Certification Mayhem

Look, I don’t mean to brag. I really don’t. I’ve been doing this weird job for a very, very long time now, and the point at which getting professional accreditation was something to crow from the rooftops evaporated a couple of decades ago. Honestly, being able to show the word at large that I’ve passed this year’s Apple IT Professional exam seems sort of akin to making a big deal about my birthday or something. I mean, both come around once a year, both are occasions that calls for a rueful smile, and both are things that are baseline expectations that can’t be avoided and that I’d far rather not draw any attention to.

Still, here you go. Now I have this weird-looking badge to put on my website, and a link that I’m supposed to post so I can show how clever I am. Feast your eyes upon it while I go put together a hasty ticker-tape parade:

I’m back. Wasn’t that something?

If they’d actually sent me a real badge that I could look at and lose in a drawer somewhere then that’d be something else, but no – a .jpg is all you get. And you do rather have to jump through hoops to get one of these, which is really the meat of my thesis today.

Back when I was a lad and the world was dewy with promise, Apple would make professional certification a prerequisite for enrolling in the Apple Consultants Network program. Which made a lot of sense – after all, me and mine go into homes and businesses as sort-of-brand-ambassadors, and if we’re clueless, ham-fisted brutes and break things then that makes Apple look bad (and Apple really, really does not like looking bad). These certifications were designed and written in-house by Apple, and they were pretty challenging material, by and large. You’d go and read a heavy, interminable, thousand-page book and sit down for a test with a real-life proctor who’d glare at you for two hours while you did your own tech support because the test-taking computer was broken, and you’d pay a few hundred bucks for the privilege. It was like being back in college, but only in all of the worst ways.

Every time Apple came out with a new OS you’d go and repeat this procedure, which resulted in a lot of people of my age and stature (metaphorical grey-bearded, tangibly rotund) accruing impressive-looking bookshelves stuffed with impressive-looking volumes that were always fun to leave lying around so that visitors would be constantly reminded how clever you were. Which is, let’s face it, the point of books in general.

A few years ago Apple started to shift that model; wanting to bring more people into the fold they deprecated the old, Apple-oriented qualifications and instead took on a raft of well-respected third-party qualifications – which made sense because while all those impressive tomes were stuffed to the gills with the interminable things about Mac OS X Kernel Extensions they didn’t talk a lot about some practical things like network design or general IT best practices. The Apple qualifications waned, but now they’re back, and getting one is a demanding procedure. Not because the material is unusually horrendous (although, again, I’ve been doing this for a long time and most of it is pretty burned in by now), but because actually taking the test represents a feat of strength and character that beggars belief.

The exams themselves are run and hosted by PearsonVue, who are doubtless well-intentioned but probably over-stretched and infrastructurally-challenged. Out of the last four exams I’ve taken with them, three of them have crashed. Three. Out of four. As in… I’ve been sitting there for the better part of an hour, am rounding the post toward the end of the test, and all of a sudden everything locks up and I’m either dumped out of the testing software (which takes over your entire computer), or forced to sit there while the timer counts down to zero and ends the test with me, gnashing my teeth and howling.

One time I managed to talk to a proctor, who told me that the test crashed because I was cheating, and insisted on my picking up my laptop and carrying it around the room until I’d proven to his satisfaction that no, I didn’t have someone there feeding me the answers and no, I didn’t have any of those thick-and-impressive looking books lying around, and no, I didn’t have the manual page for the assetcachemanagerutil command tattooed on my arm. Further, I could kind of understand the accusation if the proctor – who watches you through your laptop camera the whole time to see if you’re stealthily looking over at your phone – thought that any mischief was afoot – the crucial difference here was that his opinion was that the exam had seen me chewing my lip and muttering and then decided that something was awry, and that the appropriate action was to promptly and autonomously Put A Stop To All That Nonsense, Thank You.

Another time they told me that I’d been staring so long at the screen that the exam had assumed that the camera had crashed and so had ended the exam early. Which, okay, rude, but on the other hand yeah, I do tend to look off into space when I’m reading a question that simply says “Where can password?”. I mean, that thing is missing at least one verb, so I figure PearsonVue and I should probably split the blame on that. Actually, the hell with that; what kind of software takes a look at someone and decides that they’ve been still too long and that means it should quit? After all, I could have been in medical distress. I could have been dead! They could have at least… I don’t know. Coughed discreetly or something?

The last time it crashed I spent the better part of an hour on hold in order to talk to a very nice young lady, who made a case number for me and referred me to a department that didn’t exist. When I called her back the next day she – bless her – told me in the kind of voice that has caps in it that She Was Not At Liberty To Tell Me My Test Results, and then indulged in a lot of meaningful coughing and hint dropping to the effect that she could see that even though the test had croaked before I’d reached the end, I’d comfortably passed the thing. Which was rather nice of her, if I’m honest.

So, huzzah? Let’s go with that. Huzzah. I have new professional certifications and can prove to the world at large that I’m not an utter imbecile, and there’s a full three-hundred-and-sixty-four days until I have to do this all over again. Maybe the badge will be a different color next time.

Yeah. That’ll make the whole rigmarole worth while.

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