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Linux Foundation's certification sets new benchmark for admins

Simon Phipps | Sept. 1, 2014
Do open source projects need formal certification? Two notable open source foundations think they do

At LinuxCon last week, the Linux Foundation announced a new certification scheme for Linux professionals to complement their existing training activities. The Linux Foundation Certification Program offers a peer-verified certification for both early-career and engineer-level systems administrators for a fee of $300.

The process involves a real-time skill test administered via a remote-access virtual machine running one of several Linux distributions. To ensure the rules are followed, a human proctor watches the test via screen-sharing and video camera using your own computer at a location of your choice. The certification tests real-world skills for both sys admins and more senior engineers at the command line and in configuration files.

This remote testing means the certification can be obtained by anyone, anywhere. That's quite different from other Linux certifications such as those offered by vendors like Red Hat or by the independent Linux Professional Institute, which require in-person attendance at an examination, with written answers and multiple-choice tests.

The real-time proficiency test also means the new certification is likely to be much more relevant to employers, who want a skilled system administrator ready to hit the ground running rather than someone with book learning and examination technique. The test can currently be taken with one of three Linux distributions -- CentOS, OpenSuse, or Ubuntu -- although there are plans to provide an option for distributions not well covered in the certification market today.

Are these certs necessary?
It sounds interesting, but I had questions about the relevance of certification to an open source community. Other certification schemes are part of a wider marketing program for commercial products, both locking those certified into a vendor and out of competing products. Open source projects are not products and (unless they have been rigged by a vendor) defeat lock-in and sustain supplier choice. How does certification fit in?

The Linux Foundation responded positively to my enquiries at first, but the answers later dried up. Instead, I contacted another open source nonprofit with a similar certification scheme to get its perspective both of the Linux Foundation announcement and the overall concept of certification in the open source community.

The Document Foundation (TDF) now hosts two significant open source projects: the LibreOfficecross-platform productivity suite and the Document Liberation project, which develops import filters used across a range of open source projects to add compatibility with a wide range of proprietary file formats.

Back in 2012, TDF launched a certification scheme for LibreOffice migration professionals. Italo Vignoli, one of the founders of TDF, was its architect, as well as a LinuxCon attendee, and he was happy to discuss the topic with me. I asked him whether there were similarities between the TDF approach and the Linux Foundation approach:


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