Apple Pro Certifications

Since I completed some Apple Pro Certifications last spring, I’ve had several people inquiring about the certifications and my experience with them. When I was trying to decide if it was something I wanted to do, I couldn’t find a whole lot of good first hand information on the Internet. In general, I found a lot of forum posts where people were asking how it was, and people would reply and say they didn’t know but they didn’t do it because it doesn’t get you jobs. I think this is terrible misinformation, so I decided to make a post about the whole thing here in hopes that maybe this will get indexed in Google relatively high and help someone out.

I am certified by Apple in Final Cut Pro 6, Soundtrack Pro 2, and Color 1. I did my FCP exam in January 2009, and the other two in April 2009. I also took the exams for Motion 2 and DVD Studio Pro 2, but those didn’t go so well…we’ll get to that later.

Why did I get certified?

In IUPUI’s Media Arts and Science program, you have to complete a capstone your final semester. After much thinking and deliberation, and TONS of amazing help from a professor/my capstone advisor, I decided to do my film reconstruction project and get certified in Final Cut at level 2. There are very few level 2 certified people in the state. We came to the conclusion that this would be a great project for me because one of my main concerns at this point in my career was having expert level knowledge of the interface of an NLE. The project would allow me to dig into the conceptual side of editing with the exploration of every single cut in those two scenes, and the certification side would allow me to dig deep into the software. It went hand in hand VERY well, because I learned a lot of editing techniques from learning the software very well, and I learned how to apply a lot of technical workflow knowledge effectively by discovering the conceptual side – “why did they make that cut”.

My certification experience

My original plan was to complete the FCP 1 exam in January, and then in March complete the level 2 class and exam. You can do the level 1 exam without the course, but you must do a 3 day course in order to do the level 2 exam. This kind of sucks because the course is expensive and you probably don’t need it, as I was told by the proctor to study before the course or I wouldn’t pass the exam. But whatever, that’s the way it was.
I was to have the exams and courses administered by Ball State’s Digital Corp at the Ball State center in downtown Indy, and the course schedule happened to offer the only level 2 class at the perfect time. There was another in Chicago later on, but it was far more expensive (hotel costs) and much too late. So everything was worked out nicely.
This plan would have been great, except I was apparently the only one signed up for the course and we were in the middle of a recession. So they called me a couple of weeks before the course was scheduled and said they couldn’t afford to hold it with just me in it. EFF. They felt bad about this of course, so they offered me a discount if I wanted to attempt Master level certification instead. Master level certification in the FCP suite includes level 1 exams for all the applications. So I decided to give it a try, knowing that with my 18 credit hour schedule with 2 major projects and a billion minor projects would probably not allow me to cram all that knowledge in. I had one month to work through the Apple Pro Training Series books for Color, Motion, Soundtrack Pro, and DVD Studio Pro, and I had barely used any of those programs before. It was crazy.

The certification exams

My exams were administered at the Ball State Center at downtown Indianapolis by a nice proctor. He was an Apple certified trainer and master level certified in FCP. I completed the exams online on his Macbook Pro. They were all multiple choice with plenty of time to take them, though they are timed (there’s a timer in the corner). You get some time to practice using the interface in case you have questions. Some questions are just text, others have photos of the interface, some have videos that show something you have to identify.
The exams themselves varied in difficulty. For the most part, if you are familiar with the basics of the interface of each application and you work through every chapter of the Pro Training Series books, you probably will pass. When I say familiar with the basics, I mean you’ve used the application to do a project recently. Many of the questions are about things you should know about the software from regular use. There were far more interface questions than I thought there might be. Lots of questions with arrows saying “what does this button do”, basically. Those were the most difficult, because I sometimes tend to rely on the tooltip popups too much. You have to pass the exam with 80% minimum.
The FCP level 1 exam was more difficult than I thought it might be – the interface questions were rough. Also learning Apple’s way of explaining a particular tool was a bit difficult at times from using the software so long on my own. The Color exam I was told by the proctor would be the most difficult. It was extremely difficult, but I really dug into learning Color so my interest helped. Soundtrack Pro was the quickest and easiest exam. Motion wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. I spent too long trying to learn the advanced features, and the exam tended to remain with the basics. DVD Studio Pro was the most difficult in my opinion. There is a LOT to DVD authoring (apparently). DVD Studio Pro is a thin book, but it’s almost less intuitive to me than Color is for some reason. I just couldn’t grasp it the way I needed to, and it made it far more difficult than I anticipated.
So after 1 month of crazy studying, I was 2 for 4. Not that bad, really…I tried!

So, why should you bother with certifications?

When you ask seasoned editors about certification, most of them will tell you it’s a waste of time and they would never hire anyone on certification alone. I say to that: well, DUH. That isn’t the point of certification.

  • Being a certified pro gives you another credential that may or may not help you in your job search. It’s not a guarantee of any sort, but it’s another line on your resume. And for me living in the midwest where many hirings are completed by HR people who look mostly at credentials, that’s always a good thing.
  • Being certified forces you to dig deeper into the software and learn it more than you ever have before. Many editors will tell you that having a natural ability is far more important than being a button pusher. This is true. However, I believe these two things are inseparable. If you have a natural ability, yet you are slow with the interface, you can’t possibly tell your story effectively. If you are a natural AND a total whiz at pushing the buttons, you’re limitless!
  • Being certified is a good thing for people who are motivated by tangible achievements to enrich themselves. You get a piece of paper from Apple, which looks pretty spiffy.
  • If you’re ever interested in teaching, certification is a great step in learning the software at the level you need. None of my professors in college knew FCP as well as I did, and I find that kind of crappy, though they weren’t teaching just a FCP class so I can forgive them.
  • When you are in an edit suite with a producer and you know how to operate these applications so fast, you will look like you know what you’re doing.

That’s my view on certifications. They aren’t a fix for not having a natural storytelling ability. They aren’t a fix for someone trying to get a job. They aren’t a necessity. But they can absolutely be worthwhile for many people. If you’re interested, you should look at your goals as an editor and assess where you are currently before you take the leap. Always put most of your work into continually making your demo reel the best it can be. Certifications were certainly worthwhile for me, and I feel like a much more confident editor now and work much faster than before. I don’t start off an interview or conversation with “I’m an apple certified professional” because it doesn’t matter. For me, this was a much more personal achievement.

The best part about being certified? You can use the Apple logo on your business cards.