The Expanding World of Open-Source Certifications
These days, you can’t be involved in the IT community without being bombarded with articles and discussions on how Linux, and open-source technology in general, is going to change not only the landscape of data centers and back-office infrastructure, but desktop operating systems and applications, as well. Open source, defined as computer software for which the source code is freely available, represents a major shift in the way organizations use technology.
What seems peculiar is that I have yet to see this really show up in the mainstream IT training and certification industry, and I am somewhat confused about that. None of the certification programs I have been hearing about have really set the world on fire when you consider the IDC claim that “Linux is the second-most-shipped boxed operating systems software after Microsoft Windows.” It is clear, however, that open-source technology is going to continue to grow, so I thought it would be valuable to look at the current trends in the world of open-source certifications.
Many within the OS community believe that there is no need for certification, that experience is the only true indicator of the level of expertise. Perhaps this is because the open-source community is primarily comprised of developers who are more inclined to learn on their own through experimentation and practice. Some developers believe that structured training and certification does little to prepare you for the real world. Others believe that while this may be somewhat true, employers still need a set of standards to differentiate job candidates. What is unusual about open-source certifications is that there is no single governing body. You can’t go to Linux Inc. to get certified as a Linux IT professional because no such company exists. However, there are a small number of companies and organizations that have developed Linux certification programs.
Red Hat, a Linux distribution vendor, is one of the early creators of Linux certification, with the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) program. The RHCE exam differs from others in that it primarily focuses on lab-based practical situations. The Red Hat certifications have come under some scrutiny because they only train on how to manage Red Hat systems and servers. However, RHCE is still one of the most required certifications by employers. The RHCE is considered an expert-level certification while the Red Hat Certified Technician (RHCT) is an intermediate-level certification.
The Linux Professional Institute (LPI), a nonprofit organization, currently offers two vendor-neutral certifications: Junior Level Administration (LPIC1) and Intermediate Level Administration (LPIC2). A third level, Senior Level Administration (LPIC3), is under development. LPIC certifies knowledge of fundamental system administration across all varieties of Linux. For this reason, it is broadly supported by stakeholders in the Linux world, such as IBM and HP. The program is currently targeted at system and network administrators and requires that two general Linux exams be passed before the first-evel exam, the LPIC1, can be taken.
The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) is a relative newcomer in the Linux certification arena. The Linux+ certification is designed to validate technical competency and provide a broad awareness of Linux operating systems. Like LPI’s certifications, Linux+ is vendor-neutral. It differs in that it only requires six months of experience with the Linux operating system. Many IT professionals regard Linux+ as a good starting point to higher-level certifications offered by Red Hat and LPI.
Just this year, Novell has rolled out two Linux certifications, the Certified Linux Engineer (CLE), which builds upon the knowledge required for LPI’s first level of certification, and the SUSE Linux Certified Professional (SLCP). The CLE program is designed to validate knowledge of Linux and the ability to install and administer Novell Nterprise Linux Services in either an exclusive Linux environment or a mixed OS environment. The SLCP validates expertise on the SUSE Linux distribution. CLE is gaining some attention in that the exam requires that candidates resolve randomly selected problem scenarios proving practical knowledge of Linux.
Just as open source has changed the software development landscape, it may also begin to change the training and certification landscape. The inescapable conclusion is that the more Linux and other open-source technologies underpin organizations, the greater the need will be to have properly trained and certified professionals to support the technology. Watch this space!
Martin Bean is the chief operating officer for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, the world’s largest independent IT training company.