How to become a Zend Certified Engineer (ZCE) on a budget

Last year I finally took the plunge and went in for my ZCE exam, and thankfully passed first time. I’d like to share with you why and how I did it (on a budget).

Is it worth it?

After using PHP for a number of years, I decided that I’d like to take some form of certification to verify my level of expertise and knowledge of using the programming language. Naturally when looking at PHP courses online, it was clear that the Zend Certified Engineer exam is really the only one that holds much merit (at least in my eyes).

My main reasons behind taking the exam were:

  • To strengthen my CV
  • Use as a marketing tool for freelance business
  • An excuse to develop my PHP knowledge
  • I wanted a challenge!

I know some people in the PHP community see certification as a waste of time, and advocate that the effort is better spent on Open Source projects. To that argument, I say I know of development shops that insist that all of their team are ZCE certified, and undoubtedly hiring managers do see value in candidates that are ZCE certified (rightly or wrongly).

You should constantly challenge yourself, and as a PHP developer, I felt this was a natural step of progression - which amongst experience (including Open Source development) will improve your skills and expertise.

Becoming a Zend Certified Engineer on the cheap

The exam itself costs €170 (£144.97 at time of writing), so it's a good idea to revise well and pass first time unless you have money to burn on exam retakes.

Having to personally fund this venture myself, I was keen to keep costs down as much as possible. Whilst Zend offers training and exam prep, I felt €500+ was a bit steep for my liking.

PHP Manual - now available in print friendly format.
PHP Manual - now available in print friendly format.

For those on a budget (like myself), I'd highly recommend purchasing the exam prep from uCertify. I really left all my revision way too late, and found myself cramming a week before the test. This course was a lifesaver and gave me a lot of confidence going into the exam. Priced at around £75, I think it is good value for money.

If you have an iPhone/iPad, I'd also recommend supplementing your revision with PhpRiot (£1.49). It's a nice little app that firstly tests your PHP knowledge, and secondly gives you offline access to the PHP manual. Although I'd perhaps make a suggestion that if you do the quizes, do them often with a lower amount of questions; I once had a 40 minute quiz, then the app crashed after 35 mins! It's handy to do a quick quiz before you go to bed etc.

Which brings me onto the best (and cheapest) resource of all, the PHP manual. Use this to thoroughly understand how functions work. You will be tested on a cross section of all PHP areas, so it's important you really know it inside out.

Learning outcomes

I'd say the exam is worth doing for a developer of any level. During your revision period, you'll soon find out what are your weak areas, and by going through this process you'll come out a much more rounded developer.

I found it was a great motivator to learn stuff, especially the sort of stuff that you wouldn't usually encounter in day-to-day development. Regardless of the benefits it may have when it comes to employability, I found the experience in general to be positive from a personal development level.

To say that the whole certification process (including training materials) costed in the region of £230, I think it's worth the investment. If time is not an issue, then you could probably just make use of the PHP manual alone. Although let's not forget that Zend Certified Engineers receive a perpetual license for Zend Studio (worth €299 normally), so you could actually be up on the deal if you were planning on buying it.

I hope this article has helped you in your decision to become a ZCE. If you have any questions (taking into account the confidentiality agreement) drop a comment below.

Further reading