I'm often asked whether I'm Citrix-certified. For the past five years, my answer has been "no."
I used to be Citrix-certified. Back in September 1998 I passed the 1Y0-302 exam, "Citrix MetaFrame 1.0 Certification," with a score of 76%. When Citrix released the CCEA series of exams for MetaFrame 1.8, I took all four exams in a month to become one of the first CCEAs. (We got a jacket for being in the first fifty, if I remember correctly.)
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But since 2000, I haven't taken a single exam. I've been lucky not to work at companies that required certifications. (And of course writing a book about Citrix in 2001/2002 pretty much guaranteed that I'd never have to take another Citrix exam for the rest of my life.)
Nevertheless, people still ask whether I'm certified. And when they find out I'm not, the next question I'm invariably asked is, "Do you think you could pass the exam if you just showed up and took it?"
I thought that was kind of a cool idea. If I can pass the exam without any exam prep--just my 10+ years of actual hands-on experience, then that is a really great endorsement of the quality of the exam. And if I fail, well, I guess that means the exam doesn't relate to the real world.
So the stage was set. Last week I went to Citrix.com, clicked around the education pages until I found the links, and signed myself up for exam 1Y0-259, "Citrix XenApp (Presentation Server 4.5): Administration." My plan was to just "show up" for the exam, with absolutely no preparation whatsoever. (And when I say "no preparation," I mean "no preparation." I did not read the syllabus. I did not take any practice exams. I did not read any brain dumps. In fact, I didn't even fire up a Citrix server just to run through the admin consoles. I literally did nothing different leading up to this exam.
I honestly can't remember the last time I took a certification exam--certainly it was before I left HP to become independent back in May 2003. I chose the New Horizons testing center on 42nd Street in Manhattan for today's exam.
I ran from the subway to the building through a downpour, umbrella-less, to find that even though the New Horizons reception area was on the first floor, the exams were administered in the basement. (Some things never change!) I went downstairs and signed in with the exam receptionist where I was told that my exam was still downloading. (Again, never changes!) I showed my two forms of ID, surrendered my Blackberry, and followed her into the exam room with my three blank sheets of paper and my new Bic pen.
In that instant I was mentally teleported back to 1998 in Cleveland, Ohio. All white walls, crappy old computers, and a mouse whose buttons were stained with the caffeine that's leeched through the fingers of the years of exam-takers ahead of me.
Click-click-click. "Good luck!" Before I knew it the receptionist was gone and I was staring at an electronic NDA with "Agree and continue" and "Do not agree" buttons. In all the years I've been taking IT exams, I never actually took the time to read one of these NDAs. Since the main purpose of me spending 150 bucks on this exam was to write about the experience, I figured I should at least glance at a paragraph or two of this NDA.
Blah blah blah... you cannot disclose the questions... blah blah... you cannot disclose general topics were... wait, what?!? I cannot disclose which topics were on the exam? But doesn't Citrix publish a syllabus online?
Whatever. I can still write about whether I think the exam was a good exam or not as long as I talk broadly. So I think I'm fine. A quick click of the "Agree and continue" button and I'm off!
My timer starts counting down and I'm staring at Question 1. It was at this point that I realized I'd made a huge mistake. I know that I agreed that I would not disclose blah blah about the exam, but I'm going to purposefully break that NDA for this one question. The first question of my 1Y0-259, "Citrix XenApp (Presentation Server 4.5): Administration exam was the following: (I am not making this up.)
Which of the following cipher suites are supported by Secure Gateway? (choose two)
Are you f***ing kidding me? THIS is the first question? What have I gotten myself into? Whose stupid idea was it to just "show up" and take the test?!?
I mean imagine this: Here I am... I'm Brian. I wrote the book, okay? I just waltzed into this CCA exam expecting to cruise on through. 95 minutes total time? Pfft! It'll take me 15 minutes. I'll be home before lunch.
Questions 2 through 66: Not as bad
Needless to say, the rest of the questions were easier. (Read "more appropriate.")
Honestly I was pleasantly surprised by the exam. Citrix has done a great job of asking a bunch of really decent questions about all aspects of running a Presentation Server farm. In fact, I might go so far as to say that these were the same types of questions that I'd ask a potential candidate if I were trying to assess his or her grasp of Citrix.
Don't get me wrong... There were still plenty of B.S. questions--questions that I swear had more than one answer or that were so obscure no one would need to know them. But overall, I'd say about 80% of the questions were good solid questions that I felt a decent Citrix admin should know. And that's a far cry from ten years ago, when the exam was about 90% B.S. and 10% good stuff.
Passing this exam (and therefore receiving your Citrix Certified Administrator designation) requires a score of 68%. In the end, I passed with a 77%. (1% higher than my first Citrix exam from 1998 when I actually studied.) So I am now Citrix-certified once again! [UPDATE: No I'm not. There is an online e-learning course you're supposed to take too. I'm talking to Citrix today to find out more about what they're thinking here, because right now, this seems like total marketing BS. I'll post more as I learn it.]
Citrix deserves a lot of credit here. I know the CCA is just one exam. And sure it has its flaws. But all-in-all it's a decent test and probably about as good as any vendor could do. So should you go out and get Citrix-certified? It depends. If getting certified will get a raise at work, then yes! If you'll get a bonus, then yes! If you're afraid of getting laid off and you'll be in the job market? Sure, it can't hurt.
Then again, I've spent the majority of my career as an uncertified doer, and real world experience will beat out certifications any day.