May 13, 2004

Accelerated Linux training

Author: Preston St. Pierre

Many companies have come to favor specialized measurable education for both their employees and those they look to hire, as witness the large number of "certified" acronyms nowadays -- CCNA, MCSE, RHCE, SCSE, LPIC, ICSA. A few years ago, you couldn't find a Linux certification program anywhere. Today, with Linux showing up all over the enterprise, training and certification programs are showing up as well. In fact, three of the six acronyms above refer to Linux certifications, not the Cisco or Microsoft certifications we're used to hearing about.

I spent seven days last month at a Linux Training Camp, a "boot camp" approach to Linux training and certification offered by The Training Camp. When I was first asked to review the program, I must admit I was hesitant. Having used Linux for about a decade, I was well aware of the grassroots education many Linux users obtain. An accelerated training program that could give someone the knowledge necessary to be a junior Linux system administrator in just seven days sounded like a gimmick. My preconceived ideas ranged from an MCSE instructor explaining to me what a command line was to the definition of a junior system administrator consisting of booting, logging in, and running Gnumeric.

There are no prerequisites necessary to attend the class, but the organizers send links to some preliminary information on Linux for you to review in advance. My camp consisted of fourteen attendees, one of the larger class sizes. We were of varied degrees of experience, mostly from the IT industry, and most fairly new to Linux. Some had installed it at home, others were just told by their employers it was time to learn it.

According to The Training Camp, "The goal of this seven-day accelerated program for Linux Professional Institute Certification (LPIC) Level 1 is to provide professionals with the basic hardware, software, and networking skills necessary to function in an entry level information technology position." Two exam vouchers are included in the cost of the camp. By the end of the course, students should have the required skillsets to take the two LPIC Level 1 exams required for certification, namely 101 and 102. Optionally, the CompTIA Linux+ exam is available for those either not ready to take LPIC 102 or who would like to acquire the Linux+ certification in addition to the LPIC.

This particular camp was held in Bushkill, Penn., at the Fernwood Hotel and Resort. The training facilities and villas where we stayed were well-suited for studying and quiet relaxation, but the lack of cell phone coverage coupled with the lack of Internet connectivity in the villas was an inconvenience for those of us who had responsibilities outside of the classroom.

The fact that this was indeed a boot camp was a wake-up call to many of the attendees. Starting at 9am with the last session ending around 8:30pm, the days were full. The structure of the camp had three parts: instruction and lecture, lab and hands-on experience, and review. From roughly 9 to 1 instructors presented and explained new material. From 2 to 5 attendees spent their time working through labs and hands-on exercises. From 7 to around 8 or 8:30 instructors led a review and question-and-answer session. Many spent the remaining time in the evening studying.

Our instructor was Ross Brunson, a teacher with experience in Linux, IT, and education. His sessions were organized, outlined, and enhanced by real-world examples and explanation. We were given the outlines and other course material so we could make notes and complete the labs.

Given the lack of Linux experience in the group, I was curious to see how my fellow students were handling the volume of new material in such a short amount of time. To my surprise, most were catching on quickly. "At first it was a tad overwhelming, but Ross was able to break down things for anyone in class to understand, which was key," said Scott Young, a network support specialist from Wisconsin.

The material covered was preparatory for the exam topics:

  • Exam 101
    • Hardware and Architecture
    • Linux Installation and Package Management
    • GNU and Unix Commands
    • Devices, Filesystems, and FHS
    • X Window System
  • Exam 102
    • Administrative Tasks
    • Networking Fundamentals
    • Network Services
    • Security
    • Kernel
    • Boot, Initialization and Runlevels
    • Printing
    • Documentation
    • Shells, Scripting, Programming, Compiling

That's a fairly comprehensive set of skills that's required to be proficient as a junior Linux system administrator.

The labs were focused on allowing students to gain some experience with the material before being tested on it. Each student had his own machine and software to work with. The labs allowed those with no hands-on experience to see what Linux was really like and learn how to apply what they were learning.

The most important thing to realize when attending The Training Camp's LPIC certification course is that it really is a boot camp. You need to be prepared to eat and sleep Linux for seven days. Although there are no prerequisites, students should familiarize themselves with Linux before attending. Browse the Web, read up on Linux, install it, acquire a frame of reference. Being able to learn and retain this much information in this short of a timeframe is a skill. It's important to put yourself in that mindset when attending.

Linux training and certification will continue to grow, both in the programs offered and in the popularity in the enterprise. LPIC certification is a comprehensive, non-distribution-specific way of proving to employers that you indeed have the Linux skills they're after. If you need these skills and are willing to immerse yourself into Linux for a week to obtain them, then I suggest attending one of The Training Camp's LPIC courses. If the exam pass rate in the class I was in is any indication, you'll be glad you did.

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