IT certifications are controversial, but most people will agree that having one can open doors for your career. Sun offers three levels of certification for Java programmers. From basic to advanced these are:

  • Sun Certified Programmer
  • Sun Certified Developer
  • Sun Certified Architect

These certifications build on each other, so, for example, you must have a programmer certification before you can try for a developer certification. Unfortunately, information on the certifications can be a little difficult to come by. In this article, I’ll take a look at each of these three certifications, explain the areas they cover, and describe the certification process.

Sun Certified Programmer
The Sun Certified Programmer for the Java 2 Platform is Sun’s basic certification. To become a certified programmer, you must pass the Sun Certified Programmer for the Java Platform exam (number 310-025, currently $150). This multiple-choice exam is designed to test your understanding of Java’s syntax and structure in areas including the following:

  • Language fundamentals: declarations, flow control, scooping rules, and syntax
  • Exception handling
  • What garbage collection is and how it works
  • Basic object-oriented techniques, like constructors and overloading and overriding methods
  • Runtime type information (RTTI or Reflection)
  • Use of threads and synchronized code in an application
  • Competence with a set of standard Java packages, such as java.awt, java.lang, java.io, and java.util

Sun offers several instructor-led and Web-based classes to help you prepare for the exam. Which one you should take depends on your background.

Sun Certified Developer
The next step up the certification ladder is Sun’s advanced certification, the Sun Certified Developer for the Java 2 Platform. You might think that you’d just have to pass another multiple-choice test to achieve a developer certification, but Sun has some rather novel requirements for this level. In addition to holding a programmer-level certification, you must satisfactorily complete a programming assignment (CX-310-252A, $250) designed to illustrate that you can apply your knowledge to a real-world problem.

The assignment works like this: After paying the exam fee, you download a code template for the assignment from Sun. You must then use the template to build a GUI application capable of communicating with a database over a network, and performing data conversion from a flat text file layout into the database’s native format. Along the way, you must note and document any design choices you make. Your finished application will be graded for maintainability, use of appropriate design patterns, the clarity of your code, and your adherence to standard coding conventions.

After successfully completing the programming assignment, you must take an exam (310-027, $150), which consists of five to 10 essay, yes essay, questionsabout the assignment you just completed. You must pass both the test and the assignment to get your certificate.

As with the programmer certification, Sun has a few instructor-led classes to assist you in preparation for the certification exam:

Sun Certified Architect
Sun’s premium Java certification is the Sun Certified Enterprise Architect for the Java 2 Platform. As the name would indicate, this is a very enterprise-centric certification, implying that the certification holder can handle development of large-scale, high availability applications. To receive it, candidates must already possess both lower-level certifications, complete a programming assignment (CX-310-300A, $250) similar to the developer certification’s assignment, and pass two written exams: one multiple-choice (310-051, $150) and one essay (310-061, $150).

Sun has one course, available in instructor-led (SL-425, Architecting and Designing J2EE Applications) and Web-based format, that prepares you for the certification exams. The exams and the programming assignment are designed to test your knowledge of Java’s enterprise development architecture with emphasis on topics such as:

  • Advanced object-oriented concepts and how to use them in a system.
  • Unified Modeling Language (UML) and Enterprise Java Beans (EJB).
  • Connectivity with legacy systems.
  • Standard architecture patterns, their applicability to a problem space, and the effects each one can have on a system.

A few quick tips
Daniel Shaw is a member of Builder.com’s development staff who recently passed his programmer certification exam. He used Brainbench’s Java certification exam as a stepping-stone to passing the Sun exam. He suggests that members interested in pursuing certification take a look at the following books, which he found useful: A Programmer’s Guide to Java Certification: A Comprehensive Primer, Java 2 Exam Cram, and The Complete Java 2 Certification Study Guide.

Shaw also had the opportunity to attend a certification class at the JavaOne conference’s Java University. “[The class] was taught by Philip Heller, one of the three authors of The Complete Java 2 Certification Study Guide. He also just happens to be one of the graders for the Java 2 Developers exam and one of the coauthors of the Java 2 Programmer exam. His instruction, as well as the book he handed out in class, were instrumental in my ability to pass the exam,” Shaw said. He suggested that anyone presented with the opportunity to attend such a class should do so.

Sun appears to be aware of how complex their certification process can be and promises that a set of certification guidebooks will be available within a few days. Good luck on your certification adventures.