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Choosing the right Linux certification

By   |  February 7, 2005

In this third of a series of articles on training in Linux, I want to look at the certification programs available. In Linux, we are very fortunate to have at least two excellent high quality programs with high credibility. They are the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) from Red Hat, and the Linux Professional Institute\’s LPI programme. There are also two other programmes in existence: SAIR, which seems to have fallen off the radar (not much is happening on their web site, and SAGE, which is a Unix certification.

I am a Linux trainer by profession — I teach Linux. The training I have developed and offer is aligned towards the LPI certification. That doesn\’t mean I am opposed to the Red Hat certification, far from it. I happen to think it\’s an excellent programme. I support the LPI because it fits well with the way I like to do things.

The RHCE certification
Red Hat have earned themselves an excellent reputation with this programme, and they deserve it. Years of work have gone into making it, and ensuring that your result is a true test of your ability. What sets this certification apart from most others is the practical test. You are given machines running Red Hat, and have to perform normal routine administrative actions on these machines. For example, a script is run which breaks something on the machine, perhaps a user\’s account is damaged, or an entry removed from a configuration file. You are told what the symptom is, and are expected to find the error and fix it. The system is designed so that a computer can test your fix and verify it is done correctly.

This is a powerful way to test an admin\’s competence, especially if the system is designed to be consistent from one candidate to the next. I\’ve been assured it is, and I see no reason to doubt that. For obvious reasons, Red Hat aren\’t telling me the fine technical details of how the practical exam is done. There is also a standard theory exam as well.

The main disadvantage of attempting the RHCE certification program from the candidate\’s point of view is the price. Computers, venues, examiners all cost money, and that has to be charged to the customer. You should contact a training centre offering Red Hat courses for current pricing.

The LPI certification
The Linux Professional Institute is a non-profit organisation based in Canada, with the purpose of advancing Linux by improving the competence of Linux professionals. The main way of doing this is by offering exams. The LPI program is very different from most others — it is completely vendor independant. The exam is not developed by any one Linux vendor, and is not geared towards any particular distro. The exam, and the required standards to pass, are developed by the Linux community itself.

This point is truly unique — if a topic is part of the exam, it is there because Linux professionals say it is important to know how that topic works. There isn\’t space here to give a full description of the programme, but every question is tested to breaking point to make sure it is valid.

The LPI currently offers two levels of certification: Level 1 (Junior) and Level 2 (Intermediate), with two exams for each level. Don\’t be put off by that word \”Junior\”, this exam is not easy. If you don\’t know your stuff, you will not pass it. Period. The exams are the conventional type, with multiple choice and \”fill-in-the-blank\” questions.

The LPI programme is also not aligned around any particular training course. There is no such thing as \”The Official LPI Course\” and never will be. The LPI takes the view that how you get your Linux knowledge is up to you. When you think you are up to standard, take the exam, and if you are good enough, you are certified. If not, you get to put in more work and try again. Many training companies offer LPI-aligned training to help you along if you want to take that route.

The LPI exam has the advantage of price — each exam costs $200 (U.S.) and can be done at any one of thousands of Pearson VUE or Thomson Prometric test centres worldwide. Exams are often offered at reduced prices at trade shows or independantly arranged exam events, sometimes as low as R200 to R300 per exam.

Which is better, RHCE or LPI?
This is a silly question and it doesn\’t have a good answer. Neither programme is better than the other. Both have been tested, evaluated, pulled apart and put back together again by teams of people who know what they are doing, making sure that it is a real certificate with real value that you can be proud to have earned.

The test methods used are different, but have the same purpose: testing competence.

Which program should I go for?
That\’s easy. Both. Think about this: Assume you passed the LPI exams and have your certificate. The chances are that you know Linux well are very, very good. Now attempt the Red Hat exams. If you pass those, it\’s almost definite. And bosses know this. It works the same the other way round.

You should ask yourself, which one do I need first? If you work on Red Hat systems, you should tackle the RHCE first. If price is an issue, the LPI is definitely cheaper. If you want a vendor-independant program, you go with the LPI.

Nico van der Walt of Sybase SA helped with the compilation of information on the RHCE.

Alan McKinnon is head trainer at Afribiz. This column will be published every two weeks.

Previous columns in this series:
Why Linux and OSS training?
The real value of certification


One Response to “Choosing the right Linux certification”

  1. RKeyes
    March 9th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Just curious. Is it a bad cert?

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