Version: FileMaker 16
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
The most common non-technical question I get is, "how do I become certified" or "how do I study for the certification test"? It's a good question. If you're taking the test seriously then you need to study, right? Not only does it cost a few hundred bucks to sign up but it's an important milestone in your FileMaker career. I mean, why wouldn't you want to have that feather of certification in your proverbial FileMaker hat. It tells clients you have achieved a level of competency that only a couple other thousand people in the world can lay claim. It sets you apart from the rest of the FileMaker crowd in a way that can easily be identified by a logo.
If you aren't familiar with the examination, it was first conceived by Claris Corporation as a proficiency test for the second developer conference in San Jose, California at the Fairmont Hotel. At this conference, they had a bank of computers in a room where you took the test. I'll never forget that day because of one developer, who will remain nameless, made a scene. He had just finished the test and came storming out to find a Claris employee. I was the lucky recipient of his wrath. While I didn't understand his point through the fury of his outburst, I was able to find the manager of the CSA (Claris Solutions Alliance) at that time, Jeff Gagné, and redirect his anger. Later, I discovered he was so mad because some of the multiple choice questions had to be scrolled to be seen and he had missed option "D" as a possible answer on many questions. Take this as a good lesson in design. Form view should never have a vertical scroll bar. But, I digress. Essentially, the first FileMaker certification test was a proficiency test and was a giant step forward to validating developer skills.
The proficiency test went on for almost 10 years, but in the meantime, developers such as Steven Blackwell pushed hard for a legally defensible certification test that the proficiency test couldn't provide. The argument was there were a lot of people out there claiming to be FileMaker developers but didn't know what they were doing. This was starting to give FileMaker a bad name, when we all know how good it is in the right hands. All you had to do was submit an example of your work to the FSA program (FileMaker Solution Alliance - known as FBA these days), pay a couple hundred bucks and you were listed on the FileMaker.Com web site. Even worse, you could simply claim you were a FileMaker developer with no need to back it up with anything else but your word. Microsoft has certification, why not FileMaker? Something else was needed to differentiate skilled developers from the rest of the posers that could be defended by FMI legally. In the partner meeting at the 3rd DevCon and again at the 4th, Blackwell and others broached the certification subject and it consumed most of the meeting. I believe their efforts had a lot of impact but still took years to come to fruition.
Stratisoft even tried to create a certification test. I know cause I was sucked into the whirlwind of the dream team FileMaker development company that turned into a hurricane of disaster. At the 1999 FileMaker Developer Conference in San Diego, where I also received my FileMaker Excellence award, Stratisoft tried to offer a certification test. I remember staying up late the night before the conference started trying to come up with questions for the test. It might have worked if they had been better organized. Soon after, I left Stratisoft and it imploded, mostly due to the poor leadership of Richard Bron. However, the most important point is there still wasn't a certification program.
Finally, certification was released with the spiffy new FileMaker 7 in 2004. It kinda made sense for a revolutionary product to have a new way of vetting developers. While the certification test isn't perfect, at least they dotted all the "I"s. For example, they hired one of the foremost certification teams to regulate their test. This includes a psychometrician to measure the validity, reliability, and fairness of an exam program, which are an integral part in the process of creating valid and reliable tests. Put simply, FMI offers a beta test every year and if too many people get the same wrong answer then they know the question or answer is misleading and they need to change or remove it. It's a pretty simple job but very important analyzation of the psychology of exam takers. Yes, I know a lot about this stuff because Stratisoft sent me to school to study how to create a certification test. Too bad they didn't listen to anything I said. C'est la vie.
What is Certification?
I think certification is best described by information on the FileMaker.Com web site:
"This credential demonstrates to clients, peers and management that you have achieved an essential level of knowledge, experience, and skills in developing on the FileMaker Platform."
Whether you’re an independent consultant or an in-house developer, FileMaker Certification allows you to:
If you scroll down a little further on the web site, there is a section regarding exam preparation. Clicking on the link reveals a 25 page covering eleven essential areas of FileMaker expertise:
- Expand your skill set and become a more well-rounded developer.
- Stay up-to-date on the latest FileMaker technologies.
- Gain a competitive edge over other developers.
- Invest in your career and increase your earning potential.
- Add credibility to your organization.
- Use the FileMaker Certification logo on your website and business cards.
- Receive a preferred listing on the FileMaker website (partners only).
If you are breezing over this list, don't forget the clear emphasis is on new FileMaker features, even though there is no mention. Links for the new features guides are provided at the FileMaker certification web site but at no point do the materials mention how important knowing all the new features are for passing the test. Maybe it's obvious to some but I view FileMaker as a whole and not by it's versions. A good developer knows not just the new stuff but also the legacy features that make up the bulk of what FileMaker is today. But, to pass the test, you will need a deep knowledge of every single new feature, even if you will never use them in your development career.
- Technical Specifications (< 5%)
- Defining Database Schema (10 – 15%)
- Building Layouts 15 – 20 %
- Working with Calculations (10 – 15%)
- Writing Scripts (15 – 20%)
- Securing FileMaker Systems (10 – 15%)
- Deploying Custom Apps (10 – 15%)
- Data Integration (< 5%)
- Publishing FileMaker Data on the Web (5 – 10%)
- Development Tools and Processes (< 5%)
- FileMaker Go (5 – 10%)
How to study
I highly recommend cramming certain areas of FileMaker for technical specifications and basic functionality. This may just be my predisposition but I don't work with these technologies on a daily basis and answering the questions about these subjects can be easily memorized.
Technical specifications, like what platform versions FileMaker works on, are extremely important on the test despite their irrelevance in real-world development. If I want to know if a client can use FileMaker 16, I just look up compatibility on the FileMaker web site. The limits on the storage capacity of a text field is just a click away. How many users for WebDirect is right on the FileMaker.Com web site. There's no need to memorize them except to pass the test. See below for links to FileMaker technical specifications for Pro/Advanced, Go and Server.
- FileMaker Server
- Deploying Custom Apps
- Custom Web Publishing
Other areas can't be crammed. They require years of experience and the creation of dozens of solutions to answer quickly and correctly. These areas include:
While I can't offer you specific example questions from the test, due to my Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), I can demonstrate how the questions will be asked. Imagine being presented with a relationship graph of half a dozen tables and being asked which table occurrence will display the following related records on a layout based on another table occurrence. However, don't imagine them throwing out a standard usage of the relationship but some crazy, twisted Frankenstein of a relationship path. That means you need to know your relationships inside and out to know what's going to happen. On one hand, I get the reasoning behind the line of questioning. They want developers to know relationships so well they can figure out the most convoluted scenarios. On the other hand, what developer scenario calls for some of these setups.
- Manage Database or Schema
- Custom Functions
- Layout Mode
- FileMaker Go
Let's move on to Scripting. You have to have designed thousands of scripts in order to have any chance of passing the scripting portion of the exam. First, don't expect the scripts to accomplish anything anyone in the history of FileMaker has ever tried to do in FileMaker. Again, I can't be specific but get ready to write lots of results on the single plastic sheet of paper they give you. And, beware... no erasing or you will get penalized. Not sure I get that one but they will have you on closed circuit television. Yikes! The pressure!
Plan on taking the test several times unless you have 5+ years of experience of full-time development or are a prodigy. Classes, books and videos can definitely help but are no substitution for good old experience. You just need to see relationships, scripts and calculations hundreds of different ways in order to decipher questions purposely devised to show you a scenario you have never seen previously. With experience, you make mistakes. With mistakes, you see how things work. Believe it or not, knowing the wrong way to do something helps you identify the right way to do something. Go get that experience before taking the test!
If you relied on the FileMaker Training Series (FTS) in the past to assist in preparing for the test, you are out of luck. FileMaker, Inc. has decided to focus on video training, for better or for worse. I really prefer being able to carry a book anywhere I want (e.g. the restroom) or search an electronic document for the correct answer. Videos just aren't the same as far as a generalized resource. Videos are great as tutorials for beginners but not advanced developers who just need to find an answer. Hopefully, FMI changes their viewpoint and brings back written materials but, for now, you'll need to do without the FTS training.
The FileMaker 15 FTS training is still available but no new FileMaker 16 features are included. I don't know how long this link will last but here's the download for the beginner and advanced FTS training. The FileMaker 15 training should be helpful for years to come. BTW, only the Advanced training will help with the certification test.
FileMaker Training Series: Advanced download
A Bevy of Links
Here are some URLs that have helped me with the test. Please, add any web sites that have helped you in the past by using the comments section below. We all have those resources that have really helped us, so why not share.
As mentioned above, technical specifications are fairly important on the test so memorize everything you read on the four links below:
FileMaker Pro/Advanced 16 Specifications
FileMaker Go 16 Specifications
FileMaker Server 16 Specifications
FileMaker Cloud 1.15.2 Specifications
All technologies, including the Cloud, will be covered on the test. So, if you haven't used the Cloud yet, it's best to look to these resources for assistance. I like the last web site which shows pictures of the process since I haven't needed to setup this service for a client yet:
FileMaker Cloud Help
FileMaker Cloud Getting Started
FileMaker Pictorial Guide
A couple other technologies I haven't worked with yet are the Data API and creating a custom app. You don't necessarily need to have worked with these technologies to pass the test so the resources below will help tremendously:
Data API Guide
Creating a Custom App
Here's a catchall for much of the product details that will help you squeak out a couple more correct answers on the test. It will have some rehash of the information in the links above but it's a good, one-stop-shopping for data about all the products. There's also some resources not listed elsewhere such as the ODBC/JDBC guide, the FileMaker 16 SQL Reference, the WebDirect Guide, FileMaker 16 Security Guide and much more. Definitely check out this link:
If you Google "Sample FileMaker Certification Tests" you're definitely going to get some hits. One site claims the following:
"We are here to make you feel confident and speak loudly that FileMaker Certification is easy to pass. Our study materials are compiled by experienced IT experts and cover all the important knowledge points and we promise these FileMaker Certification guidebooks will be updated in time with the change of the real FileMaker FileMaker Certification exams."
For starters, the certification exam is not easy to pass, lol. Secondly, IT experts are the guys I fight with on a daily basis to get FileMaker into organizations so why would I want their advice. Anyone who has passed the test is a FileMaker "expert" and is also under non-dsclosure not to reveal specific questions and answers from the test. So, don't be fooled. You just need to study hard and have a lot of experience under your belt!
So, you're thinking about taking the test or have passed it already and want to know the benefits. For a commercial developer, I see the following benefits:
If you are an in-house developer, show your certification to your boss and ask for a raise. There's less than 2,000 certified developers in the world so he should understand you're something special. Or, you can use the certification badge to look for a new job where it is appreciated. Maybe you even decide to go work for one of the big FileMaker development firms where certification is required.
- Your company shows higher on the hit list when clients search for a developer on the FileMaker.Com web site
- More and more clients are asking if I am certified when they call for the first time
- If a client is unfamiliar with certification, it's your chance to explain what it is and how it sets you apart from amateur developers
- The marketing appeal of the certification logo will jump out at anyone visiting your web site or looking at your business card, even if they don't fully understand certification
There's no shame in failing the test. I know many well known developers, who write articles, record videos and speak at the Developer Conference, who have failed the test on their first try. I'm not talking about myself but I am surprised every year when I see that I passed. It's that hard! Failing the test just better prepares you for the next attempt. Don't give up! You'll get a summary of the areas where you did well and/or failed. Use the results to buck up on the areas where you need the most help and try again.
John Mark Osborne
This blog is completely free. Please support it by clicking on one of the advertisers at the left side of the window or becoming a patron. Thanks so much!