PHP certification views?

Manuel Lemos did an interview with Maurício Garcia on the topic of PHP certification.  It’s good to see this sort of thing talked about more, and to get an ‘international’ point of view.  My view on the topic is somewhat necessarily limited by my geography and experiences, but seem to mirror Mauricio’s fairly closely.

My PHP Job Hunter’s book is still lagging, but I heard from someone at the publisher that it may be announced in the next week or so.  This topic is addressed in the book, both with my personal views and experiences with the subject as well as interviews with 3 decision makers at companies that hire PHP developers.

My one divergence with Mauricio is the topic of BrainBench.  I think it might have been a good barometer 3-4 years ago, but today, at least for PHP, is, imo, essentially worthless.  From what I’ve seen BrainBench was acquired a year or two ago and there hasn’t been any new development since.  The PHP tests there were shockingly bad, assuming ‘register globals’ to be on in the code examples, for instance.  Manuel and I had a somewhat different view on BrainBench, question quality aside.  He dismissed it as not useful because it’s a web-based test.  I don’t necessarily think web-based testing is completely useless.  When the questions are timed (as in BrainBench) you at least have to have a basic understanding of the question, even if you’re going to try to Google for the answer.

Disclaimer: I’ve not taken the Zend certification, though I almost did last year.  I may take it this year, but may also wait for PHP6 and take a cert for that if/when it comes out.

What are your views on PHP certification?

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{ 17 comments to read ... please submit one more! }

  1. Hi Michael,

    The only real beef with Web testing that I have is that there’s no practical way to prevent impersonation.

    It would be trivial for me to pay someone $100 to take the BrainBench test on my behalf, I think.

    What do you think?


  2. I’ve tried the Zend Certification Training, I thought it was absolute bullshit (about 1/2 years ago). The exam tested on things like order of parameters and lots of stuff that can be found in the PHP manual.

    It’s much more important for new hires if they have problem solving skills, including being able to go to the manual, instead of memorizing it. Real skill comes from experience and being a good PHP developer means writing maintainable, secure and scalable code. Not being able to know the manual inside-out.

  3. We require all our developers at Ibuildings to be ZCE (or at least within 6 months after they join us). There are various reasons why we do this.

    One reason is that even by studying for the exam, you touch upon many subjects that you may not use on a daily basis, or may not even have ever used, but it’s useful to know them.

    Another reason is that, because PHP is so easy to learn, there is a lot of crap out there. The range between a good and a bad developer is so big, that it’s hard to differentiate. We use the certification as a way to set a certain standard, and to show our customers that we are serious when it comes to PHP development.

    Good luck with the book; mine is due to be out just after yours (same publisher). I also have a small section on PHP jobs and certification, and I’m definitely going to read yours as recruitment isn’t easy today.

  4. The Zend PHP5 one is definitely worth taking note of. It’s not hard to pass it but the topics it covers are pretty sound – you know if you get a ZCE (PHP5) candidate that they’re going to be above average.

    It also shows that you’re “in touch” with the industry. You ‘get’ PHP5, you know who Zend are, and you’re pro-active enough to go take the exam.

    For $125 or so it’s a no-brainer in my opinion.

  5. Good points all.

    @Ivo – thanks. I’m probably overly hypercritical of my own book, but am looking forward to it being ‘out’ and done all the same. :)

    @Richard – you’re not wrong, but there are many other ways to ‘get’ PHP5 besides ZCE. at best certification can open a door, but making a hire solely based on that (which hopefully most people wouldn’t do) wouldn’t be a good idea.

    @Sean – yeah, the ‘identity’ aspect can be a problem, but if you pay someone to take it for you, they’ve then got leverage over you (blackmail) unless you kill them and they leave no trace. I don’t think any PHP project is worth murder. :)

    @Everet – never seen the ZCE exam stuff. I still stand by the BB stuff being horrible. If anyone wants to see some of the BB questions, ping me at

  6. Last year I tried out which was offering free skills assessments for members as a way to rank/qualify the people bidding in reverse-auction style freelance projects (ala RentACoder).

    These were utterly useless too, testing quirks of the language such as defining a function within a function and asking in which order you will be able to call them; things that no sane programmer would admit to doing.

    The MySQL tests covered obscure syntax that I’d not seen before, either in the MySQL manuals them self or in the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of lines of code I’ve read or written.

    While the Zend Certification related material probably sets the bar, it’s far from perfect but is followed up by a formal exam – a far cry from most of the free or very-cheap tests which seem to be outsourced to people with little experience in the subject they’re supposed to be writing tests for.

  7. I’ve over 10 years of experience with PHP development. I took the PHP5 ZCE and I was surprised at how challenging it was. I am in charge of recruiting PHP developers and even though the ZCE does not help on many areas, I would definitively pay more attention to someone who is ZCE certified.

  8. FYI: I took the PHP architect PHP 5 certification class, studied the PHP 5 Zend certification guide, took the online practice tests and passed. I have been coding PHP for 6 years. Yet I failed the Zend certification test. The test feedback was non-existent.

    I feel I am a better coder because I have studied. I will not waste my time to take the Zend Certification exam again.

  9. @Evert – I agree that the test should not rely on memorising parameters when in the real world you have the PHP manual open in your browser all day long

    I’m currently studying for the exam, hoping to take it late June…so far the ZCE has forced me to learn things you miss out on when just using the PHP manual as a reference point, detailed sections on things like Arrays, Strings, Type conversion were overlooked and often caused problems during development but now understanding exactly how the language works I feel has made me a better developer because of my increased understanding…and anything which gives me the edge over another developer in an interview and ability to hustle boss into a pay rise MUST be a good thing right???

    @Richard – ZCE defo shows you are in touch with industry and have the basic understanding which is sometimes missed when people are self taught…I think problem solving skills should also be tested too to ensure the candidate can apply their knowledge

  10. hi all,
    i m new php programmer so that i very conscious about the php.
    Can anybody tell me what are the job opportunities for PHP pro.

  11. Hello Kiran:

    The market’s pretty hoppin’ right now. The biggest drawback is that the salary/payment range for PHP developers, on the whole, doesn’t seem to be quite as high as for Java or .Net developers. This is just my experience, but there seem to be more positions Java/.Net positions which pay a higher amount (say, for example, over $100,000US per year) than PHP positions. That’s not to say there are no high paying PHP positions, but not as many of them, on average.

    Many organizations have grown up with PHP over the past several years than they have a significant investment in it, and are reluctant to throw it all away and start over. So the market for people with strong PHP skills who can come in and take over older code and continue to work with it will be strong for the next several years, at least.

    As a slight plug, my new book talks about the PHP job market. It’s aimed at early- to mid-stage developers.

    Good luck!

  12. Well, I’ve taken the ZCE (php5) and passed. My experience was that it was still somewhat frustrating. There was at least one question which I know had no ‘right’ answer (or so poorly worded that the ‘correct’ answer was lost in the presentation). I’ve no idea how many I got right, but I did ‘pass’. To my surprise there were *no* questions about parameter order, so perhaps that earlier criticism has been addressed.

    I spent about 10 minutes of the test time writing feedback comments on the questions to express my confusion at the wording of the question or of the answers. I will also go on record that there were a few questions I had that asked things like “the best way to do X is _____” – extremely subjective, and arguments could be persuasively made for multiple answers. This is a gift/curse I have – to see any and all possible ambiguities. Not having anyone to ask for clarification made the stress of taking a timed test worse.

  13. It’s an interesting subject. I kicked around some thoughts on testing developers a while ago, and only concluded that while it’s easy to criticise testing methods, it’s probably almost impossible to come up with a better way.

    I’ve since done the ZCE, as my employer was paying, and much like you, found some of the questions ambiguous – some were either typos or trick questions, and it was impossible to know which of those two rather unsatisfactory conclusions to draw.

    Either way, I don’t believe it proves much in itself. I’d rather a candidate bring a respectable degree, a stack of experience and a lot of common sense.

  14. Hi All,
    I am new to PHP. To get good knowledge in PHP i am planning to attempt ZCE. Could anyone share their experiences on ZCE. Please tell me the books to refer for ZCE.

  15. I took the PHP5 exam today myself:

    Overall it was actually harder than I expected (although I passed). A lot of the questions I felt were impractical without the PHP reference manual (for looking up function parameter lists, for example), but overall I feel like it was a pretty good test of the language

  16. Congrats Phil!

    I didn’t have many questions where I felt I’d need the manual for parameter order, but that’s the nature of randomized questions – we didn’t answer exactly the same questions. I do feel it’s a bit out of date (5.1 v 5.2) although there’s not much in the test that was ‘minor version specific’ as I recall.

    Welcome to the fold! :)

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