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11/5/2004
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Certification: Is It Right For An Open-Source World?

'We want the expertise in open source to be internal to the company,' says Dutile. That's why KeyCorp covers certification costs for employees via Red Hat or the Linux Professional Institute.

Is it worth it to get certified as a Linux professional or engineer? The answer depends on who you are and who you're asking.

"Certification means the same thing in Linux and open source that it means in Microsoft--it doesn't mean you know your stuff," says Faber Fedor, an open-source consultant with services firm LinuxNJ.com Inc. "You're competent enough, but just because you have a driver's license doesn't mean you're ready for the Indy 500."

Certification is unnecessary in the open-source world, says Colin Bodell, senior VP of product development for VA Software Corp., which maintains SourceForge.net as a repository for open-source code. "The programmer's work is on display--it either works or it doesn't."

Others see value in certification. Linux newbies in particular may benefit more from becoming certified than established professionals, says Matt Asay, director of Novell's Linux business office, because they haven't yet built reputations in the open-source community. "For someone without rock-star status on the Linux kernel, Linux certification is a shortcut to helping an employer know their level of competence," Asay says. "Not everyone's entire portfolio is online and easy to recognize."

Linux certification is available through vendors such as Novell and Red Hat Inc., which certify individuals on their own products. Since late March, Novell has offered its Certified Linux Engineer program, which tests proficiencies with management tools and directory technology that run on Linux, and its Certified Linux Programmer programs, which tests the ability to install Linux servers in a network environment, managing users and groups, and troubleshooting the vendor's SuSE Linux file system. More than 18,400 of 33,400 IT pros have passed the Red Hat Certified Engineer and Certified Technician exams.

The Linux Professional Institute, a Canadian nonprofit business, offers two levels of certification and is considering adding a third. To achieve either junior- or intermediate-level certification, candidates must pass two exams, which cost $100 each. Since first offering certification in 2000, the institute has administered about 75,000 exams, with about half of those tested getting certified.

Financial-services provider KeyCorp, which is retraining many of its 1,400 IT employees on Linux, covers the cost for IT employees seeking certification either through the Linux Professional Institute or Red Hat. Certification can cost as much as $3,500 for a Red Hat Certified Engineer and as much as $2,500 for a Red Hat Certified Technician, for employees with some experience working with Unix, says Bob Dutile, executive VP of Key Technology Services, the technology division of KeyCorp.

"We want the expertise in open source to be internal to the company," Dutile says. Adoption would be limited if KeyCorp couldn't train staff on Linux and some of the more advanced open-source software like Apache, he says.

Columbia Public Schools of Missouri pays for Linux certification as a way of showing good faith in its IT workers, says assistant director of network services Gloria Stephenson. "We're investing in their careers."

Return to main story, In Search Of Open-Source Experts

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