Posted Dec 11, 2014 by Dave Brandt
I was a freelance developer for a few years before I came to Human Element. If you’ve ever freelanced before, you know it isn’t easy. You take on a project for a client, then three months later you find yourself working for a different client on a totally new platform that you’ve never used before. You learn WordPress. You learn Drupal. You learn Joomla. You learn OSCommerce or Zen-Cart or Prestashop and on and on and on until your brain fills up and you start getting headaches and you develop a twitch and you have dreams that everyone’s faces have been replaced by cartoonish, balloon-shaped PHP tags.
No matter what the system is, you learn it. You become an expert, quickly, or at least you learn just enough to sound like you know what you’re talking about. But Magento has the steepest learning curve I have ever seen. At least for me, learning it has taken years, not months. I dabbled in Magento for a year or so before I came to Human Element, where I started working with it every single day. (Okay, let’s be honest here. It was more like I spent half of the time actually working with it, and the other half of the time I would just stare at my screen with bloodshot eyes while it confused the ever-loving bejeezus out of me). It took another year after that before our fearless leaders here at Human Element HQ got tired of me whining about feeling like I was in over my head and encouraged me to go after my certification.
I’m not going to lie. Taking the Magento exam seemed like an intimidating prospect. I’ve been out of college for a decade, and it’s been a long time since I’ve had to take any test more complicated than the “Which Celebrity Breakfast Food Are You?” quiz on Buzzfeed. (I got Val Kilmer’s Moons Over My Hammy). This was 110 questions about every single part of Magento there is, including parts I didn’t know so well and some parts I’d never even heard of before. I’d been told the exam was full of notoriously sneaky trick questions. Legend has it a certain Magento instructor who helped write the test got one of his own questions wrong when he took it himself. I was going to have to buckle down and study if I wanted to have any chance of passing this thing.
The internet has some good resources to help you prepare for the test, and like any good nerd, I read through all of them first instead of actually approaching real people for assistance. That may not have been the best move on my part. I’m lucky enough to sit in a room full of developers who all have a Magento certification. I didn’t realize how impressive that was until I was writing this blog post, when I learned that there are only about 150 Magento Certified Developers in the United States. A hundred and fifty is not that many. And it’s more than there are in almost any other country in the world. (Suck it, Honduras.) And it just so happens that a good chunk of them are ten feet away from me whenever I need to ask them a question. So for those of you who may not have the luxury of being surrounded by experts, I asked each of them to share their own top tips for acing the Magento exam.
Gregg Milligan, our certified front-end developer, says that if you want to learn Magento, the best approach comes down to time and effort:
Invest time in distilling useful points from Magento U videos AND following up on them by actually going into a clean install of Magento, setting breakpoints and seeing first-hand what they are talking about. Look at the actual files, give yourself goals and spend time trying to figure out how to accomplish them. For example, how do you add a new static block in the admin and then get it to show up by editing layout.xml?
Be willing to pay for study materials and buy your seat to attend Magento training seminars, or ask your company to pay for you to attend. With Magento, the most comprehensive training isn’t free. And the most comprehensive training will assume you have a base-level understanding that you may need to discover on your own (or in another training source). Be patient and realize that learning Magento is an ongoing process that you piece together from various resources and personal hands-on experimentation.
Paul Briscoe, one of our resident Magento Plus developers, also says the best way to learn is to roll up your sleeves and dig in yourself:
One of the things that really helped me out was using Xdebug and popping breakpoints at some of the areas mentioned in the Magento study guide. When I would step through the code and into some of the core functions, I began to see what methods Magento was calling on every request. It helped to give me a really good idea of the different request workflows.
Also, grab SOAP UI from SmartBear and create a project. You’ll get a list of all the API methods and you can see how each one interacts with the Magento models.
“Don’t do it,” says Brian Tajer, apparently suffering from a little bit of post-traumatic stress disorder after getting his certification last year. He’s kidding, of course (we think). We sent Tajer away to a 5-day on-site Fundamentals of Magento Development course led by Ben Marks and he came back knowing more than ever. If you can afford it, or if you can get your company to pay for it (it is currently $3,850 to attend), that could be a good option for you.
A good alternative to the on-site course is the on-demand video series at Magento U ($159 for 90-days of on-demand access). The Fundamentals of Magento Development series is available there as well, and you can watch them at your leisure. I used them and learned a ton, but those videos can be a little… intense. If you want a lot of the same information presented in bite-sized chunks, take a recommendation from Dan Hakimzadeh and check out Level Up Tuts for some more videos.
Dan and I got our certifications the same week. We put in a lot of long study sessions together, which leads me to my own #1 recommendation for success: Don’t try to do it alone. There’s so much information to process and retain. It’s hard to do it in a vacuum. I know for a fact that I got several answers right on the exam because I remembered talking about something with Dan, not because I necessarily remembered seeing it in a video. Get a study buddy if you can. If you can’t, it might be worthwhile to join a Magento moderated study group so you’ve got people to bounce ideas and questions off of.
So there you have it. Our best advice from our best minds, or at least the best advice that will fit into this post. If you’ve got any questions or want to pick our brains some more, feel free to post a comment below. We’re always here to help out. Happy studying!