On Drupal certification programs

Every once in a while, the discussion of Drupal cerification comes up. Is a Drupal certification program a good thing or a bad thing? Are certification programs overrated? Isn't one's track record as a contributor on drupal.org the best measure of someone's past (and possibly future) performance? Should the Drupal Association manage the program, and if not, then who? What do other Open Source projects do?

Lots of unknowns and lots of subjective questions always make for a good discussion.

While I'm often skeptical about certification programs myself, I do see the value in them. Certification isn't for everyone but for some people it is valuable. A masters degree from MIT, an MBA from Harvard or a Ph.D. from Stanford is a form of certification too. But, just as there are good examples, there is no lack of examples where bad certification programs deliver certified engineers that don't know what they are actually doing. That fact, though, doesn't invalidate the valuable certification programs that do exist; for example, the CISCO certification program is very thorough and valued by the market. Similarly, I think that employers do value certificates achieved in higher education. All things considered, I believe there is value in having a well-executed high-quality Drupal certification program, especially as Drupal continues to grow.

My personal view is that the Drupal Association is not the best body to create "the" Drupal certification program. It is my belief that we are best served by allowing many organizations to create their own Drupal certification programs, and have the marketplace set their value -- similar to how universities build reputations. Competition around Drupal certification programs could be a great thing, because it would likely improve quality and allow for specialization. A certification, of course, is ultimately only as valuable as the organization standing behind it. In such a scenario, it is very important that the certification programs are labeled properly; that is, "ACME Drupal certified" rather than just "Drupal certified", where ACME is the name of the company or organization providing the service. It has to be ACME's reputation that is on the line for the quality of their participants. The Drupal trademark policy is designed to help achieve that.

I also don't believe that a certification program is a zero-sum game: that is, holding a certification doesn't imply that your track record on drupal.org (through your user profile) is of either less or more value. Again, the market and the buyer will determine the value of a drupal.org user profile versus a certification program versus a resume versus a portfolio versus degrees obtained through higher education. In any event, it is unlikely that one would hire someone solely on the basis of having a Drupal certification. I certainly wouldn't.

When we launched Acquia two years ago, we announced a Drupal certification program code named 'Yellow Jersey'. That program hasn't materialized yet, and we're not putting resources in it at this point in time. Building a high-quality certification program is a significant undertaking and we're not ready to take on such a program. And last but not least, the marketplace hasn't demanded these types of programs to a sufficient degree. Yet.

Other Open Source projects like MySQL, Zend, Linux, Ubuntu, RedHat, BSD all have certification programs so I think it is a matter of time before we see one or more Drupal certification programs emerge. Personally, I would support a well-executed high-quality Drupal certification program.

Comments

peach - all dru... (not verified):

In Drupal it would be rather interesting, would you need to take a test that involves both theme and module development, and would you need a new certificate for every main increment of Drupal ...

August 11, 2009
Tim Millwood (not verified):

I agree.

If three applicants went for a Drupal developer job. One 'Acquia Drupal certified', one 'Lullabot Drupal certified' and one 'Joe Bloggs Drupal certified'. I think the ones taught by Acquia and Lullabot would have a much better knowledge than the ones taught by Joe Bloggs because of the reputation.

If all three were just 'Drupal certified' there would be no way to differentiate between the quality of teaching.

August 11, 2009
Jamie Giberti (not verified):

Hi Dries,

You make a lot of good points, I have investigated a couple of times whether there is any Drupal certification active in the UK at the moment, one that seems to crop up quite often is a certification being offered by NobleProg, they seem to run various Drupal training courses, and also a certification. I do not know how advanced or well thought of it is, but this seems to be the main activity of this type in the UK.

August 11, 2009
Ravi Sagar (not verified):

Having a certificate is one thing but respecting it is another. In India most of the companies would give just little preference to the certificates. It might be true for other countries as well. Once a company associated with some product start their certificates all the small computer institutes start offering their courses and earn money. They even help students pass the exams. So all this just decrease the quality of the certificate.

Practical knowledge and experience is what matters the most. Even if Drupal ever has to offer a certificate I would like it to be like RHCE exams, which is more focused on "doing things" rather than "knowing things".

August 11, 2009
Dries:

I agree that 'doing things' is really important. One thing a certification program could do, is lock up the participant in a room for one or two days, and have him solve different Drupal problems.

For example, a participant could be given some infrastructure, a Drupal site with real content, and simulated site traffic that corresponds to 30 million page views a month. Then as part of the certification program the participant could be asked to use the provided infrastructure to make the site scale under different simulated traffic patterns. The solution could require a combination of things: installing memcached, installing APC, configuring page caching, configuring Varnish, configuring MySQL in master-slave, profiling Drupal, rewriting some module code, adding some missing indices, enabling the MySQL query cache, installing the Boost module, tweaking the Apache configuration, etc.

It would make the certification program valuable because most Drupal developers don't have practical experience with scaling a Drupal site to 30 million page views a month.

It is the kind of certification program I'd like to build, but as said in my blog post, that is no small task -- and maybe somewhat naive.

August 11, 2009
Andy Walpole (not verified):

So does the Drupal Association oversee the course / exams?

I think there needs to be some sort of official seal of approval then the courses can carry the label "Approved by the Drupal Association".

August 11, 2009
Jake Strawn (not verified):

I like the way this is headed as a topic. At first my thought would be that it would be very valid to have a certification program, but as it was pointed out several times, "value is in the eye of the beholder" seems to make sense.

I do still think there "could" be a good market/desire for this.

What if even, there was let's say 4 levels of certification:

  • Drupal Certified Engineer - Module/Core engineer focus
  • Drupal Certified Themer - Theme Focus only
  • Drupal Certified Designer - Designers with the chops to design well for Drupal
  • Drupal Certified Rockstar - a combination of 2 or all of the above options

To me something on these lines helps break things apart, as some of those groups would be difficult or impossible for some users that don't design for example. But also, having "levels" or "branches" of certification, including a "super certified" type level to me can also help drum up interest from some parties.

I think that even though being a "Drupal certified company" MIGHT not weigh in a decision to choose that company, there's always the chance that it DOES land the "big" client that wont accept any less.

Potential does lie here I believe.

August 11, 2009
Dominik Lukes (not verified):

Hi all,

Robert Castelo from Code Positive and I have been playing around with this idea for the last couple of months.

I think there is a way to have a certification that can take into account both practical experience and Drupal.org juice.

I suggest a successful programme would need to have two components:

  • Open Source style curriculum
  • Portfolio assessment

Here's a document suggesting an outline of such a curriculum
http://docs.google.com/View?id=dmjbnhb_4pnh27kc9.

This curriculum could be community-driven, have a maintainer, periodic version releases and some sort of a compatibility measure (API). Different providers could then provide differently structured training courses to help people compile a portfolio that would be a proof of a certain level. This could also help new users with self-instruction and large companies to manage their in house training and staff development.

I was hoping for a session on this in Paris (http://paris2009.drupalcon.org/session/training-drupal-professionals-tow...) but it looks like I might not be able to make it afterall.

There's also this project that's trying to achieve something similar: http://groups.drupal.org/node/22703.

There's a lot of experience with curriculum authorities and portfolios in the world of education but I'd like to experiment with bringing some open source ideas into educational design (and vice versa).

August 12, 2009
s.Daniel (not verified):

Certification programs are grounded on the idea of "If someone I trust thinks she/he does xyz good I'll believe that". Now how as someone new to Drupal know if he can trust the “Lullabot Drupal Certification”? Of cause we know Lullabot and know what they have done with and for Drupal but we don't need Drupal certificates any way, do we?

The way this is handled usually is to have some form approval of the certificate by an authority. The only authority I could think of is the Drupal Association.

I don't know how it works in other countries but in Germany universities are approved by the state. Still they can built reputation among others and focus on particular skills in the training of their students.

I think the best would be if the DA could maintain propositions of certification programs similar to the ones proposed by Dominik Lukes. Companies willing to do certification programs could use these as a starting point for their own programs and then hire the DA to approve their program.

This way we could maintain a comparable level while having a low entry barrier for new certification programs.

August 14, 2009
Baris Wanschers (not verified):

Sounds like a great idea. I agree with Tim Millwood that there has to be a differentiation between the certificates by adding the company name. So it's a matter of time before I can I get my Dries Buytaert Certified Drupal Designer Certificate?

August 14, 2009
Shaun (not verified):

@Ravi Sagar: "They even help students pass the exams. So all this just decrease the quality of the certificate."

What you mean to say is that companies in Asia help students cheat on exams for the right price. So, don't hire Chinese and Indian programmers.

October 7, 2009
Sudipta (not verified):

@Shaun: As Ravi Sagar told (and I am aware of these happenings myself), training institutes "train" the students "only" towards certification, that is, they provide dumps and make student "just perfect" for the certification, may not be "just perfect" for undertaking a real life challenge.

These certifications are just a means of "increasing" one's the value in the market by putting a logo on the CV.

Certification in X = Reading the "X for Dummies" + Taking a quick specialized training for certification in X + Getting latest question dump for ceritication in X

January 28, 2010
Jim (not verified):

If nothing else, some consistency in how to design and architecture a Drupal site would be a benefit. By that I mean if there were some basic standard practices. As a consultant and contractor, I've seen designs all over the road. I've noticed that module builders tend to write custom modules to solve a problem when there is already a module built that accomplishes the desired result. And we're not talking specialized contributed modules. I've seen simple menu structure so over-customized that any changes require hours of reverse engineering rather than going in and making a configuration change.
I'm not being critical of the module developer. When I started out in Drupal, I focused on building modules. But over time my focus changed and I decided to look for a Drupal solution first. That involved seeing what I could do with CCK or Views or Webforms or some other modules. I started spending more time understanding configuration and templates in what was already built rather than the API.
There was a mention earlier in the post about 3 distinct tracks. I think something of that nature would fit the bill.

March 15, 2010
Anonymous (not verified):

I agree with Dries.

One of the things I love about Drupal in regards to the job market is that Drupal talent is very scarce. I've noticed that a lot of web developers are are not fully invested in either Drupal or open source technology. Seeing a business, enterprise, or even developer investing in more deeply-rooted mainstream technology is all too common. Drupal is popular indeed, however its unexpected complexity tends to send the ones trying to decide what to learn next scurrying the other way. I love it. It keeps the competition lower and the technology unsaturated with point-and-click so called moguls.
Not down-play quicker methods of development, having someone that only knows some html/css with a WYSIWYG can put Drupal on their resume. Although that person would be misrepresenting themselves, over time it could have a negative impact for the rock stars.
Having an end-all, be-all, certification is counter-intuitive for Drupal's future, its community, and the Association.

March 4, 2011
andrew (not verified):

... and almost 2 years since Dries original post there is no one offering any such certification. The marketplace has spoken.

I am in favor of a reputable organisation offering a Drupal certification, as long as the exams test a deep knowledge of Drupal. A certification such as a "Certified Drupal 6 Developer" would be good, and not something like "Drupal SuperStar" or "Certified Drupalist".

Regarding "Certified to Rock", has anyone actually put their score on their CV? Or mentioned that they are "Certified to Rock at a level of 8" in an interview? I think the community also needs to think seriously about the real, working world here. Let's stop "Rocking" and start thinking about enterprise level projects where the client doesn't want a team of high level "Rockers" but a team of professional IT software developers, specialised in Drupal.

Most clients I have worked for know little about Drupal and would look more than puzzled if I mentioned my "Rockability" in the Drupal community. I am yet to find a client who has looked up my Rockin' level either. Yes, I am sure SOME companies use it, but they also probably have a decent knowledge of Drupal and probably participate in the community as well. This is far from being the majority of clients I have interfaced with.

A "Drupal 6 Certified Developer" would, however, have a place on my CV and be mentioned in an interview with a client. Of course, any decent client would not, and should not, pay for your skills based solely on a certification, but I think it would definately help seperate those developers who are prepared to dedicate time studying and money towards being a better Drupal professional.

In the projects I have consulted on, I have had to compete with programmers who claim they have an "excellent" knowledge of Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, PHPNuke... and the list goes on. As we all know, this is not very likely, and having worked with them, their lack of knowledge of Drupal and the Drupal API becomes very evident, very quickly.

Anyway, I am in full support for a reputable Drupal certificate that enterprise will look at and take seriously.

April 7, 2011
andrew (not verified):

Following on from my previous comment, I would like to go out on a limb here.. and surely get some interesting feedback:

How about a Drupal certification that has, as a prerequisite, the Zend PHP Certification?

I know, I know, there are THOUSANDS of talented Drupal developers who do not have the Zend PHP Certifiaction and will probably never want / need to get it.

You can think what you want about the effectiveness of the Zend PHP Certification, but it IS the most reputable PHP certification available (note, I didn't say it was the best gauge as to whether you were a proficient PHP programmer). For anyone who has studied to take the exam (regardless of if you sat the exam or not), you learnt something you didn't know before about PHP, right? And you most likely became a better PHP developer for it, right? Even if you've worked with PHP for 2+ years, to sit the exam you really need to dedicate several weeks (depending on your experience and knowledge) before sitting it. It's not a walk in the park.

Now, imagine if a Drupal 6 certification had this as a prerequisite, you'd certainly reduce the number of Drupal certified programmers but you'd also make the certification more reputable because you also know that who passes the exam has dedicated a decent amount of time to studying it, but not just the Drupal framework, also the the PHP language.

Most projects I work on require an excellent knowledge of PHP in order to integrate unusual customer requirements or legacy systems, just to name a few:

  • Custom deployment mechanisms (dev, staging and production servers)
  • Custom caching mechanisms which need to work within the restrictions of the client (not ever client wants, or can, install a reverse proxy cache)
  • Extreme query optimisation (because in some cases, even 80 queries to visualise a page are too many..)
  • Integrating (not migrating) legacy applications and web services.

All which require an excellent knowledge of PHP and Drupal and often sysadmin skills too. These are all real, large project challenges. Perhaps these skills would fit better into a certification such as "Drupal 6 Certified Enterprise Architect" and "Drupal 6 Certified Enterprise Engineer". The original idea of Dries would be ideal here, a 1-2 day exam of practical examinations.

With a reputable certification program, new Drupal developers who want to make a career out of their passion, would see that there are bigger challenges in the world of Drupal and might set their professional expectations higher and aim for PHP and then Drupal certification which, in the long term, would improve the quality of code being submitted to the repositories.

I know, I am sure you (the reader of this comment) are an excellent PHP and Drupal developer with years of experience and a certification is not necessary for you. Personally, I think it's time to raise the bar. The IT sector has shifted and is shifting even more towards certification programs as a base-level gauge. For many enterprise level software packages, in many cases, you need the certification to even get in the door, and THEN the client grills you about your experience and knowledge. I think that if Drupal wants to bring the open source ideas into the enterprises, it's time we began to think bigger.

Of course, if you work for a dedicated Drupal house, your reputation and experience speak for itself. You probably will laugh at the idea I am proposing. But for the majority of Drupal developers who do independent consulting, I think this idea floats. If there existed a "Drupal 6 Certified Organisation" (where you must have 3 or more "Drupal 6 Certified Enterprise Engineers"), would you be more interested?

Which body should be responsible for the examinations? I strongly believe that it should be the Drupal Association, as their interests are in the future and longevity of Drupal. Why not the market? Well, we've seen so far that the market is not interested (a few attempts were made but as far as I know, there is no longer any certification program available). The market also has other interests, for example: money, which might not necessarily be inline with the longevity of the product. Imagine you charge €100 for a certification exam, you'd probably want to certify as many people as possible, right? The Drupal Association, on the other hand, will be around for as long as Drupal CMS and has their interests in the future of Drupal and the open source community, not in their wallet.

Having said all of this, you should know that I am not a Zend PHP Certified Engineer. But, if an organisation sets the bar high enough for me by providing a Drupal Certification with merit, I would race to get it (and finally take that Zend PHP Certification I have been postponing for over a year now).

I see a bright future for Drupal at the enterprise level and I think a reputable certification program would greatly improve this cause.

April 7, 2011

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