Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past year, you know that Linux is making a big splash in the IT world. Many companies are taking a serious look at the open source operating system, either as a replacement for or a supplement to their current network operating systems.

As a trainer, you know firsthand that it’s much easier to get training work if you’re certified, and interest in Linux certification is on the rise. Many companies, rightly or wrongly, use certification as a gatekeeper to their IT hiring practices, so we’re going to take a look at the Linux certification process and answer a few questions to help you get your Linux certification rolling.

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To put it mildly, the Linux certification process is a mess. Lots of folks have seen the need and are trying to meet it. Part of the problem, though, is the very thing that makes Linux unique: community development. Linux itself is not really owned by one company but by the Linux community as a whole. While that can be a very good thing in some areas, such as development and testing, it can be a very tough thing in other areas, such as standards. Linux folks are committed to open processes and communication. Much of this is grounded in the Internet mind-set as a whole, where the process looks like this:

  • Put out a Request For Comments.
  • Get the feedback over months or years.
  • Release a proposed standard.
  • Get more comments and feedback.
  • Finally, hammer out something that is usually well thought-out, thorough, and supported by almost everyone.

Thus, we see The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) trying to build a standard Linux certification path through a slow, steady process of preliminary standards and feedback. It has a potential certification track outlined, as well as a FAQ and various ways for interested parties to be involved. Unfortunately, if its site is any indication, the effort has slowed in recent months. Digital Metrics had started its own work on an open Linux certification, but then decided to fold its efforts into the LPI work.

An interesting development can be seen at the www.linuxtraining.org site. This is listed on LPI’s links page as a site maintained by Dr. Tobin Maginnis of the University of Mississippi. Under the Linux certification information link, I found a link to the SAIR site. Apparently, this now-commercial program was at one time an attempt at open certification. Nothing is necessarily wrong with that (as I’ll discuss in a minute). The SAIR folks have developed three levels of testing, and as of July 1999, its tests are now being offered through Sylvan Prometric.

It also appears that there’s some work going on at USENIX on its SAGE Certification pages. USENIX released a survey on Oct. 18 that asks the Linux community about certification, supposedly so the USENIX folks can develop one.

Many of these efforts, though well intended and admirable, are the victims of their own lack of urgency. As much as everyone wants Linux certification to be done right, the marketplace is calling for it to be done now. And as Linux folks everywhere are learning, when you decide you want to compete in the corporate sphere, the marketplace starts calling the shots.

Put your (expensive) Red Hat on
Into this void steps Red Hat , the Linux distributor that is rapidly becoming the driver of the Linux phenomenon. Just like Novell and Microsoft before it, Red Hat has recognized the business value of certification and has come out with its own program of training and certification. Unlike most of the others, Red Hat has moved beyond the talking stage and has put something in place. The company has a series of four classes in increasing levels of complexity, with the last class aiming at the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) program. Apparently, all certs now have to have four letters in the acronym.

To quote from Red Hat’s Web site, RHCE certification “indicates that the person has passed a realistic performance-based lab exam that tests his/her ability to:

  • Install and configure Red Hat Linux
  • Understand limitations of hardware
  • Configure basic networking and file systems
  • Configure the X Windowing System
  • Configure basic security
  • Set up common network (IP) services
  • Carry out basic diagnostics and troubleshooting
  • Perform essential Red Hat Linux system administration.”

Yep, that’s what I’d want my certified Linux person to know.

You can take the test alone for around $700 or take the course and test together for about $2,500. From what I gather, the test is not multiple-choice but is an actual lab test where you have to carry out the tasks in front of a tester. Red Hat has training/testing centers on both coasts and looks to be making a push to add centers in other areas of the country. It’s also developing an RHCE II track, which will contain more advanced topics.

Note that this isn’t press release hype or wanna-be certs: This program is available now. Class times and locations, as well as online registration, are listed on Red Hat’s site.
Post a comment at the bottom of the page to let us know whether you are going to ride the Linux cert wave—and why.
Marketplace-driven vs. community-driven?
There’s a great hue and cry in the Linux community about “vendor-neutral” certification. Obviously, it irks many longtime Linux folks that an operating system that’s free and built on open community involvement should have some company pushing its own test and making $2,000+ a pop.

While I have sympathy for this concern, I also know that you can’t have things both ways. If you want to be taken seriously in the marketplace, you have to do the things the marketplace wants—and you have to be proactive in doing so.

Fair or not, Microsoft strengthened its position in the marketplace by making MCSE certification both widely known and widely available. Part of the success of NT is the fact that in most towns you can find individuals who know enough about the operating system to answer questions about it.

If Linux is to succeed, that same knowledge has to exist in the marketplace. Any managers worth their salt will refuse to consider Linux until and unless there’s someone around who the manager knows can take care of things competently and quickly. With this in mind, Linux certification will be the new wave to ride, so get ready, trainers, to add another tool to your toolbox.

Bruce Maples is a trainer, writer, and consultant living in Louisville, KY.