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Starting the Java Certification Process

Assuming that the above statements have persuaded you that you need to get certified in Java, how do you go about it?

First you have to decide the type of job you want to obtain as a result of your certification. Within the Java world, there are a number of career paths: Java programmer, Java developer, Java web component developer, Java architect, etc. Your decision may be based on market conditions, personal preference, previous experience, or skill set.

Then, of course, you need to decide which certification agency to use. That's the tricky bit! Despite attempts by industry giants to adopt standards by which Java professionals can be evaluated, deciding which company to use for your certification exams can still be very confusing. The following sections discuss three of the top Java certification agencies: jCert, Sun (of course), and one I highly recommend: Brainbench.

jCert Certification

jCert supposedly combines the efforts of Sun, IBM, and CIW (among other certifying agencies), and recognizes four "job roles":

  • Web Developer. A developer who is "familiar with Java" but "cannot necessarily write Java code."

  • Java Programmer. A developer who is largely "speaking familiar" with all the main Java concepts and is able to program in them.

  • Java Solution Developer. A developer who can create "small and large applications in a heterogeneous or Internet environment." This exam requires Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) and Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) knowledge.

  • Enterprise Developer. A developer with extensive understanding of all aspects of distributed enterprise development.

The jCert site makes it clear exactly which exams a developer needs to pass in order to be certified in any of the above categories. For the more advanced certifications, jCert requires detailed knowledge of at least one application server—something that sets it apart from the Sun certification structure.

Sun Certification

Sun recognizes four very different roles from the jCert roles discussed above. There is no correlation apart from the fact that the programmer exams are equivalent. (Confusing, isn't it?)

  • Sun Certified Programmer for the Java 2 Platform. For developers "proficient in the fundamentals" of Java.

  • Sun Certified Developer for the Java 2 Platform. For developers with "advanced proficiency" in J2SE.

NOTE

J2SE is standard Java 2; J2EE is the enterprise edition of Java 2.

  • Sun Web Component Developer for the J2EE Platform. For developers with JSP, web services, and servlets experience.

  • Sun Certified Enterprise Architect for the J2EE Platform. For architects responsible for architecting and designing scalable, flexible, and highly secure J2EE applications.

Of course, Sun certification is still by far the most widely recognized of the certification paths. It's extensive in that it tests the knowledge of the candidate very well. It also provides a public record of certification on the web to which candidates can point potential employers via their résumés. Although exams can be purchased online, the candidate has to attend an authorized Prometric center for the actual exam. Sun certification is also very expensive, with the Sun Certified Programmer exam costing $150, which can be a problem for an out-of-work programmer!

Brainbench Certification

Brainbench certification is an entirely different animal from both jCert and Sun certification. For one thing, Brainbench is not limited to Java certification—it aims to provide certification in 50–75 roles by the end of 2003. (It must be close to having achieved this goal, as it currently offers tests in 425 different skills from project management to administrative assistant, some of them totally free!)

The following are among the Java-related "roles" that Brainbench recognizes:

  • Brainbench Certified Internet Professional (BCIP) web developer. To my mind, this is the most extensive of the lower-level certifications. It requires knowledge of HTML, databases, and programming concepts, as well as extensive knowledge of one programming language (which can, of course, be Java).

  • Java Programmer. Although this title is similar to the lower-level certifications of other organizations, I believe that this is the equivalent of the best of the Sun developer exams—it requires extensive knowledge of at least two of the advanced Java concepts as well as a wide variety of basic Java/programming skills.

It's possible to be Brainbench certified without completing a whole "role." Brainbench offers a wide range of individual Java exams, including one each for J2EE, EJB 2.0, and JSP 2.0—making it the only certification agency I know of to provide specialist exams on specific subjects in this way . The standard is extremely high, and Brainbench provides a host of facilities aimed at helping the student to pass—forums in which you can discuss issues with others who are taking the exams, find practice tests and sources of training and information, and even access a "Top Scores" area where it's possible to see where you rank in relation to others in your region, country, or even the world!

Taking individual tests at Brainbench works out to be cheaper than most other certification methods, with $49.95 the average cost of a test, and is more convenient than other programs because you can take all the tests over the web. However, they also offer a number of bumper packages, which make Brainbench good value for the money! You can get free access to many of the practice tests (and some of the tests) simply by signing up. For $249 per year, you can take as many practice exams as you like (usually an average of $29 each) and as many different certification exams as you like (but each certification exam can only be taken a set number of times).

NOTE

They also have a deal for six months' membership, but the prices for that package are in the process of changing.

One great thing about Brainbench is that once you've paid your fee you can take a test in anything you think you might pass, even if you originally only joined for the Java exams. You can very easily end up with a whole list of certifications to add to your résumé, which may bump up your chances of getting the job you hope for. As with Sun certification, when you pass a Brainbench certification, you get a URL to put on your résumé so that potential employers can see that you've passed.

Until recently, lack of industry recognition had reduced Brainbench's popularity. However, many of the Java-related and other IT Brainbench certifications are now endorsed by the International Webmasters Association, which means that those certifications are gaining recognition within the IT industry. Many employers now realize that the exams offered by Brainbench are by no means easy and can really indicate specialist status and expertise in a specific area.

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