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Practicality Of Exam Questions

Cris Malone

Joined: Nov 01, 2005
Posts: 5
I was just browsing through the various certification forums here and observed that several of Sun's exam are authored by Bert Bates and Kathy Sierra.

I was wondering if they do any professional coding in all these areas or if they are just "text book" coders. I don't mean to offend them but I find it difficult to master just one specific area (say EJB or JSP) and here they are trying to test people in all the areas. So what I am questioning is, are the judges good enough in a practical sense. Can they ask "practical" questions? Have they ever written any code that is in production? (say, any piece of code that is used by any J2ME shop.)

I am not saying that they don't do any industry work. May be they are indeed are experts in EJB or Servlet. But are they real experts in everything including Webservices, J2ME, etc.? I just find it hard to believe.

Sometimes I just feel that Sun is taking all the candidates for a ride. They are losing everywhere and this seems to be their only profitable venture.

P.S. I am not sure which forum to post this since it is not specific to any particular certification.
Cris Malone

Joined: Nov 01, 2005
Posts: 5
Not only that, they are also writing the certifications to go with the exams. Hmmm...that seems a cool scheme to me. First author the exams, then roll up some chapters to help you pass that exam. Isn't that a conflict of interest?
david lightman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Nov 03, 2004
Posts: 82
I will say this, I am a Java developer seeking my certification. I am very grateful for Kathy and Bert and the books they provide. The fact of the matter is I am achieving everything I set out for. I code java at work but I am constantly amazed how much I am learning from their book. I am only a few chapters in and I cannot tell you how much more I know already. I feel like the journey to becoming a SCJP in iteself will make me the java developer i thought i was. To have the knowledge they have, I would have to say yes, they can write code just about as well as anyone to be frank. But try not to focus on that, focus on the fact they are cool people helping us learn in a way that we can become great programmers and get certified at the same time..

just my cents...
Cris Malone

Joined: Nov 01, 2005
Posts: 5
Hi David,
I totally understand what you are saying. As I said before, I am not denying that they are experts. I am sure their books are good for learning too. What I am questioning is:

a. Are they expert on all the exams subjects ?
b. Is their experties (in all the subjects) relevent to the industry ?
c. Do these certification questions reflect what is required in the industry or are they merely theoratical? They can do so ONLY if the authors of the exam have any industrial coding exposure (in that particular subject.

Has this question ever crossed your mind that how can a person(s) who has never coded professionally (again, by this I mean in a particular subject, please do not take it otherwise), certify another person's competence for a job in that industry?
[ November 03, 2005: Message edited by: Cris Malone ]
Abiodun Adisa
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jan 17, 2002
Posts: 495
Hello , Nice post Cris. Actually i do feel its a conflict of interest too, I mean why Develop questions for an exam and then
write a book for that particular exam. To me Certifications appear as a money making venture for Sun and most other computer
companies like Hp,Comptia,MySQL. In fact i do believe most companies are taking candidates for a ride. the reason being if nobody understands their product
they would not be able to sell a damn thing. Take for instance if nobody understands how to configure routers, would cisco be able to sell routers? absolutely not.
So this companies lie about benefits of certifications in order to get folks interested in learning their products for instance saying an average
ccnp earns 120k, a scjp earns 70k.
Certifications help candidates too, anytime i go for interviews , people take one look at my resume and tend to say we meant to ask you some java questions but seeing you are
an scjp we guess you already know it. It helps you to stand out. but certifications help the companies more because without folks like us who understand their technology
they are useless.
Personally I do certifications just to keep my mind busy and keep my brain challenged whether there is "head first" or "tail last" book. But i do like their books though because
they are good writers even though i feel their is a conflict of interest. I have all series even Design patterns which is not directed towards any exam is actually good for
all programmers whether C#, Java or C++
Mark Spritzler

Joined: Feb 05, 2001
Posts: 17262

Let's just say this. They know a lot more than I do, and I code every day. Using Java, EJB, Swing, Hibernate, and Oracle.

Even as I am helping with the technical editing of their next edition, I am learning new stuff from them.

At your work, you have tasks to perform, and it takes all your time, to go to meetings, to drink by the water cooler, to go to lunch. Kathy and Bert get to work on this all the time, that is their full-time job. So they can spend their time reading and learning about obscure APIs that we never get a chance to look at and coding with it.


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Cris Malone

Joined: Nov 01, 2005
Posts: 5
Originally posted by Mark Spritzler:
So they can spend their time reading and learning about obscure APIs that we never get a chance to look at and coding with it.


And that's exactly my point. They indeed do have a thorough knowledge of the "theoretical" stuff. Do they have any industrial experience as well? If you have done any coding in a real life project, you will know that the problems/situations that we face are quite different from what can be learnt by cramming the specs. Seriously, I think that anybody can cram the specs and become an "book expert" but does that give him/her the qualification to test other people's abilities who are going to get a job in the industry?

The "conflict of interest" point is tangantial to the above but I am very concerned about it. I just don't get how Sun can allow exam authors to write books on the exam.
Bert Bates

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8898
This is an interesting thread! It's maybe an opportunity to summarize a few ideas and issues that come up periodically. I won't speak for Kathy here, but my guess is that she would mostly say the same things I'm saying.

First off, both Kathy and I have a lot of professional software development in our backgrounds. You are however correct that we don't have 4 years of professional experience using EJBs and 4 years using Servlets and 4 years using J2ME and 4 years using J2SE Speaking for myself, I have no illusions that someone who's been focused on any one of these technologies wouldn't 'eat my lunch' if we had a 'smackdown' on that technology

I think that there might be some misconceptions about the Sun certification world, so I thought I'd try to clear a few things up.

First off, Kathy and I have been fortunate to be a part of many of the recent Java certification teams. But we are only a part of those teams. In every case, the teams consist of at least nine experts; a combination of Sun's internal engineers, and experts working in the industry. So, we have some input into the creation of the testing objectives, but the objectives are created by the entire team.

Second, it seems to me that a lot of people in the software industry have the wrong perspective about these certifications. In the case of the SCJP, the SCWCD, the SCMAD, the SCBCD, and the SCDJWS certifications, our stated goal is to create an exam that represents the experience of six to 12 months using the technology in question. A lot of people think that if, for instance, you have your SCWCD, you are a total Servlets and JSP guru, who can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Instead, the certification really means that the candidate has a solid foundation in the technology. When we create the objectives, we always have the notion of a 'solid foundation' in mind.

Third, I'd like to address the ideas of 'conflict of interest' and 'rolling up some chapters'. There are typically well over 2000 Java titles available on Amazon. When we started to write Java books, we decided that one of our tenets would be to focus the intention of each of our books. So far, we have focused all of our books on the learning side rather than on the reference side. We don't think we can do both at the same time. Our books tend to be big, heavy, tomes. Servlets is close to 900 pages, EJB is 700 pages, and the new SCJP book will be over 850 pages (plus another couple hundred pages of additional content on the CD). They're big because our goal is to teach the technologies, not just provide exam crams. I have to chuckle when I hear someone say 'all you have to do is read HF XXX, and you'll pass the exam!' Really? You don't have to study, or write code? Is everyone capable of memorizing 850 pages without learning the technology? We get lots and lots of feedback (which is great!), (not all of it positive BTW), and what we hear most of the time is that our readers really do learn stuff. phew! That's our goal! I won't claim that it's not great to be a part of the exam creation team, because it is great, but anyone can write a certification book. If you want to make sure you have a good handle on the contents of the exam, just take it a few times.

So to summarize:

- The exams are geared towards demonstrating a solid foundation, not guru status.
- Industry experts create the objectives.
- Kathy and I focus on teaching this foundational material.

Hope that helps, and we welcome your feedback and ideas!


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(If you're not on the edge, you're taking up too much room.)
Mark Spritzler

Joined: Feb 05, 2001
Posts: 17262

Originally posted by Cris Malone:

And that's exactly my point. They indeed do have a thorough knowledge of the "theoretical" stuff. Do they have any industrial experience as well? If you have done any coding in a real life project, you will know that the problems/situations that we face are quite different from what can be learnt by cramming the specs. Seriously, I think that anybody can cram the specs and become an "book expert" but does that give him/her the qualification to test other people's abilities who are going to get a job in the industry?

The "conflict of interest" point is tangantial to the above but I am very concerned about it. I just don't get how Sun can allow exam authors to write books on the exam.

Theoretical, hmmm. So you are saying they never write any code ever to prove that what they say is correct? I don't know of anyone that can read a specification and know how it works. And they don't just read a specification, they code as well.

They are not Sun employees, so there is no conflict of interest. They write the exam as volunteers.

I would much rather read a book from the source of the exam, who has seen every question than from someone outside who might have taken the exam and seen some of the questions. Those outside, aren't familiar with the goals of the exam, and why each exam objective was written.

[ November 04, 2005: Message edited by: Mark Spritzler ]
Andrew Monkhouse
author and jackaroo
Marshal Commander

Joined: Mar 28, 2003
Posts: 11651

I am a co-author of one of the Java certification books, and I can say from experience that it is tough to write intelligently on all the topics that a candidate must learn in order to pass a certification. I am in awe of the work that Kathy & Bert have put in. I had been coding in Java for several years before I decided to go for any certifications (and for many years before that in other languages) and I learnt so much from their books that afterwards I felt that I should have known to call myself a good Java programmer.

Now when it comes to real world applications - maybe I have more practical experience in some technologies than Kathy & Bert (and that is only maybe - they need to know a lot to write their books), but at the end of the day does it matter? When I go to a new company to work, chances are that I am not going to be a 100% fit for their needs - I am going to have to learn some new tools / APIs and the business domain in order to fit in. But having learnt the core information (which is what most of the certifications are for) then it is much easier to learn the additional information needed for work. As an example - someone who has 5 years experience with a particular company working exclusively with Servlets might not have ever touched on JSPs or TagLibs - so a person who has passed SCWCD would potentially be a more rounded programmer, even though they might have less practical experience.

Regards, Andrew

The Sun Certified Java Developer Exam with J2SE 5: paper version from Amazon, PDF from Apress, Online reference: Books 24x7 Personal blog
Marcus Green
arch rival

Joined: Sep 14, 1999
Posts: 2813
I am co-author of a couple of Java certification books and so may throw some light on this. Writing books is primarily an educational exercise. Having practical experience is very very useful but the most important ability is to distil the essential knowledge and relay it in such a way as people will learn it. Having covered the SCJP as my particular speciality puts me in the odd position of being an expert in an area that just falls short of the areas of expertiese required in most actual jobs. Thus most jobs can benefit from SCJP level knowledge but also require some other such as SWING, EJB, JSP etc.

I once exchanged emails with Kathy over a quirk of rendering with a version of Netscape 2.xx so one thing you can be sure of they have been around the subject a long long time. As Bert says certification is not about making you a guru, it is about covering the criteria.


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Mikalai Zaikin
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Joined: Jun 04, 2002
Posts: 3289
Well Said, Bert !

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agrah upadhyay
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 01, 2005
Posts: 579
Just saw the quotes and discussion above so now i wanna express myself too.
I am a 3rd year B.Tech. student having passed SCJP.This certification was without Head First.Now i am preparing SCWCD with HFSJ and i can say that as for as i am concerned this is one of the best books in market.Just having been impressed by this book ialso bought HF Design Pattern.Now i am very busy in college schedule,one mid semester and one end semester are waiting for me.And i have to write SCWCD in last week of December .But inspite of all these i am not able to wean away myself from reading Design Pattern every night(yes it is just 1 hour hardly).Thanx again to u Mr.Bates for this wonderful books and on this point that u have laboured a lot in writing amazing book ,surely that obnoxious brat girl will say u both(sierra and u) are amazing.And now for the first time her saying will be perfect.
As for as sun's exams are concerned i will say that they are absolute way of learning .Thanx to these exams which taught me so much............But They are highly expensive especially for those people who are living in India like countries.Here 7500 rupees means a lot and one is hardly able to spend so much.Now respected Mr.Bates what will u say that they never asked u about it?
[ November 11, 2005: Message edited by: agrah upadhyay ]
Ramasubbhu Allur Kuppusamy
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 16, 2005
Posts: 120
This is with reference to Chris's Post. With Sun's products being widely used across the globe and with the increasing demand for practising Professionals on Sun's Technologies, it is only quite natural to expect some authentic means of assessing a Professional's expertise on these Technologies. Who else can do it better than Sun Microsystems? By the way, why target Sun alone, while IBM, Microsoft. etc., also have Certification in place?
Anyone who has gone through Head First Series books would certainly appreciate the unique instructional methodology of Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates. Their books were released at a time when nobody imagined that Java/J2EE can actually be taught with high degree of ease. I am one of those big fans of Kathy and Bert, who firmly believes that they never wanted to take advantage of the situation by writing books on certification which they authored.

Regards,<br />Ram.<br />SCJP 1.4
Biren shah
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 13, 2005
Posts: 107
Hello People I think i need to add to this post with some of my inputs which i consider will clear doubts of the person who has posted this question.

1) A person must do those things that he/she is best at doing.
Kathy and Bates are best at writing understandable books on technologies that help thousands of java professionals to understand things why should not they.
2) Professional Experience

Experience can be derived in two ways first
A)let things happen to u and u learn what is right and wrong
b)u can try all those things and learn yourself
K&B in there book has pointed lots of on the job inputs and pointed towards mistake done by programmer in real life.
I just dont know what is the necessity of professional experience there in for teaching concepts.
I was hating pointers and pass by reference and pass by value things before i read K&B books.

3)If a person is good at authoring a certificatoin exam and also at writing i think they need to do both the things instead of clinging to one.

and lastly
if some one is helping thousands of java people out to understand java related things why to point at them.

I am a scjp 94% software engineer with 1year exp But i only have one problem with K&B .They make tough subjects so easy that i believe people wont be paid that much as they were being done before ;-).
Thanks K&B

Biren Shah<br />scjp 93%<br />scwcd 1.4 92%
I agree. Here's the link:
subject: Practicality Of Exam Questions