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The Certification BOFLinux certification was the subject of a somewhat contentious BOF Thursday evening. Two competing organizations were present; each would like to become the dominant certification scheme for Linux engineers. Your luckless author was drafted to be the facilitator of this session; fortunately, nobody attempted to resort to violent arguments.
In one corner was Tobin Maginnis, proprieter of Sair, Inc. (www.linuxcertification.org). Tobin is putting together a commercial certification scheme based on a "Linux knowledge matrix." One axis of this matrix consists of the various components of a Linux system; the other is the uses to which the system is put. Each cell in the matrix thus describes the knowledge needed in a given component for a specific use.
The matrix will be used to define several levels of Linux skills; Tobin sees a possibility of more than half a dozen such levels (currently there are four). There will be four exams to pass to be certified for a specific level. Exams will be proctored through Sylvan, with the first exams being given in mid-July.
This effort seems to be a mostly standalone project. Tobin expressed disappointment at the low number of contributions he has received from the community as a whole. He is hoping that he can get some help by mobilizing Linux user groups, but that doesn't seem to be happening now.
Tobin has backing from the University of Mississippi, and, together, they also seem to be interested in getting into the training business. He claimed even that Senate leader Trent Lott wants to see Linux training and certification based at the University.
In the other corner is the Linux Professional Institute (www.lpi.org), a distributed group organized as a Canada-based nonprofit corporation. The LPI is pushing hard for community involvement in the certification process; for them, a high degree of involvement and buy-in is required for the program to be successful. Their advisory board includes an impressive list of people, including representatives from most distributions and from a number of training organizations, including CompUSA and Executrain.
They envision a three-tier certification scheme, with two examinations for each level. The first level, "Basic system administration," is an entry level certification with a distribution-specific component. They will make a point of requiring knowledge of the distribution's GUI administration tools as part of this. The second level, "experienced system administrator," takes things further and includes things like building kernel and performance tuning. The top level includes a number of specializations: Windows integration, firewalling, etc.
The objectives for the LPI's exams are on their web site; they intend to deploy the actual exams for the first level in July.
Question: what is the business model behind the two projects?
York: The LPI is set up as a nonprofit organization, and intends only to break even. The pricing on the exams will be set as low as possible to make them as accessible as possible to everybody. The LPI does not intend to branch out into other fields, such as training.
Maginnis: He is running a for-profit organization. He sees no point in making the examinations be cheap. The purpose of taking the exam is to gain an economic advantage over others, it is a career investment. Thus people taking these examinations should be willing to pay a significant amount of money for the privilege. Some of the profits will be used to fund open source software development.
A member of the audience asked about providing some sort of less expensive path for those who can not afford even $100 for an examination. He works with people with disabilities and other disadvantages, and would like to see some sort of "level 0.5" certification that would be free (or nearly so).
York: We are already doing everything we can to make the exams as cheap as possible, there is not much more we can do.
Maginnis: Maybe a good task for local Linux users groups would be to find ways to subsidize those who can not afford the price of an examination.
Question: Other certifications, such as the MCSE, have value because they are offered by the relevant manufacturers and have a high degree of respect. How do the programs discussed here intend to gain the same degree of respect?
York: Respect will come as a result of the quality of the work we do. What we have now is promising enough that companies are telling us they would like to make our certification a condition of employment in Linux administration jobs. We just have to meet the expectations we have created, and respect will come.
Maginnis: We will build a greater level of respect by having four examinations per level instead of two. Employers will see that and decide that we have a more serious program.
Question (to the LPI): I see that your examinations will be proctored through VUE. Why are you not using Sylvan, which has a much wider presence?
York (to Maginnis): Well...?
Maginnis: This is a competitive situation, and we have signed a six-month exclusive contract with Sylvan.
York: We had intended to offer the examination through both Sylvan and VUE, but, as you see, we can not do that. VUE has fewer outlets, but has a presence in as many cities as Sylvan. We are looking at other testing services as well. We hope to help to create some competition in the testing arena - now an almost monopoly situation - so as to push down prices and make our exams more affordable.
(End of session)
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