A tale of two Certifications

A little bit of background info

This probably doesn’t sound very good, but this story started almost a year ago when I decided to sit the Tableau Certified Data Analyst certification.  The certification was the same structure as today – a knowledge-based component (simple Q&A) and a performance-based component (hands-on lab).  I fired through the knowledge questions quite quickly and got to the virtual machine (VM) part ….. and everything went downhill from there.  The VM didn’t start, the proctor wasn’t available (although you are told they are watching the entire time), then they didn’t understand what was wrong and accused me of using a VM on my side and after another hour of mucking around they aborted the certification and gave me a code for taking the exam again.  Needless to say, it wasn’t the best experience at all – both the process to prove that I’m not going to cheat and the exam failing half way through.  I walked away very disappointed!  

And here we are today

Anyway, here we are in the back-half of November again, heading into the Christmas period faster than I would like and I remember that I haven’t attempted the certification again and my code is about to expire (yes, I had thought about it at odd times through the year, but without enough pressure to actually do anything about it 😉 

So today was the day – no one else at home except for me for a few hours and nothing else more important to do.  I quickly flicked through the prep guide, but the biggest prep was getting the OK from the OnVue software so I could sit the exam – not allowed to have Dropbox running, or Slack, or Teams, or … the list went on and on – even including some software that comes with my laptop to diagnose problems that I didn’t even know about!.  

Then the real test starts …. or does it.  I need my mobile phone to take photos of my desk from 4 different angles (that’s fine), take photos of my ID to prove that I’m me (that’s fine as well … but why give guidelines on the phone screen when the actual photo is just going to be something different anyway?), then you have to put the phone where you can’t reach it (because using your phone or answering it during the certification is an instant failure) but at the same time they say that if there’s a problem they will call on a 617 number to get in contact with you.  I’m ignoring the obvious of “is this 617 in Australia, as in Queeensland area, or 617 from the USA” and going straight to “if you touch the phone during the exam you fail, but we might call you during the exam …. but I can’t reach the phone and moving to get the phone is a fail as well” (can anyone else see the irony here?).    OK … moving on, waiting in the queue to start, I’m position 42 (which means things are looking up) and waited another 10 mins to me to be next to be processed.  Instantly the proctor says “remove your headphones” (more precisely it’s my headset to eliminate background noise but he can’t see the boom microphone for some reason), so I have to remove and then prove that I can’t reach them – all this without moving out of camera view either.  THEN we repeat the procedure of proving that the work area is clear, where is my phone, etc..  but this time using the built-in camera on my laptop (what was the point of the photos again?)


OK, NOW we’re finally into the exam.  Obviously I can’t tell you much about the content but there is 3 distinct sections – knowledge questions, performance-based,  then more knowledge questions.  At the end of each section there is a warning that when you progress you can’t go back.  Most of the questions were fine and exactly what you would expect, but others are very poorly worded and you can spend more time than I expected just trying to figure out what the question actually is and what is the correct answer.  You can leave comments on the questions and I did – I just hope someone actually reads them, I’d love to get some feedback on the question that I thought had no right answer at all

The end of the exam was very much an anti-climax.  I knew I wasn’t going to get the result immediately but after the final question there’s a few surveys and the window simply closes.  I wasn’t trying to race through at all, but I finished about 1hr after starting (you have 2hrs to complete the exam)

I’ll just have to wait up to 48 hrs to get results, that’s OK, that was the explanation at the start.

Now for something completely different ...

I wasn’t planning this at all, but with some extra time on my hands and definitely in exam-taking mode I jumped on to the Alteryx site to renew my Alteryx Designer Core certification and WOW what a difference in experience! 

Now before you start I know that it doesn’t have to be the same but the Tableau exam is paid, booked in the future, test your environment (the room, your computer, distractions, etc) and fully proctored (my webcam was ON and recording the entire exam and apparently someone is watching me on the other side as well).  The Alteryx exam is free, a few clicks and the exam starts, completely open book but still 2hrs, 80 questions, valid for 2 yrs.

The Alteryx exam is all multiple choice and each question is very precise (with pictures and text) that explain the situation and then you choose the correct answer/s.  Some questions are “download this file” to get the answer, so there’s plenty of hands on (using your own computer) to get to the correct answer.  If you haven’t used Designer for at least 6 months and try out a lot of features you might struggle to get through.  

I wasn’t worried about the duration, but it actually took longer to complete the Alteryx exam (just over 95 mins) and you receive your score instantly after the final question is answered – I got 94.7% and yes the 0.7% is critical.  The pass mark is 80% and over the last few months I’ve seen a few people complain that they failed with 79.x% and assumed that Alteryx would “round up” to 80% …. obviously they don’t!

The conclusion

So two completely different certifications in the one day – two completely different experiences as well.  I usually take the “she’ll be right” attitude to certifications and exams.  If you have the knowledge you’ll pass, if you don’t have the knowledge you don’t deserve to pass but the Tableau process is a lot more stressful than the Alteryx process.

And the good news is, after all of this was over I switched back to my email to see if I’d missed anything important in the last few hours and there’s an email from PearsonVue – I passed the Tableau Certified Data Analyst as well 🙂 

Stay tuned, in two years I have to repeat the entire process again … or maybe not if I remember this blog post and read it.

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