Friday, February 1, 2013

Why You Should Consider Becoming an Adobe Certified Expert

I have heard someone say once (roughly paraphrased here) that getting an ACE certification won't do you much good unless you're planning on becoming a trainer. Because you have to be an Adobe Certified Expert before you can become an Adobe Certified Instructor.

While I do enjoy training (and occasionally do training sessions), I'm not an Adobe Certified Instructor. I don't need ACE certificates in order to keep my job, or even to do my job. However, I think that choosing to pursue and become an ACE has been the most important job decision of my career. I'd like to explain why.

Why Did I Want To Get Certified?
I didn't go to school for design. I actually kind of stumbled into this field. After graduating college with a degree in Home Ec. (for real!), I got a job managing a taco shop. I was horrible at it and often cried myself to sleep at night. Within about six months, an acquaintance of the family rescued me by offering me a job "working on the computer." That had to be better than making tacos. Anything was better than making tacos!

So, devoid of any formal design training, I entered the world of graphic and document design. I began reading every book I could find about these new graphic design programs, and I scoured the Adobe forums daily to learn whatever I could about the software I was getting paid to use.

After a few years in the industry and a job change, I was feeling like I needed to prove myself to my-then employer. Now, remember, I didn't go to school for design, but I felt fairly competent and was able to maintain a high level of production. So in an effort to prove my my skills, I decided to try and become Adobe Certified. After all, if Adobe was willing to certify that I knew what I was talking about, then maybe I could get a raise. And I really, really needed a raise.

So after two attempts, I passed the InDesign CS ACE exam. I took the test on my lunch break. When I got back to work, my elated boss greeted me with a balloon bouquet and a congratulatory card. And she managed to wrangle me a fifteen cent per hour raise. That equated to an increase in pay of $6/week (or the price one sandwich). Whoopie.

So, my new ACE certification didn't exactly give me the results I was hoping for. But now I had a nifty ACE logo to put on my resume. No one else I knew had one of those. And because of the studying I had done, I was aware of some capabilities of InDesign that I wouldn't have known otherwise. I felt rather empowered, even if I was still as low-paid as ever.

Fast forward about five years. I was working at a remarkably unrewarding job, and really wanted to prove to my boss that I had skills they could (and should) use. So I decided to get a second ACE certification. This time it was for Illustrator. I passed the test on the first try! Sadly, my employer didn't care about my ACE certificate (probably because they didn't use Illustrator). But again, I learned all kinds of new tricks in Illustrator and became more confident of my abilities.

They Say, "Pick Two"
You may have seen the popular project management triangle diagram: “You can have it good, fast, or cheap. Pick two.”

But what if there was a way to have all three? Our modern world is full of examples of people who have found a way to have all three. For example: Henry Ford with the automobile assembly line and Eli Whitney who built firearms using interchangeable parts. Their revolutionary way of thinking changed the way their products were made. In doing so, they made their products available more quickly, at a higher quality, and a lower price than was possible previously. They offered all three: fast, good, and cheap.

What I Really Got Out of Becoming Adobe Certified
Within about a year of getting my second ACE certification, I had the opportunity to take over a failing workflow and start my own business. It was because of my years of studying my favorite Adobe programs that I had the knowledge to fix the broken workflow and become self employed.

Initially, my reasoning for become an ACE was so that I could hopefully get job recognition and a pay raise. I didn't get much of either. What I ended up getting instead was a boatload of skills and a deep working knowledge of the programs' capabilities. With that knowledge came the ability to see opportunity in what others had deemed a impossible business model, and the skills to have a successful publishing workflow where others had previously failed.

Having a depth of understanding of the various programs used in a publishing workflow has allowed me to turn an old workflow on its head, and make my product (technical manuals):
  • produced faster,
  • with better quality,
  • at a lower price than they previously paid. 

Because of this, my product is now accessible to a larger number of people. I could not have seized this opportunity had I not the knowledge acquired through becoming an Adobe Certified Expert. 

One Thing Leads to Another... 
Last year, I was going to teach an Acrobat training session to the Raleigh InDesign User Group, and a good friend of mine sent out an email inviting her many, many coworkers to the event. In that email, she declared me an Acrobat ACE. Oh no! I didn't actually have Acrobat ACE certification. But I didn't want to disappoint (in case anyone actually cared). So I spent the week cramming. And after two attempts, I got my Acrobat certification.

Apparently, when you have ACE certificates in three of the big four programs (InDesign, Illustrator, Acrobat, and Photoshop) they also give you one of these:

When I started on this quest nine years ago, I wanted a little more lunch money. And I wanted my boss to take me seriously. Now, I have my own publishing business and am blessed with great clients and great colleagues around the world in the design industry. What an adventure!

What are You Waiting For?
When I earned my first Adobe Expert Certification, I prepared for the test by reading the InDesign help file cover to cover. The help file was my main resource because it was free, and I was poor. I was on a dial-up internet account, and what few online resources were available were very slow to access. I didn't have any video training courses, and I never took a class in InDesign. I tell you this not to brag, but to empower you. There are so many more resources available today than there were nine years ago! Now we have video training, blogs, eBooks, conferences, and practice tests. And the most skilled people in the industry communicate all day long on twitter, Facebook, and Google Groups. You can have information overload if you so desire. All the information you need to pass an ACE exam is out there, just waiting for you to learn it.

What if you could revolutionize a product and fill a void in your industry?
And in doing so, provide yourself with a good living, doing work that you love.
Would you go down that road?

Join me, my friends. Become an Adobe Certified Expert. You'll never know what opportunities the future may hold for you with your newfound skills. But you'll have to excuse me now. I have a Photoshop test to study for.

Edit: 11-5-13
I'm happy to announce that I recently passed my Photoshop ACE exam! Have you registered for your first ACE exam? What are you waiting for?

Edit: 12-8-14
So, I earned certifications in all of the BIG four programs (InDesign, Illustrator  Photoshop, and Acrobat), and I thought that qualified me to be an Adobe Certified Design Master. But apparently, you have to have the certifications in the same version of each of the programs. So while I was still stuck at the Design Specialist certification for CS6. So I rectified the problem and took my Illustrator CC recertification this weekend.

A little more than ten years after I started this ACE adventure, I have finally reached Design Master status. And with each and every ACE exam I take, I learn something new about the programs I love so much. Now, to maintain my certification, Adobe requires its ACEs to rectify every two years. The recertification exams are $60 each, so every two years, rectifying will cost me $240. That's $10/month. Considering my undergraduate tuition was $15,000 per year (and I graduated with no basically no job skills), I'd say that $120 year is pretty affordable for continuing education! Again, I ask: what are you waiting for? Become Adobe certified!

Autohor Edit: 1-31-15:
Adobe has recently decided to discontinue its recertification exams. Now, all Adobe Certified Experts must retake the full, proctored exam every two years. They have also raised the price of the exam to $180. So now my exams will cost me $720 every two years ($30/month), plus I'll have to take a day off of work in order to drive to drive to the testing center and take the exams. So sadly, it looks like I will not be pursuing the ACE program any further. It's been a great ride for the last 10 years!