Thoughts on the Acquia Drupal Developer Certification Exam

tl;dr: I passed, the exam is better than I was expecting, but I still have mixed feelings about Acquia's Drupal Developer Certification program.

Acquia Certified Developer 2014

When I first heard about Acquia's Drupal Certification Program, I had mixed feelings. For most programming jobs, especially the majority of web-related jobs, a certification doesn't hold a lot of weight. Certifications are often like final exams for a university course—they show that you know a particular set of material, but they don't indicate whether you can actually use that knowledge effectively.* Further, tech-based certifications are less meaningful over time, as technology progresses and the tested knowledge required to gain a specific certification becomes less relevant.

According to a few people who have already taken the Acquia certification exam, it tested real-world Drupal knowlege rather than rote memorization. I was intrigued, but couldn't put together 1.5 hours of uninterrupted time to take the test online at home or elsewhere. Lucikly, Acquia offered the exam during DrupalCon, where I could sneak out for a while to take it.

After taking the exam, I still have mixed feelings—but not about the exam's content and effectiveness in measuring a developer's Drupal abilities. My mixed feelings are over whether this particular certification (and future ones like it) will keep moving Drupal down the road towards a more "enterprisey" community. One of Drupal's greatest strengths (if not the greatest) is the community, and that's not just sentimentality. Drupal would not exist, and wouldn't be touching so many lives, without the strong grassroots community. Many other OSS projects don't have the vibrancy, diversity, and geography of Drupal's community, and they suffer for it.

When your project becomes too enterprise-centric, many individuals (especially individual developers) begin jumping ship—they can no longer identify with the project, and since they no longer see it as an extension of their personalities, their work, and their life, they don't pour their hearts and souls into it anymore... and you lose out on a particular pizzaz, or flavor, that you had before.

I hope that never happens with Drupal. Some would argue that happened already, but I think it's just growing pains at this point, as Drupal is being used in larger and larger institutions. Drupal, the project, is not corporate, though many big Drupal names and companies are.

The Exam

Imagine being in a story meeting, and having 60 user stories thrown at you with a tiny bit of context, and you have to give the exact fix or solution for each one, and you get a minute or two for each. That's about how it felt taking the exam, and my brain needed a little rest afterwords. That's a good thing—it means the exam made me think!

All but a few of the questions required at least two read-throughs. Most questions were basically the equivalent of a story/scenario, then a question about either how you would implement it in Drupal, or why a given code snippet doesn't work to fulfill the requirements.

Of the 60 total questions, at least 30-40 of them were similar to scenarios I've dealt with once or twice in my 9 years with Drupal (I started with 4.7.x in 2005); if you develop in Drupal on a daily basis, and have developed one or two larger Drupal sites, I'm pretty sure you'll pass the exam.

The exam seemed to have a good mix of back-end (API-related), site building (UI/module-related), and theming (CSS/JS-related) questions, so to pass, you can be weak in one of the three areas, but not two. Most Drupal developers seem to be better as a back-end/site builder, or as a themer/site builder, so don't worry if there are a few questions way out of your comfort zone!

A few other people have mentioned the exam's code formatting made some questions more difficult than they needed to be, but I found this to be the case only on two questions, one of them dealing with CSS, the other with a couple lines of PHP. Since I took my time on each question, it wasn't a big deal, though having a little 'note space' on the page where I could reformat things how I like would've been helpful.

The exam is a good proxy for real-life Drupal development, and I'd recommend it to any Drupal developer who has the $250 to spare—even if you don't plan on putting the certification on your resumé, it's worth figuring out parts of Drupal and web development where you can improve.

The Result

I passed with a 93%. There were a couple questions that were ambiguous, and I'm pretty sure two were theming-related, which isn't too surprising, since I focus more on back-end work nowadays (as is evidenced by the fact that this site's theme is stuck in 2010).

Here's the score breakdown (which is, IMO, one of the most helpful aspects of the exam):

  • Fundamental Web Development Concepts: 100%
  • Section 2 - Site Building: 93%
  • Front end development (Theming) : 85%
  • Back end development (Coding) : 95%

My advice to other Drupal developers: If you can, take the exam. It's not a rubber stamp of validation or anything like that, but it's a good benchmark for your own professional development, to see what areas of Drupal development you might want to focus on—or to at least help you be aware you should pass off theming, backend coding, or site building tasks to someone else.

I hope companies who are hiring Drupal developers will use the certification as one of an array of identifying marks, and continue to hire based more on community involvement, code samples, and good cultural fit. If a company requires that a developer have an Acquia certification and is inflexible about it, I feel they are either lax in their hiring process, or are too focused on process and business practice, rather than community and individuals.

*Note that there are certain positions where certifications are extremely valuable, especially in many engineering and normal IT roles—I'm specifically speaking of web and application developers here.


Sorry about that; the site uses relative paths for images, and the Planet feed always messes those up. I've switched the image to an absolute URL, but the update probably won't get picked up by the Planet aggregator.

I agree with some of your thoughts; however, my feelings are not at all mixed. I believe this is an obvious scam, a cynical attempt by *cquia to gain marketshare (not to mention gobs of free advertising) on the backs of the hard-working community that made Drupal a success.

Nobody takes MCSE seriously, and nobody with a clue will give this any weight either. However, if there's enough uptake, some of the vast hordes of clients who are clueless about web dev may start to think that this "certification" is some sort of actual indicator of Drupal expertise. At that point independent developers and those who don't want to roll over to *cquia's protection racket will find themselves at a disadvantage to *cquia's dues-paying lapdogs. The only party that benefits from this division and stratification of the community is *cquia. Everyone else is harmed.

As a community, I think it's important for us to boycott this charade en masse. Send a clear message to *cquia that Drupal is not their product, and neither are we.

Interesting to view your thoughts on it. Especially when coming from the Magento world where MCD, and MCD+ are typically viewed as a qualifier of ability. Not always, but a cert definitely seems to set a dev apart in a hiring content.