Yup, you read it right. Free Essentials training. Of course there are strings involved. In this case, you need to be a Washington state resident. More specifically, an out-of-work Washington state resident.
Tom Welch, account manager at Next Level Engineering Services, a SolidWorks VAR, wanted to do what he could to help out, ala Fisher/Unitech. Where Next Level is a newer VAR, something along the scale of No Engineer Left Behind wasn’t a possibility, so Tom contacted the state to see what could be done. Through his diligence, Next Level is an approved training center by the state of Washington. What does this mean to you? The state will pay for your Essentials training.
Here’s what you need to do. Go to www.careerbridge.wa.gov and type in SolidWorks in the ‘keyword’ box under ‘Quick Training search’. Next Level will be the only provider that pops up. Between the Essentials training, as well as the SolidWorks Stimulus Package, you’ll be well on your way to earning your CSWA and improving your resume.
Back in January, I put up a post about SolidWorks certification being free and how I thought it cheapened the whole exam. At SolidWorks World, I interviewed Jeremy Luchini and we discussed my thoughts. He explained why they’d made the changes and it seemed reasonable, though I wasn’t fully convinced. About a month ago I took the Sheet metal exam, which I figured I’d pass with no problem. I’m ashamed to say that wasn’t the case. Though I made the mistake of taking it at work, complete with interruptions, the test was definitely more difficult than I thought it would be. I hate humble pie, but I’m chewing on it right now.
Jeremy, and his team, have really done some great things with the certification program. They now offer five different certifications:
You can get complete info on each of the exams here.
They’ve revamped the certification site, making it possible for you to see which exams you’ve taken and how you did. If you’re a manager, you can set up a test event for your team and track their progress. You can also export the info to Excel and see what areas to focus on for training.
I know what you’re thinking, “quit rambling and tell me how to win!”. Ok, here’s the deal; the first ten people to email me and a signed, and notarized, document stating that they will forever be a diehard Red Sox and/or Patriots fan will win.
Too much for you to swallow? Ok, I’ll make it more simple. The first ten people to email me the correct answer to the following question win: In what year was the CSWP program launched?
Each winner will get a free certificate for their choice of exam. Simply email me your answer and which exam you’d like to take. Once I have the ten winners, I’ll send them their codes.
I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Jeremy Luchini on Tuesday, Day two of SolidWorks World. Jeremy is in charge of certification for SolidWorks. Whether you’re going for your CSWP, CSWA, CSWI or any other CSW*, Jeremy has had a hand in it. A quick note here: I’m not the world’s best interviewer. Couple that with the fact that I’ve known Jeremy for a while, and how down to earth he is, and it was more like a couple of friends talking over a beer. I do hope, though, that some questions you may have about certification get answered here.
Jeff: Would that be an apt description?
Jeremy: That’s right.
Jeff: What, exactly, is your title?
Jeremy: Certification Program Manager for SolidWorks.
Jeff: How long have you been with SolidWorks?
Jeremy: I’m just finishing up my eighth year.
Jeff: Have you always been involved with certification?
Jeremy: No, actually I started in the training group. They hired me to write the API training manual for engineers, so that’s where I started; teaching guys how to automate SolidWorks and we developed an API instructor exam based on that, so I got to learn about certification and become a CSWP myself, then took over the program six years ago. So six out of my eight years has been as certification manager.
Jeff: Do you like it?
Jeremy: I love it; I think it’s the best job in the company.
Jeff: That’s funny. I was talking to Bill Doll yesterday and he said he had to best job in the company running SolidWorks Labs.
Jeremy: Ok, yup, he probably has the coolest job in the company. I deal with the coolest people in the community.
Jeff: That, I would agree with.
Jeremy: Ok, there we go. I do see the stressful side when we’re testing people. You have to be able to handle that in a professional way and realize we’re trying to do good for everybody here and design exams that just identify proficiencies. Testing is a stressful thing but the celebration of the skills that it takes to become certified, that’s where the real paycheck is for me.
Jeff: Alright, let’s get into this. A lot of guys like me, who passed the eight hour exam, have seen or taken the new exam say you’ve dumbed it down, that you’ve cheapened it. What do you think about that?
Jeremy: I think, ah, you’re speaking on behalf of all the guys that took the eight hour exam and the four hour exam?
Jeff: Yeah, the people I’ve talked to.
Jeremy: Are we comparing the two?
Jeff: Comparing the two, they think it’s been cheapened; it’s lessened the credibility of becoming a CSWP.
Jeremy: Ok, I think what these guys should realize is we’re not trying to create an elite club for a small group of people. Certification is about identifying who’s proficient in SolidWorks. When the original exam, the eight hour exam, was created, the first one, y’know you gotta realize how difficult it was for us to even manage that. Somebody’s spending eight hours, on a Saturday, at a reseller taking an exam and we were actually noticing, Jeff, that it was taking people around five hours actually. People that that knew what they were doing could pass the CSWP in around four or five hours and we started looking at, obviously, updating the exam for the online environment that we have today. When I looked at it, I thought that we could break out some of the advanced parts of the old exam into specialty exams. That’s the reason we went from eight to four, was simply to say “hey, core SolidWorks knowledge is about part modeling, it’s about assembly modeling.” The hook on the new exam was, well, we wouldn’t do bottom up assembly, which the old exam did. We would do a top-down engine block assembly where we would really prove that this guy knew what he was doing with SolidWorks. Back when you took it, it was an option. If you weren’t good with assemblies, you could still become a CSWP, which concerned me and a lot of people. So, we decided to make that mandatory and pull out some of the other things, like sheet metal or surfacing which not everybody’s doing, and let those be an option for CSWPs in the future. So the guys that thing we’re watering down or making it easier, I can tell you that the pass rates involved these days, it’s dropping. Basically all the really high skilled guys took the old exam, now we have a lot more people taking the exam just trying it. The pass rates are low, it’s very hard to pass. That’s why we invented the CSWA product, to get people started in the certification program and eventually take the CSWP exam. Eventually, as that program grows and more people can claim they’re proficient in core SolidWorks, start specializing. One day we’re going to have so many professional exams, this crew that you’re talking about, who’s upset about the old exam, they’re actually…what I want to see these guys do is take the advanced exams, really advanced exams like surfacing and sheet metal, and we’re going to have a brand new market for these guys called ‘Elite Professional’. Ok? That’s where we’re at and that’s why we did the things we’re doing.
Jeff: Fair enough. People have been wondering. How many people took the exam this weekend?
Jeremy: I think we had close to one-hundred and fifty to two-hundred on Sunday.
Jeff: How many passed?
Jeremy: Well, it was a mixture of CSWP and CSWA and I think it was around forty or fifty total passed.
Jeff: Now, last year it seems to me you had a much higher pass rate.
Jeremy: No, it was only a few dozen passed out of the few hundred that took it. That’s why I, when you say that a lot of people think that the new exam is easier than the old one, I would say there’s different pressures on someone today than when you took it. They have a time limit, which they complain about, and we have to adjust. We’re dealing with people that are going to be measured by how quickly and accurately they can model in SolidWorks.
Jeff: Don’t you think you have more people taking it now that it’s offered for free?
Jeremy: Well that’s definitely part of it for sure.
Jeff: I mean, when I took it it was $500.
Jeremy: Yup, which prevented a lot of people from taking it. When we designed this system to not have to have people sitting in a training room all day at a reseller, but be able to sit online and take it when they could, obviously the participation went up just from going online, and then reducing the price. We didn’t have the overhead charge.
Jeff: That’s true. So, it’s free.
Jeremy: It’s not free. It’s free if you’re on subscription service. We’re trying to build this into the value of continuing to stay on maintenance. You get the free support, you get…
Jeff: Yeah, don’t get me started on maintenance.
Jeremy: Ok, I won’t start you on maintenance.
Jeff: That’s a whole other ball of wax.
Jeremy: (laughing) Alright, you gonna take that up with my boss?
Jeff: I’m going to. If you fail it, do you get to take it again for free?
Jeremy: Well, the program we have now, if you’re on subscription service you get one free try pass or fail at the exam. At that point, the system recognizes that you took it and will refer you to the web store where you can buy it for $99.
Jeff: Oh, it’s only one-hundred bucks now?
Jeff: Oh, that’s not bad. Alright, so I went through your AE testing last year, ’cause you test AE’s.
Jeremy: That’s right, instructor exam. I remember it. I remember you teaching.
Jeff: My Patriots jersey.
Jeremy: That’s right.
Jeff: And me telling you to be quiet in my class.
Jeff: I know you said, then, what you were looking for, but what are you looking for?
Jeremy: In my words, I tell every instructor that has to teach in front of me, “Look, clearly the curriculum we have for customers is top-notch. The training manuals are printed in color, they’re step-by-step. I could sit down and learn SolidWorks just by reading those books. What I’m looking for from our instructors is what are they bringing to the table beyond what the books are telling us?” People pay a lot of money for training and they deserve value; they deserve someone who can present well, is fired up and excited about using SolidWorks. That’s the person I want to be learning anything from. CAM, CAD, whatever. So I look for passion in the instructors. I look for them to understand a difficult situation when it comes up in the training room. If they can’t answer a question, how are they skilled at finding the right answer? Do they know people? Do they get into SolidWorks trying to answer the question for themselves? I love guys that try things. You don’t have to be an expert to be a Certified SolidWorks Instructor. What I mean by that is, I don’t expect someone to understand 100% of the code. What I expect them to do is be highly proficient, much more proficient that just a casual user, so that they can approach new customers and handle the questions that come up in the classroom. There’s some strange questions that get asked and I’m looking at how you respond to them. Remember when I asked you some crazy things? Things you would never think about because you’re just following the lesson. Trying to get the information clear and I’m looking to throw some curve balls at you and seeing if you’re really ready to handle that. That’s what we’re looking for. I’m a paying customer. Am I going to leave on Friday ready to go when I’m back at my job versus reading a book.
Jeff: Fair enough. That answers the next question I was going to ask, too. So you said in the future, with the CSWP stuff, that you guys are going to break it out further. You already have the sheet metal going, right?
Jeremy: Yeah, and we launched surfacing this week.
Jeff: Oh, and surfacing, too? What else, are you going to do COSMOS?
Jeremy: We have simulation, too, but the participation rate is down a little so we’re going to see what we can do about that. It’s a pretty advanced exam.
Jeff: Well, I heard from a source…
Jeremy: Oh, you and your sources.
Jeff: Oh yeah. I heard you guys were going to be doing DriveWorks certification, too.
Jeremy: Well, you know that DriveWorks is installed in SolidWorks now; you get a free copy of it…
Jeremy: …DriveWorksXpress. What we have to deal with is different installs of SolidWorks around the world, so on a global program we have to be careful how we include add-in applications on an exam. It’s not really fair for us to include add-ins that not everybody may have access to.
Jeff: You gotta answer this, the bloggers are really gonna want to know that answer. Why’d you hire Mike?
Jeremy: Honestly, I wasn’t planning on hiring Mike. He and I have been friends for a while and he told me he was looking for work because things weren’t working out where he was. I tried to introduce him to the company I highlighted at the CSWP event, Megabrands, because they were looking for somebody of his caliber. Mike said that he saw I had an opening in my group and I said we did. We try not to draw from the customers or our resellers unless we’re asked about our jobs, and Mike did ask. He knows some of the fun things we do and he, clearly, has a voice in the community. I really enjoy Mike’s passion and what he brings to the table for my team. We’re almost like self-marketing guys. We have to build the exams and then communicate what we’ve done. I think Mike’s real asset to the team is going to be sharing what we’re doing and why we’re doing it; kind of like this interview. Getting some things cleared up with people so they’re not frustrated with us. So they’re nodding their heads ‘yes’ and understanding. That’s a long answer to why I hired Mike, but why wouldn’t I hire him? He’s got SolidWorks running through his veins, like the rest of us, so it was an easy decision. He came in, interviewed and hit a homerun. When are you coming in?
Jeff: (laughing) I’d love to. Can I work from Seattle?
Jeremy: Anything is possible.
There you have it, my loyal reader.
So SolidWorks has extended their "get certified for free" deal until, effectively, the end of 2009. Ugh. I don’t know why this bugs me, but it does. Maybe it’s because when I originally took the CSWP exam, it was ~$500 and an 8 hour exam. Granted, my VAR at the time gave me a discount on the price, but not on the exam length. Somehow, this whole "free" thing, along with the shortened time, seems to lessen the certification process. When I retook the exam, as an AE, I noticed that the exam was easier. Yes, I’m sure the intervening years helped with my knowledge of SolidWorks, but there seemed to be less pressure, less angst, even though I had to get at least 90%.
I considered passing the CSWP (both times) a major milestone for me. It meant a lot to me to be able to say I was a CSWP. Not only did it show that I was quite proficient with SolidWorks, but it showed a dedication to it both in money and time. Now it’s free, easier and 1/3 the time.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just grumpy. Maybe it’s the TES (twitchy eyelid syndrome) I’ve been dealing with for a week. Maybe I’m just sleep deprived. Maybe I’ve been so swamped at work that I haven’t been able to come up with a better blog post. Ugh.