I've never really cared much for the Adobe Certified Expert exam itself. I mean, I totally understand that there should be some qualifier for those who choose to make their profession through the use of Adobe software.
I have long lamented that while doctors and lawyers have always been able to maintain some sense of "ownership" of their field -- meaning entering the field requires a large investment of both time and money, there are numerous exams and boards in place, and on some levels, a degree of apprenticeship is required. Those professions even have their own language. The design field requires not much more than a computer and a business card printed on a micro-perfed sheet of paper. Even the language we once owned (font, point size, kerning, etc) has become known by all.
Because of this, if you are either in a position where you are looking to be hired by a professional design agency or production house, or if you are looking to employ a designer or operator, how does one go about demonstrating their knowledge of the necessary products? How does one trust that a potential hire actually knows what they are doing? In my own profession of training or consulting, how do potential clients sleep at night, wondering if the person they are hiring to train their staff knows what they are talking about. In fact, I myself only take the exams because form a pure marketing perspective, my clients feel more comfortable hiring a certified trainer, rather than an uncertified one.
Case in point: Recently, Adobe (yes, the company that actually makes the software), hired a training company to provide some training for their own employees. Which if you ask me, is pretty smart of Adobe. I mean, just because someone works at a company, doesn't mean those people know how to use the software. For example, not everyone who works at American Airlines knows how to fly a plane, or how a plane actually flies. But when employees understand their own products better, you have to assume that they will probably do a better job in improving their own products and marketing it. While I haven't spoken with Guy Kawasaki about this point, I gotta assume he'd think it should be the MO of a company to do this on some level.
In any case, during some video training, the hired trainer made mention of a video format known as H.263. One of the Adobe employees raised a hand to correct the trainer -- H.264 is obviously the right format. But the trainer insisted that his notes were correct and that the format was H.263. Nice, eh? I guess Adobe is embracing a new standard.
But getting back to my original point, Adobe publishes these exams and has something called ACE certification -- which stands for Adobe Certified Expert. However, with the CS3 exams that have recently been made available, I can argue that the term ACE really stands for Absolute Crap Exams. Maybe I'm being harsh, but I found that taking the Illustrator CS3 test (which I did last night) was a tremendous insult to my own intelligence. For the record, I scored an 81% and passed. The majority of the questions on the Illustrator test made absolutely no sense, and only few presented clear answers. The exam was a "recertification" exam, so there were only about 30 or so questions, and the intention was that I'd be tested on features new to CS3. Well, obviously, that was the biggest joke ever. What are the new features in Illustrator CS3? Let's see... Live Color? Not a single question on that subject. Nothing about Flash integration or symbol support, nor anything at all about the new align or selection features. The majority of the questions I had dealt with sorting files in Bridge, setting the right transparency flattener settings to work with Level 2 RIPs (puh-leez), and working with spot colors. And I really REALLY don't mean to sound like I'm a know-it-all on any level, but I do like to think that someone like me should be able to score higher than an 81% on an Illustrator exam.
And if you think it's just Illustrator, read about what both Anne Marie Concepcion and Michael Murphy have said about their experience with the InDesign CS3 exam.
What bothers me most is that Adobe charges people a heck of a lot of money ($150 per exam, $50 per "upgrade" test) for these exams. And in my eyes, these exams are totally worthless. Both to trainers, employees, and employers.
SO WHAT NOW?
Well, you know me -- I'm not one to complain much -- my mentor at Adobe, Dave Burkett, used to tell me, "If you don't have a solution, you're part of the problem", meaning, don't criticize unless you also make a suggestion on how to fix things (not to be political in any way, but if only our public figures would heed such advice).
Back when I was doing art production, I would actually create a document and have potential employees try to recreate that document within a specified period of time. Even analyzing the potential candidate during the exam would reveal their true knowledge of the product, by watching which methods they were using to complete the task. In my opinion, that exam has some value. Not only because it tests real use of the product, but because life isn't a multiple-choice exam. And anyone who uses Adobe's products know that there's always a plethora of ways to accomplish a task. And memorization of features (which is necessary for the current exam) shows nothing of a person's ability to understand when and how to use those features. Nor their ability to understand a real-world workflow.
If you're familiar with the CompTIA CTT+ certification, you'll know that TWO tests are required for certification: a written test, and a video test. That's right -- you have to submit a video of yourself giving a class. Your video is reviewed and only upon passing both exams are you certified as a technical trainer. After all, just because someone is a whiz at understanding technology doesn't mean they also know how to clearly present that material for others to understand.
I know that there are numerous training materials out there -- books, videos, and blogs for example. These are wonderful, but it's rare that you'd put a note on your resume that you've got a dog-eared copy of Real World Illustrator CS3 on your desk and that you read my the Real World Illustrator blog religiously. There are also amazing conferences and seminars. While I'm a bit biased here because I regularly teach at these conferences, I also attribute a large part of my success to actually being at these events. I've networked with amazing people, I've learned things I never would have even had the time to explore before, and there's really no better way to learn than also having fun doing it at the same time.
So the problem is, there's a disconnect. A disconnect between really good training, and a really good certification standard. Because you can spend money to get great training, but there's no great way to advertise that you've mastered that training. And you can spend money on getting a recognized "Adobe" authorized training certificate, but that in reality has no training value. Most people probably have to shell out cash for both -- books, videos, conferences and seminars to really learn the stuff, and meaningless exams to "prove" your expertise to the world. Do you see something wrong with this? I do.
So I find myself in a position where maybe I could find the resources to make a change. I already create books, as do many of my friends. I already record videos, as do many of my friends. I already participate heavily in conferences and seminars, and have begun building a membership community that I hope will continue to grow. Just like 3rd-party training is a valuable and credible resource, could a 3rd party endorsement or certification ALSO prove its value?
Let me ask you. What do you think? If I could somehow find a way to truly qualify the expertise of those who use Adobe software, would that be something valuable -- both from an employee and employer perspective? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this matter.