If you’re a Linux network administrator, you owe it to yourself to pursue Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) accreditation. Here’s why.

It’s all about competition
Unlike Microsoft’s certification program, which boasts an incredible number of certified professionals, there’s considerable competition within the Linux certification space. No single company can lay claim to domination in the Linux certification arena.

In fact, several Linux certifications are currently battling for the leadership role. Check out Jason Hiner’s article “Sorting out the Linux certification options” for overviews of the four largest Linux certifications.

Combine the lack of a clear Linux certification leader with the fact that the open source operating system owns only a small percentage of the server market and an even smaller slice of the client pie, and you can see why it’s so important to pursue the best Linux certification.

Pursuing a smaller Windows certification, such as CompTIA’s A+ and Network+, isn’t a bad idea, as Windows boasts the dominant market share. Although Linux’s market share is growing, and that growth is expected to continue, it still isn’t well enough established in the enterprise to support smaller certifications. Pursue a lesser-known Linux certification, and your efforts could prove wasted. If no one recognizes your certification or understands its relevance, you’ll have sweated for nothing. Fortunately, the RHCE has history on its side.

Go with Red Hat
Back in the day when Novell enjoyed significant networking OS market share, its certification was the hot commodity. When Windows NT grew in prominence, the MCSE program took over the certification throne. When it comes to routers and internetworking, Cisco certification rules the roost.

Catch the pattern?

History smiles on those certifications from vendors ruling the market. Red Hat has enjoyed considerable growth, and a recent TechRepublic report found that Red Hat is maintaining a significant lead over other distributions. So it stands to reason that the RHCE accreditation will become Linux’s answer to the MCSE.

When you’re one of the smallest fish in a pond dominated by another species, it’s best to be the biggest of the small fish.

RHCE benefits should match those of an MCSE
Just as the MCSE designation has become the best-known Windows certification, so, too, will the RHCE become the most recognized Linux accreditation. All the elements are in place to make it so.

Red Hat owns considerable Linux market share, other players are falling behind, and vendor certifications have always proven to possess an added attraction that vendor-neutral certifications haven’t.

As Hiner noted in his October article on Linux accreditations, the RHCE already has a lock on the higher end of the Linux certification spectrum. He also noted that it’s the most challenging of the certifications to earn.

As a result of its difficulty, the RHCE will be respected. As a result of Red Hat’s market share, hiring managers will recognize it immediately. Because of Red Hat’s prevalence in the enterprise (at least where Linux is installed), you’ll pick up skills while studying that you can use in the real world.

As an RHCE, you should be able to leverage your proven expertise to push for promotions, new opportunities, increased responsibilities, and even a raise.

Consider RHCE even if you work with other Linux flavors
Even if you work with a different flavor of Linux, such as Mandrake, SuSe, TurboLinux, or another distribution, you’re likely to come across Red Hat in the enterprise. Thus, you should know it.

Rather than pursue a certification such as Linux+, which could cover all the other distributions, you’ll find more value in earning a higher-level certification that others will recognize and that’s bound to help you in the future. While I wouldn’t be willing to bet my future on the survival of most Linux distributions, Red Hat will likely emerge from the economy’s downturn as the strongest of any of the players.

Different tracks for those with different levels of expertise
You can find the complete requirements a candidate must meet to become an RHCE on Red Hat’s Web site. Unlike Microsoft and CompTIA certifications, you can’t just take Red Hat exams at any VUE or Prometric testing center. Instead, Red Hat’s examination procedure is more like Cisco’s CCIE in that you have to go to the vendor’s designated testing centers. Certainly, that prospect alone helps weed out the lesser candidates.

How you prepare for RHCE certification will depend upon your experience level. Red Hat offers two curriculum tracks. The Rapid Track is for seasoned administrators, while the Standard Track is targeted toward those with less experience.

Eckel’s take
If you’ve committed to developing Linux skills, you would be best served by pursuing RHCE accreditation to prove your expertise in the enterprise and bolster your resume. While lesser certifications are available, the RHCE is sure to provide the best return on your certification investment.

History is on the side of the vendor owning the greatest market share. Red Hat is clearly dominating the market (at least in the United States), and its certification track is well respected. I doubt CertCities would have predicted that the RHCE would become one of the 10 hottest certifications in 2002 if that weren’t the case.

What do you think about RHCE certification?

We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Post a comment or a question about this article.