EDS Man and Mike Puckett talk about the CSWE Exam

Hello everyone and welcome to the show. Today we have a special guest, Mike Puckett, Certification Specialist with Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS Corp.

Today we are talking about the Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert exam that was introduced a little over a year ago at SOLIDWORKS World 2010.

Hi Mike, thanks for time being a guest on the show. A year ago only 75 people were even qualified to take the CSWE exam. How many CSWE’s are there today?

We are currently at just about 400 CSWE’s around the world.  There are only about 600 people who meet the criteria to even take the exam, so we feel that’s a pretty good adoption rate.  Of course a large percentage of that group of 400 CSWE’s are tech support people at SOLIDWORKS  Resellers, so the group of CSWE’s that are customers is still a low number around 75.  The exam is really a customer facing exam, but it’s the nature of tech support people to be somewhat proud of what they know, and they see the CSWE as a way to bolster their credibility.  When a tech support person writes in to say they passed the CSWE exam, we tell them to move on to the next challenge which is the tech support exam which is one of the most challenging exams we have for our resellers.  By the way I just took a look at your account in the system and don’t see a tech support certificate, perhaps that should be a goal for 2011!

Hey! Aren’t my records supposed to be private? Aren’t there HIPAA laws here to protect me? My plans are to get the support certificate and CSWE this year. For the record I passed the CSWP back when it was an eight hour exam…when it was a big boy exam. I personally think I  should be grandfathered in to both of these certifications!

Have you noticed an increase in the number of people taking the advanced exams since the release of the CSWE?

If I ran a report to get that number I’m sure we would see an increase.  When we launched the exam at SOLIDWORKS World 2010 there were only 77 people that qualified to take it.  Now with about 600 qualified people the number of advanced topic exams being passed has certainly gone up.  I want to stress however that we are not driven by numbers coming from these kinds of reports.  We run the numbers every now and then just to get a snapshot of what’s happening, but the real feedback comes from the emails we get telling us the good and the bad about the exams we offer.  Much like the SOLIDWORKS software, our exams are driven mostly by what our users want.  In fact the CSWE exam was created as a direct result of conversations I had with users at SOLIDWORKS World 2009.

Is it true the CSWE’s have a special handshake that they are forbidden to share with mere mortals?

Well if you get on the ball and get your CSWE this year, you can find out!  At SOLIDWORKS World this year we did have a private party, exclusive shirts and ribbons for CSWE’s in attendance!  As the group of CSWE’s continues to grow I’m certain we will start to do more exclusive stuff for just them.  We have internally talked about quite a few different things we could possibly do including making the annual CSWP party at SOLIDWORKS World a CSWE party, but nothing has been decided, and when we come to those decisions we’ll do what’s best for our users.  Ultimately though the goal is to try to give as much access to the CSWE exam as possible.

Many say the actual CSWE exam is easier than the advanced topic prerequisite exams. Is this by design or do you disagree with this statement?

Well the structure of the CSWE exam itself is completely different then all the other exams we have.  In fact when I showed the first version to the certification team in the fall of 2009 they were pleasantly surprised to see that I had taken a different approach with it.  The CSWE is different in the way that it presents you with modeling challenges that test your ability to select the correct functions to use to solve those challenges.  It assumes you know all the commands that it would take to solve each problem, instead of testing you on if you actually know how to use a command.  You then have to use those various combination of commands to get to the solution.  As you can imagine in a real world working environment, when you are presented with a modeling challenge, there are several roads to go down to solve it, but most of the time only one of those roads are correct, and being a timed exam it’s very beneficial to choose the correct road from the outset!

The test has been out for over a year now. Do you keep any statistical analysis? What percent of people pass the first time? What areas do most people struggle?

Again since we are not so concentrated on numbers we don’t try to quantify what we do based on those results.  The feedback has mostly been that it’s a fun and challenging exam, and that some of the problem sets are pretty tricky to solve.  There are a lot of “I forgot I could have done it that way” moments in the exam.  We get the occasional lashing by a user somewhere who says it was easy, but we would hope that there are users out there who feel that way, it means that SOLIDWORKS is doing a good job to help people learn and understand how to use the software.  Ultimately what we are seeing is that the people taking the time to achieve the CSWE certification are the power users.  Because of that we see a pretty good passing rate.  It would be akin to giving a swim test to a bunch of Navy Seals, their abilities to be at that level makes it pretty easy for them to succeed.  If I had to pick out one topic of the exam most people struggle with, it would be the Top Down Assembly Design questions.

Is there a charge to retake the exam if you fail the first time?

Technically, yes.  Unofficially no.  I will say that being connected to the SOLIDWORKS Community has tons of benefits that may not be apparent.  For example I had a user group leader contact me in December saying that he wanted to pass his CSWE by the time SOLIDWORKS World started so I made him a deal.  If he passed his three advanced topic exams, I would give him a shot at the CSWE for free.  He passed it two nights before leaving for San Antonio.  When we launched the exam we really wanted to make it a certification that only those who really wanted it, would go after it.  Much like the old proctored CSWP exam.  That’s why we priced it at $149 instead of $99, and that’s the reason for the prerequisites of passing three advanced topic certifications, along with a CSWP to even be able to take the CSWE exam.  We are still pretty set on having people pay for their first go at the exam, but after that it’s really about helping people achieve that top level certification.  In the upcoming year we’ll continue to work with user groups, blogs, and other community outlets to try to bring more people into the CSWE family, there will even be some free CSWE exams to be had in that mix from time to time!

Thanks so much Mike, great talking with you again.

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