July 23, 2004

Linux Training and Certification Guide

Author: Preston St. Pierre

Linux training and certification programs are growing in both popularity and number. How do you evaluate which of the available training programs are right for your organization?

If you're a manager considering Linux training for your staff, you must evaluate your needs and the candidates' current skill levels. If you're considering training for yourself, you may also want to consider your preferred study methods before selecting a training program.

There are five broad categories of Linux training: self-study, courseware/internal training, academic/university, independent, and vendor. Which method is best for your situation depends on questions such as:

  1. How many individuals are you training?
  2. Do the trainees work well independently?
  3. Do the trainees prefer lecture with personal practice, or labs with hands-on practice?
  4. What is your budget?
  5. What is your proposed timeline for completion?
  6. Do you have internal resources for training?

Here are some questions to help you determine the kind of training that might work best for you:

Is the training for a job or an application or product?

This question will help you decide if you need general Linux training or specific application training, and whether you'll get the most value from independent or vendor-based training options. If there is a specific application for which you need Linux training, you should first investigate the application's vendor for appropriate training. However, if you have a general Linux administration training need, you will likely get more from an independent or job-based training program rather than a product vendor.

How much skill do you currently have?

This is a tough question to answer, unless you have completed appropriate skill measurement through proper skills testing. A variety of skills testing programs exist for various IT fields. The Linux-specific ones are listed at the end of this document under Linux Certifications. As a general rule, you can evaluate the skill by experience. You can call a student with six months or less experience a beginner and select a training program that is focused on basic Linux skills (junior or level 1) and low-level certification programs. A student with six months to two years experience can be considered entry-level or junior and can select a training program that promises advanced skills. Someone with four or more years experience with Linux can be considered senior and should select advanced training, either completing advanced certification programs or focusing on advanced application/program training.

Do you need to measure the results of your training through testing or certification?

Many companies depend on testing and certification to determine qualifications. We'll talk about available certification programs in a moment. However, if you need an introduction to a new technology or to develop advanced skills for an individual product, you may not have a need to assess skills, or a validated measurement method may not be available.

How many individuals are you training?

If you are training yourself or only a couple of individuals, any of the training solutions in this documanet are appropriate. Self-study is the most obvious (and affordable) method for an individual, but you can also find relatively inexpensive independent or vendor programs for either yourself, your staff, or even an entire department.

Do you work well independently?

A training method won't work well if the delivery method doesn't match the candidate's study habits. If the trainee is impatient and prefers to work independently, at his own pace, a self-study solution is probably the best choice. Trainees who need a lot of hand-holding should avoid Web-delivered training sessions.

Do you prefer lecture with personal practice, or labs with hands-on practice?

When choosing among group training sessions, the delivery method can make a big difference in the success of your training. A lecture-style with labs for students to practice on their own may be suitable for a student who learns well by applying the concepts to his personal environment. Some less patient students, or students with less experience, may require structured hands-on labs to improve their skills.

What is your budget?

For most companies or individuals, the bottom line for choosing among training solutions is budget. Costs for training vary greatly. Some factors that can affect prices are the experience of the trainer, the length of the training, included materials (documentation or equipment), included examinations, and brand-name value. Naturally, self-study solutions, including books and Web-delivered courses, are the most affordable solutions, with vendor-branded and product training being the most expensive. It is critical that you determine what precise goal you wish to achieve through training to ensure you properly invest your money.

What is your proposed timeline for completion?

Timelines can affect any of your training choices. If you simply want to improve your Linux skills to get a new job (or promotion) in the next year, a weekly public university course may be your best choice. On the other hand, if your company ordered a 100-node cluster that is being delivered in six weeks, you may be forced to pay for an immediate seminar.

Do you have internal resources for training?

Many companies overlook internal resources for training. Senior-level individuals are often prime candidates for training their peers.

Human resources aren't the only helpful training adjunct. If you have classroom space available, many companies will travel to your location to provide training to your staff, often within your own work-environment (as opposed to simulated).

Now that you've considered your situation and your needs, let's consider your training options in more detail.

Self-study

Self-study is often the most affordable training solution, but many people mistakenly considered it to be among the less successful methods. I categorize two solutions as self-study: reading books and Web-based training.

In honor of open source, I must mention that before you reach for your wallet, you should peruse the amazing list of free online documentation that is available. Even some books are available for free in digital form. The most popular free online resource is the Linux Documentation Project.

Books

You can expect to spend between $20 and $100 for a Linux-related book. You can often find books about a specific product or application. If you're looking for general Linux skills, you may want to look through some of the Linux Certification study guides, as they're designed to cover a broad range of topics, and it's a safe bet that they'll cover what you need to learn even if you don't have a certification goal.

For beginner study materials, you might look for materials that map to the CompTIA Linux+ program. For junior to senior study materials, look for materials that map to Linux Professional Institute or Red Hat certification testing. You can find a comprehensive list of these titles by searching your favorite online store. The most popular current titles for these subjects include:

  1. Linux+ Study Guide by Roderick W. Smith $49.99
    Sybex -- January 2004
    ISBN: 0782143121
  2. Linux+ In Depth by John Schitka and Jason W. Eckert $39.99
    Premier Press -- June 2003
    ISBN: 1592000622
  3. Acing the Linux+ Certification Exams by Patrick Regan $88.00
    Pearson Education -- May 2004
    ISBN: 0131121553
  4. LPI Linux Certification in a Nutshell by Jeffrey Dean $39.95
    O'Reilly & Associates -- May 2001 (update coming soon)
    ISBN: 1565927486
  5. LPIC-1 Certification Bible by Angie and Jason Nash $59.99
    John Wiley & Sons -- July 2001
    ISBN: 0764547720
  6. LPIC Exam Cram by Ross Brunson $39.99
    Pearson Education -- August 2004
    ISBN: 0789731274
  7. RHCE Linux Study Guide by Michael Jang, Elizabeth Zinkann $59.99
    Osborne/McGraw-Hill -- March 2004
    ISBN: 0072253657
  8. RHCE Exam Study Guide by Bill McCarty $49.99
    Sybex Books -- December 2000 (update coming Jan 2005)
    ISBN: 0782127932
  9. RHCE Exam Cram 2 by Cory Merritt and Mark Spencer $34.99
    Pearson Education -- October 2004
    ISBN: 0789728761

Online training

For more advanced self-study options, consider Web-based training. A number of universities and companies offer this option; perhaps the most popular is IBM's. Prices and course subjects vary by company. Some of the current ones include:

COMPANY COURSES TOPICS PRICE
Digital Think 8 RHCE (Red Hat) $450
IBM 10 General Linux $925 - $2,995
Live Fire Labs 2 Linux and Unix $99 - $125

Courseware

Many classrooms today use off-the-shelf book titles in their syllabi, but professional programs use custom-developed courseware. Courseware includes more than simple text. Custom exercises, practice exams, and other features make courseware a better solution for training sessions.

Courseware is more expensive than a textbook, and may be an option if you are self-studying, but it is more appropriate for a group training program. You may want to review courseware options if you have a preference for which independent organization you want to use. You may also want to review courseware options if you are planning to organize your own training session, or host an internal training session within your company. Courseware may be found in hard copy or delivered on CD-ROM.

COMPANY COURSES TOPICS PRICE
Abriasoft 6 Linux, MySQL $99 - $279
ALCPress 5 General Linux $395
Bradford Learning 6 LPI, Linux+, Linux $125 - $300
ComputerPrep 11 Linux+, Linux $60 - $150
ElementK 5 Linux, LPI $1,499 (for library)
IT Courseware 4 General Linux $150 - $250
LinuxCertified 4 General Linux $129 - $349

University

As the use of Linux has grown, more universities and colleges have added the subject to their curriculum. Check with local schools to determine availability, as a comprehensive listing would be too long to include in this document.

Independent training companies

Independent training companies include private consultants and training companies that focus on professional technology training or provide training in addition to their technical consulting business. Rates for this kind of training vary greatly depending on what is included in the program. Training can be found for as little as $995 or up to $3,000 or more. Training programs can last from three days to multiple weeks, and can be lectures or hands-on labs. You may need to bring your own equipment, or a laptop may be included in your price.

You can find more than 500 companies world-wide in Dave Whitinger's Lintraining.com portal. You should review that site for a longer listing, but here are some of the prominent programs that exist today:

COMPANY COURSES TOPICS PRICE
Axian 15 Linux, Developer $1,500 - $2,500
Bradford Learning ? General Linux Unknown
CED Solutions 1 LPI $5,995
HOTT 3 LPI/RHCE $1,895 - $2,295
I.D.E.A.L 15 General Topics Unknown
New Horizons Many Many Unknown
The Linux Box 12 General Linux $360/day
Unitek 3 Linux+, LPI $2,195

Vendor training companies

Linux-specific training programs offered by hardware and software vendors are generally either product-specific or certification-based.

COMPANY COURSES TOPICS PRICE
HP 14 Linux $2,275 - $2,675
IBM 28 Many $1,500 - $2,850
Novell Many Linux Varies
Red Hat 10 RHCE/RHCX $1,998 - $2,998
SGI 3 General Linux $2,495

Linux certifications

Certification is the most common method for assessing the skill level of an IT professional. A true evaluation of skill can only be established through a psychometrically developed examination process. This process is most commonly used for job-based certification programs. Another type of certification program found within the IT field is product-based, most commonly used by software vendors.

Job-based

Psychometrics is the science of statistics and psychological measurement. Job-based certification programs use psychometrics to develop a measurement of skills required to fullfill the needs of a specific job. One psychometrician recently gave me a 24-page document that helped to explain the entire process, but I'm going to try and give you an even more simple overview in one paragraph.

During the psychometric development process, a test developer surveys job tasks to define the scope of the job, then develops objectives, which contain the technical details that students must understand to meet the job description. Next, the test developers write exams to measure the skill of candidates. During a beta phase, they test the exams on large pools of likely candidates, and through a demographic survey and cut-score analysis, they select the pool of individuals who qualify as "minimally qualified candidates." These candidates' average score is set as the passing score, and the psychometrician creates a scale (according to the remaining beta results) that measures the remaining scores. The result is a scoring system which you've likely experienced during college-entry exams such as the SAT, instead of the classic letter grade scoring system. Other steps involved, such as item difficulty analysis and form balancing, are beyond scope of this discussion.

When test developers use a psychometric process, scores determine how much better (or worse) than the industry average a candidate is. There are two organizations that currently offer this type of certification measurement: CompTIA's Linux+ and the Linux Professional Institute's LPIC.

Linux+

CompTIA launched its Linux+ program in 2001 and revised it in 2004. Linux+ is an entry-level or beginner's Linux certification. It is intended to measure individuals with less than two years of Linux experience. Linux+ consists of a single exam, which costs $207 and can be taken at either VUE or Prometric testing centers.

LPIC

The Linux Professional Institute is the leading Linux certification organization, and gives more Linux exams than any other organization. LPI is a non-profit organization founded in Canada in 2000. LPI currently offers two programs, LPIC-1 and LPIC-2. LPIC-1 is intended to measure individuals with two to four years of Linux experience, and LPIC-2 measures those with four years or more experience. LPI is currently developing LinuxCore, which will be a low-stakes, Web-delivered exam that focuses on the very basic concepts of Linux. This will be targeted toward non-sysadmins, or people who need to have managing knowledge of Linux and open source. The LPI is also working on several advanced specialty programs. The programs are updated by professionals within the Linux community. LPIC-1 and LPIC-2 consist of two exams per level. Computer-based exams are given at VUE and Prometric testing centers for $100 each. LPI also hosts a number of user group and community trade-show testing events with discounted paper-based exams.

Product-based

The other type of certification is product-based. Exams are created by a product's vendor, establishing proficiency in the use of the product. Some product-based certifications still use some psychometric development practices, but the goals are to measure product proficiency, not job skills. Currently there are three main product-based Linux certification programs, from Novell, Red Hat, and SUSE.

Novell launched a Novell Certified Linux Engineer (CLE) program in 2003. Novell uses the LPIC-1 exams for its current CLE prerequisite. The exam can be taken at either VUE or Prometric testing centers for $125.

Red Hat is the largest product-based Linux certification program. Red Hat launched its Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) Program in 1999. Unlike the other Linux certification exams, Red Hat uses a hands-on exam model. The RHCE consisted of three sections, but the written exam section was dropped in 2004. The remaining sections are hands-on, one for installation and configuration, and the other for maintenance and troubleshooting. Red Hat's exams are given in a lab with each student on his or her own computer. For the installation and configuration exam, the student is given a set of installation CDs and a list of services or environments to install. For the troubleshooting exam, the computer has a select number of "problems" and the student must find and solve them. The scores are generated by properly achieving each installation goal on the list, and successfully locating and correcting an unknown set of problems and errors. The original program was designed for administrators with junior to senior experience. Since November 2002, Red Hat created the RHCT (Technician) for junior administrators, which uses the same two-exam model. There is a new RHCA (Advanced) program, but that is limited to training only. The RHCE Exam is available only at Red Hat offices for $749, and the RHCT is available for $349.

SUSE was acquired by Novell in 2003, but SUSE began to develop its own product-based exam to supplement the LPIC-1 exams prior to the acquisition and is maintaining the program. LPIC-1 exams are a required prerequisite to SUSE's SL-103, released in May 2004, which is the exam required to receive the SUSE Certified Linux Professional (SCLP) certification. An SL-203 exam is scheduled for release in late 2004. The SL-103 plus LPI's Level 2 exams will result in an SCLE (SUSE Certified Linux Expert) certification. These exams will be available at both VUE and Prometric. Price is expected to be $110 per exam.

Summary

The implementation of Linux in corporate environments is growing. You can ensure that your IT professionals are qualified to administer Linux systems through proper evaluation of your training and certification needs. Once you've determined your organization's goals for training, and the candidates best suited for the task, proper training can help make your Linux implementation a success!

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