very helpful lioness

Drupal core committer takes Acquia Certification exam. You won't believe what happens next!

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 13:43 -- webchick

TL;DR I passed. :P Here's a run-down of what the experience was like.

Up-front disclaimer: I work for Acquia. However, I was not involved in the creation of Acquia Certification and had no insight to the test beforehand apart from a single sample question. I'm also writing this on my personal blog, rather than Acquia.com, because these are *my* thoughts/impressions, and haven't been vetted by anyone else. :) Carry on!

Some background

I'm originally from the United States (Duck, Duck, Gray Duck represent!) and moved to Canada in my early 20s to be with my now wife of 15 years. :) I had no family in Canada and very little work experience, so my only option was to come into Canada as a student. As a foreign student in Canada, you are only allowed to earn money through a job at the school you're attending. So, since I was already a huge nerd who'd been building all of my family's computers since I was a teenager, I knuckled down and got my A+ Certification and then taught computer hardware and A+ prep courses in the evenings.

So while I empathize with detractors of certification, and I'm sure lots of people would criticize A+ Certification in particular—and they'd pretty much be right on all counts—I do think certifications have their place. For me, it was an important enabler at a time when I was young and unestablished in my career, which allowed me to combine what I already knew from hands-on experience with a bit of book-cramming to get a piece of paper that allowed me to get a quite decent job. Many of the people I taught were older adults doing late-life career changes, or younger people like me trying to augment skills and knowledge they'd acquired as hobbyists into something that could be meaningful to a prospective employer (or at least their HR department).

My interest in teaching is also what got me into Drupal in the first place. During Google Summer of Code in 2005, Drupal stood out among the list of mentoring organizations, not just because I'd seen it used on the old Spread Firefox website (which originally put Drupal on my radar), but also because one of the GSoC project ideas was the Quiz module, which could help educators like me deliver web-based learning built on open source software. Cool! So I applied to write Quiz module for Drupal, and lo-and-behold that decision seems to have worked out pretty well. ;)

However, although I've been very active in the Drupal community for almost 10 years(!), the last time I actually built a Drupal site of any level of seriousness was back in the Drupal 6 era, circa 2009. In late 2008, I was becoming more of a "project manager" at work while at the same time I was appointed Drupal 7 core co-maintainer (which basically made me a "project manager" in the community as well), so although I read lots and lots of code, my knowledge of day-to-day troubleshooting of "real world" problems on Drupal sites is on much shakier ground these days. OTOH, I could tell you the reason behind almost every weird inconsistency in core, and also the names of all the main core developers' pets, so you know, there's that. ;)

So, basically, I have a background in both taking and delivering training around certification, so I was of course intrigued to see what Acquia's take on Drupal certification was all about, and how it compared. I was also very curious how I would do on this exam, given I have several years of hard-fought "real world" experience on Drupal 4.6 => Drupal 6, but then much more academic (although deeply academic, since I read most of the core patches at one point or another) knowledge of Drupal 7, though a lot of it lost to the fog of Drupal 8, where we're actively removing most of that stuff. ;)


Start by taking a look at the Acquia Certified Developer Exam Blueprint which nicely outlines the "domains" (subject matter) that the test covers:

Domain 1.0: Fundamental Web Development Concepts

1.1. Demonstrate knowledge of HTML and CSS
1.2. Identify PHP programing concepts
1.3. Identify JavaScript and jQuery programing concepts
1.4. Demonstrate the use of Git for version control

Domain 2.0: Site Building

2.1 Demonstrate ability to create and configure Content Types with appropriate fields and field settings for building basic data structures
2.2. Demonstrate ability to configure field display and view modes for content types
2.3 Demonstrate ability to create and use Taxonomy vocabularies and terms for classification and organization of content
2.4 Demonstrate ability to configure Blocks for building layouts from information widgets
2.5 Demonstrate ability to build main and alternative navigation systems by using Menus
2.6 Demonstrate ability to create and configure Views for building content list pages, blocks and feeds

Domain 3.0: Front end development (theming)

3.1 Given a scenario, demonstrate ability to create a custom theme or sub theme
3.2 Demonstrate knowledge of theming concepts
3.3 Demonstrate ability to build or override PHP templates for defining layout content
3.4 Demonstrate ability to use theme () functions for overriding custom output
3.5 Demonstrate ability to write template pre-process functions for overriding custom output

Domain 4.0: Back end development (coding)

4.1 Demonstrate ability to develop Custom Modules using Drupal API for extending Drupal functionality
4.2 Demonstrate ability to work with Drupal's Database Abstraction Layer for managing tables and CRUD operations on data
4.3 Demonstrate ability to debug code and troubleshoot site problems
4.4 Demonstrate ability to write code using Drupal Coding Standards
4.5 Demonstrate ability to analyze and resolve site performance issues arising from site configuration and custom code
4.6 Demonstrate ability to analyze and resolve security issues arising from site configuration and custom code

My impression of this curriculum-wise is that it's a pretty complete list. If someone actually has knowledge of all of these concepts, as well as a couple of years experience learning what to do / what not to do in practical terms, they'd be a really decent, well-rounded Drupal developer.

One thing I'd love to see in future revisions of the exam is a "Community" domain that demonstrates knowledge of how to engage and participate in the Drupal community. I terms of overall Drupal success, community interaction is just as fundamental a skill as knowing how to properly debug code or troubleshoot site problems, in my experience.

I've attached a "study guide" to the bottom of this post, which I prepared by going around and gathering links to free resources under each of these headings in case it's helpful to other folks rounding out their skills. (In particular, I needed to study up on performance and JavaScript, for example.) Since I prepared this before taking the exam, I don't think it will give anyone any particular advantage, but it'll at least save you a good half hour of Googling. :)

Exam pre-requisites

A couple of things you need to know ahead of time:

1) There are two ways you can take the exam: either in "real life" through one of Kryterion's worldwide test centers, or online "proctored" exam via Web Assessor.

(Note: "Proctored" sounds like something horrible that might happen to you at a doctor's office, but it means "supervised" — they are going to record your face and your computer movements while you take the test and this will be reviewed by a human to make sure you're not cheating.)

2) Whether you take it in real life or online, you *must* schedule a time for the exam at least 24 hours in advance (my bad — thanks, Wayne Eaker!). You do that at Acquia Certification Program site:

  • Register for an account
  • Pick the exam style you want ("onsite" vs "online" — be careful to click on the right one, the distinction is very subtle ;))
  • Pay for it ($250, which puts it more on the low end... A+ is about $200 vs. Cisco/Microsoft which can be upwards of $1500). Unless of course you work for Acquia, since employees can get vouchers to take the exam for free. (Did I mention we're hiring? ;))
  • Pick a date/time.

3) If you're doing the online method, you also need to download and install a software called "Sentinel Secure" to record your webcam/microphone/screen during the test (and this needs to be installed on your actual machine, not in e.g a virtual machine, since you could very easily cheat on the host machine if that were the case), as well as provide a "biometric profile." This involves typing your name like 12 times on the keyboard, and then taking a picture of your face via your web cam (you're required to have a web cam to take the test).

If all of that sounds overly creepy to you, you should register for a real-life exam instead. ;)

Taking the exam

I went the online route, and here's what that experience was like.

First, remember that you need to be at the computer the entire time until you finish the 60 question exam, which means up to 90 minutes. And while that sounds like plenty of time, the questions often require reading and re-reading to make sure you have all the details before picking an answer. So make sure you are properly hydrated, caffeinated, and have urinated ;) before your test time.

Also, make sure you are in a quiet place and don't have any "real life" distractions happening during that 90 minutes. Web Assessor doesn't mess around. For example, a co-worker had to re-take the exam because he took the test in an office setting where people were seen walking behind his desk (because they could've been looking at his screen and whispering answers to him, presumably). For my part, I started mumbling along as I was reading a question and it gave me a warning to not read the test questions aloud. :P I'm sure if I'd kept that up, I would've had to do a force-retake as well.

Then, close out of everything except for Firefox, IE, or Safari (for whatever bizarre reason you can't use Chrome). Log back into the Acquia Certification Program site and you should see a link to your exam that becomes active within a few minutes of your test time.

(Note: If you're like me and you do a dumb thing and accidentally pick the wrong date for your exam, you will find Kryterion's support actually helpful. I was able to call an 866 number and get a person on the phone within 30 seconds, and they had me up and rescdeduled in about 2 minutes. w00t!)

Once in, it'll repeat your bio profile, you'll have to agree to a terms of use which basically says you're not allowed to talk about what's on the exam (so I'll be very vague about it here), and then you're off to the races.

All questions are multiple choice. Most are single-answer, but a few are multiple answer. On any question you're allowed to check a box and "flag" it for later review, so if you're not sure of something you can always come back to it. You can review all of your answers at any time, the ones you've flagged will be starred so they stand out.

Then at the end, you'll get your mark, as well as a breakdown of how you did per-domain, and you get this e-mailed to you as well (since obviously you can't take screenshots or copy/paste out of the Secure Sentinel app :P). A few minutes later you'll also get a fancy certificate to print out and badge for your website e-mailed to you as well.

Blah, blah, blah. How'd you do already?

I got.... 85%! Which I was actually pretty happy with, especially since I've been told the highest exam mark atm is under 90%. :) (I did the worst on the "Basic Web Concepts" part. Damn you, CSS/JS.) Overall I'd say about 30% of the questions were easy for me, another 50% made me go "Hmmm" and about 20% I needed to flag, a handful of which required resorting to Wild Ass Guesses. ;)

The reason I was able to score relatively high despite my lack of extensive hands-on D7 experience is that most of the questions on the exam are "scenarios" that are highly focused around common issues you hit in the "real world" while building Drupal sites, and most of these are pretty timeless (especially the site builder-related topics). This also makes the exam much harder to "book-cram" for, because unless you've smacked your head into the desk a few times with Drupal, you could have a hard time because all of the answers at least sound plausible.

I found this format very refreshing and very unlike the A+ certification, which was to a large extent (at least back when I took it) a bunch of mindless memorization of useless facts. For example, I will forever have the number of pins in an IDE vs. floppy cable etched into my memory, even though that is completely useless knowledge because you know what? One fits, and the other one doesn't. :P~ So don't expect your ability to recite all of the hook_menu() bitmask flags from memory to help you much on this exam. (Darn, I had worked so hard on developing that party trick, too.)

I also did spot a few typos and some places where question wording could be more clear, and I'll try and work with the certification team to clean those up (it'd be nice if there was a "report a problem with this question" link for things like that). But overall, this seems like a pretty solid entry point into certification for Drupal, and I'm looking forward to see what the team comes up with for the more focused and "hardcore" exams.

Do you need to take this exam? If you've worked on Alexa top 1000 sites and/or have a great track record of public contributions on Drupal.org, obviously no: your resume speaks for itself. But if you've been prevented by either personal or professional circumstances from having built up a robust D.o profile or client base over the years, this certification seems like a pretty solid way to get your foot in the door at a Drupal company.


PDF icon AcquiaCertificationStudyGuide.pdf121.27 KB
Image icon logo.png5.99 KB


Well done on the result webchick! This is a nice writeup, i'm sure all in the community who go for the accreditation will value the Study Guide too.

Enjoyed reading this. Thank you!
It will be interesting to watch how this certification develops as a "defacto standard". For instance, will recruiters (both inside and outside Aquia) insist on that shiny badge in order to even grant an interview for a position as a Drupal developer/site builder/themer etc.?
Time will tell.

Submitted by Wayne Eaker (not verified) on

FWIW: I was able to sign up for the online test on Saturday and take it 15 minutes later. Not sure if that was a bug or the 24 hour thing is not enforced. Maybe just limited availability of time slots.

Test was more challenging than I expected. Would be very hard to take a class, cram and pass, I think. The questions do a good job of evaluating real-world experience, which is pretty amazing for multiple choice test. (Study guide: Go debug a bunch of Drupal sites with performance problems.)

The code formatting issue in the answers is annoying, though. Hard to read the code when it's all on a single wrapped line, and you aren't allowed to use a pencil and paper to rewrite it out. Also a couple of the questions seemed to encourage non-best practices, though they weren't the crux of the question, so it was mainly just a distraction.

Also, please pass this on: the certification logo files they send you are too small/low quality. Hard to read the text, and you can't scale down for high ppi screens because they'd be miniscule.

Submitted by webchick on

I passed it along to the Learning Services team. Hopefully the graphic request is easy to fulfill, seems like a very reasonable request.

Agreed that the code formatting issue, particularly on a couple of the questions where you had to differentiate between code snippets, made that more challenging than it needed to be. Might be a limitation of the system, but never hurts to check. Presumably ours can't be the only technical certification they offer. :)

The 24 hour thing was probably my mis-reading. I'll go back and edit the post. I think I read "24 hours in advance" on the tech prep stuff, and then noted that there was no link for me to take the exam until I scheduled something, then got the date wrong (see the note about having to call support). I probably could've chosen the same day and taken it within 15 minutes like you. Thanks for clearing that up!

I know discussions about providing certification with Drupal has had years of arguments against it. I'm glad Acquia have stuck with it, and have found a way to provide certification which appears to have the rigour it needs to be credible.

And thanks for blogging about it, in your inimitable way ;-)



Submitted by Cameron Tod (not verified) on

Great post Angie. This should almost be required reading for the cert. The whole online proctoring thing is a bit strange at first - Secure Sentinel really does take over your computer and the biometric stuff is scary/cool. They will know if you try to cheat!

I did my test over the weekend. I got 85% as well - I am quite proud that I matched your score :)

Submitted by Achton (not verified) on

Excellent writeup, will come in handy when I take the test. The Sentinel software sounds crazy, but I guess adds a lot of validity to the certification itself.
Would you/anyone happen to know if it can be installed (ie test taken) on a Linux host?
I tried looking up the software, but it seems kinda new/secret.

Submitted by Dave Reid (not verified) on

Also curious if the certification testing software supports Linux?

Submitted by webchick on

Based on the kerfuffle over at http://www.wunderkraut.com/blog/grumpy-swedish-developer-try-to-setup-fo..., I'm guessing not. As Jakub Suchy points out in the comments over there, there isn't an open source technology available for remotely proctored exams, and proprietary vendors tend to focus on the most common platforms. I do know that Acquia's Learning Services team is aware of this issue and they'll be talking to Kryterion to see what, if anything, they can do to expedite whatever plans might be in the works for Linux support.

Submitted by skein (not verified) on


Does the certification focus on a specific version like D7, or a scope of versions?

Submitted by Arunkumar (not verified) on

Hi Webchick,
Is certificate is valid for some period??


Submitted by DianaWR (not verified) on

I appreciate the perspective, particularly as someone who is relatively new to the Drupal community and moving back into tech after over a decade pursuing other professional options. It's nice to know that learning the material needed to pass the certification is also a good basis for obtaining the knowledge and skills needed to solve real problems encountered by Drupal devs and users every day.

Hi webchick,

Thanks a lot for this. I have been looking into getting certified and this was exactly what I needed.

Going to pore over the study guide.

Once again. Good looking out!


Just came across this post now, giving YOU as an example of diversity in the Drupal community for the Skillcrush mentoring community https://mightybell.com/communities/skillcrush :D

Reminds me of a PHP test a recruiter had me take. All kinds of obscure trivia nobody ever uses. Either they were looking for someone who learned it in school and has a mnemonic memory, or they don't really know how to code and picked stuff that seemed "hard" - but I passed, barely ;)

By "diversity" I mean, I was invited to a paid focus group for web developers. I was the only Open Source PHP developer; there were 5 male .NET devs, 3 of them were South Asian with H1B visas, and one was African-American; and the only female was a mobile dev. :P And none of their questions were relevant for me, half of them were about Visual Studio. lulz

PS it's friendlier to add the Captcha to the add form, instead of presenting it on preview - UX rocks!

oh sh#t that was supposed to be a "new comment" but I just clicked on "reply" on the bottom of the page :(

Submitted by Amber (not verified) on

In any place I've worked, I've tried to take the certification (as long as I wasn't directly involved in the creation of it!) I'm just delving into Drupal after working with many other CMS's, and have definitely found that having a PHP and SQL background has helped, though my project planning experience has helped even more! I'm bookmarking this entry for after I've gotten some more chops and am looking to get my certification, thanks for writing this!

Submitted by Kenny Carlile (not verified) on

Hey Angie, thanks for posting this. I just took the test and passed thanks to your helpful guide. I'm a fellow Acquian (TA in CD), by the way. :)


Kenny Carlile

Submitted by Sam (not verified) on

Hey congrats, do you recommend any book to prepare you for the exam?