Red Hat made headlines recently when it introduced its new Red Hat Certified Technician (RHCT) accreditation. The only surprise surrounding the announcement, at least to me, was that it took so long to arrive. The company’s Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) designation is about to celebrate its fourth anniversary, yet that top-level accreditation has been the only certification available from Red Hat until now.

Red Hat poised for growth
For years, IT professionals have been saying that next year is going to be Linux’s year, and each year Linux doesn’t quite fulfill most observers’ expectations—although it has made steady progress recently, especially in the data center. I’m certainly not predicting that next year will be any different for the open source platform, but I do believe Red Hat will continue making inroads, and quite possibly at a faster pace than before.

Why? Two reasons.

First, Red Hat Linux 8.0 works, and it works very well. Any time diehard Linux fans denigrate a distribution as resembling and performing too much like Windows (which I have seen with the arrival of Red Hat’s Bluecurve desktop as part of the 8.0 release), you know you’re on to something—namely, functionality and approachability. Red Hat has made great strides in both areas with version 8.0.

Second, Red Hat is moving to capture a greater share of accredited IT professionals with its RHCT certification, which targets an audience whose contribution to fueling Windows growth has been woefully underestimated: individuals with less than a few years of experience and those fresh out of school.

Quite simply, the RHCT fills an important void for the Linux community.

RHCT fills vacancy, mimics RHCE exam
Red Hat needed a certification positioned a level or two below its RHCE. The RHCT addresses that need perfectly. Now entry-level administrators and support professionals, MCPs, and others new to UNIX/Linux have a realistic shot at diversifying their resumes with a respected Linux certification. And just as Microsoft’s popular MCSA can be earned on the way to garnering the MCSE, the RHCT certification can be earned on the way to securing an RHCE.

To earn the RHCT, candidates must pass a performance-based test taken on live equipment. Red Hat claims its RHCT exam (test RH202) “measures actual competencies at system administration, including installation and configuration of a Red Hat Linux system and attaching it to a live network running network services.”

The RHCT lab exam requires, among other things, proving diagnostic and troubleshooting skills and an ability to install, configure, and network a Red Hat-powered system. The RHCT exam covers content from Red Hat courses RH033 (Red Hat Linux Essentials) and RH133 (Red Hat Linux System Administration). Candidates are given three hours to complete the laboratory exam, which carries a reasonable fee of $349.

Eckel’s take
Red Hat is making significant moves in an effort to grow market share. It’s no secret that building a corps of certified IT professionals helps sell software. Adding a lower-level certification should certainly help fuel corporate purchases of Red Hat Linux.

I understand Red Hat’s stance in requiring laboratory exams, but that’s a double-edged sword. Although it ensures that candidates have practical systems knowledge and can operate real equipment, IT professionals must still travel to one of 33 cities in the United States if they want to take the RHCT exam. I think that Red Hat would be better served if it were to create a computer-delivered interactive test consisting of multiple-choice questions, case study scenarios, and practical simulations.