Building a Linux Certification Program

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

After recognizing the need, the people who joined our mailing lists rapidly came to a consensus on a number of issues, including:

  • The cost of attaining Linux certification should be as low as possible. Costs of exams should be targeted to cover delivery of the exam, with perhaps a slight portion to help offset development of future exams.

  • The mechanism we develop for delivering Linux certification must be global in scale. People in any nation must be able to take exams toward certification.

  • The Linux certification program must be distribution-neutral and vendor-neutral. It should not be seen as biased toward any one Linux distribution, nor toward any vendor of education or other services.

Through our program development, we decided we would handle distribution differences through a distribution-specific exam. We would create a separate exam for each distribution and cover the items unique to that distribution, such as installation, graphical administration tools and file locations.

Exam Structure

In order to be global and able to deploy on a massive scale, we also decided that for at least the first levels, we would need to use standardized computer-based testing systems such as those offered by VUE and Sylvan Prometric. We debated at length about utilizing web-based testing, but could not at this time determine any mechanism for preventing fraud. As long as someone could have a friend nearby providing answers (or taking the exam for them), the potential for abuse is too high. We agreed to continue monitoring technologies in the hope that someday a solution might be found.

In the meantime, we will be working with the computer-based testing vendors to make our exams available throughout the world. We are also considering other forms of proctored testing in locations where testing centers are readily available. For the highest level of our certification program, we are still debating whether to have some form of “hands-on” testing. That discussion and decision is still ongoing.

Throughout our discussions, we also realized we wanted our program to focus only on certifying individuals. We want multiple paths to certification. One person might download our exam objectives off the Web, work with their system at home, then go and take the exam, paying only the minimal cost of the exam. On the other hand, a candidate could also spend a great deal of money on instructor-led classes to prepare for certification. Someone else could also go to the bookstore and buy books that would prepare them for certification. Computer-based classes and web sites will certainly be options as well. We decided that our effort would be spent on certification, leaving the education of candidates to training centers, publishers and others interested in providing such services.

Our program is a community effort open to all who want to be part of the process. For that reason, we continue to use open, public mailing lists for the majority of our work.

Finally, a common refrain has been that we do not want our program to be as weak as many perceive other IT certification programs to be. We want to be sure this program is done right.

Our Program

While developing our program, Evan Leibovitch brought in much of the work developed through the CLUE mailing list. The mailing lists discussed and debated the program at length. Eventually, a Program Committee led by Tom Peters took over responsibility and fleshed out more of the details.

Through our program, certification will eventually be available at three levels, though the names of these levels have not yet been finalized at the time of writing (March 1999). The exams will be developed gradually, with the required exams for the first level being created before the second level and so on. In the short term, this will allow participants to complete lower-level certification while more-advanced exams are under development.

Content for the exams is presently under active development, although by the time this article is published, much of the first level of exams should be nearing completion. Although the exact content and objectives for each exam are still under development, the exam structure (we chose to label individual tests as “T#”) is shown in the sidebar “Exam Structure”.

Our intention is to create a separate T2 exam for most major distributions. The list of T5 exams is merely a set of examples of the kind of specialized exams which may be produced at this level; the exact list has not yet been determined.

As we have currently defined the program, candidates will be required to pass certain tests to reach the various levels of certification:

  • To achieve Level 1, an applicant must complete T1 and one or more of the T2 exams.

  • To achieve Level 2, an applicant must complete Level 1, as well as exams T3 and T4.

  • To achieve Level 3, an applicant must complete Level 2, as well as any two of the T5 exams.

The choice of T2 and T5 exams completed will be indicated on the participant's certificate as endorsements.