For me it was a new phenomenon: JavaBlackBelt (http://javablackbelt.com/jbb/). A site where you take exams in several different Java related categories, such as J2SE, Ant, OO, JasperReports, Spring, XML, EJB, Hibernate and many many more. The exams are composed by …. the community. They are not defined by standardization committees, higher education boards or even (commercial) vendors of products and technologies associated with the exams. We all can contribute questions to the exams. There is a level of moderation – in which again we all can participate – and questions can be reviewed by anyone taking an exam or just browsing the system.
Taking exams is free. That is: many exams can just be taken, some require a ‘donation’ of contribution points. You can earn contribution points by making contributions: adding, reviewing or editing questions. To benefit from the system, you have to make contributions to it. Sounds quite reasonable to me.
The system keeps track of the exams you pass (or fail). A combination of specific exams may earn you a grade. Tracks are sequences of related grades. Tracks may be associated with belts (as in Judo) or titles such as apprentice, companion, senior and master in the Spring track (to be completed).
The quality of the questions is not guaranteed; when sufficient people join in and help review and improve questions – if for no other reason then to earn contribution points – you would hope that, as with open source software, the quality will improve. (I first became aware of JavaBlackBelt because of a nasty comment on the quality of some of the questions by a reader of SD Times:"I would strongly recommend that they revamp their tests. Every test should
show the entire class code, with print statements. Then ask what gets printed or
what exception gets thrown. Or hire a professional programmer/writer to check
your work 8-)."
I like the idea and my first impressions with regard to the execution are favorable. I definitely intend to take some tests – as well as contribute to some. It would be interesting to extend the concept to other categories, in IT and perhaps in life in general (like Studying Dutch or Learning Geography of Zuid-Holland).