Borkopolis

April 22, 2011

Certifications as a Learning Tool

Filed under: 20-minute,programming,skills — Mark Dalrymple @ 1:18 am
Tags: , ,

Shoktar devourer of worlds

Matt Kloskowski had a posting on his Lightroom Killer Tips blog about LightRoom 3 ACE (Adobe Certified Expert) certification test prep materials becoming available. Then there were a couple of paragraphs defending the whole certification process: basically, if you’re looking for a career that is based on Lightroom or Photoshop, having the ACE sticker on your resumé is a good thing. It shows potential employers that you have a certain base-level of knowledge, and the sitck-withitedness to see the ACE through to its completion.

Possessing a certification doesn’t mean you’re good, of course. I’ve worked with Certified Oracle DBAs that were freaking amazing. (xux, I’m looking at you), and others that barely knew how to analyze a table. Both were certified Oracle DBAs. Both had passed the tests. But quite a difference in knowledge, ability, and work ethic.

That being said, I kind of like certification tests. Even if you don’t need the certification and don’t intend on taking the tests, they certification test contents provide a curriculum you can use to learn stuff.

I rarely admit it, but I have an Oracle 8i DBA certification. I took the five tests, passed them on the first try, and got my little certificate and card. Did I want to be a DBA? Hell no. Good DBAs live a high-stress life keeping twitchy and cranky systems up and running. But I wanted to be a better developer. I like being self-sufficient. If I could set up my own Oracle instance I could do local experiments and not rely on the remote systems. If I knew how all the different moving parts interact I can design the physical layout of my schemas so that disk I/O is somewhat optimized. If I knew how the profiling tools work I can rapidly tune queries, or at least figure out what tradeoffs I need to make to achieve adequate performance. If I knew how backups worked I would know the difference between a good backup scheme and one that’ll bite us in the ass if the DB turns toes-up. I could also restore to a test cluster to run tests against “production data” that wouldn’t actually affect the production site.

Oracle’s exams were broken into five tests. I used Oracle’s training materials as well as the “Exam Cram” series of books to steep myself in the material for each test. I could have skipped taking the test of course, but the company was willing to pay the $100 or so for each one, so it was a no-brainer to take. That little certificate might have come in handy later on. (It didn’t)

After my Oracle work, I was needing to learn Java quickly for a contracting gig. At everyone’s recommendation I tried working through Bruce Eckel’s introductary book Thinking in Java. Unfortunately, it’s what I call a “loops are cool!” book. As a developer with fifteen years of experience under my belt, I just couldn’t fathom slogging through beginner programmer material.

Then I found the Java2 Exam Cram books. I really should have looked for those first. They were geared, of course, to giving you the info to pass Sun’s Java certification tests. This was perfect for an experienced developer. The books were a distillation of all that was different with Java from other languages, as well as a discussion of any truly peculiar portions of the language. A week of reading a couple of these books prepared me for kicking butt on-site.

So, looping back to Lightroom, will I take the Lightroom 3 ACE test? Nope. But I’ll probably pick up some of the educational materials so I can find out more about the software product I use after every photo shoot I do. I’ve already spent a couple hundred dollars on software, and hundreds of hours of my life learning bits and pieces of it, and I know I’ve really only scratched the surface of what it can do. So I believe in the long run it’ll be money well spent.

 

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