Preparing for Acquia Certification [April 23, 2014]
Want to learn more about Acquia’s products, services, and happenings in the Drupal Community? Visit our site: http://bit.ly/yLaHO5.
In this webinar, join Prasad Shirgaonkar and Heather James to find out what the Acquia Developer Certification is based on, how it was developed and what is required to prepare for it. We’ll give you examples of scenarios and problems you can practice that will help you build your skills.
You will find out about:
• What is the certification blueprint?
• How to identify your learning gaps
• External resources for certification preparation
• Certification preparation workshop
Hannah Corey: Training sessions on Preparing for Acquia Certification with Heather James, who’s the Manager of Learning Services here at Acquia and Prasad Shirgaonkar who’s the Curriculum Developer here at Acquia. We’re really excited to have both of them on the call today.
Heather James: …for the Acquia certification, and we’re going to be looking at probably if we’re taking the exam you probably want to know what it’s like and if that is the case, then this is definitely the right place for you. I want to talk with you first today about the goals of the exam, you know how we actually chose to focus on specific skills, better actually outlined in the exam blueprint that’s probably available. Then, I’m going to hand it over to my colleague Prasad. He’s going to talk with you about the kinds of questions you’ll actually encounter on the exam and how to find your weak areas and how to improve on them. Finally, we’re going to look at the resources available so you can actually improve on your skills. I’ve actually been – I’m Heather I should say. I’ve been using Drupal since about 2002, using the early 4.0 releases. I’ve actually been with Acquia since 2009 on the training team. So, this certification idea has been a long ongoing discussion within the community, and I’m really excited to see those plans result in a program that I’m really proud to talk with you about today because I’m just amazed to see it come together. How about yourself Prasad?
Prasad Shirgaonkar: Hi. I’m Prasad. I’m a Drupal since 2006, Drupal 4.7 dates. Prior to joining us here, I was running my own Drupal service shop where I look on where 200 Drupal projects for clients on almost 12 countries in four years. Since last year, I’ve started doing full-time Drupal training, and I have conducted numerous workshops for individuals and in the price clients. Currently, I work on developing and conducting training programs for Drupal and Acquia products. I was also a part of core team, which made the certification program. I’m very excited to share a few tips about preparing for the certification in this webinar.
Heather James: That’s true. I think that’s what’s really great about your experience, Prasad, because you have been a developer for a long time. You had your own business and then as well you’ve been able to see how it is when you actually start training people. We’re going to hear a little bit about the – how we prepared it and some of the folks that have been involved in the program.
Prasad Shirgaonkar: Absolutely.
Heather James: Yes, it’s definitely good. Let’s look at the program and how it’s structured and what to expect. We actually have two tracks planned, but one is available right now. Specialist tracks are planned for front and back-end development, but our first certification track is for the common skills that any Drupal developer needs. For this first exam, we spoke – we sort of focused on those the skills that were common to the specialist and really required for most key roles in Drupal development. Further details are available on our certification pages and I think you know – I think one of the great things actually about the program is that you can either take the exam at a test center in person or you can take it online as a proctored exam observed by a real person. During that time, either in either case, you’re going to get 60 questions that you can answer in 90 minutes, which should be ample time for you to complete the exam. It costs $250.00 and you can register online.
What I’d recommend is that you watch your previous webinar with our colleague Peter Manijak. Today, we’re really picking up where that webinar left off. In that recording, you can find out details of what it’s like to take the exam. Peter also gives practical tips and follow - answers questions about what the online versus in person exam is like. The links that are in the slides here are going to be sent in the follow up e-mail that Hannah is going to post, so you’ll be able to download the slides and get these links. Next, we’re going to – so the first step really on the process of preparing for the exam is to understand what’s the point? What’s the goal of the exam? Understanding this will help you understand how the exam can actually improve your job prospects and get new opportunities. On the other hand, if you’re actually hiring manager yourself, it will help you understand how certification will help you build the team you need for successful Drupal deployments.
The goal from the very start was to be something that was effective and that we could stand by. We started by actually researching and comparing actual job descriptions out there in the wild. Things that were posted by our partners and our clients, and this helped us see what roles are being filled. We then validated that by interviewing our clients, partners, and our colleagues to see what matched up. Then, we used a job task analysis survey and that detailed specific skills in use that actual hiring managers were seeking. The whole point of the exam is to be able to say that at this point of time, we validate that this person has these particular skills. We know that these skills are those that are required and in need. To that end, the exam touches really on all areas of Drupal core architecture and extending Drupal.
You’re probably wondering right now if this exam is right for you. As you’ll see in the exam blueprint following, the certification does cover quite a breadth of knowledge. Many of the situations described in the exam would be things that you probably encounter through your own experience rather than technical knowledge or I should say not technical, theoretical knowledge. This means exam really isn’t for novices. We are considering other assessments to help people in earlier stages of their careers, but you would need to get some more hands-on experience if you have say, less than six months experience to this point. However, if you do have more than six months experience on real life Drupal projects, you should definitely take the exam and be confident that this is right for you. Those who have more experience than that should be able to test out quite easily actually.
Let’s look now at the details of the exam blueprint. The blueprint explains the top level domains for the exam. As you can see here, you can see how each of these knowledge domains makes up a certain percentage of your total exam score. You can see the components are actually broken down further online. Look at this blueprint when you start to look at the details of it, you’ll see that it really is requiring a fairly good understanding of those three core Drupal demand cycling, front end and back-end development in order to be ready for the exam. Because the past rate is fairly low, I mean if you compare it to other certifications, it is 65%. We provided some leeway for specialists. What we want to see, our developers who really understand the other domains because we’ve discovered that’s quite essential for a successful Drupal development.
What knowledge is needed? As you can see by the way things are weighted, you can tell a really aiming for balance with this exam. So, if you have the name recycled in your role without any knowledge or understanding or experience of either front end or back-end development in Drupal, you will need to take timeout and systematically learn those domains. Take time, take formal training and we’ll look at some of the resources that are available. Some of our relay, if you’ve only been doing front end or back-end development, you’ll know maybe somehow on your – if you’ve got a larger team especially people find their skills are siloed because of the task they’re given to do. They should – those people should take time to understand Drupal site building as well. Of course if this knowledge is needed and required, you’re probably wondering how we actually test for it in the exam, how we actually look at the specific areas. I’m going to pass it over to Prasad now, and he’s going to talk to you about all the different kinds of questions you’ll encounter.
Prasad Shirgaonkar: Yes, thanks Heather. Now, we know the exam objectives and the exam blueprint, you might have got an idea that we are almost covering all the three major domains of Drupal. That’s the Drupal site building, Drupal front-end development that’s teaming and back-end development that’s more your development. We know what knowledge is tested in the exam. Now, let’s see how this knowledge is going to be tested. We can do that by understanding the nature of questions. Typically people think of questions, of multiple choice questions as something like you are say, expected to remember the syntax or you are expected to memorize a few things. Let’s have a look at the nature of question that we have in the exam.
Basically, we are asking the nature of questions. They are all scenario-based questions? There are three parts to each question. There is the scenario, a question, and the options. A scenario actually describes a situation with the used case or a client requirement or possibly even an issue on a Drupal site. Then, a question is asked about the scenario or the problem. There are four or more charges given for possible solutions from which the candidate needs to select a correct answer or possibly multiple correct answers.
Let’s, have a look at a sample question. The scenario says something like this but you are running a popular local news portal. A mobile app developer in your area approached you for permission to syndicate your content on their mobile app. Now, they are requesting the content to be made available as a feed rather than an HTML format. So this is a typical, practical scenario or practical situation which you might encounter as a Drupal developer. Then, the question that we ask is that how can you provide a list of latest articles in RSS format? Then, the answers - the choices are to create a view with feed display or create a view with page display enabling the RSS filter, create a view with page display by selecting the RSS feed as a display to style output or create a view with the page display and then modifying your template file to provide output in RSS.
Obviously, only one of the answers is the correct answer and there are previous factors, which are like meaningful or wrong answers actually. So, you have to select the correct answer, discarding on all the incorrect answers.
If you look at this sample question, you may realize that the questions rely on application of Drupal concepts and knowledge rather than purely memorizing the facts, code or syntax. Now, this essentially means that just reading through the long list of documentation or books would not be sufficient for answering most of the questions. You need to have the real experience or understanding of sufficient number of used cases, applications, common scenarios in a Drupal project. Possibly, even support request and issues that they are handled in the past. Once you have all these information, then only you will be able to answer the questions which are asked.
If the nature of the exam is off this time, then how do we prepare really? What we suggest is actually first day of preparation is to find out your own strengths and weaknesses in the area of Drupal. Actually, a truly experienced Drupaler will likely to know his or her weaknesses much, much more than their strength. Now, after looking at the domains of site building, front-end development and back-end development, you might have made a judgment about where your own skills stand while reading the full domains listed. Now, it’s quite natural for a person to be more experienced than more proficient - but not the domains than others. For example, if you might be a very proficient site builder, you might have the lots of sites building using the UI, but you might not have developed the module. You might be a very good themer or UI builder but you might not have a well – done a lot of site building configurations. Same is for about module development. You might be proficient PHP developer, developing a lot of module, but might not know anything about Drupal theming there.
It’s quite likely even within a particular domain, not to have enough experience of all the topics. What we have come up with is that you have developed a small self-assessment tool, which you can access at this URL that’s bit.ly/acquiasat. That‘s the self-assessment tool. This is how the tool looks. What we have then is we have taken the list of all the exam objectives, including all the sub-objectives like in-site building like demonstrating the ability to create content by its sign, everything that we are covering in the exam blueprint. Next to each, actually you can put your own score in the area of zero to 10. Zero for the – we absolutely don’t know anything about an objective, and 10 if you are like master in that particular area. If you do that for all the exam objectives, rank your own skill for the exam objectives, and then you will come to know that anything which like having 8+ score, which implies your absolute strengths, anything between five to seven that implies you require some preparation for those objectives. Anything which is like less than zero possibly will require a lot of preparation or guided instructions for that.
The first step for actually preparing for the exam is to do a self-assessment overall the different objectives and find out where exactly you stand, so that you can plan your own preparation.
Now, of course once you know your weak areas, the next step is to work on your own weak areas. Let’s assume we will share some tips about working on site building if that’s your weaker area or front-end development or back-end development, all the three top level domains. Of course if you have basic HTML, CSS, and PHP as your weak area then you have possibly a lot of resources online about HTML, CSS and PHP preparations. We have nothing to talk about that. We’ll be focusing on the Drupal. If anyone of these three domains is your weak areas. Lets’ talk about site building if that’s your weak area. Before that, basically once we start at the – once you decide to work on your weak areas, there are two challenges that you are likely to face. The first one is to find and study documentation and knowledge resources for the topics from your weak areas. The second one is to find enough number of practical case studies covering the topics. The first one will be solved when we are actually sharing a list of resources, which are mapped to each exam objective.
You can go to those resources. I will share the link at the end of this webinar. The second one is a real challenge, is to find enough number of practical case studies covering all the topics. Let’s talk if your site building is your weak area, what exactly you can do to prepare. We suggest a particular way out. Now, select any three to five Drupal projects which either you or your team has done over last a year or so. Collect all the teams, review all the configurations and settings. Review content types, fill settings, refill settings, vocabularies, blocks, menus and views used on all the sites. Possibly you can even make a list of all the configurations made across all the sites, and just ask questions about each type of configuration that why the configurations are the way they are? What can be changed or improved, possibly work issues or support request were raised by the clients for those projects, what changes were made into the initial configurations and why those changes were required? This can possibly give you enough overview of all the different types of issues that were faced by your team across various types of Drupal installations and Drupal configurations. Of course, if you rated that along with the resources list that we share, we can actually gain a lot of insight into site building activity of Drupal if that’s your weaker area. What if front-end development is your weak area? This is just a similar approach, you can actually collect custom themes developed by your team over the last year. If you don’t have enough custom or themes developed by your team, you can actually select a few contributed themes from drupal.org.
However, when you go to back-end development, a similar approach for studying may not be useful because your team might have developed possibly a few custom modules over the last year, but for custom modules, they might have very complex functionality or might have a very used case specific functionality. What we expect in this exam is that you have an overall understanding of Drupal’s API, core hook system, and their applications. If you haven’t done module development at all in your life and still want to attend this exam, of course you can prepare for this. Preparing for module development is actually easier than preparing for site building or theming, which are like last areas. For module development, you can attend the module development course, possibly you can build a small module on your own and explore all the APIs given. Actually, there is a module called as Examples Module in Drupal. You can download that from drupal.org/projects/examples that provides a very documented list of all the APIs or lots of APIs and lots of functions, which you can implement in your own module. You can actually try out some code in action and explore various aspects of module development.
These are the three different ways in which you can prepare for three different domains for site building. Collect or just get information of three to five main projects done by your team over the last year, go through all the configurations, review configurations and ask a lot of the brainstorming questions and find your answers online. About theme, similar theme, collect three to five good themes developed by your team or good contributed themes. Analyze those themes and ask a lot of questions and try to find out answers online. For module development, if you haven’t done module development then actually develop a module, develop a small module or attend the module development course. So, that’s how you can prepare for this exam or any one of the domains, which you are not proficient in the exam.
Once you prepare, once you are ready to take the exams, we’d love to share some tips about taking the exam. Now, as Heather said in the beginning this exam can be taken either online in the proctor or at the exam center. If you are taking an exam at the exam center, make sure you find the right address when you register from Webassessor. You can actually select an exam center which is closer to your location. Of course, just find it on the Google Map, plan your travel properly. Make sure that you arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled time. You need to bring the copy of your registration e-mail, so that there is a call with that exam center operator needs to know to activate your exam order. You also need to carry a photo ID, like your passport or driving license or whatever photo ID is accepted in your region. If at all you need to reschedule, make sure that you reschedule it at least 24 hours prior to your designated time. This is what would be the required at the exam center. Also, make sure that exam centers may have strict rules about keeping your belongings or keeping out your mobile especially or taking breaks during the exam. Just make sure that you understand those rules by talking to the operator. Also, the operators at the exam center are neither Drupalers, they are not Acquians, so they won’t know anything about the exam or the certification. They won’t be able to help you if you have any technical questions regarding the exam over there.
If you are taking the exam online at online proctored exam, you need to install a specific software from webassessor.com. Check the system requirements by logging into webassessor.com. Make sure to install necessary software at least one day before the scheduled time. Currently, the software doesn’t work on Chrome on Mac because a Flash related issues. So, you need to get either on – if you are on Mac, you need to take it either on Safari or Firefox. You install that software one day in advance. At that time of taking the exam, you need to select a silent room or possibly a silent corner in your office where no one is – nothing is going to distract you for 90 minutes at a stretch because you can’t take a break in the exam once you start the exam, or you have to finish it within 90 minutes flat.
Keep a bottle of water handy. That’s very useful when you’re taking the exam. Switch off your mobile phone. Keep it far away from you, so that you are not tempted to take mobile. Last one is that don’t use two monitors. Just use your laptop or desktop’s primary monitor only. Don’t connect to another monitor. This is an online proctored exam in the sense that when you are taking the exam, some real person, somewhere sitting in the world is actually monitoring what you are doing. This is to make sure that there is integrity of the exam is maintained well and we are not doing following any form of, say taking help while taking the exam from others. That’s why the proctor needs to make sure that the person is completely enrolled in the exam that’s why mobile phones or using two monitors and things like that are not allowed in this exam. I think these are the simple tips to follow for taking online exam, which will save your time and you can do exam efficiently.
Once you are either at the test center or you are taking the exam online, what tips to do when you are actually taking the exam? The first one is that don’t rush. Now 90 minutes are more than enough to answer 60 questions even if English is not your first language, it’s your second language, or from our experience or from the experience of exam takers over the last one month. Every minute given to you is done so that even if English is their second language it’s more than enough to read all the questions, understand the responses and give proper responses. So, don’t rush. There is no need to rush at all. Attempt all the questions for which you are sure about the answers first. So, basically start with the question that you know. The system allows you to save questions for a review later. You can always review all the questions later before you submit the final response.
For any questions you are not sure of the answer right away, just save it for review later and revisit the question after you have attempted all the others. The third thing about for all the developers basically is that don’t over think. If you have that enough Drupal sites, Drupal projects in your career and if you need a scenario, most of the times the first answer which comes out of your gut will tend to be the right answer. Just move with your gut feeling and answer questions. One thing I would like to mention is that there are no trick questions in the exam. It’s not your language test. So, we are not trying to trick you or not trying to give very strange language per se. They are very straightforward questions. So, take all the questions and to face value. We got some feedback from a few guys saying that for a couple of questions, couple of answers you will use choices look exactly the same, but when this happens, when you feel like two answer choices are exactly the same, just go to them again, review those exact same things and you will find out the difference.
These are the tips which you can – which will be possibly helpful for – if you are taking the exam either online or at the exam center. About the resources, I’ll pass back to Heather who will talk about the resources now.
Heather James: Thank you very much, Prasad. That’s a really good point. I’m going to talk about the resources. I think what’s interesting actually probably to know is that actually at each point on the – what we are developing in the exam but each point of the exam objectives. We needed to validate and make sure that the facts that we’re actually going to test were supported by published documentation and books. Those resources are actually the ones that we’re referring to. We can’t tell you what page it was on, but we can tell you that the information is out there and available from you to learn from. The resources actually are going to be summarized in this upcoming E-book, that’ll actually be out next week. If you’re watching this as the recording, I’ll make sure to update the recording page with a link to download it. The E-book is actually organized - the sections on resources are organized by the type of resource. There are first freely available resources from drupal.org. There are also published books. Then, we have separate sections for Drupalize.Me and BuildAModule. Drupalize.Me and BuildAModule are services that are available to our network subscriptions either free or with a reduced discount. The great thing is that you probably already have access to some of these things, and maybe books already on your shelf and we’re just going to point you in the right direction to various sections, et cetera.
If you do find yourself needing structured training, I’d recommend you check out our training courses on training.acquia.com, and there we have very structured training around theming, module development, and site building. They are fun. We very much – we try to make it - we create interesting problems for you. We use cases and make it not just hands on, but also let you think and be creative in the events. So at this point, I wanted to ask if anyone has any questions. You may have some questions that’s about the exam itself or you may have questions about some of the topics that are covered.
Hannah Corey: I’ll go.
Heather James: Yes, cool. Sorry, Hannah, pardon?
Hannah Corey: Yes, I had some questions come in. The first question is for the self-assessment. What total score would you suggest the passing grade on the exam?
Prasad Shirgaonkar: Okay. Can I take that, Heather?
Heather James: Yes.
Prasad Shirgaonkar: Okay. I think it’s a fairly interesting question and possibly a difficult one to answer because the self-assessment is done by that person understanding on his own perception of his own skills about each objective. The exam questions are – may or may not have the reflection of his own understanding. What we would suggest is that the total score, or the passing rate for the exam is 65%. So, you need to clear – have 65% questions correct in order to pass the exam. If you take that logic to the self-assessment, you would see that at least in the 65% areas – in the exam objectives, if you have your scoring, your own grading more than eight, then possibly that will reflect a passing grade for the exam.
Heather James: That’s a good point.
Hannah Corey: All right. We have some other questions coming. What Drupal versions are likely to be covered on the exam?
Heather James: We are actually covering Drupal 7 in this exam, so it’s fully on Drupal 7.
Hannah Corey: Great. The next question is, is there a link for the exam centers? Where can you find that information?
Heather James: Definitely, go to acquia.com/certification. There you can find a link to the exam center and registration. I saw another question actually come through asking will this exam have some trivial questions like this question came through and it says, will we have trivial question such as, where and what menu can you change permissions? That’s actually what we avoided. The global certification lead, that’s Peter Manijak, has a lot of experience in this area and to what he’s discovered and what he’s been able to share with us is that scenario-based questions like the ones that Prasad has spoke to us about and showed in this presentation help you solve a problem and see how you solve a problem I should say. They pose a situation in a context and ask you what you would use to either create a feature or debug something. That is far more interesting to us than can you remember the pass to - you know click pass to get something done. The truth is, we, nowadays as developers, have access to resources and documentation at our fingertips. We wouldn’t expect you to be able to remember some of these procedures off the top of your head.
Another question, I often hear asked is about the language of the exam. It’s actually in English. As you can see, there are 60 questions in 90 minutes. What we’ve been able to confirm, which is what Peter expected was that someone who’s a native English speaker can get through that quite easily in 90 minutes. Whereas someone who’s using English as a second language, they do need or require the full-time, but they do complete the exams. So, that’s why it is the length it is. Hopefully, that relays some of your concerns if you have them. Are there any other questions?
Hannah Corey: Yes. We have someone asking about if you could do a prep session at DrupalCon?
Heather James: That’s actually a good question. We will be running certification actually at DrupalCon, but I might take that suggestion over to my colleagues and see if we’ll have time to do a prep session. We are in the middle of organizing a Drupal certification workshop that’s probably a little too early to talk about it now. It’s interesting because we want to make sure that you can be prepared if you are somebody who is experienced, and you want to know what to expect and maybe fill any knowledge gaps that you have. So, we’ll have more information about that in May.
Hannah Corey: Awesome. We had a little feedback as well. Just asking for some additional sample questions and maybe this is something we can take into our blog post or the e-book might solve this. Heather, do you have any suggestions for them?
Heather James: Yes, both hands I think that isn’t the first time someone does - some more sample questions. We kept all the good ones for the exams. We are [Laughter] - we will be able to share as we develop for further examinations, we’ll be able to share more sample questions that will give you a good idea of what they’re like. We’ve chosen this one because its representative of the type of question that’s asked. Though you know just where things laid out, it was one that was extra you could say.
Hannah Corey: All right. I think that’s it for questions. Thanks everyone for attending, and thank you Prasad and Heather for the wonderful presentation. You guys want to add with anything else?
Heather James: No. Absolutely I’m really just – like I said, I’m really excited that this is finally available. I hope people find it very useful, hope that it opens doors for them.
Prasad Shirgaonkar: Absolutely. About preparation actually, if you had been working on Drupal for six months or more actually, just reviewing your own work and studying it or making it more comprehensive in the light of resources that we share, it’s certainly going to make you prepare for the exam. So, just go for it.
Hannah Corey: Great. Thanks. We’ll send out the slides and recording within the next 24 hours. Have a great afternoon, everyone.
- End of Recording -