Linux Certification — Not Just For Hackers With Nothing Better To Do

By Mr. Poet

As a Linux advocate and consultant, I have been watching the
Linux certification effort very closely. Recently, I visited SAIR’s
Web site and
participated in their practice certification test.

Here are two example questions:

1.1a. In the early days of computing, users and
computer manufacturers shared source code (free software) because:

1.1c. The term free software means:

These questions are important as they provide the basis for why
SAIR’s version of Linux certification is not going in the right

The point of certification in any field is to provide
individuals and companies a way to show they are competent in a
particular field of expertise. This holds true with technical
certification such as the CNE or MCSE and industry certifications
such as the ISO-9000 series.

Linux certification should provide a way for individuals who are
competent in Linux to show that they have the technical expertise
to perform the required operations as set forth in the
certification. Linux certification should not be an “Introduction
to UNIX” class. The generics of what most commands do and the
history of UNIX is irrelevant. Questions such as these do not test
how one can solve problems on Linux.

Linux is a thinking man’s operating system. It was created in
the spirit of UNIX and maintains the same look and feel. However,
since it was created in the spirit of UNIX, it is also a very broad
reaching operating system. It will do many things that other
operating systems can’t even think of doing. All levels of
certification on Linux should require conceptual thinking on how to
solve problems.

On the MCP exam 70-067 for Windows NT Server, you are asked
specific questions about how one would go about solving problems
when using Windows NT.

A sample question might be:

You have Two Windows NT Servers, one is a PDC and one
is a BDC, you must take down the PDC for maintenance. Once you take
down the PDC, the BDC automatically promotes itself to a PDC to
handle the missing operations. When you bring the original PDC back
online, it is not recognized as the PDC. What must you

This is a fair and extremely relevant question in the NT

These types of questions are prevalent throughout the exam. They
measure not only your knowledge but your ability to cope with more
significant issues than what does “dir /p/w/on” do? It is already
assumed that you know the basic commands and their meaning because
you are dealing with a server operating system. It is recognized
that whether or not you know NT’s historical ties to IBM’s OS/2
operating system is not relevant.

Linux tests should contain similar questions. If we are testing
basic administration, questions such as “How do you add a user?” or
“How do you add an email alias” should be included. Items such as,
“What does ls -l do?” should not be included; they should be
assumed already known.

Linux certification should not contain questions about
proprietary configuration utilities. System administration software
such as Linuxconf or COAS are a luxury and may not be installed or
functional on a given version of Linux. This has been proven time
and again in the industry. An example would be walking into a
Solaris based operation and typing “gzip”. There is an excellent
chance that the GNU tools will not be installed. Therefore, you
will not see Sun ask questions on their administration exam about
GNU tools.

Certification must be kept to the base level. For example, use
of the adduser command or how to edit the /etc/aliases command and
execute newaliases.

A more advanced administration question might be:

Your Linux 2.2 system has crashed due to a bad hard
drive. You know that the /dev/sda4 file system is still intact and
you need to retrieve the data from that file system. However, your
system will no longer boot. What can you do?

  • Option 1
  • Option 2
  • Option 3

Even as a workstation, Linux is a server operating system.
Certification needs to test for these skills, so that companies
will understand that certified Linux professionals are highly
qualified and competent.

If we are going to compete in the real world and continue to
grow linux as a marketable OS, we must not accept a certification
process that takes us lightly — that treats us as just hackers who
have nothing better to do.

Mr. Poet is the webmaster of Linuxports.com and maintainer of
several of the Linux
Documentation Project HOWTOs
, including the Consultants,
Commercial, VAR, WWW and Intranet HOWTOs. He is currently a
Microsoft Certified Professional for Windows NT Server and a Citrix
Certified Administrator.