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PHP certifications – do you need one?

By Jamie Mercer

A question that many PHP developers may ask themselves at one point in their career is whether they should chase certification.

Although most developers are self-taught, obtaining a PHP certification can be beneficial for your career in certain ways as it formalises your knowledge of the language. Not only this, it also lets an employer know that you can work with the language to a certain standard and this can help you to stand out from the competition when looking for a new job or asking for a pay rise.

Whether you should consider getting a PHP certification also depends on your location and your employer’s expectations. Some employers prefer their developers to hold PHP certifications but others don’t pay too much attention to them, which makes it tricky for the developer in the middle.

In some cases, instead of studying to obtain a PHP certification, it is worth spending time building code with what you already know. This could involve contributing to an open source project or creating something from scratch. This can often tell employers more about your skills in a language than a PHP certification could.

Do PHP certifications affect how much I can earn?

In the recent FRG Technology Consulting Java, Web and PHP salary survey, 32% of survey respondents hold at least one or more professional certifications. The top 5 certifications look like this:

Of the respondents surveyed who hold certifications, 21% said that their salary had increased since completing their certification. It’s no surprise that Zend certification made the top five list; it has been viewed as the industry standard certification in the PHP world for a considerable time. The only question remaining is are PHP certifications worth it?

View from the Industry: are PHP certifications worth it?

Jamie Hurst, CTO of JimJam, is a self-taught developer and feels that his formal degree is not a significant factor in his career. From a hiring perspective, he doesn’t look for formal qualifications when looking for potential candidates.

In terms of pros and cons for PHP certifications, Jamie believes that with PHP certifications, it shows a certain level of competency with the language itself and that you are instantly industry recognised. However, he believes that most firms these days are looking for developers with experience in a specific framework such as Laravel and Symfony. Having a PHP certification does not immediately show or demonstrate that you have experience in these specific frameworks, therefore it is not necessarily something that helps when making a hiring decision.

Jamie considers the Zend certification the most recognised PHP certification; however, he doesn’t think it is essential for a professional developer who has the demonstrable experience that a firm requires—one of the reasons why Jamie personally doesn’t have a Zend certification.

Peter MacIntyre, of Paladin Business Solutions and founder and co-chair of the Northeast PHP Developers Conference, is a Zend certified engineer and has a different opinion. As a PHP developer, Peter believes PHP certifications are extremely valuable providing they are completed with a credible industry accreditation source.

What Peter knows about Zend and Rogue Wave is that they build the testing questions with a committee of well-known and greatly experienced PHP developers and, with Zend’s reputation in the mix, it holds great value. He believes the necessity of certifications will be dependent on more than just the engineer. Companies need to endorse the certification as having value and it has to be reflected in their pay scales.

Peter says the advantages of having PHP certifications are self-satisfaction and knowing that you have enough knowledge to pass a very challenging test. Another benefit would be the ability to flaunt a globally-recognised certification to the world, to put it on business cards, and to officially add “ZCE” to the end of your name.

From his personal view, Peter believes that the only disadvantage is that the Zend certification can take a lot of time and effort to fully commit in the preparation for the exam. For that reason, if you have a lot of other life commitments, this could be a stressful inconvenience.

Peter says being a ZCE has a lot of value to him. He was the first person in Eastern Canada to become certified and is still the only person certified in two versions of the Zend certification (4.0 and 5.3). That said, he finds it very difficult to gauge the value of the certification because nobody has ever said they gave him a project, a pay increase, or even a job interview because he was an official Zend Certified Engineer.

How much is the PHP certification exam?

how much does php certification cost

Earlier this year, the PHP certification exam was updated. The exam now tests developers on their knowledge of PHP and programming concepts through PHP 7.1.

The cost of PHP certification can depend on your current status. If you are already an official Zend Certified Engineer but want the latest Zend Certified PHP Engineer Certification, then you are eligible for a special discount. If you aren’t, then the starting cost of becoming a Zend Certified Engineer is €170 (including VAT), which roughly equates to £150. The starting cost of the Zend Framework 1/2 exams is $195 or £140.

The Zend Certified Engineer certification offers a bundle which includes the exam as well as useful resources including training, a study guide, and pre-test prep for the PHP certification exam for $995 or £720. The Zend Framework certification bundle includes a study guide, pre-test training for the exam, and a voucher for the exam itself for $995 or £720.

Although PHP certifications can be costly to some, they can be very valuable to your career. Depending on how you expect your career to turn out and what your career goals are, a PHP certification may be something to consider at some point as a developer.

What does a PHP certification exam involve?

what does a php certification cover?


Zend PHP certification

The Zend certified engineer exam covers:

PHP basics // Functions // Data format and types // Web features // Object-oriented programming // Security // I/O // Strings and patterns // Databases and SQL // Arrays // Error handling

PHP basics:

  • Syntax
  • Operators
  • Variables
  • Control Structures
  • Language Constructs and Functions
  • Namespaces
  • Extensions
  • Config
  • Performance/bytecode caching



  • Arguments
  • Variables
  • References
  • Returns
  • Variable Scope
  • Anonymous Functions, closures
  • Type Declarations


Data format and types:

  • XML Basics
  • SimpleXML
  • XML Extension
  • Webservices Basics
  • SOAP
  • JSON
  • DateTime
  • DOMDocument


Web features:

  • Sessions
  • Forms
  • GET and POST data
  • Cookies
  • HTTP Headers
  • HTTP Authentication
  • HTTP Status Codes


Object-oriented programming:

  • Instantiation
  • Modifiers/Inheritance
  • Interfaces
  • Return Types
  • Autoload
  • Reflection
  • Type Hinting
  • Class Constants
  • Late Static Binding
  • Magic (_*) Methods
  • Instance Methods & Properties
  • SPL
  • Traits



  • Configuration
  • Session Security
  • Cross-Site Scripting
  • Cross-Site Request Forgeries
  • SQL Injection
  • Remote Code Injection
  • Email Injection
  • Filter Input
  • Escape Output
  • Encryption, Hashing algorithms
  • File uploads
  • PHP Configuration
  • Password hashing API



  • Files
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • File System Functions
  • Streams
  • Contexts


Strings and patterns:

  • Quoting
  • Matching
  • Extracting
  • Searching
  • Replacing
  • Formatting
  • PCRE
  • Encodings


Databases and SQL:

  • SQL
  • Joins
  • Prepared Statements
  • Transactions
  • PDO



  • Associative Arrays
  • Array Iteration
  • Array Functions
  • SPL, Objects as arrays
  • Casting


Error handling:

  • Handling Exceptions
  • Errors
  • Throwables


Zend Framework 1 Certification


The Rogue Wave Zend framework 1 certification exam covers:

MVC // Performance // Diagnosis and maintainability // Mail // Infrastructure // Forms // Filtering and validation // Search // Coding standards // Internalization // Security // Database // Authentication and access // Web services



  • Components
  • Pattern Basics
  • Bootstrap
  • Zend_Controller
  • Zend_Layout



  • Zend_Cache
  • Script inclusion
  • Optimization
  • Zend_Memory


Diagnosis and maintainability:

  • Zend_Debug
  • Zend_Log



  • Constructing
  • Storage
  • Message retrieval
  • Storage providers
  • Message sending



  • Zend_Config
  • Zend_Session
  • Zend_Registry
  • Zend_Loader



  • Zend_Form
  • Validation/Filtering
  • Decorators
  • Elements
  • Forms
  • Display Groups & Sub Forms
  • Configuration
  • Internationalization


Filtering and validation:

  • Filtering Chains
  • Custom Filters
  • Standard Validation Classes
  • Validator Chains
  • Custom Validators



  • Zend_Search_Lucene
  • Indexing
  • Querying
  • Performance


Coding standards:

  • Coding conventions
  • Zend_Loader



  • Zend_Date
  • Zend_Translate
  • Zend_Locale
  • Zend_Currency
  • Zend_View_Helper_ Translate
  • Internationalization Performance



  • Cross Site Request Forgery
  • Secure Authentication
  • Escaping for output
  • Cross Site Scripting
  • Security Best Practices



  • Zend_Db
  • Zend_Db_Statement
  • Zend_Db_Table
  • Zend_Db_Profiler
  • Zend_Db_Select
  • Table Data Gateway Pattern
  • Row Data Gateway Pattern


Authentication and access:

  • Zend_Acl
  • Zend_Auth
  • Zend_Auth Adapters


Web services:

  • XML-RPC Client
  • XML-RPC Server
  • REST Client
  • REST Server
  • Zend_Service Web Services


Zend Framework 2 Certification


The Rogue Wave Zend framework 2 certification exam covers:

Service manager // Authentication and authorization // Utility // MVC // Forms // Web services // Performance // Security // Module manager // Internalization // Database // Event manager

Service manager:

  • Service Locator
  • Service Factories
  • Abstract Service Factories
  • Aliasing
  • Configuration
  • Invokables
  • Shared
  • Initalizers
  • Plugin managers


Authentication and authorization:

  • Secure Authentication
  • Authentication Storage Usage
  • Authentication Adapter
  • Manage an ACL
  • Manage RBAC



  • Zend Log
  • Mail
  • Stdlib
  • Session
  • Pagination



  • MVC Dispatch Flow
  • Dispatch
  • App Config & Merged Config
  • Using the shared Event Mgr
  • Routing
  • Controller
  • View
  • Bootstrap
  • Escape for Output/Cross site Scripting



  • Binding Objects to Forms
  • Form Element manager & form build
  • Elements
  • Input Filters & Validators
  • View rendering/helpers
  • Fieldsets (reusability)
  • Forms
  • Hydrator Integration with forms


Web services:

  • HttpClient
  • Web Service clients
  • RESTful services
  • Soap Services
  • Core Web Services Component



  • Caching configuration
  • View template resolution
  • Autoloaders performance
  • Filtering and Validation
  • Zend\InputFilter Theory
  • Attaching Validators & Filters
  • Standard Filters
  • Secure File Upload
  • Filtering & Validation



  • Session Security
  • Security Best Practices
  • Cryptography
  • Secure Password Storing
  • Public key encryption
  • Encryption


Module manager:

  • Concept of Module
  • ModuleManager Events
  • Bootstrap sequence
  • Module Class
  • Best Practices
  • Understanding Config’s layers



  • Locales
  • Domains & Adaptors
  • Built-in i18n View Helpers



  • Parameters quoting
  • SQL Abstraction (query builder)
  • Table Data, Abstract Table
  • Adapter
  • HydratingResultSet


Event manager:

  • Aggregate Listeners
  • Shared event Manager & event id
  • Event Propagation & short circuit
  • Attach
  • Trigger
  • EM inside the Framework
  • Attach
  • Trigger

How to prepare for PHP certification exams

To make sure you’re ready to take your certification exam, you should use all available resources at your disposal. With the cost of the certification exam, you get access to Zend’s own study guide which is delivered as a downloadable ebook.

The Zend Framework 1/2 guides provide advice on test preparation but do not teach Zend Framework 1/2 itself. Instead, it helps you see if you are ready for the exam through mock questions and covering how the test will work.

The Zend Certified Engineer exam package comes with the above guide as well as providing users with full PHP training offering real-life examples and interactive lessons to provide a robust learning experience.

The PHP training courses available include:


PHP Courses:

  • PHP Fundamentals I
  • PHP Fundamentals II
  • PHP Fundamentals III
  • PHP I: Foundations for IBM i


Training for Certification and for Experienced Programmers:

  • Test Prep: PHP Certification
  • PHP for Experienced Programmers
  • JumpStart: PHP Unit Testing Course


PHP Security and preparing for PHP 7:

  • Building Security into your PHP Applications


Zend Framework Courses:

  • Zend Framework Fundamentals I
  • Zend Framework 2: Advanced Concepts
  • Test Prep: ZF2 Certification


Other courses:

  • Zend Server
  • Apache Fundamentals


These courses can be delivered by online training for self-directed learning, in a classroom setting led by a PHP expert, or through onsite training which is a good idea for large teams looking to undergo certification at the same time.

Edward Chung, ZCE, completed his certification and has created a blog post where he shares his experience of going through certification. He also handily shares his notes which you can use as another tool to learn from.

There is also a course by Zend certified engineer Andy Beak on Udemy. This course covers the basics of Zend certification and includes 2 hours of on-demand video learning materials, 22 supplemental resources, lifetime access, and a certificate of completion. It is aimed at developers with at least a year of experience with a C based language and for developers who already have some knowledge of PHP who want to progress to certification. The RRP for this course is £19.99 but is frequently on offer.


PHP certification frequently asked questions


Q: Where do I take the exam?

The exam will take place at one of the 5,100 global Pearson VUE Testing Centre locations. When you are ready to book your exam, contact your local centre to confirm a date and time. You can do this either online or by phone.


Q: What is the exam like?

The exam is taken in an isolated room with a specially configured computer which is provided for you. It’s a closed book test meaning you won’t be able to use any books or other materials—including the Internet—while taking it.

The PHP exam is 75 questions long and the Framework exam is 70 questions long. You will have 90 minutes to answer as many questions as you can. Each of the questions will either be a multiple-choice question with only one right answer, a multiple-choice question with multiple right answers, or a free-form question which requires an answer to be inputted.


Q: After I purchase the exam voucher, how long do I have to take the exam?

The certification voucher is valid for up to one year from the time you purchased it.


Q: What should I take into the exam with me?

You will need to bring two forms of identification with you on the day of your exam. The staff at the testing centre will need to verify your identity.


Q: How do I know if I’ve passed?

Immediately after the exam, you will find out if you have passed or failed. If you have been unsuccessful, you can retake the test in the future at a discounted price.


Q: I passed! When will I receive my certificate?

Your certificate should reach you in 8-10 weeks, according to Zend’s website.


Q: What version of Zend Framework is the exam based on?

The Framework 2 exam is based on version 2.2 so if you’re taking this exam it is advised to study and prepare using this version.


Do you think PHP certifications are necessary? What is your career experience as a PHP developer with or without professional qualifications? Do you think they are worth it? Let us know in the comments.


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