Linux Certification for the Software Professional

A discussion of the need for certification and a proposal from Sair, Inc. for a Linux certificate program.
The Certification Process

Certification is an assessment of an individual's knowledge and skills in a given area of expertise. Currently, more than 170 certificates are offered and many of these have overlapping areas of expertise. These certificates are generally centered around a vendor's hardware or software product.

The certificate provider typically defines core knowledge and develops texts, study guides and other course material that cover the defined expertise. Students enroll in the certificate program and purchase the appropriate texts and study guides. Supporting materials such as video and/or audio tape lectures are sometimes offered for an additional fee.

Core knowledge is usually divided into four to six areas, with separate tests for each area. The goal of such test taking is not to compare one person's test performance to another's, but to determine whether an individual meets or exceeds the minimal requirements of the vendor training program. A typical student (given family and job obligations) takes the tests over a six- to twelve-month period.

Once the candidate earns a passing grade on all of the required tests, a certificate is issued authorizing the software professional to list the certificate with their name. The certificate provider usually offers “perks” that include a technical hot line or exclusive forum with other certificate holders, a WWW database listing of member skills and services, plaques, photo ID badges and logos for business cards and letterheads. The cost of obtaining these certificates can range from $2,000 to $10,000 US.

Key Certification Benefits

Certificates assure employers that the holder has a specific set of skills and a minimal level of competence. Company management, in turn, exploits certification by advertising the employee's skills to their customers and billing customers more per hour than for non-certified employees.

Certification typically gives an employee more job options and yields better pay. Certification in a high-demand area can lead to a wage increase of $5 to $10 US per hour (that's $10,000 to $20,000 US per year) over non-certified computer professionals.

Many corporate managers consider certification an investment in human resources and, as a result, they pay for or otherwise assist with certification costs. The consensus among managers is that certification leads to improved employee service, reduced problem-solving time, easier assimilation of new technology and higher overall employee productivity.

It Is Time for Linux Certification

Several issues have come together that indicate it is time for us to offer a Linux community-based certificate. First, there is a clear consensus among the Linux community that Linux should continue to grow, receive wide acceptance among programmers and should offer an alternative to traditional software products. However, the growth of Linux functionality and acceptance is not a simple straight line on a graph. Over the last two years and especially within the last year, Linux distributions have reached a “critical mass” of stability, reliability and completeness that will accelerate the growth of Linux over the next few years. Second, the expected rapid growth of Linux will create a need for business and government managers to have an additional metric in the selection of new employees as well as an additional metric for employee merit pay increase and employee promotions. Third, as other State Boards of Professional Engineers see what has been established in the State of Texas, it will be only a matter of time before licensing software engineers is common. Consequently, a Linux certificate will act as a conduit to build a community consensus on certification and licensing.

Hence, now is the time for a Linux certificate and it is Sair, Inc.'s intention to act as a conduit for the Linux certificate by describing our certification process in detail, soliciting critical analysis, debating the specifics and creating a Board of Advisors. The Board of Advisors will consist of respected Linux community members given the responsibility of ensuring that the certificate meets minimal community standards and covers material representative of how Linux is used in business, government and independent programmer shops. Furthermore, the Board will recommend actions to advance Linux in the computer industry.

A component of this advancement will be combining the accumulated certificate knowledge with activism to ensure that the Linux community is represented at the State Board licensing level.

The Linux Certificate

The proposed Linux certificate will cover four areas: installation, networking, shells and commands, and security. In the future, and depending on the directions Linux takes in business, a Linux kernel certificate that covers the details of kernel development, maintenance and embedded systems will be considered. There will be tests for each of the four areas and candidates can take them one at a time or in clusters. Hands-on demonstrations may be an essential component of some tests.