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LPI satisfies demand for vendor-neutral Linux certs

The Linux Professional Institute's (LPI's) Linux certification exams are easily accessible and inexpensive; actually, they're free to those who attended LinuxWorld Conference and Expo last week. But they're not easy. Since 2000, about 40,000 people have taken LPI tests, and only about 10,000 have gotten that cherished certificate. At LinuxWorld, Brampton, Ontario-based LPI touted both the delivery of its 10,000th certificate and its new offering, the SuSE Linux SL 103 certification test. In this interview, LPI president Evan Leibovitch explains that accessibility and low cost are only two of the ways LPI's certifications are different from traditional programs. He also discusses why Linux certification is in demand by corporate employers.

Are you developing new certifications?
Right now, we have a level 1 and level 2 of our System Administration Program. We have a level 3 under development, as well as a new program for the Linux desktop. Does that mean you're seeing a demand from employers for Linux desktop certifications?
The [Linux and business] community has told us that they want a way for people to demonstrate their skills with the desktop Linux and open source applications. They're not talking about a high-level system administrator, but somebody who might be hired to do basic business tasks: making documents, printing and so on. This is definitely in demand. Are you seeing the Linux certification becoming more important as an employment criterion?
Yes. More companies are starting to deploy Linux that do not have Linux specialists in-house. The certification allows non-technical [human resources] people and non-technical contractors to be able to identify people who have reached a certain skill set. Why is it important for LPI to be independent of IT vendors?
People have come to depend too much on the suppliers of technology, on the vendors, for certification. Almost all the certifications that you see in the IT industry now are being supplied either by vendors or by groups of vendors. So the people who are using the technology, or the people who are hiring people, don't have a say in most IT certification programs.

There are very few other areas in society where people will or would tolerate vendors controlling certification. I'll give you a very quick and easy example: How much would you tolerate it if you had to get your driver's license from Ford?

People wouldn't tolerate their doctors getting their degrees from drug companies. Yet, in IT, people tolerate and even approve of having their professional technician trained in only one tool. LPI was founded by members of the Linux community in 1999. How is it different from traditional IT certification companies?
As a nonprofit community body, our mandate is to maximize the amount of Linux professionalism in the IT industry. We don't exist to sell a particular product and that particular distribution. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to be certified, to demonstrate their competence and to make it easier for them to get jobs within the growing amount of Linux that's being used in the corporate world. And part of that accessibility is being able to do exam labs at various events -- like LinuxWorld -- at far lower costs than it takes to take our regular exams by computer. To get a certification, do you have to take more than one exam? And how long does each exam session last?
To pass our level 1 criteria, you need to take two exams. The exams take an hour and a half each. The main goal for us is accessibility. We are not going to spread the process out over six exams and increase the costs for people to take our exam if that's not what's necessary. Could we spread it over six exams? Yeah, but that doesn't accomplish our purpose, which is making Linux professionalism accessible to as many people as possible.

We have determined through our psychometric and other quality-assurance means that those two exams contain the questions necessary to do a proper evaluation.

An LPI certification serves a very real purpose of demonstrating to an employer that the holder has met the qualifications of an international body that has set very high standards. We have a greater than 50% fail rate. So, if someone passes the exams, it really means something. It means that they have done the training, that they have the skills to do what's necessary. For people not at LinuxWorld, how much does each LPI exam cost?
In the U.S., $100. We're doing certification exam labs around the world, and costs will vary from about $20 to $30.

By the way, we will be doing an exam lab at China this year, where we intend to certify 600 people at a single event.

Doesn't LPI's exam-training philosophy also depart from the norm?
One of the major things that separates LPI from a conventional IT certification is that we are not bound to a specific training center, a specific vendor. There's no official LPI training center. We do approvals, and we have programs where we work with the training industry.

But, when somebody walks in to take our exam, we don't care how they prepared. They could have taken a course, they could have crawled under a rock for a month with a Linux book. Our main goal as LPI is not to sell products. Our main goal as LPI is not to sell training. Our main goal is to certify and help identify a pool of skilled Linux talents. So, LPI isn't following the typical IT certification model. Is there a model it emulates?
LPI is a grass-roots, peer-review kind of program that shares more in common with a bar exam system than with a conventional IT program. We're trying to take the same kind of approach that happens in bar exams and medical associations and engineering societies, where the actual practitioners -- not the suppliers -- are determining the qualifications and the nature of the certification. Can you offer any tips for preparing? Might there be people who could just walk in, take and pass the exam, without studying exam-specific materials?
There's an elaborate section of LPI's site that describes the material covered. They could decide just by looking at that that they may have the skills necessary to walk in and take an exam.

Beyond that, we also have pointers to books and training centers that can offer appropriate LPI-targeted training.

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