Zend Certified Engineer (ZCE) - yes or no?
For a professional PHP developer, it is not quite easy to prove his programming capabilities. Programming requires not only a/ technical knowledge, but mainly b/ programmatical visualization - which is hardly measurable quality phenomenon definable as an ability to find the most resources saving solution from long run. Putting both abilities a/ & b/ together one can determine what shapes a "good programmer".
Technical abilities (a/) are quantifiable and thus testable. However, vizualization (b/) can be assessed only indirectly after a time since solution implemented.
Holder of the Zend certificate is at least 50% guarantee, that one has good technical skills. On the other hand, the certificate cannot guarantee, that its holder can well design applications or lead a team.
Registering for the ZCE exam at Pearson Vue
Zend Certificate is currently the only worldwide recognized proof of having good command of the PHP programming language. All certificate holders are recorded into the online database of Zend Certified Engineers called PHP Yellow Pages. Many international companies use the database as a resource when looking for experienced PHP developers.
Certification exams are organized by international test company Pearsom Vue via its local authorized testing centers in your country. You simply find your closest test center and request further information on available exam dates and the price. Exam will cost about 125 EUR without VAT and the exam code is Zend PHP Certification 200-500.
Note: Before enrolling for the Zend Certification exam you need to create your Zend account. You will be asked to provide your Zend ID to testing center in order to identify yourself correctly in Zend Yellow pages. You can create your Zend account here.
General information on taking the PHP certification test
First of all - Zend Certification (ZCE) is a heuristic exam. There is no guaranteed receipt for get book -> study book -> take exam -> pass!
Virtually anything from PHP 4.X and 5.X can be subject to the exam. I estimated a novice would need to study 5-7 thousand pages of PHP study materials to get ready for this certification.
Of course the exam is more practically oriented, so purely reading and studying will not suffice. You have to get real practical experience like ability to quickly read & understand script snippets - kind of ability which comes only with practical programming experience. My subjective estimation is that you can start thinking of becoming ZCE after at least of 1-2 years of thourough programmimng in PHP. Thus, ZCE is definitely not for PHP beginners and fast career seekers:-)
From employer's point of view, the Zend PHP Yellow Pages is a guaranteed bank of experienced PHP developers - which is good if you want to make sure that you are hiring somebody who really knows the stuff.
I recommend following to get ready for the exam:
- study everything from  Zend PHP 5 Certification Study Guide 2nd Edition (2007). Everything should be clear to you.
- take all tests from  The Zend PHP Certification Practice Test Book. Even though being a bit older, still provides good practical question examples. Explained answers are provided at the end of each chapter.
- read A LOT from PHP online manual - most accurate and up-to-date source for PHP programmers
- do lots of tests on your own - especially in areas you don't feel confident (webservices, SOAP, XML-RPC, DOM, SimpleXML, CGI & ISAPI, security, streams, ..)
- sometime it might be useful to memorize few basic methods (e.g. DOM/SimpleXML object)
- google keywords like "ZCE exam sample" or so to find advices, answers and experience from those who already passed the PHP certification.
- there used to be online store at Zend pages, where I could buy 5 or 10 online mock exam tests for 15 or 22 USD respective. This was pretty useful for me. Unfortunatelly it looks like at the time of writing this article there is no such an option anymore.
Taking Zend Certification Exam
(based on my personal experience)
- You will take the exam at the computer in testing lab at your Pearson Vue local testing center.
- Once identified with your personal ID and payment, you will be asked to leave all yor personal belongings into a safe box.
- You are not allowed to take anything with you into testing room - dictionaries are not allowed and there is no internet access at your test computer.
- You will get 1 or 2 plastic sheets with pen for your remarks. I needed it for 1 question only.
- Whole exam is being recorded by videocamera.
- Exam takes a form of computer based test (CBT) - you will see questions on monitor with suggested answers.
- The test consists of 70 questions to be answered within 90 minutes.
- If unsure with correct answer, you may mark the question with "Mark for review" - after answering all 90 questions you will have chance to re-open such a question and modify your answer.
- Some questions may remind the questions from the study literature  Zend PHP 5 Certification Study Guide 2nd Edition (2007).
- Test is finished by confirming "Finish reviewing the questions?". Instantly you will see your test result - either "PASS" or "FAILED". No more details on results will be provided to you ever.
- Within 24-48 hours after passing exam succesfully you will be enlisted in online database Zend Yellow Pages.
- Zend states that you will receive your certificate by post within 6-8 weeks since passing the exam. I received it after 7-8 days with personal signatures by Andi Gutmans a Zeev Suraski:-)
- After about 2 months of preparation (weekends, of course:-)) answering those 90 questions took me about 65 minutes. To revise questions marked for review I spent another 5-7 minutes, which means all together about 75 minutes.
- if you are unsure with correct answer, do not loose precious time on thinking. Instantly mark the question "Mark for review" and continue with following question.
- it is wise to save last 5-10 minutes for revising the most difficult questions, since you are not under such a pressure and therefore you may perhaps concentrate better.
Obtaining Zend Certificate takes quite a preparation. It is not that easy, but with serious preparation anybody should pass it. With getting the certificate you are entering the world of PHP gurus enlisted in Zend Yellow Pages - online database of all PHP Certified Engineers in the world. You may get well paid job offers by prestigeous international companies.
However, the greatest benefit in my opinion is contribution to my knowledge base. Even though having 8 years experience in PHP programming, I did not have solid knowledge about PHP streams, PHP security or how effectively manipulate XML/DOM objects. I would not regret the time spent for preparation even if I would fail.
Most likely I would give another shot.
- Official Zend site dedicated to Zend Certification
- PHP Tests online - sample tests (registration required)