PHP Magazine – a Bold New Direction

Along with the current issue containing my article on the ZCE exam, International PHP Magazine has announced a bold new move: they’re going digital, and staying there. Publishing a PDF version every month will allow them to reach an international audience faster (my contributor’s copies sometimes took months to arrive from Germany!). And, while I must admit I’ll miss the feel of the glossy magazine in my hand every other month, I’m pleased to know that IPM will reach more people with more timely information, and wish them all the best in this new adventure.

PHP Function Reference

One of the giveaways I’m planning to include on the CD-ROM that comes with the issue of PHP Magazine containing my article about the ZCE exam is a color-coded function reference sheet that comes in very handy when studying for the exam. I hadn’t seen this level of concision and focus on core functions available in either the PHP Pocket Reference or other freely available references. So I wrote my own, and used it to prepare for the ZCE.


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(PDF, 124K)

Pros and Cons of ZCE

If I had to narrow down my assessment of the Zend Certified Engineer exam to just three pros and cons, here is what they would be:


  • bolsters enterprise adoption of PHP with a clear standard for quality developers
  • important, sometimes overlooked concepts like pass-by-reference are covered
  • knowing key functions at the required level of detail can make you code faster


  • need to know some functions by heart does not represent a real-world environment
  • no case study or project, no real free-form responses
  • no publicized passing score means no target to shoot for when studying

The pros are significant and valuable, and the cons could certainly be addressed, for example, with a second, more advanced certification or even by revamping the ZCE. All in all, the very existence of the ZCE is a huge shot in the arm for PHP in the enterprise, where certificates and badges play critical roles in legitimizing not only the developer but her development language of choice.

Written from: Fairmont Hotel, San Jose, CA


Here is a bold statement: I believe the existence of the Zend Certified Engineer Program may do more to further PHP in the enterprise than the release of PHP 5. Why? Because while the features PHP 5 introduces put PHP on par with languages like JSP, the truth is that PHP’s popularity was founded on its ability to rapidly deploy web applications. And that is a core focus that not even JSP has caught up with yet. It is the wealth of web-design-specific procedural operations — not the strengthened object model or nuanced handling of data structures — that gets PHP into developer’s minds and therefore in the door of the enterprise. CTOs don’t care about the features of PHP5. They care about adoption, and about use. And they care about certifications that tell them they made the right decision in hiring that new web developer. That is why copying programs like the Sun Certified Programmer For Java with Zend’s own certification program makes good sense to bring PHP to the enterprise.

Zend Certified Engineer

I passed. 200 sample questions, 134 flash cards, and hours of studying later — I am now officially a Zend Certified Engineer. Three months ago, Daniel Kushner offered me a voucher to take the test for free, “to help advance PHP into the enterprise and to endorse PHP as the leading Web development language” since I am a “PHP community leader and professional developer.” In fact, I have over five solid years of PHP coding experience. So why so much studying? Frankly, I needed it — but more on that later.

Because I decided to take on the ZCE as the subject for my upcoming article in PHP Magazine, I also decided to take the angle of a participant-observer, trying as much as possible to put myself in the shoes of an average candidate taking this exam by going through all the motions. Plus, I care about having a reliable standard for measuring knowledge in the community. So I tried the whole thing on for size in a thorough manner.

In celebration of Zend’s ZCE Month, I plan to unpack some of my own experience taking the ZCE Exam here on my blog. For now, here is a quick run-through of some of my study tactics, complete with photos:
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