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Creating a Linux Certification and Training Program
Creating a Linux certification and training program
Certification. The very word spawns Usenet flame wars and conjures
up images of inexperienced novices with a piece of paper winning
employment over more experienced candidates who lack the appropriate
acronyms. It reeks of centralized control and of forcing people to take
exams to demonstrate their knowledge. It creates a swirling alphabet
soup of acronyms - MCSE, CNE, MCP, CCIE, CLP, ATEC, LAEC, CNA, CSA,
Yet if Linux is to be widely accepted into the computing mainstream,
I believe a certification program is essential. First, though, before I
am flamed, let me state clearly that I do not believe a certification
program should ever replace experience in the hiring process. A
certification program is ultimately a tool, primarily for marketing and
recruitment. In this article, I want to begin a discussion of why Linux
needs a certification program and how such a program should be
Why Linux needs a certification program
The need is out there... here is what I believe a certification
program can do for Linux:
- Create industry recognition - Microsoft, Novell, Lotus and
others have spent millions upon millions of dollars convincing the IT
industry of the value of certification. People, especially managers,
perceive that there is value and importance in certification. A Linux
certification program will allow those who value certification to see
that Linux "has emerged as a viable option."
- Provide an organizational path for students - Students who
want to learn about Linux may not even begin to know where to start.
Yes, they can read an intro book on Linux... but where do they go from
there. Some people can learn well on their own with a book or CD, while
others find greater benefit in instructor-led classes. But what books?
What classes? Students who want to learn about NT have a nice, easy
path - just follow the MCSE track - through either classes, CDs, or
books. The certification program takes away the pain of "where do I
- Provide an organizational mechanism for training centers -
Training centers love Microsoft's MCSE program. Instead of
getting students in for one class here and there, training centers can
fashion a program that entices students to sign up for a block of 6
classes at a time. Typically, an MCSE program can generate $8-10,000 in
revenue for a training center. If training centers want to teach Linux,
how do they begin offering classes? A certification program allows a
center to provide a path for training that can generate significant
revenue. A common training/certification program also allows training
centers to compete with each other.
- Enhance marketing - Every training center and every book that
focuses on the path to certification creates more marketing about the
product. A training center in the northeast will spend $1.4 million
dollars this year promoting Microsoft certification. Every
advertisement for this training center beats the drum for Microsoft and
helps promote NT and the value of certification. When you go to a book
store, how many books do you see on the shelves for Microsoft or Novell
certification? Each book creates more marketing opportunities for
publishers, bookstores, etc. A Linux certification program will help
promote the overall growth of the Linux operating system.
- Counter the "no-support" argument - Opponents are
quick to slam Linux for a perceived "lack of support." We in the Linux
community know the truth... about the support from newsgroups and
mailing lists... but corporate management is looking for some way to
support IT products. New programs from Red Hat and others that allow
corporations to purchase support contracts are certainly one great step
in this direction. But the existence of "certified" individuals is
another. Microsoft is quick to point out that there are now hundreds of
thousands of MCSEs out there who can support Windows NT. This argument
provides a certain degree of security to a manager about to plunge into
NT - he or she knows that there are people out there who can support the
product which is about to be used. A pool of Linux-certified
professionals would counter this argument.
- Turn students into advocates - If students learn all about
Linux and how to install, configure and use the operating system, they
will then become advocates for Linux as they move within the IT
industry. This is both due to the knowledge learned during the course
of preparing for certification... and also due to the fact that since a
certification candidate has invested a serious amount of time, energy
and money into the product, they want to use that actual product. An
MCSE candidate may spend $10,000 and six months studying to become an
MCSE. At the end of that time, they have a vested interest in working
with NT. People recommend what they know. We need them to know
- Provide other means of employment for Linux-skilled
individuals - A certification program creates many opportunities for
employment for people knowledgeable about Linux. Books can be written.
Courses can be developed and taught. There is a whole industry out
there teaching and developing certification courses and books for
Microsoft, Novell, Lotus and others that is looking for new products.
Each person who can be employed writing or teaching about Linux becomes
yet another advocate, potentially full-time, for Linux.
- Recruit new Linux users - How many people have responded to
ads in the paper along the lines of "Want to earn $70,000 per year? Come
to xxx training and join our MCSE program."? How many of those
individuals might never have entered the computer industry? Now they
are employed... through marketing and by providing a training path.
The development and acceptance of such a certification program for Linux
will keep expanding the user base of Linux users.
- Assist in the hiring process - This is the controversial
part. Flame wars will rage about people who were passed over from
employment/promotions/projects because they didn't have the appropriate
certifications. Other arguments will ensue about "certified" individuals
who passed exams but had little practical experience. Novell's program
at one point became so diluted that you could find "paper CNEs" who had
become a CNE through reading books without ever touching a NetWare
server! While Microsoft has tried to make their exams tough enough that
you must really use the systems to pass the exams, there are
certainly large enough quantities of study materials out there that
someone could try to get by purely on studying.
But certifications can assist in the hiring process. When I
evaluate candidates for a position, I do not decide solely based on what
acronyms they may tag after their name. Yet knowing that a candidate
has passed a certification program allows me to know that they have some
base level of product knowledge. It also shows a candidates persistence
and determination to complete a project (the certification process).
Both factors help me evaluate what a candidate is all about and how they
I have had people who want to use Linux ask me, "how do I find
someone who I can hire to support this Linux server? If I don't really
know much about Linux myself, how can I know if this technical person
I'm hiring does, in fact, know anything about Linux?" A certification
program can assist in helping managers know that a person has at least a
certain level of Linux product knowledge and capabilities.
Creating a certification program
So if a certification program can benefit the Linux community, what
are the characteristics of a program that will work?
- It must be exam-based. - Most vendors' certification
ch as Linux International are not (yet) set up to handle such a task.
LI would be an obvious choice to run such a program. Perhaps a group of
Linux distributors could contribute financially to LI to set up and
staff an education division.... or perhaps the funds come from training
- The program must have multiple levels. - Training centers
love Microsoft's program because there are several different paths for
students. After one exam, a candidate becomes a "Microsoft Certified
Professional" (MCP). After a certain three exams, you can become an
MCP+Internet. After six exams (4 core exams and 2 electives chosen out
of a pool of a dozen or so exams), you can become a Microsoft Certified
System Engineer. Another three (for a total of nine) brings you to an
MCSE+Internet. Students find this useful in that they achieve certain
certifications as they progress. Training centers love the program
because they can sell lots of classes. Publishers love the program
because they can create and sell lots of books. For a Linux
certification program to work, it, too, must have a series of
- The exams must be difficult. - If it's easy to become a
Certified Linux Professional (or whatever title evolves), than there is
no value. It must be challenging to obtain the certification or the
title will become meaningless. One of the toughest credentials currently
is the Cisco Certified Internetworking Engineer. The CCIE involves a
single Sylvan Prometric test, but then a 2-day hands-on exam at Cisco's
site where you are put in a room with Cisco equipment and told to build
a network. At the end of the day they send in an engineer to break what
you built and your second day is spending finding the errors. You have
only your knowledge and the product documentation. The problem of
making it too difficult, however, is that it limits the number of people
who can obtain the certification and therefore the certification does
not become widely recognized. Linux needs to strike a balance.
- Training centers must become "certified" to offer Linux
certification. - In a very competitive market, training centers are
seeking to differentiate themselves from their competition. Becoming a
Linux Certified Training Center (or some such wording) would be a
marketing point for training centers. However, someone (that central
certifying authority again!) must "authorize" those training centers...
if anyone can be a LCTC (my example acronym) that why should a center do
it? As an example, to become a Microsoft Certified Technical Education
Center (CTEC, formerly "ATEC"), a training center must pay Microsoft
several thousand dollars (per site), agree to stringent hardware
requirements, and maintain at least two MCSEs directly affiliated with
the center. Additionally, Microsoft approves which centers can become
CTECs and does limit the number within a region. Fees from Linux
certified centers could go to fund the central certifying
- Instructors need to be certified. - If someone has the
knowledge on a particular subject, does that necessarily mean they can
teach it? Most certification programs have some mechanism to specify
who can teach certification classes at authorized training centers.
Microsoft has the Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT). Novell has the
Certified Novell Instructor (CNI). The Information Technology Training
Association (ITTA - an organization representing companies in the
computer training industry) has been promoting the Certified Technical
Trainer (CTT) credential. In all these cases, candidates must
demonstrate abilities to effectively communicate information and some
knowledge of adult learning techniques. The CTT even involves a
videotape of the candidate being reviewed by other senior instructors.
- Courseware must be developed. - Certainly if a certification
program is to be developed, some entity out there needs to write some
courseware that training centers can use. Publishers must also create
books that candidates can use for self-study. Does this courseware need
to be "authorized" as it is in other certification programs? I'm not
sure that it does...
If you agree that a certification program can be beneficial for the
growth of Linux, how do we as a community go about addressing the points
I made above about creating a certification program? Do we create
another mailing-list or newsgroup? (Does such a group or list already
exist? If so, I have so far failed to find it.) Do we meet at a
Is a Linux certification program even possible? I have felt the
UNIX/Linux community (of which I count myself a member) has historically
been extremely resistant to anything remotely resembling
certification... are we still? Such a program by its nature involves a
certain degree of central coordination that has not necessarily been a
part of our ethic? Can we create such a program?
Who should be players in this project? Which vendors are interested?
(Would Caldera be interested in joining with others to create a common
program?) What is the role of Linux International? What about other
efforts within SAGE or USENIX?
I don't necessarily have the answers - but I would like to
participate in the discussion. If someone can suggest the appropriate
forum in which this discussion should take place (or is currently taking
place!), please let me know. Also to that end, I'd like to propose
creating a "Linux Training Alliance" consisting of other training
centers and/or instructors who are interested in creating a Linux
training and certification program. Please email me at dyork@Lodestar2.com if you
believe such a program would have value and would like to participate.
I believe that a certification program can accelerate the growth of
Linux into the computing mainstream, while creating new advocates for
Linux, expanding marketing and countering arguments about the lack of
support. Can we build a certification program to do this? What do you
Copyright © 1998, Dan York
Published in Issue 33 of Linux Gazette, October 1998