleague Rob Jones and I hope to continue on the same track of providing information on certifications, as well as discussing the nuances in the Linux/Open Source recruiting landscape.

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