Interview: Jim Higgins, Caldera Training

What's happening in the Education Department at Caldera Systems? Read on...

In 1985, Jim Higgins joined the Novell Education department as an instructor/course developer and, except for a three-year period as an independent CNI, continued with Novell until 1998. In April 1999, he accepted an invitation to join the Caldera Systems team to further develop their Education Department. I “talked” to him by e-mail on December 23, 1999.

Marjorie: Training seems to be a popular issue in the Linux world today, and no one can doubt its importance. What motivated Caldera to begin giving Linux training?

Jim: We have always focused on “Linux for Business” (now eBusiness), and as we used an indirect distribution model, we had channel partners who needed training on how to use Linux and make money with Linux. We started in September 1998 and had Ford, Boeing, MCI and others who ended up becoming direct end users as well as partners. Business has been booming since.

Marjorie: That's good to hear. How did you go about designing your classes? Deciding what to offer, what to emphasize, etc.

Jim: Both of the first two courses were designed as an introduction to many of the solutions Linux provides. At the very start, Caldera decided to support an independent certification effort instead of creating our own proprietary version of certification, so we helped the key proponents of Linux Professional Institute (LPI) get together and form an organization. With this decision made and the process put in motion, we needed to provide training that would prepare students for the certification examinations. We focused first on teaching about the objectives to be tested by LPI, and then added appropriate materials to round out the courseware and make it instructionally sound. We ended up with three one-week certification preparation courses, and then many additional courses to take care of advanced and specialty issues.

We also focused on the needs our partners had for integration into existing environments, and we ultimately set product training and technical training high on our priority list.

Marjorie: When did Caldera first start offering Linux training classes?

Jim: The first class was taught as a beta in September of 1998.

Marjorie: That was an early start—you must have been one of the first to offer it. How many classes do you offer? Subjects?

Jim: Education is an ever-evolving product and process. By the end of 1999, we will have ten courses completed out of more than 15 currently planned. The completed courses include both of our week-long overview courses entitled:

  • Linux Administration for UNIX Professionals

  • Linux Administration for Network Professionals

Neither of these courses is designed to prepare a student for certification. The first two of the three one-week-long certification preparation courses are also complete:

  • Linux System Administration

  • Linux Network Administration

The third certification preparation course, Linux Enterprise Administration, will be complete by mid-January 2000.

Two elective courses are also complete:

  • The very complete and in-depth five day course entitled Linux TCP/IP Internetworking, for those wanting to know a lot more than the basics about TCP/IP.

  • Since Linux literally runs on shell scripts, a thorough approach to Linux Shell Scripting makes this four-day course essential for complete integration and management.

Four additional one-day specialty courses designed primarily for VARs and system integrators will also be complete. They include the following:

  • Linux TCP/IP Essentials

  • Linux Scripting Essentials

  • Linux and Windows with Samba

  • Linux Solutions for eBusiness

Several additional solutions-based courses are being defined and developed.

Marjorie: Sounds like you have a wide selection of all the essential courses. How often do you give classes? Can schedules be found on your web site?

Jim: Classes are taught nearly every week at our Authorized Linux Education Centers (ALEC) in various locations around the world. In addition, we conduct “Train the Trainer” courses for our Authorized Linux Instructors (ALIs) at our Lindon, Utah education center. These instructors then go out to teach even more classes at their own centers, or under contract for customized training situations. Class schedules for most centers can be accessed through our education web pages at http://www.linuxeducation.com/.

Marjorie: I think on-line training is the wave of the future. Do you offer any sort of training on-line? If not, do you think you will in the future?

Jim: A wide range of alternative learning methods is a part of our overall education strategy, with some of them already in development. On-line subscription services, as well as free access to certain pieces of educational materials, are definitely part of our plans. Beside providing the largest number of Linux training centers worldwide, Caldera Systems recognizes the various needs and training styles required by individuals and is developing a full range of options to help meet those needs. No matter where someone is located or how they like to learn, we feel Caldera Systems is the full-service solutions provider of choice.

Marjorie: What do you consider the most important class you offer? That is, if a person could take only one class, which one should it be?

Jim: Some may consider this a political sidestep, but there is no one way to answer this question. What someone wants and needs to do with the information they learn in class will determine the type and length of class they attend. For example, if you are starting from scratch and your main goal is to become LPIC (Linux Professional Institute Certified) so you can assure others of your abilities, you would take the full series of three certification courses:

  • Linux System Administration

  • Linux Network Administration

  • Linux Enterprise Administration

On the other hand, if you're already well-versed in UNIX or have used Linux in a minor role, you can usually learn what's needed by attending only the second and third certification preparation courses. If you want just an introduction to Linux and why it should be considered for either a part of your overall network or how it can provide the best solutions for your clients, then the Linux Solutions for eBusiness class is the best to attend.

The options continue to depend on your experience and your purposes for learning. You can read a description of each course by visiting http://www.calderasystems.com/partners/alec/courses/.

Marjorie: Well, that certainly makes good sense—sidestep or not. Do classes concentrate on Caldera OpenLinux or do they cover most (major) distributions?

Jim: We provide distribution-neutral courseware for certification preparation training. Actually, there are two questions in one here. In essence, you're asking if we teach on our own platform, “OpenLinux”. The answer is, “Yes, of course we do.” Do we teach about, explain, demonstrate or use any other distributions in our classrooms? The answer again is, “Yes, of course we do.” While Linux is Linux, there are important differences among OpenLinux, TurboLinux and all the rest. System and network administrators are kidding themselves if they think they'll experience only one distribution of Linux. Just like Windows and NetWare, UNIX and Macintoshes co-exist on the same networks, so do various distributions of Linux on the same networks.

Because of this, Caldera Authorized Curriculum provides experiential learning on multiple Linux distributions. As an example, in the Linux Network Administration course, students actually install up to six different Linux distributions as part of the lab exercises. Beside installing them, they must make each distribution run different services such as DHCP, Sendmail, Apache, etc.

Then, in the Linux Enterprise Administration course, that concept is expanded and multiple LANs are created using different Linux distributions. All of the different LANs must then be made to communicate with each other and share those services across a WAN.

As students progress to some of our specialty courses, the classes focus only on Caldera Systems' OpenLinux. This will be true for such courses as those specific to our new eServer product. There is no need to teach about other distributions in situations like this.

Marjorie: Red Hat offers Red Hat Linux training and certifies its students as Red Hat Linux-certified. Does the successful student receive some sort of certificate? What does it say?

Jim: Caldera Systems does support and use certification. This is where LPI and Caldera Systems' ALECs come together. As I said before, multiple distributions will coexist on LANs and WANs around the world. Most of this will take place over the Internet. For all those who find themselves dealing with situations like this, they need a broad coverage with in-depth knowledge and experience about multiple Linux distributions.

LPI certification (LPIC) provides that “proof” of knowledge and experience. The bar for passing has been set very high. This is intentional so that the Linux industry doesn't have to go through the growing pains experienced by Novell and Microsoft when the “paper CNE” syndrome threatened to destroy the value of certification.

Obtaining LPIC status says, “I know my stuff and I've proven it. If you want an employee who can actually do what needs to be done, I'm it. You don't have to pay me for several months while I experiment with theory I learned in class. I've already done it and can do it again, now!”

That's a powerful statement to an IT manager. They can no longer afford the time and money to train someone new. In today's computer environment, LPIC will mean more than any certification available to date, and Caldera Systems proudly supports LPI.

Additionally, ALIs (our own Authorized Linux Instructors) must pass another exam specifically targeted to help us identify those good enough to represent Caldera Systems Education and to teach our clients.

Marjorie: I'd say the cooperation between LPI and Caldera is a win/win situation for everyone. There's a book on Red Hat Linux certification and what you need to study to pass (author Kara Pritchard). Is there a comparable book for your training courses? If not, is one planned in the future?

Jim: Specifically, we do not provide exam cram books to prepare for passing exams. Caldera Systems has not sponsored any such book, but numerous other books from Caldera Press about OpenLinux provide necessary background and detail information to help students and existing administrators. These books are often used as supporting references for those studying on their own. Our own course manuals have been developed from scratch to thoroughly and intelligently provide the best in-class text and still provide an excellent reference for use after class.

While there can be great value in texts such as the one you mentioned, when someone bases their exam-passing ability on such material alone, they are cheating themselves out of the hands-on experience absolutely essential for businesses to continue to be successful today. As easy as Linux can be for most users, in the background is the same depth and complexity existing in every other operating system. And that depth and complexity is what makes Linux so powerful and reliable at the same time.

Our classes are unique and well-sought-after because we spend considerable time with hands-on, practical, solutions-based exercises that books alone cannot duplicate.

Marjorie: Do you offer different levels of classes, i.e., beginner, intermediate, advanced?

Jim: Yes, we do. For certification purposes, there are three different classes, each building on the experience of the one before. If you know Linux somewhat in general, but need to learn more details on Linux shell scripting or TCP/IP, then you can take the longer, more detailed specialty courses to provide the expertise you need. On the other hand, if you need to learn only a little about how scripting works, the one-day course provides a fast, solutions-based experience that you can take back and use immediately.

Marjorie: What are your requirements for entry? Can they be rank beginners who don't know what a keyboard is or do you expect computer literacy?

Jim: There are many qualified, high-quality training companies where individuals can be taught about computers and applications in general. We do not offer classes at that level. However, many of our ALECs offer those classes. Our focus is squarely on making Linux and its associated uses an integral part of a LAN and WAN administrator's expertise. Again, students leave our classes actually knowing how to accomplish the tasks given them.

Marjorie: What are the costs for taking your training classes? Do you have any sort of scholarship program for those who can't afford the entry fees?

Jim: The SRP (suggested retail price) for our five-day courses is $1995 US. Each ALEC has the right to offer our courses at any price they choose. While most centers charge the SRP, they do have promotional ideas from Caldera Systems, and they can implement their own whenever they have reason. Scholarships have not yet been provided by Caldera Systems. There are suggested discounts for students signing up for multiple classes. There are often discounts for companies sending multiple employees registering concurrently. These options are entirely up to the individually owned and operated ALECs.

Marjorie: Anything you would like to add in closing?

Jim: By using my experience to eliminate the mistakes made by other companies entering the technical education market, we can provide even more of the potential benefits from the very start of our program. In designing an entire program with multiple offerings before we ever started pushing our classes and educational products, I believe we're ready to roll out the very best program with the most complete offerings ever available.

Students, no matter which path they take to learning from Caldera Systems, will be better prepared to advance in industry than they would by following any other path. I welcome everyone interested in learning why Linux Education from Caldera Systems and Linux certification through LPI are the two best moves they can make in their lives right now.

Marjorie: I'm sure many will take you up on that. Thank you very much for your time.

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