Originally Published: Monday, 7 February 2000 Author: Kevin Ritchey
Published to: Headline News/Applications Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Pros and Cons of Linux Certification

A recent international survey of Linux system administrators conducted by the Linux Professional Institute revealed some interesting facts about the average Linux system administrator.

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A recent international survey of Linux system administrators conducted by the Linux Professional Institute revealed some interesting facts about the average Linux system administrator. More information can be found at the LPI's website. What I note though, are the system administration tasks rated as most important by the survey participants themselves. They are as follows:

1. Check disk space usage 2. List all processes currently running 3. Compress and decompress a file 4. Properly shutdown a system 5. Check free space left on a filesystem 6. Remove user accounts 7. Change the owner or group of a file 8. Change a user's forgotten password 9. Change access to a directory 10. Run a process in the background

What I find interesting in the simplicity of this list is what did not make it onto the list. There is no mention of compiling a new kernel, Samba configuration, NFS maintenance, Sendmail or ipchains. I mention this only as a reference as we examine Linux certification and one's need for it.

Several arguments are proposed against certification in any field. An analysis of the various certifications available would be incomplete without at the very least mentioning these arguments. The first and most often used is that certification legislates a mediocrity. While base certification sets a minimum bar, it does not follow that no one will strive to exceed and surpass this bar. The empirical evidence simply suggests otherwise. With each available certification, there is another higher, more advanced certification. Extensibility of the certification program has provided more and higher bars.

The second argument commonly used against certification is that it lowers salaries. There simply is no evidence to support this claim. Numerous studies support the opposite that certification strengthens salaries and job opportunities, e.g. the current run on MSCE salaries. See http://www.gocertify.com for more information and facts.

Another argument commonly proposed is that because all system administrators are different, it is futile to provide one test set in an attempt to comprehensively certify them all. While it is true that they are all different, this argument ignores the commonality of what all system administrators do. They all support a network or system of computers. Certification programs focus on those aspects of the system administers responsibilities which are common to all sys admins. Having put these arguments aside, let us now examine what becoming certified may mean to you, the reader.

At the most basic level becoming "Linux certified" probably means that one has met the minimum requirements that one of several certification sponsors has created which identify a minimum or advanced level of competency in working with and understanding the Linux operating system. Note the generous use of the word "minimum." What these certification sponsors claim is minimum and what "real world" Linux administrators claim is minimum is going to be very different. However, that is more of an observation than a criticism. As certification grows and becomes more accepted, well known and necessary, proficiency may grow as well.

So to engage upon our path to certification, we'll first examine what it means to be certified. Usually, this means you've taken and passed one or more exams. These can be written exams taken on location (e.g. Red Hat) or electronic exams taken at Virtual Universities (e.g. SAIR). They can even involve detailed timed lab exams similar to those Cisco administers (e.g. Red Hat). It may mean that you've spent hours studying and preparing for the exam or that you've taken an exam preparation course such as RH300 (Red Hat's preparatory course to the RHCE Lab Exam). In any case, it means you've invested a great deal of time and potentially money in an attempt to satisfy an independent certifying organization that doesn't sign your paychecks. So, is it worth it? Let's keep this question in mind as we look at Linux* certification more closely.

(Note: There is a difference between "Linux" and "GNU software." For the remainder of these articles I will refer to Linux and the GNU software that generally accompanies the Linux kernel simply as "Linux." I submit my apologies for any insensitivity to Mr. Richard Stallman.)

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