Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Following a home stretch of working all weekend long and taking a half-day at work on Monday, I have my Sun Java Developer's Certification project finished and ready for submission. The skills required to write the program are nothing that any decent developer wouldn't know already or be able to pick up quickly -- the hardest part of writing for me was going back through it at the end to make sure that every single line obeys the Java Code Standards on formatting, which dictate such minutiae as how many spaces are in 1 hit of the tab key (4) and how to place the curly braces between if statements. Besides that, doing all the work was reasonably interesting in a sick-work kind of way, although it did make me feel like I was back in college again.

I have to make sure that I submit it quickly enough to get it over with before I start second-guessing all the design decisions I made when writing it (but not so quickly that I make a careless mistake). What makes this particular certification so daunting is that it's expensive and anonymously graded. Here's how things work:

  • You pay your $250 and get a 6 page list of requirements outlining a project which touches on all major Java coding areas, like GUIs, databases, threads, and network.
  • You read the spec once a week for three months so it looks like you're working on it.
  • You finally hunker down and finish it off in early April (one month earlier than planned, I might add), and then package it all up to submit online.
  • You pay another $150 to go to a Prometric Exam Center where you answer four essay questions which essentially ask "How can we be sure you wrote this yourself unless we ask you about how you designed it?"
  • Six weeks later, your code is run through an automatic analyzer which checks to make sure you have covered every requirement that included the word MUST. If you miss any, your assignment is immediately failed without any explanation.
  • If you make it this far, you start with 400 points, and your project is pored over by some poor human grader with a checklist. Everytime he finds something he takes issue with, he subtracts some points. If you drop below 320 points, you automatically fail.
  • After grading, you get back your score sheet with just the numeric score -- no comments, no criticisms, no text whatsoever.
  • If you fail, you are allowed to fork over ANOTHER $125 and resubmit a corrected assignment two weeks later (as long as you can figure out why your other one failed, of course).

So the problem here is the opacity of the grading process. As soon as I submit the project, it's out of my hands and I have to hope the anonymous grader doesn't have a bad hair day. This certification is all about being able to make solid design decisions so there's no one right answer. If the grader dislikes some of my designs and subtracts some points, it wouldn't be the end of the world. But if I lose a point here for having more than 1 whitespace, and another point there for using a capital letter, eventually they can add up. I could fail and have no guidance on where things went wrong to make the second submission any better.

All this heartburn for a worthless piece of paper and a line on my resumé that I'll never reference again. Someday, I will become a high paid consultant and create my own brand of certification on something, then make all my money by failing people and forcing them to resubmit for half the price. This could be the biggest money-making scam ever created, although I'm obviously not the first person to want to exploit it (see also, CMMI, and graduate school).

Spider has fiery revenge on nudist
Robotic moose has revenge on hunter
Scam passing oven doors off as flat-screen TVs

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