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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

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.

For this article, I decided to focus on one of the relatively new Open Source certifications that are permeating the marketplace: the ZCE, or Zend Certified Engineer, based on the popular PHP language from Zend, the PHP company. As the use of PHP in the enterprise grows, it's only natural that certification go along with it, as with ZCE.

Since it's less than a year old, I decided to take a different approach than in the past. I figured it would be best to go directly to the source of the most accurate information on it and its relevance in the marketplace. So I did a brief e-mail interview with Daniel Kushner, director of education at Zend.

LWM: How long has the exam been in existence?
Since July 26, 2004. We launched the program at OSCON 2004.

LWM: What is the number of ZCEs now?
Around 400. There's a high rate of adoption in the enterprise that's starting to use the Zend PHP Certification in the recruitment process.

LWM: What is their breakdown of location? How many in the U.S., Europe, etc?
Back-of-the-envelope calculations would be approximately 40% U.S., 45% Europe, and 15% ROW.

LWM: What is the pass rate of the people that take the exam?
Around 85%. This number is dropping as we emerge out of the early adopter stage. I expect it to reach 80% and then level off.

LWM: What is the amount of experience that you recommend for someone looking to take the exam?
At least a year of daily PHP development. The exam tests real-world experience. Books, training, and cramming aren't enough to pass the exam and can't replace hands-on.

LWM: Do you advise people to buy the study guide?
Definitely. Not only as a study guide, but to learn the important elements in the PHP language that you might not use on a daily basis or don't know about. This is what I hear again and again from professional PHP developers.

LWM: Do you happen to have any data that suggests the difference in salaries for people with the certification as opposed to without it?
I don't have specific data, but on a recent survey I did with current ZCEs, at least 25% noticed a salary/revenue increase directly related to the Zend PHP Certification.

LWM: Is it strictly a multiple-choice exam? If not, what else is involved?
On the multiple-choice questions we specify the number of correct answers. So, for example, if there's a question where three choices are correct, the candidates will be specifically asked to mark three answers. There are about 12% open-text questions. These are usually one-four word answers that are graded automatically by the testing engine. Open-text questions are normally about function names, code output, and variable types.

LWM: Where is the exam administered?
Zend partnered with Pearson VUE to deliver the Zend PHP Certification at 8,000 test centers worldwide. Using a secure, reliable, and high-performance infrastructure, VUE handles most test delivery. We also provide paper-based exams at various conferences. Upcoming conferences would be php|works (www.phparch.com/phpworks/), and the Zend PHP Conference (http://zend.kbconferences.com/).

LWM: Do you plan on having any follow-on certification to the ZCE? Perhaps something that would encompass other parts of the LAMP stack?
We're currently discussing the possibility of an advanced-level certification. This would be a natural extension of the current certification program. With regard to a LAMP stack certification, there are other entities that are looking into this. I'm in contact with them, and the Zend PHP Certification will the "P" in LAMP.

As a result of being able to get much of the core information about the ZCE, we wanted to go "to the street" to get the viewpoint of a company that has compensated its employees to get the ZCE. I wanted to find out firsthand why this company felt that it was necessary to have its developers obtain this certification. Gregory Stoltz, CTO of Direct Response Technologies, was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to have an e-mail chat with us about why it's so important. This is what he told us:

LWM: Could you tell me about your work/development environment and why the Zend certification was important?
Our company provides a number of hosted solutions to our clients. All of these solutions are built on a solid LAMP platform and PHP is at the core of all of the software we create and support. Our company has had large-scale PHP-based applications in production for over eight years and having a qualified and motivated team is vital to our success.

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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