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Today marks the beginning of British summer time. Hurrah! I prefer the winter myself, but having experienced the extreme temperatures of New York on a January weekend, I have to reevaluate my climate preferences. Now that the office heating has been turned down (I wonder if they'll notice?), let's get on with this month's rant and rave.

Java certification - What are your thoughts on this particular hot potato? It's been making the rounds on the mailing list again, and is interesting to listen to. I think - and the veterans of the list will correct me if I'm wrong - it was discussed about six months ago, and the attitude of the list as a whole still seems to be divided on the subject.

"Should I Get Java Certified?"
Good question, and since this is one I get asked an awful lot, let me go through some of the pros and cons of the process so you can make up your own mind. I'll include many of the views of those that are active on the Straight Talking mailing list, including a number of my own.

First of all, let's have a look at what getting certified actually is. There's a series of exams you can take that will test your knowledge over the whole API. Sun offers a number of different types of exams, depending on the JVM. There are two classes: Programmers Certification and a Java Architects Certification. The difference between the two is that the former takes you more into the API side of the equation while the Java Architect looks at using the components and designing systems with them.

Generally speaking, becoming Java certified isn't as expensive as it used to be, but is still beyond the budgets of many individuals, especially those just starting out. Thus they have to rely on employers to sponsor the process. This is where things become a little difficult - but let me come back to that in a moment.

What is the end goal of owning a Java certificate? What does it mean? What will it allow you to do? In theory, it's a piece of paper that affirms that you have passed a variety of tests and proved that your knowledge of Java is at a certain level. I'm reluctant to say that it makes you a Java developer, as experience has taught me otherwise. I and others have commented that they've seen many Java-certified people who weren't much on the development front. They knew enough to get through the exam, but when they attempted to use their knowledge in practice it was soon evident that their knowledge of Java didn't run as deep as the certificate would have led them to believe.

Surely some knowledge is better than no knowledge, you may say. Granted. However, it gets a little tricky when a company makes a decision on hiring one of two people purely on the basis of whether they've been Java certified. As we know, merely having the certificate does not a developer make.

With that in mind, we'll first go through the advantages that obtaining the certified status should yield. One of the most important pluses is that it does no harm to your curriculum vitae. As we know, the marketplace is getting tougher, and although there's a shortage of Java skills, positions are still hotly fought for, so the more ammunition you have in your arsenal, the better. Going through the process also allows you to fill in some of the gaps in your understanding. For example, you may know that something works, but you're not quite sure why or how - you've just been taking it on faith that it does work.

What are the disadvantages of Java certification? Well, to be honest, except for time and money there aren't any real reasons not to become Java certified. At the end of the day it's another selling point for you to use when you need it.

But should you take the tests? Well, that's a question only you can answer. For example, I'm not Java certified and I don't need a piece of paper to tell people that I know Java. Many of you will be the same. You've been coding for most of your life, and Java is merely another string you've added to your bow - you're confident in your own ability. But for someone fresh out of university or new to developing, I'd say it would do no harm to become Java certified.

That said, it all depends on the job. If you're currently employed as a Java developer, I'd say there's not much point in going for the certification; it won't add any extra to your salary. But if you're planning on leaving or moving on and feel your Java is a little on the weak side, take some time out and go for it.

This is one of the catch-22s facing employers. Should they pay for their employees to become Java certified? Chances are, employers are merely training their staff for some other company's benefit. This is one of the main problems with training as a whole. But certification in the majority of cases will only be a piece of paper stating that employees can do the job they've already been doing successfully. So what's the point?

Let's pull some of this information together and make it a little clearer. There are two main reasons for certification: (1) to come up to a level of technical competency, and (2) to make yourself look more attractive to potential employers. Fortunately if you're looking to compete on the first one, there are many resources, both on and offline, that will help you. The following links will take you to a number of exam questions that will allow you to gauge your worth:
http://home-1.worldonline.nl/~bmc88/java/javacert/index.html
and http://suned.sun.com/usa/cert_test.html?content=scajt_quest.

I'd like to thank Dan Dobrin and Nathan Johnson for supplying these links. If anyone has more, please post them to the mailing list for all of us to check out.There are also a number of books from the major publishers on typical exam questions but a number of Straight Talking respondents claim that many of them are riddled with mistakes. So use caution.

The second reason is to make you look more attractive to future employers. I strongly recommend that you take a long hard look at your résumé and see whether it needs it or not. In some cases it will, in some cases it won't. It's your call.

I'd love to hear from both developers and employers on this subject. Jump on our list and let us know your thoughts.

Support Award of the Month: Hall of Shame
I'm making some headway on the mission to clean up our industry's support and I'm still researching a number of big names. As soon as I have more information, you'll be the first to know.

I'd like to give one particular online merchant a small pat on the back for a job well done. Fortunately, I've been given permission by my esteemed radio cohost, Keith Douglas, to recount this somewhat amusing anecdote. Keith was on a mission to purchase a book on the life of Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel fame - well, his life so far at least, since the poor man isn't dead just yet. Keith went shopping on W.H. Smith's Web site and quickly located the desired paperback. He exchanged the necessary credit-card information and was assured the book would be dispatched as soon as possible. Indeed, a couple of days later said book did arrive. It was a biography of one Paul Simon, but not of Simon & Garfunkel fame, more of state senate fame. Keith isn't sure where the mixup occurred, with him or at W.H. Smith. Nevertheless, the book was quickly returned and a refund was made. So beware the next time you order...make sure it's the one you really want.

Mailing List
The Straight Talking mailing list is one of those lists that gives you the opportunity to talk to a lot of people in all parts of the industry. We have a number of authors on the list, including a number of hard-core techies who are shaping the very APIs and virtual machines we depend on so much. So sign up at http://listserv.n-ary.com/ mailman/listinfo/straight_talking.

In addition to the mailing list, our radio show still broadcasts daily at http://radio.sys-con.com/. Keith Douglas and I present a 15-20 minute daily music/talk/Java Straight Talking show. A treat in itself!

Salute of the Month
Over the last six months I've been reviewing each of the big Java IDEs for a forthcoming review article here in JDJ. It's been an interesting journey, one I haven't completed yet. At the moment my machine has CodeWarrior on it from Metrowerks. I had some teething problems with it and jumped onto the newsgroups late one UK night to see if I could get some immediate help. It was here I happened on a name from Metrowerks, Ron Liechty, who answered one or two queries. I e-mailed him, explaining my problem, and to my delight and surprise had an answer within 30 minutes of my original post. Since then Ron and I have traded a number of e-mails in which we've discussed many aspects of the IDE world. I'd like to thank Ron for taking the time to bounce around a number of ideas with me - I've thoroughly enjoyed our dialog.

A piece of useless information for you: this is the twenty-third installment of Straight Talking. Next month is our two-year anniversary! Do you believe that? Where has the time gone?

This month I took delivery of what has to be the coolest mouse I've ever seen. Purely by accident I highlighted the wrong item in a list of mice and ended up with the Microsoft Explorer Intelli-eye mouse. It's a nice enough mouse, but the feature that's really cool is the red light that shines at the back of it. It looks like a brake light, and is fantastic at night. Yeah, Yeah, I know: I need to get out more!

See you next month.

Author Bio
Alan Williamson is CEO of n-ary consulting Ltd., the first pure Java company in the United Kingdom. The firm, which specializes solely in Java at the server side, has offices in Scotland, England and Australia. Alan is the author of two Java servlet books, and contributed to the Servlet API. He has a Web site at www.n-ary.com.
[email protected]

 

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