How To Find More Business Opportunities with PHP Certifications – with Michelangelo van Dam

by Mirek Burnejko

Michelangelo ZCE PHPMichelangelo for long years works with PHP. For years helps to develop Zend framework, speaks at international conferences and teaches other PHP developers. He is also the founder of PHPBenelux and he believes in power of PHP certifications.

We want to find an answer for a question: Do employers need people with PHP certifications?

In this interview you will find:

  • Where to start as a developer?
  • Do people with PHP certifications earn more?
  • Do Facebook or Google need developers with PHP certifications?
  • How to receive more job offers or business opportunities with the Zend certifications?

IT Certification Master: Hi Michelangelo. It is a big pleasure. Today we are gonna talk about really hard topic, PHP certifications for developers. Tell us first something about you.

Michelangelo van Dam: For over 10 years I’ve been working professionally as PHP developer, started my own business in 2004 and founded PHPBenelux, a local PHP user group, in 2008. In my spare time I contribute to open source projects, speak at international conferences or give workshops on various PHP or general engineering subjects. In the little time that’s left, I’m a devoted husband and loving father of 2 sons.

ICM: Tell us something about the beginning of your career and about your first IT certification.

MvD: I got the software engineering passion from my parents and did several jobs in my early teens working with Java on OS2 or Perl on Unix systems. But in 2001 I got an offer to work as a PHP developer for one of Belgium’s largest ISP’s and was bitten by the PHP bug since then.
In 2004 I started my own business, but I needed to get more out of it. It wasn’t until 2006 when I got my first certification as Zend Certified Engineer. Since then, work and life has moved into light speed as business requirements became more complex and professionalism was measured by certifications on CV’s.

ICM: What was your the biggest project?

MvD: Hard to say which project was the biggest, but I do know of a project that really stands out as being most innovative: working as a subcontractor for several police zones in Belgium where we used PHP to detect stolen, uninsured and wanted vehicles, traffic violations, speed violations and distance control using traffic cameras, PHP with Zend Framework and MySQL.

ICM: I have spoken with many developers, not only from the PHP world and a lot of them have certifications from Oracle or Microsoft. You’ve chosen Zend and PHP. Why?

MvD: It makes a lot of sense: I want to promote my business as professional PHP services thus a PHP certification immediately reflects that I’ve taken the next step towards professionalize my expertise. If I had another certification, it only shows I can pass an exam but doesn’t tell anything about my professionalism towards PHP.

ICM: Tell us about benefits of the Zend certifications. Why we should go for it?

MvD: Getting Zend Certified was for me a personal goal. I wanted to show to myself I had the knowledge and skills to get certified. I was doing PHP for 5 years, but had no idea how good or how bad I really was. Passing the certification exam was for myself a sign that I’ve done a good job all these years.

Preparing for the exam was also a bit of a challenge as I needed to know all important parts of PHP, even the ones I never heard of. By preparing for the exam I discovered some hidden gems I had not seen before, but could make my life a whole lot easier. Best example is SPL. The certification program is not just for that paper, but you’ll even pick up new things. So, even if you not succeed the certification program, you at least learnt new things.

One thing I wasn’t aware of, was that by getting certified you also show up in the Zend Yellow Pages and that you get immediately more job offerings or business opportunities. You also receive the Zend Newsletter that showed me there were PHP communities doing all sorts of activities and there was a big PHP conference in California held by Zend. It was as though the world of PHP opened up for me.

ICM: Zend creates certifications for PHP developers, there is also a certification for Ruby developers (I haven’t heard about any for Python). Why these certifications aren’t popular?

MvD: This is a hard question for me to answer. I can compare it with LPI, most certifications that are not backed by a major business (like Zend, Oracle or Microsoft) are cool things to have but have less value in the business world as most business owners and managers have no clue what’s on the market or are only focussing on their official supplier’s certification program.

ICM: Do you think companies (the biggest player) like WordPress, Facebook or Google look for developers with certifications?

MvD: I know that many tech companies, including the above mentioned ones, have enrollment tests that challenge the job applicant to see its agility to think out of the box while mastering the technology. A certification is only worth something if you also pass these enrollment tests.

More traditional companies focus on what you show on paper as they don’t have a focus on technology. The same goes with your college degree, you get more doors open if you have a degree from Yale, Stanford, Harvard or Princeton. Having a degree from another university is still great, but it’s harder to compete to the elite colleges. I don’t have a college degree, and doors only opened when I got my first certification. And probably some doors remain shut because I don’t have a college degree, even if I’m certified. This is what the world is made of.

ICM: You also work with databases. Do you think developers who work with big companies should have database certifications from Oracle or Microsoft?

MvD: Yes, definitely. I’ve got the MySQL developer certification scheduled for several years now, but still postponed it for various reasons. I set my goal to get certified this year, as I will learn better ways to deal with MySQL databases in my preparation to the exam.

MS SQL certification is also a huge win as Microsoft is nowadays also a valid platform to develop PHP applications on (with IIS7 and Windows Azure). So if you’re dealing with these platforms a lot, it’s a good investment.

ICM: How about job opportunities? Zend has a list of all certified PHP developers. Do employers use this source for finding people?

MvD: In my experience recruiters use the Zend Yellow Pages a lot when looking for PHP developers. And the more these listing of certified PHP developers becomes known within the business world, the more people listed in there will get first notice when there’s a job vacancy or consulting position available.

ICM: Hard questions 🙂 You know the industry. Do people with PHP certifications from Zend earn more?

MvD: That’s a fact. Because they’re certified they mean more to the company hiring them (often this is a business requirement for the hiring company itself). But in the end, it’s a strong point of argument when negotiating salaries or consulting fees.

ICM: What is the best way to start as a developer? Can you recommend any certification for people who want to start with the IT world?

MvD: As a starting developer, find yourself a technology that gives you a warm feeling and ignites a true passion. If that technology has certification programs, get yourself enrolled in such a program. It’s only a benefit for your future career as you’ve taken the next step to get more serious about what you do.

If you grow into a development lead or more management role, maybe it’s not bad to break away from technology itself and look if you can learn more and get certified in the field of management or leadership. You never know if there’s a better opportunity lying ahead.

ICM: Do you have any certification goals for 2012? Maybe other technology?

MvD: Yes, getting MySQL Developer certified! I’ve postponed it for too long. Maybe if I get around to it, I might also go for a certification for MS SQL as I need more knowledge in that field as well.

If this year the Zend Framework 2 certification is announced, I’ll probably going for that one as well, as that has an immediate impact on my job as professional PHP consultant.

ICM: Thank you so much for that valuable lesson. Tell us where we can find you and say hello.

MvD: I write often on my blog, and you can follow me on twitter (@DragonBe) where I broadcast a lot of stuff. My professional profile can be found on LinkedIN.

[This is part of the Interviews with IT Pros Series]