I've been a reader of the forums for a while now, but the first post is always a little scary...
I'm wondering if now is the time for me to begin preparing for the SCJP.
Here's a little background info on me... I have been involved in the IT industry for almost 10 years doing tech support, and sys admin-type stuff. Recently I went back to school to get a second degree--a CS degree. So far I have taken two programming courses and received A's in both. The first was an intro to programming course that utilized c++ exclusively. The second course used Java both to teach OO concepts and to gain knowledge of the language itself. The textbook for the course was Deitel's Java How To Program 7th edition. During that semester we covered all of the book except chapter 15 (recursion) and chapters 24-28 (networking, databases, web aps, and web services). After the semester ended I finished reading the book on my own, working a few programming exercises from each of the remaining chapters, in much the same way we did during the semester.
Due to the availability of classes, prereqs for my other (mostly math) classes, etc. it's going to be this summer, at the soonest, before I can take my next programming course, which may or may not be utilizing java (I think it will but they don't tell you in the course catalog, so you have to wait until you get the book list after you register before you know for sure). With that in mind, I don't want to lose the knowledge I've acquired already, and I don't want my own acquisition of knowledge to be restricted to the University's time-line. Besides, I like coding so much that I couldn't wait for my next class anyway...that's why I finished Deitel's book on my own after the semester ended.
The SCJP is absolutely something that is on my radar. There is no question as to whether or not I am going to do it. I am. The only question is, as I sit here looking a fresh new copy of the Sierra/Bates SCJP 310-065 book sitting next to me on the couch, am I ready to get into SCJP now, or am I getting ahead of myself and would be better off doing something else first? And (if I haven't been long-winded enough already) if I am better off doing something else, then what is it? I don't get to take another programming course until this summer, at the soonest, so we're talking about self-study between now and then. If I don't go for the SCJP now, then I don't even know what is a good second book to follow Deitel's Java How To Program.
I know this a lot of information, but I figure it's better to give you too much than too little. After all, one can always skim if one wishes to. ;)
I think you must go for SCJP. Since you have some knowledge of Java and you are also free till summer, so it is the right time to go for SCJP. It will take you about 2-3 months to be perfect for SCJP. So you'll clear your exam before your next classes begin. Just go through the K&B book and go for as many mock exams as you can. That's it, you'll be SCJP certified in no time