In the IT world, technical certifications have been seen as any number of things, a way to distinguish yourself from others and expand your expertise, to an organized sham designed to force antiquated “educational” norms on businesses and employees.
This article isn’t going to debate the validity of certifications in general (perhaps some other day), but instead relies upon the perception that an employee that has various professional certifications is somehow “more valuable” than an equivalent employee without certifications.
uCertify is a company that offers a fairly wide variety of training solutions for certifications commonplace in the IT world. They provide IT certification preparation “PrepKits” for Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, CompTIA, Cisco, Adobe, and CIW, to name the big-boys.
For this review I was given a license to Microsoft’s 70-547-CSHARP – Designing Web-Based Applications C#.NET exam by Roger Stuart, Senior Markting Manager at uCertify. I advised Roger going in that my evaluation would be as unbiased and impartial as I could, and I would report my impressions – good and bad. He is confident of the product his company offers and was okay with those terms.
Download and Installation
uCertify’s PrepKits are downloadable applications with licensed based activation. Once you have found the exam PrepKit, you download and install it. The installer is a little on the large side at 15 MB download (with an additional 30MB needed for installation), but each kit appears to be a stand-alone application, rather than one application into which various exam date is loaded. It would see like the latter would be a more efficient use of space, but this way works just as well.
Once the PrepKit is downloaded you’re met with the typical EULA. One interesting bit of information is right under the “I accept the terms in the License Agreement” checkbox: “Pass [exam title] in first attempt. Success Guaranteed!” That’s a pretty strong guarantee! One that I didn’t buy at first glance… so I did little digging and found this, right on the homepage of their website: “Money Back Gurantee! […] If you don’t get certified in the first attempt, we will return your money. No questions asked! Steps: 1. Fax your result to 1 (209) 231 3841, 2. We refund your money.” It doesn’t get my clearer than that. (If you have experience with passing, or failing and trying to get a refund from uCertify, please comment below.)
After accepting the EULA and clicking Next, my firewall yelled at me, PrepEngine was requesting access to the internet. Fair enough. One area of concern was the “Publisher: Unknown” line, which typically means that the executable is not a digitally signed application. I’d recommend that uCertify correct this as soon as possible for the security of their customers, as well as the peace of mind that a digitally signed application bring.
After I allowed the program through the firewall I was asked to create a profile by providing my name and email address. Unfortunately, this is another area why uCertify fell short, though most customers will never try what I did. I’ve gotten in the habit of using “plus-addressing” in my email addresses, for example, if you are email@example.com and you’re sending your email address to someone, say uCertify, for example, you could write your email address as firstname.lastname@example.org, which is a perfectly valid email address, AS LONG AS YOUR EMAIL SERVER SUPPORTS plus addressing. This allows you to define rules (such as folder sorting, priorities, forwarding, or even junk mail/spam rules on your email client/server. uCertify DOES NOT allow this in their interface, which was disappointing. Normally I wouldn’t quibble over this, but these are exams for geeks, and geeks know this kind of stuff. Though not a show-stopper, I’d also recommend uCertify comply with the full RFC 5322 (mostly section 3.4.1) standard in the future.
That’s where things went wrong. I got an error that PrepEngine had stopped working and would be closed. I can’t blame this on the program, it could have been caused by any number of other applications that I had open at the same time (Visual Studio, SQL Server Management Studio, Photoshop CS3, Firezilla, Outlook, Firefox, Zune, and Excel). Though not a good first impression of the software, I simply restarted the application and everything worked just fine.