Building a Linux Certification Program

A report on a community-based initiative to develop a professional certification program for Linux.

Some time ago, the idea for a certification program for Linux existed only in the minds and discussions of individuals and small groups of people in different locations and all working separately. Over the past year, many of these separate people have come together in a community-based effort to define a Linux certification program. Who is this group? How did they come together? What have they accomplished to date?

We call ourselves the Linux Professional Institute (LPI). As stated on our web site (http://www.lpi.org/), our mission statement is:

We believe in the need for a standardized, multi-national and respected program to certify levels of individual expertise in Linux. This program must be able to satisfy the requirements of Linux professionals, as well as organizations which would employ or contract them.

Our goal is to design and deliver such a program from within the Linux community, using both volunteer and hired resources as necessary. We resolve to undertake a well-considered, open, disciplined development process, leading directly to the establishment of a recognized and widely-endorsed Linux certification body.

With these words, we put in writing our overall goal, a remarkable initiative that emerged from mailing list discussions over much of the past year. In this article, I will discuss how the initiative evolved, what our current plans are, and how you can become involved.

A Brief History

One part of our effort began with an article I wrote for the October 1998 issue of Linux Gazette (www.linuxgazette.com/issue33/york.html). In that article, I outlined the reasons I felt a certification program would help the growth of Linux, and encouraged people to contact me. The response was tremendous, and we immediately established a mailing list to help coordinate our discussions. Along the way, we found other individuals and groups who were also working on certification and tried to find ways to work together on this certification effort.

Meanwhile, a separate effort was underway, coordinated by Evan Leibovitch of the Canadian Linux User's Exchange (CLUE). Starting in April 1998, they established a mailing list focusing on certification and had gone quite far in discussing how a certification program might be implemented. The list grew rapidly and came to include people from around the world. At one point, their list included representatives of three distributions: Caldera, SuSE and Debian.

Last November, Jon “maddog” Hall of Linux International introduced me to Evan. We immediately saw the similarities between our two efforts and explored ways of combining the energy of our two groups After our groups united, we implemented an organizational structure to help work together and proceed along multiple paths to develop our program. As we proceeded, the initiative attracted a highly talented pool of volunteers, many of whom contributed (and continue to contribute) very long hours toward bringing our collective program to reality.

The Need for Certification

Many of us believe a certification program for Linux will occur. The question is whether we want that certification program to come from a particular vendor or have it evolve from within the Linux community.

The people who have come together behind our effort believe there are a number of reasons why certification is necessary. Briefly, we feel certification will do the following:

  • Accelerate corporate adoption of Linux. As more and more people learn about Linux and pursue certification, they will speed up the adoption of Linux within corporate environments.

  • Create industry recognition. Microsoft, Novell, Lotus and others have spent millions of dollars convincing the IT industry of the value of certification. A Linux certification program will allow those who value certification to see that Linux “has emerged as a viable option”.

  • Counter the “no-support” argument. As more candidates earn certification, it becomes a statistic that can be used to indicate how many Linux support professionals are available in the IT industry.

  • Provide a learning path for new users. Often, people who want to learn about Linux do not know where to start. A certification program can provide a path for learning.

  • Provide an organizational mechanism for training centers and publishers who want a path to help educate their clients (students or readers).

  • Expand the marketing of Linux. Every training center and every book that focuses on the path to certification of a product creates more marketing of that product. Until now, marketing budgets have been used to promote other operating systems. We want to see a share of this money promote Linux and recruit new users.

  • Turn students into advocates. If students learn about Linux and how to install, configure and use the operating system, they will become advocates for Linux as they move into the IT industry. People recommend products they know. We need them to know Linux.

  • Provide other means of employment for Linux-skilled individuals. Each person who can be employed writing or teaching about Linux becomes yet another advocate, potentially full-time, for Linux.

  • Recognize capabilities of Linux professionals. A well-done certification program provides a mechanism to recognize the accomplishments of individuals who use Linux.

  • Assist in the hiring process. Most controversially, a certification program can assist a hiring manager in understanding what level of expertise someone has. It cannot be used as the sole criterion and is not a replacement for years of experience. However, many IT managers want to start using Linux and are seeking people knowledgeable in Linux. If the managers don't know Linux, how can they be certain of the type of background someone actually has? A certification program helps managers know that an individual has at least a basic level of Linux knowledge.

A longer description of some of these points can be found in my October 1998 article in Linux Gazette.

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