For all the attention Linux has drawn in the past year, Linux certification hasn’t taken off as much as you might expect. There are several reasons for that. Here are the ones I hear most often:

  • Lack of recognized programs: Even if I wanted to get a Linux certification, where could I get one, and what would it cover?
  • Lack of perceived need: With Linux skills in such short supply, jobs are plentiful. What do I gain by getting certified?
  • The “Never Again!” Syndrome: Look, I almost killed myself for 18 months working during the day and studying for my MCSE exams at night. There is NO WAY I’m going through that again!
  • The NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) Syndrome: The whole reason I got involved with Linux and Open Source in the first place was to get away from all that bureaucratic nonsense. Why should I support the “MCSE-ization” of Linux?

The first of these reasons isn’t really valid anymore. (Below, I list some of the major Linux certification efforts). Let’s look at the other objections, and I’ll tell why I don’t think they hold much water.

Thinking in the long term
The lack of perceived need is the easiest to understand, as it actually makes sense in the short term. At the present time, there is a huge demand for skilled Linux administrators and programmers. Not only can anyone who knows Linux probably find a job, but since Linux certifications are so new, employers don’t value them as highly as they do an MCSE or CNE certification.

In other words, while an NT administrator who has his or her MCSE can confidently expect to make $5,000 to $10,000 more than someone who isn’t accredited, that just isn’t true in the Linux marketplace today.

However, as the huge demand for Linux creates its own supply, the day is coming when employers will want an easy way to verify which of the self-proclaimed Linux experts applying for that job really know their stuff. The single best way to do that is to look for—and demand—certification.

You asked for it; now you’ve to prove it
That leads into the objection I refer to as the NIMBY Syndrome. Adherents of this view object to Linux certification on principle, viewing it as a kind of betrayal of the attitude that drew them to Open Source software in the first place.

In all candor, this is kind of silly. What these holdouts forget is that Novell and Microsoft didn’t impose their certification processes on a reluctant IT world. Quite the opposite: They (and other firms such as Cisco) introduced certification programs to meet the need for structured training programs that provided a verifiable mastery of their respective products.

Linux advocates can’t have it both ways. They can’t ask enterprise companies to embrace Linux, while denouncing these same companies for insisting on Linux certification.

But I’m tired
As for the plight of the test-weary MCSE, it’s understandable but unpersuasive. Different sets of skills demand different kinds of training. I can understand why a lawyer would be reluctant to go to medical school on top of law school, but I wouldn’t want him to practice medicine unless he did so.

In short, Linux certification is coming, and it will be an increasingly important prerequisite for employment in corporate IT departments. You can lament these facts, but you ignore them at your peril.

Besides, what are a few more tests between friends?
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Commercial certifications
Red Hat ( )
As you might expect, Red Hat’s certification is based on its own flavor of Linux. The RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer) program is five days long and concentrates on Red Hat Linux 5.2. You have to take the class—and the consequent exam—at Red Hat’s campus in Durham, North Carolina.

The five-day package of classes plus exam costs $2,498, which does not include travel, lodging, or meals other than lunch. If you just want to take the exam by itself, that will cost $749.

According to Red Hat, this RH300 class and exam is just the first in a forthcoming series of certification classes.

For more information and a class schedule, click here .

Caldera ( )
Since Caldera is the main commercial rival to Red Hat in the Linux world, it isn’t surprising that it offers its own class. Called simply Linux System Administration, the five-day class is designed to provide an entry into Linux installation and administration. Like Red Hat, Caldera promises a number of additional classes in the future.

Taking a different tack than Red Hat, Caldera promises that its class doesn’t favor any particular version of Linux.

The classes cost $1,995. Caldera is establishing partnerships with various training centers to offer the class. For more information, and a list of participating training centers, click here.

Digital Metrics ( )
While a commercial enterprise, Digital Metrics isn’t affiliated with any particular flavor of Linux. Unlike most other certifications, the Digital Metrics exams are given over the Internet.

The good part is that individual exams are cheap—$15 each. The bad part is that Digital Metrics has no current way to prevent cheating. (However, in the future it plans to offer testing based on digital certificates for greater security.)

Digital Metrics is focused on creating and offering the certification exams. For the actual Linux training, you’ll have to look elsewhere, though several firms are developing training materials that correspond to Digital Metrics courses.

Non-commercial certification ( )
Describing itself as completely neutral in the battle between versions of Linux, this site features certification courses designed by Tobin Magginus of Sair, Inc. There will be three different levels of certification. Beginning July 12, the first classes will be available at Sylvan Prometric training centers.

To see what Sair calls the Level I Knowledge Array, click here . This is a large chart indicating what you need to know about Linux to pass the first certification exams.