Thoughts on the Acquia Certified Developer - Back End Specialist Exam

A little under a year ago, I took the Acquia Certified Developer exam at DrupalCon Austin, and posted Thoughts on the Acquia Drupal Developer Certification Exam. My overall thoughts on the idea of certifications for OSS like Drupal remain unchanged, so go read that previous post to hear them.

I wanted to post a little more about the additional certifications Acquia is now offering; in addition to the initial, more generalist-oriented Acquia Certified Developer Exam, Acquia now offers:

Earlier today, I took the Back End Specialist Exam, which focuses more specifically on things like Drupal's core API, general PHP syntax and style, secure code, content caching, debugging, and interacting with the Drupal community.

Acquia Certified Developer - Back End Specialist badge

Like the other certification exams, you get 90 minutes to complete the exam (60 questions total), and you have to take the exam either online or in a testing center with an active proctor. This time, I elected to take the exam on my own computer, which was a little more annoying than taking the exam in-person at a test center (as I did at DrupalCon last year).

Taking the online proctored exam

To prevent cheating, there are a few things you have to get set up before you can start the exam: you have to install a 'Sentinel' app on your computer that basically takes control of everything (including webcam, microphone, screen, UI, etc.), which is a little off-putting (for privacy/security reasons), then you have to position your webcam in such a way that the proctor can see your face, hands, and keyboard at all times.

It made me feel a little weird, in that scratching an itch or even stretching made me feel like I was about to be denied access or auto-flunked. Thankfully, I was only stopped once, when I was told to remove my headset at the beginning of the exam (I usually have it on when at my work desk, and I didn't realize headsets weren't allowed).

I felt a little bit more comfortable and relaxed when I took the exam at DrupalCon Austin, so I'm planning on taking at least one exam in person at DrupalCon LA in a month or so (you can register for one of the exams here!).

The exam

The exam was pretty well balanced with problems you'll face day-to-day in backend development. There were a few performance and caching-related questions geared a little more towards larger sites, and there were a couple CSS and JS-related questions that I felt would be more fitting in the Front End Specialist exam, but on the whole, the questions were challenging and unambiguous.

There were even two questions about very specific PHP coding standards that made my OCD tendencies very happy!

I completed this exam in about 55 minutes (a little more quickly than the general exam), and only had four questions to review at the end. The questions felt like they were half cut-and-dry, "here's some code, answer a specific question, and half user-story-like, "here's the situation, what would you do?"

I was a little disappointed there weren't any questions (at least, not that I recall) specific to configuring or running MySQL, PHP, or any other back-end components of a modern infrastructure stack... but maybe Acquia will add a DevOps or Infrastructure specialist exam soon. I can dream, can't I?


Overall, I passed with an 88.33%, and the exam results provide a nice, detailed results breakdown to highlight areas for improvement:

  • Fundamental Web Development Concepts: 75.00%
  • Drupal core API : 89.47%
  • Database Abstraction Layer: 83.33%
  • Debug code and troubleshooting: 75.00%
  • Theme Integration: 100.00%
  • Performance: 87.50%
  • Security: 100.00%
  • Leveraging Community: 100.00%

Apparently I need to brush up on 'Fundamental Web Development Concepts' (strange, because that's the area where I scored highest in the general exam from last year!).


The price of this exam is $350, though I was able to take the exam free of charge as an Acquia employee. This exam is $100 more than the price of the general Developer exam, so if you haven't taken that exam yet, and are considering the Acquia Certification, I'd recommend taking the less expensive general exam first, then seeing if taking the Back End Specialist exam is worth it for you.


I've now taken two of four exams currently available, and I'm looking forward to taking the rest, possibly completing all the current ones at DrupalCon LA in a month!