Linux Certification: What's The Value?

While few jobs now appear to require Linux certification, there may be long-term advantages to earning that piece of paper.
By my count, there are four Linux certification programs. These are Sair Linux and GNU Certification's Linux Certified Professional(LCP); Linux Professional Institute (LPI); Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE); and CompTIA's Linux+. It's too bad that so few jobs require Linux certification.

Oh, there are Linux jobs out there; it's just that they're much more likely to call for a bachelors in computer science than a Linux certification. In my analysis of 500 Linux job postings on Monster.com, the Washington Post job section, HotLinuxJobs, and HotJobs, only 1% of Linux jobs asked for any certification and when they did the most popular was the RHCE.

Instead of certifications, what employers want are people with four year computer science degrees and three years and up experience in Linux.

What are certifications for? Well, according to Evan Leibovitch, president of the Linux Professional Institute, in a recent article in Certification Magazine, have a "single specific purpose. They are intended to separate the people who 'know their stuff' from those who don't."

Most employers think of all certifications, with the exception of Cisco's, as being little more than minimal standards. The most common attitude seems to be, "We still have to train them no matter how many pieces of paper they have."

The LPI also takes a strictly vendor-neutral approach to their certification efforts. The other non-Red Hat certifications also take this approach, but the LPI takes this much more seriously.

Historically, though, that's not been the most successful route. The important certifications in the job market, like the Microsoft Certified Software Engineer (MCSE), Certified Novell Engineer (CNE) and the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), have been vendor driven. Indeed, one major reason these certifications have become so popular is that partnership relationships with each company often required that a reseller or integrator have a certain number of certified staffers on board. Given this, it should come as no surprise that what interest employers do show so far in Linux certification is in the RHCE.

Another problem seems to be that while those in the Linux community tend to know about Linux certification, potential employers don't know them. In a recent CRN survey solution providers are clearly getting the idea that Linux is the next coming thing, but they still see certification as a "key sticking point." And, they also think that, despite the track record, vendor-neutral certification is still the way to go.

With all this, should you still bother to get certified? If you plan to be employed in Linux in the long run, it's probably worth it. Some companies, like IBM are strongly encouraging their partners to get either LPIs or RHCEs. Indeed, IBM will pay its middleware partners up to $3,000 for their Linux certification costs. With companies like Dell, HP, and Oracle also lining up behind Linux, it's likely that they too will eventually support certification and with this support, Linux certification, in turn, will become important for job-seekers.

Walking The Linux Walk

In the short run, for both potential employees and employers, a Linux certification shows that someone is serious about Linux. Lots of people can talk the Linux talk, but can barely walk around a KDE desktop. With a Linux certification, you can at least be sure that the holder is trying to master Linux rather than play with it.

Another current reason to get a RHCE is that, according to a December 2001 salary survey by Certification Magazine is that at shops that do recognize this certification, RHCE holders make 9.6% more salary per year. Now if only more employers paid attention to Linux certifications, there'd be no question about the need to get one.

  • CompTIA's Linux+ -- CompTIA is best known for its technician level certifications like A+, for hardware, and the self-explanatory Network+, Linux+ is another entry-level technician certification. To get a Linux+ certification you must pass a single two-hour test. More than the other certifications, the emphasis is on hardware and system maintenance. In short, it's exactly what you think it would be: a certification for a technician, not an administrator or developer.

    Given the popularity of CompTIA's certifications, the Linux+ would work well for someone who likes getting their hands dirty with the nitty-gritty of hardware, while wanting to add some Linux expertise to their resume.

  • LPI - The oldest and most broadly supported Linux certification is supported by almost anyone who's anyone in Linux-SCO (fomerly Caldera), IBM, SGI, SuSE and VA Linux-except for Red Hat. This three-level certification program is meant for serious Linux administrators. For example, someone with a Linux+ could be expected to know the basic use of sed, someone with an LPI level 1 could be expected to know how to write basic shell scripts with sed.

    Eventually, LPI will be an important certification for anyone looking for a Linux job. For now, it's the certification to get if your job hope is to work with a Linux company or an extremely Linux savvy business, like say an IBM partner using Linux, that's not wedded to Red Hat.

  • RHCE - If an employer knows any Linux certification, it's this one. That's no great surprise; Red Hat is following the tried and true route of bundling their certification with what's easily the most popular business Linux distribution in North America. And, in all fairness, it is a good set of certifications. Fairfield Research conducted an industry-wide survey 3,939 certificated IT professionals in late 2001, and RHCE, the one Linux certification to appear, got top marks.

    An RHCE is meant to say that the holder is a qualified Red Hat Linux system or network administrator. Given our analysis of job ads, employers agree. With Dell and Oracle's support, the RHCE should continue to be an important certification.

  • Sair Linux and GNU Certification - The LCP is another entry-level certification that sits between the Linux+ and LPI's Level One. Like the LPI, it's vendor neutral.

    While Sair has a good reputation, it's hard to see the LCP becoming an important certification. The LPI and RHCE have the industry connections and CompTIA's certifications are well-known in all kinds of business. During the last week, when you tried to click on Sair's Why Certify page, you would have found a 404-error message-page not found. What more need be said?

    So what should you do? If you're looking for a Linux job, there really isn't a pressing reason to get a Linux certification. A RHCE is the most likely to help you, and eventually an LPI or Linux+ could give you a leg up. But, for now, stay in college and get some kind of job where you can work with Linux, a degree and experience will serve you much better than a certification.

    This article was first published on Linux Planet, an internet.com site.






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