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Editor's Note: Training à la Carte

Dec 09, 2005, 23:30 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

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By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

When my daughters were younger, I could usually get away with saying outrageous answers when I would explain things (if my wife wasn't around). "How do you know that, Daddy?" Because, I would reply equally outrageously, "I know everything." I think that stage ended when they each turned three and realized that Daddy, like everyone else, makes mistakes and didn't know everything.

Now, as my oldest approaches the teen years, I'm lucky to get her to admit I know anything at all.

One of the problems that I have with Linux certifications is the all-or-nothing approach they seem to take. Both the Linux Professional Institute and Red Hat's certs essentially train you up to Know All That is Linux--but it's a broad range of topics and not a lot of depth is given to each one. So, the end result is we end up with technicians who know a little about a lot: Jacks of All Trades.

I'll freely admit this is a rampant overgeneralization: I acknowledge that there are surely topics that don't have a lot of depth to them to begin with and that some people are going to "get" some topics better than others. But in order to receive a certification, you have to learn many (if not all) of the available topics. There's no such option to be certified in "just" messaging servers, or firewalls and security.

This is actually something that I would like to see changed: I think there would be a lot more "cross-over" consultant and reseller support if getting good, solid Linux training didn't take so long, cost as much, and only covered the areas that those consultants wanted to focus in.

In the past, specialization was something that came with experience. Security experts probably got their started as generalists, and gravitated towards security as their experience and opportunities took them towards this specialization. Certification programs seem to want to create a whole slew of generalists and for brand-new, little-to-no experience IT workers, I think this is a solid approach.

But this approach tends to act as a barrier for potential Linux IT workers who are already experienced in IT--albeit in other areas. They have years of work, hours of training, and probably a lot of personal investment in the software and skill sets they currently work with. Now we're telling them they have to go back to square one and become a generalist again? Seems pretty detrimental to me.

Instead, have training programs that focus on specific knowledge areas or applications. If I am an Exchange administrator, I probably don't want to get an RHCE cert. Just get me training in OpenXchange. And the Evolution client. Then call me certified in Linux messaging (or somesuch).

That was why I was really pleased to see Red Hat's new program that was announced this week. Starting in early next year, Red Hat will offer a new certification and product support programs focused on three open-source application stacks: Web application stack, Java Web application stack, and Enterprise Java stack. While these stacks are a bit broader than what I had in mind, this is definitely a step in the right direction. Now IT workers interested in coming to Linux and open source technology will be more able to find a specialized fit to suit their needs.

I firmly believe that this notion can and should be applied to tighter specializations. It will let veteran IT workers pick and choose which Linux training they want to receive without taking the all-or-nothing approach. To be sure, there will be veterans who, out of a sense of completion, will want to take the whole big-cert approach--just as there will be newbie IT workers who will want to skip the generalist stage and go for what interests them.

Open source, we have all maintained, is about choice. So let's start giving more choices in the realm of certification and training.