Update on LPI Certification for Linux Professionals

by Dan York

Back in the July 1999 issue of Linux Journal, I introduced the community project known as the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) and its efforts to establish a program for certification of individual expertise with the Linux operating system. Since that time, a great deal of activity has occurred, and it is time to provide an update on what has been going on.

A Brief Review

For those of you who have not followed the growth of LPI, the project started in the fall of 1998 from a series of mailing lists where people were discussing what a certification program for professionals might look like for Linux. It was agreed that a solid and well-respected certification program would help increase the pool of people who could support Linux and accelerate the corporate adoption of Linux.

Throughout early 1999, the lists discussed the matter and emerged with a series of “consensus points” about how a program should be constructed. These points included:

  • The cost of attaining Linux certification should be as minimal as possible.

  • The certification program should be global and scalable to accommodate as many people as possible who want certification.

  • The program should be distribution-neutral and vendor-neutral.

As part of the development, it also became clear that LPI would specify only the certification standards, and not the education one undertakes to prepare for certification. We would publish the exam objectives on our web site, but leave the education up to the individual and third parties. If someone simply wanted to prepare on their own, they could. Alternatively, they could buy books, take training classes at a training vendor or participate in on-line or computer-based learning.

We also undertook to pursue the development of our program using as open a process as possible, by using public mailing lists, our web site and any other means to involve and include many more people.

In March 1999, we created an Advisory Council (www.lpi.org/ac.html) that included individuals and companies within the Linux community who were interested in helping us move the project forward. Shortly afterward, we created a sponsorship program to help provide the financing.

Later in the spring, we performed an extensive job-task analysis that involved over 1000 people completing surveys and helped us extract the data to back up the choices we made for exam objectives.

By the middle of 1999, we had solid funding in place, thanks in large part to our initial Platinum Sponsors of Caldera Systems, IBM, Linuxcare and SuSE. We had also outlined a program consisting of three levels of certification, with multiple exams at each level.

Progress Through 1999

Throughout the summer and fall of 1999, LPI activity took place on a number of levels.

Program: as we developed the program further, we found our first exam was going to be too long for most people, so we wound up dividing it into two exams called “T1a” and “T1b” and making the T2 distribution-specific exams a bit shorter. A candidate now must take both T1a and T1b, as well as one of the T2 exams.

Exams: with our objectives clearly defined and available on our web site, we started soliciting test questions from the larger Linux community. Over 60 people participated in submitting questions, which were then reviewed by a team of 20 reviewers before being compiled into the format for test deployment. By November, our first exam was ready to go, and we formalized our contract with VUE (http://www.vue.com/) to deliver the exams at their 1700 test centers worldwide. Active development continued on the other exams.

Publicity: as we started to increase our development activities, we also worked to increase our publicity. We began to generate news releases more actively and maintain a presence at Linux-related trade shows and conferences. We had booths at the Linux Business Expo, the Atlanta Linux Showcase, Oracle OpenWorld, the Bazaar and other events. We also unveiled our new logo and created buttons as giveaways. Many volunteers joined in and helped us out tremendously.

Web Site: as part of our publicity, we assembled a team of people to help redo our web site, and came out with a new design in the fall. Development continues with more features added all the time.

Financial Sponsors: the fall of 1999 also brought us SGI and TurboLinux as Platinum Sponsors, as well as Wave Technologies as a Gold Sponsor and a series of other companies coming in at our Silver, Bronze and Contributor levels (see www.lpi.org/sponsors.html for a complete list). More companies have committed to joining, and we are continuing to recruit even more.

Advisory Council: by the end of 1999, our Advisory Council was around fifty members, including representatives of all major distributions, prominent Linux and IT service companies, publishers, training vendors and many other companies. The Council had three face-to-face meetings in conjunction with conferences, and started to become active on a number of issues supporting LPI.

Other Certification Programs: in 1999, two other companies started up Linux certification programs, but then decided to merge their program with that of LPI. DigitalMetrics had developed a web-based certification program, but decided they wanted to avoid fragmentation of the market and join. They contributed test questions and helped in a number of other ways. Likewise, ProsoftTraining.com developed courseware that led to a certification exam. They, too, agreed to merge their efforts with those of LPI and began working with us to make that happen.

Training: while we were working on matters within LPI, our partners and supporters were out developing education materials to prepare for LPI exams. Caldera Systems, Linuxcare and SGI all developed comprehensive training programs to teach people through instructor-led classroom courses. Wave Technologies started developing courseware to be sold to other training companies. Several publishers, especially Macmillan USA, publicly announced upcoming books to prepare individuals for LPI certification. The Linux Training Resources web site (http://www.linuxtraining.org/) I maintain grew to over 100 training companies offering Linux training, many of them preparing for LPI certification. It was clear the necessary education people would be available.

Throughout, a hard-core group of volunteers has stuck with the project and spent incredible amounts of time bringing the program to reality.

Moving Forward

As I write this (December 1999), the year is drawing to a close, and a new certification program is being rolled out early in 2000. Although our first exam was completed in November, it has taken a while for the exam to be deployed, and we expect it to be out globally in January 2000. The second exam, T1b, should be out shortly after that, with the T2 exams coming during February and March. By the time you read this, all the exams of LPI Level 1 should be out and people will be getting certified.

There will, however, be much more to do. Throughout the early part of 2000, we will be defining LPI Level 2 and undertaking the surveys and other steps necessary to define the objectives and develop the actual exams. We will be doing a great deal of publicity to get the word out in every way, shape and form possible. We may even be thinking about Level 3 by April.

It will be an exciting time, and there will be many opportunities to become involved. We will need the help of many people to complete everything we wish to do. Please visit our web site to learn more about how you can become certified and help us move the program forward.

We are very thankful to the hundreds of people who have helped us so far, and we look forward to working with many more as the program progresses. Thank you all for your support!

Dan York is the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Linux Professional Institute and can be contacted at dan@lpi.org.
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