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In the Drupal universe, there’s something akin to the Triple Crown of horse racing or baseball: the Acquia Triple Certification. Established by Acquia back in 2012 following the advent of Drupal 7, this benchmark consists of a trifecta of exams that qualify you as a “Drupal Grandmaster” – the highest stature a Drupal developer can achieve.

Achieving triple certification involves passing three exams in a specific version of Drupal. These include a general Drupal developer exam, a front-end specialist exam, and a back-end specialist exam.

There aren’t many Drupal triple crown holders out there, less than 700 worldwide, with only 22 triple-certified Drupal 10 experts as of this month. Agileana developer Gordon Makely is one of them. Moreover, as of this month, Gordon is the world’s only four-time triple-certified Drupal expert, with triple certification in Drupal 7, 8, 9, and now 10!

“I feel a real sense of accomplishment,” says Gordon of his feat. “I keep asking myself: what’s next?”

Born to code

Gordon has been a developer with Agileana for just over three years, but he’s been doing what he does a lot longer than that. The Chicago native was born into a family of graphic designers, in which he learned how to do typesetting at the age of 10. He discovered coding while working for an ad agency, where he realized it could be used to automate a lot of repetitive work.

This was the mid-1990s, a time that coincided with the explosion of the Internet, and Gordon transitioned from creating web intake forms to learning PHP development. He even created his own content management system before discovering Drupal in the early 2000s.

“In Drupal, I realized that so much stuff is taken care of for you, like managing permissions,” he explains. “From thereon in I’ve worked more or less exclusively in Drupal.”

Rising to the challenge

After achieving his Drupal 9 triple certification, Gordon had put these tests out of his mind. It wasn’t until the week of DrupalCon Pittsburgh in June 2023 that it occurred to him that it was time to go for his Drupal 10 certification.

“It wasn’t on my mind,” he says. “[Agileana co-founder Blake Newman] reached out to me and said, “Hey, there are people going for their Drupal 10 certification. You should do it.” He knows how competitive I am. When I took the general test, I literally signed up for it the night before. It was my first time doing the exams via online proctoring; previously it had all been in person.”

With no current production site in Drupal 10 on his desk at the moment and only limited exposure to D10, preparing for the specialist exams required some old-fashioned studying.

“Once I took the first exam, I knew the specialized ones were going to be hard. I set myself the goal to do them that same week. I spent some time on it every day, getting up at 6 in the morning to study for an hour or two before I had to start on my client work. I installed the sandbox version of D10 on my computer to see how it responded.”

Crunch time

The specialist exams consist of 60 questions each, with 90 minutes allotted for the front-end exam and 120 minutes for the back-end one. If you don’t pass the first time you have to wait 24 hours to take the test again, and you can only take it three times.

It took Gordon two goes to get through them.

“The first time I took the front-end exam I fell short by a single question,” he explains. “As for the back-end one. I wasn’t prepared for some of the questions; there was some stuff under the hood that was required that I just didn’t know. There were some things I have to do on a daily basis that weren’t a problem, but there’s other stuff you’re not doing on a regular basis. I had to go back and study those things.”

“What’s extra challenging is that you’re shown the various areas where you scored but you can’t see the answers to what you missed. They tell you how you did in each discipline but you can’t learn from it. It’s a true test of your knowledge.”

Gordon sailed through on the second go with flying colors.

“I really enjoyed the experience overall,” he adds. “ProctorU provides a very well-run testing experience.”

How to enroll

Aquia Academy offers a total of 19 different exams, including the “big three” for developers mentioned above. To enroll, log in to Acquia Academy and visit the Acquia Certification Exams catalog. There you’ll be able to enroll in your desired exam and schedule a spot with ProctorU.

Need some help getting ready? Acquia publishes comprehensive study guides for each of the exams it offers. These guides provide a wide range of learning resources, roadmaps, and exam-taking tips.

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