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Community efforts in Linux certification

LinuxWorld

June 5, 2000
Web posted at: 10:19 a.m. EDT (1419 GMT)


In this story:

Community efforts

Looking ahead

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



(IDG) -- I should be studying. I should be in a classroom. I should be cramming for my exam. But I'm not. I'm sitting here at my computer dutifully writing this column, even though I know that at about this time next week, I'll be in Austin, Texas, taking the first of two Level 1 LPI Linux certification exams. I know I'm not going to do very well, but that's OK; I'm not obligated to humiliate myself by revealing my score. After taking both exams for Level 1, however, I should have a pretty good idea of what is considered an acceptable level of knowledge for a junior Linux system administrator.

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Linux certification is an idea that has been around for a long time and is now coming to fruition. There are two primary entities working to provide Linux professionals with credentials. The first is SAIR; the second is LPI, the Linux Professional Institute. If you are not familiar with Linux certification, I recommend Eileen Cohen's excellent analysis, which appeared in LinuxWorld earlier this year. The URL is given below in the Resources section of this article.

The goals of the two primary groups are very similar. The primary difference is that SAIR is a for-profit corporation offering both testing and training, while LPI is a nonprofit organization focusing exclusively on testing. Wave Technologies, which recently purchased SAIR, is in fact a major provider of IT training.

Both LPI and SAIR seek to advance Linux in the enterprise. Each has impeccable credentials of its own. Some of the brightest lights in the open source world serve on SAIR's advisory board. LPI is simply a part of the Linux community doing something that needs to be done.

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Evan Leibovitch, who has been involved with Unix and Linux for a long time, and who has written about Linux for the past five years, is one of the founders of the LPI. Evan asked recently if I would like to take the first-level LPI exam, currently in beta. I hesitated a day before accepting the offer, for no reason other than fear of failing.

At first I hoped that I would be able to take the test online, but the exams are only given in controlled environments, so that people don't make it an open book test or have proxies take the exam for them. But VUE (Virtual University Enterprises), which administers the certification exams for LPI, has three locations in the Austin area, so finding a nearby testing center was not a problem. I'm booked for 10:30 a.m. on May 31. Think good thoughts for me.

Community efforts

I'm always amazed and a little in awe of what the people in the Linux community take it upon themselves to do. LPI is no exception. Now about 1,000 strong, and less than two years old, it is finishing beta testing on its Level 1 certification program as I type. You should be able to earn your LPI Level 1 certification as early as this summer. Work is already underway on the Level 2 exams, and a third level, for senior administrators, will follow.

Evan has been involved with Unix for many years, and with Linux since 1995. As a journalist, he has written about both, and he currently writes a weekly column on Linux for ZDNet. He told me that he can still remember when he first got hooked by Linux. It was at the November 1995 Unix Expo in New York, following Novell's announcement that it was selling its Unix interests to SCO. Evan said, "I spent most of the rest of the day at the booths of Caldera and Red Hat, which had very tiny booths at that show. And basically that was the start of my getting hooked."

The current LPI organization is blended from two separate mailing lists and a third Linux community certification project, Digital Metrics. Evan was not satisfied with simply writing about Linux and became an active member of the community. He helped to found CLUE, the Canadian Linux Users Exchange, and it was from CLUE's general mailing list that the first roots of the LPI appeared.

Evan said that someone on the list asked what Linux needed to make it into the mainstream. The answer that came up most often was certification, and soon the topic warranted a list of its own. Among the early participants on the list was Dr. Tobin Maginnis, founder and president of SAIR.

In 1998, Dan York wrote an article about certification in the Linux Gazette, and it generated enough interest that a mailing list formed around it as well. Not long afterwards, one of Linux's roving ambassadors, Jon "maddog" Hall, introduced Evan and Dan. The result was a merger of the lists and the formation of LPI.

LPI has made great strides since its formation a year and a half ago. For one thing, members have rethought how LPI would handle the problem of testing for distribution-specific knowledge. Originally, LPI planned to offer two tests, one general and one distribution specific. Candidates would have all had to take the common exam, and then pick the distribution for which they wanted to be tested in part two.

But as LPI members looked more closely at the feedback received from the community about the types of things that a junior, intermediate, and advanced Linux admin should know, they discovered that the places where the distributions were different -- primarily their installation and selection of GUI -- weren't areas that needed to be tested that deeply.

Instead, the people at LPI have designed one section of the second exam to deal with differences between dpkg and RPM package management. Evan said, "It was not reasonable to have an exam that would cover basic admin tasks that didn't deal with package management." But he added that if you know only dpkg and not RPM, or vice versa, you will be able to pass.

If I'm not totally humiliated by the exam, I'll take the second part as well and provide as many details about it as I'm allowed. I can't report on any specific questions, of course, but I'll cover topics, toughness, and the test environment.

Looking ahead

Looking towards the future, LPI plans to have the second level of testing, for the intermediate Linux system administrator, available in less than a year. No timetable has been set for the third-level test, which will be released sometime after the second. Evan also told me that LPI is working closely with the Linux Standard Base (LSB), so that when LSB finalizes its specification, it becomes the foundation for the LPI testing.

Will SAIR and LPI ever merge? I don't believe it would be a bad thing if they did, but I personally don't see how it can happen. A founding principle of LPI was the separation of training and testing, and SAIR is owned by a training firm. So in certification, just like so many other aspects of Linux and the open source community, we are blessed with choice.

My take on all of this is that folks like Evan and Dan and all the others who have contributed time, money, ideas, or effort to LPI are doing all the rest of the Linux community a very great service. The enterprise is eager not only for Linux itself, but for qualified professionals to administer it. The certification of a pool of Linux professionals can only help to speed its deployment.




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RELATED SITES:
LPI's homepage
VUE testing centers
Wave Technologies
Canadian Linux Users Exchange

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