Open Source

Do Web developers need a Linux cert?

Tight budgets have many Web developers turning to Linux as a cost-saver, but does that mean that old-fashioned coders now need a Linux certification? There are many compelling reasons to obtain Linux certs, but only if the right circumstances apply.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gone from an environment where I was one of only a handful of Web developers to a shop with several hundred technical professionals—and now I'm headed right back down to being one of a handful again. During the boom days, I used to get the latest and greatest hardware and software, with a full networking team towing the line in support. These days, I'm making do with barebones, cheaper-is-better assets.

Like many in my line of work, I have responded to the budget crunch by widely adopting open source software, and Linux in particular. Linux serves as the foundation for so many all-encompassing Web development tools and applications, as evidenced by the Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP (LAMP) development model that is so commonplace in the modern Web development world.

Thus, if my Linux doesn’t "work" properly, if it doesn’t perform the way I need it to perform, my Web applications and development are doomed to failure. So I’ve begun to consider whether it makes sense as a Web development professional to get a Linux certification, in particular, the Red Hat Certified Technician (RHCT) credential.

Do Web developers really need a Linux certification? Should they consider a Red Hat cert? Maybe; maybe not.It really all depends on your point of view and your particular environment.

I’m a Web developer, not a system administrator
Let’s start with some of the negative arguments:
  • My company should have a net admin that handles networking and operating systems; it’s not a Web development or programming issue.
  • The small aspects of Linux that I need to understand, I can learn on my own without certification.
  • My time is better spent on "real" development.

If you truly believe that the underlying operating environment isn’t going to affect development, or if you have enough support resources so that it’s not an issue, by all means don’t waste your time on Linux certification. These days, Web developers stay busy enough with traditional programming duties (assuming that you're employed; out-of-work developers can never have too many certs). Still, when doesn't the operating system affect the Web development process?

For example, I've recently been working on a Linux-based content management system (CMS) project. To solve a particular problem, I went trolling through a few advisory Web sites to find a remedy. It turns out that the problem was relatively common—and so were the flame postings that other Linux-addled developers had received in response to the question I would have posed.

For the most part, the postings included sentiments such as “Learn how to use Linux before you jump into the CMS” and “I don’t understand why you newbies think you can learn everything about the CMS without understanding the underlying fundamentals of the operating system.”

Although the rhetoric may have been harsh, these posters had a point. Knowing the basics of a platform is critical to the Web development process. But does that justify obtaining a Linux cert?

A cert can make or break your Linux work
On the other hand, a Web development professional might seriously consider getting a Linux certification, particularly the RHCT, for a number of good reasons:
  • If you’re in a small development environment and there is no network OS support, either you run the OS platform or it doesn’t get done. With such responsibility, it may behoove you to obtain a solid foundation, namely a formal Linux certification.
  • Understanding Linux properly enables you to maximize the performance of your Linux-based development and open source applications.
  • In the open source environment, which has few certifications, the Red Hat certs stand as a mark of professionalism and competence. It looks good on your resume and presents well to clients who are nervous about open source.
  • RHCT is the basis (and currently a prerequisite) for further Red Hat Linux programming courses. Red Hat believes you should be able to demonstrate your understanding of Linux to effectively develop on and for the operating system.

In my case, I’ve had clients who decided against an open source solution specifically because neither my firm nor any of the competitive bids had any kind of professional Linux certification. Given the current cash-strapped, risk-averse business environment, many companies simply won't proceed on a Linux project without the security blanket of certified Web developers.

Moreover, I also struggle with the limitations of a small development shop, where it’s necessary to know a bit about everything to keep work running smoothly. Even if someone in my company already has sufficient Linux expertise to keep open source projects on track, I'm everyone's primary backup, so I need that knowledge as well.

Weighing the factors
Will I go out and get an RHCT? The truth is that so far, I’ve gotten by without it. However, it’s been painful and time-consuming to blindly troubleshoot Linux to keep some of my Web projects running properly. A few people have suggested that such difficulties are part and parcel of the open source experience, but I’m not sure that it always has to be that way.

All things being equal, it comes down to a financial equation: Will the time saved and job avenues opened by a Linux cert justify the cost of obtaining it? For me, if I could find an employer who would pay for my RHCT, I wouldn't pass it up.

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