Certified! (Certifiable?)

Back in the last week of January and the first week in February, I was involved in a little project to write questions for Solaris Operating System Certifcation for Solaris 10.

From what remember of the certification exams when I first was Solaris Certified was that they asked a lot of arcane questions on things that you didn't do very often. Things like setting up a printer or a modem from the command line. I hated the exam, but somehow passed it. Since then, seven years have passed and I'd like to think that I know quite a bit more about Solaris administration than I did before.

In any case, I was asked to join the group of people that were writing the questions for the three exams involved with Solaris 10 Certification. Specifically, I was asked to join for my Solaris on x86 based platforms experience. I've run a webpage internally for the past few years called Lapland (Located a http://webhome.central/lapland for Sun-internal people.) Lapland is more of a clearing house with various links to engineering groups and useful tools and packages both internal and external to Sun.

The experience of writing the exam was much different that what I had thought it was going to be. We had a wide group of people with many different focuses; security, service, engineering, presales, professional services, and education. We also had practically every english accent your could image because we had people from Italy, The Netherlands, England, Canada, US, South Korea, and Australia. A lot of experience and experiences to say the least.

We had to be taught how to write the exam questions. Basically, it boiled down to writing questions that followed the Solaris administration courses. We couldn't come up with obscure questions just to stump people. We couldn't write man page questions. (So asking what each option of the 'ls' command meant was out of the question). The hardest requirement was creating answers that were right all of the time as well as answers that were wrong all of the time, regardless of the situation. Finally, we couldn't put our groups' leader's name into questions. (Apparently she gets enough strange calls as it is.)

So, for a week, we churned out some 900 questions total. 300 for each exam. The week after that was the technical review of those 900 questions. We had to rewrite many, and throw out a bunch of them as well. Spending between 8 and 10 hours a day with the same group of people making unambiguous questions that had only one right answer no matter what was one of the more technically challenging things I have done.

The three exams went our for Beta testing in March. Two versions of each exam, each with about 160 - 180 questions each. I took each of the exams myself (They were free for anyone taking the Beta's.) That was challenging as well. Though I reconized many of the questions and had seen the answers, I still had to think about each one. 4 hours for 180 questions is not easy.

The exams that we came up were challenging, but not impossible.

After the exam questions were written, I had no other input into the whole exam process. However, I'm told that after the number crunching that was done based on how the Beta's were answered, a final set of exam questions was selected. Hard questions that no one was able to answer were thrown out, and easy ones that everyone answered were thrown out too. The final exam was whittled down to 60 questions.

I just go my final exam results from the Admin I and Admin II exams this past week. I had hopped that I'd get something north of 90%. I was surprised that I got a score in the mid 80%'s. It was enough to pass though.

I got in the mail my official certificate stating that I am a "Sun Certified System Administrator for Solaris 10 OS" I'd frame it if I had a permanent office assigned to me. Since I don't anymore, it'll just have to live in the folder with the rest of my certifications.


I just got similar results, and I wanted to mirror your thoughts on the exams, they were pretty applicable to actual work, not too bad on the just trying to stump people. One thing I really hate about those exams is how much there is that's focused on memorizing the manpages (man's always there after all..). This one's the first of hopefully many certs in my folder.. or on my wall, since I get an office or two here :)

Posted by Paul Greidanus on May 09, 2005 at 10:15 AM CDT #

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Phil is an Area Technical Engineer in the Central Area of Oracle's Field Service in North America. He has 15 years of experience supporting Sun's entire product line.


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