Earning Your Linux Diploma

Certifying Linux technicians is a developing trend. The Linux OS is growing up. This is pushing many computer engineers and IT professionals to prove their skills as programmers and systems administrators.

While not quite a common job requirement yet, some employers and high-level software developers are looking for Linux-certified employees. This is similar to the existing standard of expecting Microsoft certified computer technicians and IT professionals.

“Originally, certification didn’t have a strong base in Linux. Now that Linux has moved into business mainstream, people are making that leap to prove themselves,” Jim Lacy, president and CEO of the Linux Professional Institute, told LinuxInsider.

The trend today is for computer professionals to move away from proprietary software products in favor of developing their industry-wide skills, Lacy added.

Not a License

Linux certification programs do not qualify those who pass the rigorous examinations to meet any licensing standards. No license exists for an IT professional to practice computer engineering. The computer industry has not developed a licensing requirement like other skilled trades such as electricians, plumbers and communications professions.

In part, professional licensing does not fit the unusual workplace practices of the computing industry. Those who develop Linux products are in an especially unusual situation. Linux professionals were born from a distributed workforce tied to an online community.

“The IT industry needs certified technicians. Originally Linux training was a measure of suitability to work in the IT field to reduce help desk costs. It became a mindshare about how to advance skills in the industry,” Eric Wenck, vice president of Prometric’s IT testing segment, told LinuxInsider.

Dual Options

IT professionals looking to be Linux certified have two types of programs to consider. One certification track is vendor neutral, concentrating on core Linux programs and command line skills that apply to all Linux distributions. The other certification track is aimed at computer engineers specializing in a major Linux enterprise distribution such as Novell’s Suse Linux or Red Hat Linux.

Fuzzy Career Path

Linux certification is not at this time a hard and fast requirement for most IT professionals and others who work as Linux software developers. In fact, many Linux experts are not certified by any program but are still are well qualified based on their programming skills, explained Wenck.

“It is not a career prerequisite. It is not a de facto standard. Should it be? I don’t know yet. Some elements within the IT industry are working towards that end,” Wenck said.

Not having set standards for its professionals may be sending mixed signals about the computer field. The IT industry is not focused on licensing, and Linux certification — or even Microsoft certified training — is not yet a rite of passage.

“Barbers need licenses to cut hair. Programmers of hospital networks don’t need any certification to maintain computers that have life-and-death implications on patients,” Wenck quipped.

Established Programs

The Linux professional work force generally has four major programs for those engineers looking to prove or improve their skills. Sources familiar with the standards involved said there is considerable overlap in testing and content.

“There is a handful of certification programs out there for different aspects of Linux. There is the overall knowledge of using Linux — and thereby an extension to Unix in general — and then there is the certification for knowing about a certain brand of Linux,” Sameer Verma, a professor of information systems at San Francisco State University, told LinuxInsider.

Certification programs generally test one of three skill levels, said Lacy. Entry-level measures knowledge based on one year to 18 months of experience. The second level measures two to three years of experience, and the enterprise professional level measures the most experienced skills.

Linux professionals should not confuse Linux training with Linux certification, according to Wenck. Training focuses on product knowledge, job skills, IT operations and project management. Certification measures different areas of actual Linux knowledge with tests, he said.

Program Highlights

CompTIA offers a vendor-neutral certification in Linux+ as one of several computer-related programs. Its tests measure a developer’s knowledge of six to 12 months of practical Linux experience. Some major computer companies, such as Fujitsu and Avaya, now require CompTIA Linux+ certification for their support staff.

Linux Professional Institute offers a three-tiered rating program. The Institute is a non-profit organization that fosters standards in the professional use of Linux, open source and free software. LPI requires each certification candidate to pass two exams per level. Junior level administrators comprise Level 1 (LPIC1) is a prerequisite for taking the Level 2 (LPIC2) exams for the intermediate level rating. The top level is Level 3 (LPIC3).

Novell offers two Linux certification levels. One is Certified Linux Professional (CLP); the other is Certified Linux Engineer (CLE). This second certification level covers more advanced administrative skills.

A relatively new arrival to the certification scene is Canonical. Distro newcomer Ubuntu/Kubuntu has started dabbling in certification exams. That company has both professional and user level exams. Canonical uses LPI exams as a base and adds Ubuntu-specific questions of its own, said Lacy.

Extensive Red Hat Grades

Red Hat Linux Training offers certification in five categories. Red Hat Certified Technician (RHCT) is for technicians who set up new Red Hat Linux systems and configure them to networks. They must must pass a half-day lab exam.

Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) is for advanced system administrators. This certification requires passing a day-long lab exam consisting of three elements. There is a written test, a server install and network services configuration lab and a diagnostics and troubleshooting lab.

Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA) requires certification candidates to plan, design and manage an open source infrastructure in large, complex environments. Red Hat Certified Security Specialist (RHCSS) candidates must pass three examinations showing advanced skills in using Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SELinux and Red Hat Directory Server.

Certifying Costs

LPI exams cost about US$150 an exam. Red Hat exams cost a lot more — $750 or so, according to Verma.

“Red Hat packages are a lot like MCSE (Microsoft Certified System Engineer) type exams. Five-day training and exam at a bundled cost of $2,500 to $3,000 or so,” he said.

In general, Linux+ certification exams from CompTIA cost $232 for non-members and $186 for CompTIA members.

Get Training

Some computer engineers take the certification test based on their accumulated knowledge from years of experience in the field, noted Verma. Others prepare through a five-day crash course. Either way, their goal is to add legitimate credentials to their resumes or meet a job requirement.

Those looking to go through intense training in preparation for tests should brace themselves when it comes to costs. Training courses and self-study materials are not cheap. You can expect to pay up to $14,000 for many of the proven methods and materials.

“The crash course is not going to be helpful if you start from zero. In my experience, if you have been working as an admin for at least a year or two, your certification process will be relatively easy,” said Verma. “Often, admins fall in the trap where they know of a small subset of commands for their work and tend to disregard other aspects of certification. So you may know a lot about cron jobs but very little about iptables for network security. A certification will aim to test on all aspects of a system.”

Finding Resources

Linux training centers operate around the country. For a detailed list of training facilities, check out this Web site.

Another source for training options is to purchase self-study books. This Web site is a good starting point for sources of instructional DVDs.

One must-have method for preparing for Linux certification is practice tests. A good source of practice tests is available here.

Testing Sites

To find out more about specific testing programs, try visit these Web sites. Both organizations offer international testing facilities at 3,400 locations in 120 countries.

Prometric is an international technology firm that provides testing and certification programs. It offers several types of Linux certifications directly through its own test centers and through various partners worldwide.

Pearson VUE provides testing services for licensure,certification, academic admissions, regulatory and government testingservice markets. It has offices and affiliated test centers in 162countries.

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