Getting Certified with the Linux Professional Institute

With the May issue of Linux Journal focusing on education and training, it seemed appropriate to update readers on the status of the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) certification program. For those who are not aware of LPI, we are an independent, nonprofit professional certification organization that evolved out of the Linux community and continues to move ahead with community support.

We specify only the certification standards and NOT how you prepare to meet those standards. We do not approve, endorse or authorize any specific courseware, books or any other means. We are not in the business of selling training. What we are is an organization of Linux professionals setting standards for what knowledge should be known by someone working with Linux. You can read more about LPI on our web site.

As the year 2000 drew to a close, both of our Level 1 exams were available globally through 2,400 VUE testing centers in English, with Japanese exams also available in Japan. Level 1 is targeted at an entry-level to mid-level Linux system engineer who can perform basic administration tasks (you can see the objectives on our site). As I write this article in mid-March 2001, we have had over 1,400 exams taken with over 300 people successfully completing both exams and attaining the certification of LPI Level 1 Certification (abbreviated LPIC1).

Currently, we are in the process of defining Level 2 exam objectives. This is more of a challenge that you might think. If you ask ten senior Linux system administrators what it is they do, and what they think are the important things for someone in their position to know, you'll probably get ten different answers! The trick for us is finding some common items that all can agree upon.

From the very beginning, we have felt that LPI's exams should use industry standard practices (from a field of test development called "psychometrics") to be sure our exams are scientifically and statistically valid, as well as legally defensible. The legal defensibility becomes an issue in the United States where the moment a hiring or promotion decision is made based on a certification, you need to be able to prove that your exam is not based on biased information. We do this through a lengthy process referred to as a "job task analysis".

Essentially, we asked people who are currently working as senior Linux system administrators what exactly it is they do on a daily basis. We assembled a long list of tasks, then set about actually surveying people who are working in that job on a daily basis. Our goal is to gather information from around the world to come up with a solid list of tasks and knowledge areas that identify what a senior Linux system administrator should know to effectively perform his or her job.

As I write this, we are just finishing up the job task analysis and have had the participation of over 500 people in the survey. By the time you read this, the Level 2 objectives should be posted on the LPI web site. We have to thank the many volunteers from around the world who helped us in all aspects of this survey.

From here we will be going on to develop the actual exam questions and then deploy the exams globally. As we enter into the final stages of that deployment, we will also start working on defining and developing our Level 3 exams, to be targeted at very high-level specialists in various aspects of Linux system administration. (If you are interested in assisting with any of our exam development work, please contact Kara Pritchard by e-mail.)

Beyond the exam development, we have had a number of successes in recent months. First, our policy of not getting involved at all in the "education" that prepares a candidate for certification has paid off dramatically. We have always maintained that a candidate should be able to prepare in whatever means they wish. If they want to study on their own, using man pages and HOWTOs, fine. If they want to read a book, there should be several different options. Likewise if they want to attend a training class, they should again have several different options. Linux is all about the freedom of choice, and we believe you should have the freedom to choose how you prepare for certification.

We are now seeing great results from that policy. There are around eight different providers of training courseware, and several hundred training centers teach from the courseware of those providers or from their own materials. There are now more than seven different books focusing on LPI Level 1, including new ones coming out from O'Reilly & Associates and Hungry Minds (formerly IDG Books). Two web-based training programs are available from SGI and Cyberstate University. Finally, there are several sources of sample questions and practice exams. More sources of preparation continue to appear on a daily basis. (For a list, visit our web site.)

Another significant boost for LPI came from the merger in early 2001 of ProsoftTraining.com's Linux System Administrator certification program with LPI's program. ProsoftTraining.com is very widely known for their Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW) program, but for quite some time they had a UNIX System Administrator certification program that evolved into a Linux program. Given the broad range of support behind LPI, ProsoftTraining.com decided to transition their courseware to support LPI's program. As part of the arrangement, people who attained ProsoftTraining.com's Linux certification will receive credit for one of the two Level 1 LPI exams and will receive a discount for the second one. Additionally, ProsoftTraining.com will be making their LPI-related courseware available through their large channel of training partners. We are very pleased to have ProsoftTraining.com's support.

In other news, we continue to build the base of industry support behind the LPI program. Our Advisory Council and list of financial sponsors both continue to grow. IBM recently announced a program for their partners where IBM will reimburse up to $3,000 for training/certification expenses for each partner that gets someone LPI-certified. Additionally, supporters such as Caldera Systems, Linuxcare, SuSE, TurboLinux and VA Linux Systems all indicated they would promote LPI certification through their employment advertisements. Another interesting development has been major corporations purchasing large blocks of exam vouchers to distribute to their employees. One company in Japan recently purchased over 200 vouchers.

While LPI continues to rely on volunteers for much of our operations, we have continued to slowly build staff operations as well. In early 2001, Caldera Systems funded Julie Thornton to work half-time for LPI and half-time for Linux International (LI). She is assisting both organizations with fundraising and marketing. One of her first actions was to coordinate the creation of a new magazine ad for LPI and a web banner now being displayed on many sites across the web. (Please visit our site and put it on your site, too, if you use banners.) She has already been a great asset to LPI, and we look forward to her continued leadership in those vital areas.

Similarly, Wilma Silbermann continues to staff our office and act as our primary point of contact with many other organizations. Her assistance and organizational skills have helped us move along at the pace we have. You may have seen Wilma at some of the trade shows, as she is often helping out with our booths at those events.

Another exciting development has been the creation of international "affiliates" in other parts of the world. Under the strong leadership of Gen Narui, LPI-Japan has attracted support from major Japanese organizations and companies and is doing great work promoting LPI throughout Japan. Likewise, the organization LiVE has been promoting LPI in Germany. Greg Wright and the LPI International Committee have just finished up information for people seeking to create LPI affiliates in other countries, too, so we expect to see many more affiliates created over the months ahead.

So what is next for LPI? Obviously right now we are focused on rolling out the Level 2 exams. As that moves ahead, we'll be looking toward Level 3, and we'll also go back to see if we need to refresh the Level 1 exams.

How can you help? There are many ways that you can become involved. We run several different mailing lists discussing different components of the organization. You are welcome to join in and help us. We need people to help with exam development, the web site, fund-raising, public relations and marketing and a number of other areas. Visit our web site for more information.

One note of special importance. LPI is a nonprofit trying to develop these exams and keep them as inexpensive as possible for Linux professionals. For instance, Level 1 consists of two exams at $100 US each. For certification alone, your cost would be $200, assuming you passed both exams. Whatever you spend on *preparing* for the exams is up to you. But in order to continue developing our program, and to keep our costs as inexpensive as possible, we do need financial sponsors. If your company or you as an individual would be interested in supporting LPI, please see our sponsorship program, and contact Julie Thornton. We need your financial support to be able to keep moving forward as quickly as possible.

Finally, the biggest way you can help is to spread the word about LPI. If you believe certification for Linux should be overseen by a nonprofit out of the Linux community, not by courseware vendors or individual Linux distributions, we need you to tell people about LPI. If you believe individuals should have the freedom to choose how they prepare for exams and not be limited to a particular set of classes or books, we need you to tell people about LPI. Visit our web site, pass along the information and spread the word that you support Linux certification through LPI.

We thank all of you who have helped us so far, and we look forward to working with all of you as we continue to build this Linux certification.

Dan York is one of the cofounders and current President of the Linux Professional Institute. He lives in Ottawa, Canada where he is employed by e-smith, inc., and he may be contacted by e-mail.

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