Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Pearson Vue - the monopol in the year 2013

In order to get Comptia Linux+ / LPIC and VMWare certified, unfortunately I had to get an account at Pearson Vue. During the process I have encountered such self sufficiency, rudeness and obtuseness that I decided I should bark a bit about.

Why companies like CompTia, Micro$oft and others prefer to outsource their certification exams, beats me. I mean obviously the companies themselves know best their own technology; so they can choose the best sets of questions & answers. Then, they sure have in-house skills to create a lousy form-based website that could present those questions and ask for the answers in check boxes or radio buttons format, and a database to store the certified people (in fact they have this one already; Pearson Vue send them the names and scores after the exam).

Why have an intermediary when you can do it yourself, better? But, as companies prefer to pass the certifications to Pearson Vue, it is understandable Pearson Vue have become these days a true monopole and nothing one says can shake their dominant position. However my frustration demands to let out some steam...

So here is the story, as concise as possible:

I tried to register with Pearson Vue the day before the exam. I have already talked to the training centre and I have reserved the place; I just needed to pay them money.

The website
It is quite incredible. Starting from the fact that there is no single login for their website; they ask you first to choose what certification exam you need to take in order to be able to create your account. So if you certify in 5 areas, it means you'll have 5 logins?

Then, let's say something about the usability of the site. Have you seen in the last decade or more such HTML lists?

Even a more complicated one (you really have to use your brain to remember the choice you need):

Yet another one: look at the possible years when one could have registered for a VMWare exam (I should have asked my grandpa, maybe he was VMWare certified and I didn't know...) :

So, are your Pearson Vue's programers incredible stupid? They didn't understand the concept behind a HTML list and also about the sensible values you can put in it.
Or maybe they just don't care about these details as they're having the monopole anyway...

The registration
After finishing up the registration process I got an email saying that I'll receive a user/pass in the next 24h! One day for an automatically generated user and pass !

I thought that maybe it's a generic message and that things will happen in a matter of minutes. Seeing that nothing happen after 3 hours (it was already the night before the exam) I created another account using another email address.  Same behaviour, no user/pass back.

The night passed and next morning at the training centre, I had no user/pass and no registration for the exam I intended to pass. Happily the guys there were very helpful and they connected me with Pearson Vue by phone.
The guy over the phone didn't see any accounts I created last night, however he saw an old account, more exactly 12 years old. He insisted to use that account and he started to ask me questions about my address back then, my telephone number, etc, all of them being changed several times since then. So, finally I cut the crap and asked him to create a new account and forget about the old one.
So he made yet another account over the phone, and he registered me for the exam and took the money from my credit card, so I was able to pass the exam that day.

The surprise came few days later, when I have received the registration successfully messages for the 2 accounts I have created myself but none for the one created over the phone. As it stands, I had a total of 4 accounts with them, from which 3 using the same email address (!!!).

So, next step was to write few emails to ask them to unify the accounts somehow and make the magic to see my latest results somewhere. All communication by email is taking few days, and then I received a paper form I need to fill in and sent to them scanned. Did it, then message came that they couldn't find my 4 accounts so they couldn't merge them!

The talk
Therefore I decided to talk to a human and after waiting in the queue about 45 minutes (by the clock!) in an international call, I got a lady that was not only not knowledgeable about their system but also extremely impertinent and not willing to actually do a thing. She said things like:

"Why did you create such a mess?"
I "created"? Because your system allowed me to...

"You should stop shouting and start to listen" - I was not shouting, I was calling using an internet phone that interrupts a lot and also speaking a foreign language; I was just trying to make sure she understands me. I told her that she probably has a volume up/down button somewhere.
Besides, for waiting 30 minutes to have my phone picked-up, I think I deserved to be listened not talked over.

When I asked her to pass me to her manager, she just laughed sarcastically and said there is no manager and she's the only one I can talk to.

In the end, she just sent me that paper form again and I was back to square one.

Very frustrating. (I actually sent an email to them to complain about her behaviour. Obviously no answer.)

How I solved it in the end? I didn't, I stepped back and rethought the "strategy". Then I have called them again and ask only to resend the user/pass for the newest account of mine, the one created over the phone, where actually my VCP results were.

As for the rest of the accounts, to hell with them! Let the great corporation live with the mess if they are unable to understand it, and have stupid people in their service that have no desire to clean it up.

Why didn't the site complain that the email address is in use when I tried to re-use it? How can it be that I have there 3 accounts, all of them created with the same email address and name? Mind numbing...

Update: These days I got the CompTIA Linux+ exam, again through Pearson Vue (I tried to use Prometric - you know why - but they stopped delivering CompTIA exams). The testing computer failed to start the exam (yes, it was Window$ on it) and the lady from the test centre spend 30 minutes on hold to get someone from Pearson Vue to get a needed authorization code.

So this is the level of service Pearson Vue offers, no matter if it's an end user or their own authorized testing centre.
I just hope we'll hear soon about their bankruptcy and the fact they massively laid off their incompetent and nincompoops employees. I'll have a glass of champagne for them by then :)

Friday, 25 January 2013

CompTIA Linux+ certification - annoyances

First problem was to find a preparation manual that is up to date, approved and custom tailored for the exam.
From both LPI and CompTIA it looked like the latest manual that had their approval was published in 2009, whilst the most recent was released in 2010 but without any endorsements from CompTIA or LPI.
So... I chose the 2009 one, thinking that maybe things didn't change that much and, at least it was approved once.

At the first exam day (there are 2 exams required), I could divide the 60 questions in 4 categories:

1. The one I knew the answer for
2. The ones I thought I knew the answer for
3. The ones I knew the answer for but I forgot it
4. The ones I never knew the answer, nor that even there is a question :)

Surprisingly, quite a few were in the 4th category which was really annoying after knowing that I've read the book thoroughly.

Another unpleasant surprise was the fact that about one third of the questions needed free text input instead of just checking boxes or radio buttons! There are two cons here:
  • Even in the real life, in Linux you have the "tab" key that helps you auto-complete a command that you might not remember entirely; so why would anyone make the exam more bitchy than the real life?
  • And then: are the automatic scoring scripts 100% capable to decide the answer is good or bad, if your entry is free text?
I actually had questions in both exams that could have been answered in two ways, both ok. One example:

In some versions of the "route" command it is accepted "gateway" instead of "gw".
So, the following two lines should be both accepted:
route add default gw
route add default gateway

Do they take into consideration all good possible answers?

The answer is: nobody knows...

I wrote to them asking this question and giving them the examples I had encountered in my exam. They preferred to answer :
"Unfortunately we cannot disclose any particular aspect of specific exam questions as they are proprietary and confidential in nature. As a reminder, CompTIA’s candidate non-disclosure agreement which appears at the beginning of all exams, prohibits candidates from disclosing or discussing exam content."

Ok. Fuck you too. How can be MY results confidential toward ME? How can I not be able to discuss MY results with YOU?

Anyway, having this experience from the first exam, I have studied from the newest book for the second exam. Moreover, this time I have taken the exam objectives that were released by CompTIA in August 2012 and looked over the internet and man pages for info on all the topics listed in the exam objectives but not covered in the book(s) I have. This almost doubled my preparation work.
Even so, some of the questions from the second exam have fallen in the 4th category again. Fewer, but still...

I think it is inadmissible to have no book on the market that covers indeed the whole exam.

Speaking about the books, on a funny note let me show you an excerpt from the appendix of "LPIC-1 Linux Professional Institute Certification Study Guide, Second Edition, Wiley Publishing 2009", the part that indicates the system requirements for running the contents of the cd (i.e. the book's pdf, the "sybex test engine", etc):

"System Requirements
Make sure your computer meets the minimum system requirements shown in the following list [...]
- A PC running Microsoft Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows NT4 (with SP4 or later), Windows Me, Windows XP, or Windows Vista

Hmm, Linux study guide you said?

CompTIA Linux+ certification - the after math...

So, I decided a while ago to get some official recognition for the Linux skills I used for years. I have researched the market and apparently it all boils down to only two choices:

  • RedHat certification - powerful brandname but really expensive certification; about $7000.
  • Linux Professional Institute (LPI) certification - vendor independent and about $400 per certification level, see below.
So, after I have consulted my budget, the decision was simple: I have chosen the LPI Certification. (To make it look more like an educated choice and not money based, I should reveal that I am a Debian/Ubuntu fan since Redhat decided to go commercial, about a decade ago. No, really!)

Now, there are 3 Linux certification levels available from LPI: Junior, Advanced and Senior (see here) and the first one was available also through CompTIA that is offering it under the name: "CompTIA Linux+ powered by LPI".

I have chosen the CompTIA one, but it seems it is completely equivalent to the LPI one (and even more; see Greg Porter's very instructive blog).

The overall impression is that this is not a Junior exam at all, in my view.
You can take probably any Senior Linux professional and test him (unprepared) for this exam and he'll probably fail.
Is not the depth of the exam but the diversity of topics and the fact that one can work 24x7 in Linux for 10 years in a row and never encounter some topics covered by this exam. Probably the most obvious one: why did they include SQL in a linux certification at all?

In the same idea, the exam covers the two main distributions on the market (Debian and RedHat and their derivatives) and if you're specialized for years on one side there is a slim chance you know or even care about the other side.

Finally, the exam takes into consideration different versions of the same applications (e.g. XFree86 3.3.6, XFree86 4.x and X.org-X11) and one should remember their quirks, and their similar & different options. In real life this not quite happening and is not very useful; the trend is to unify your systems as much as possible. Then, once upgraded, the system administrator embraces the new set of parameters and throws the old set into gradual oblivion. Some companies even have different admins for different Linux distros, if they were unable to migrate to one system or another.

Anyway, there was a lot of interesting information and enjoyed it a lot. However I have encountered some annoyances and they are all here. Also I have to bark about Pearson Vue mega-corporation. But this, in its own space, i.e. here. M-ha-ha. M-ha-ha-ha!