As Linux continues to muscle its way into the mainstream, Linux professionals are in more demand than ever. A quick search on the venerable job board Dice.com reveals an incredible 6,910 jobs (full-time, temporary, and contract) whose descriptions include some mention of Linux; the first listing to appear on my screen was a call for a Linux engineer, that promised $100K+ and stock options. "Companies just can't hire Linux programmers fast enough," said Melissa London, spokesperson for Linux vendor Red Hat. "People with skills and experience in Linux are becoming more and more valuable."
Demand for Linux
Only a few years ago, Linux was relegated to the backwaters of technology -- it was considered a hobbyist's OS, at best. But all that's changed, and quickly. "Most of the major hardware vendors and software vendors have some sort of Linux division," said London. "They need to hire engineers with that kind of experience."
"You're just seeing the tip of the iceberg," said Evan Leibovitch, director of marketing at the Linux Professional Institute, a grass- roots community effort created in 1998 to grant certification to trained professionals within the Linux community. "I believe as of right now there are about 160 training centers that are targeting LPI certification within their courses, and there's a number of companies working on books that will allow people to do self-study towards LPI."
Certification programs present an excellent way to get up to speed on a particular technology quickly. Most of these are vendor specific, and, in a matter of a few months, you can have MCSE (Microsoft), CNE (Novell), CCNA (Cisco), or several other groups of letters appended to your name. Although Linux isn't produced by any one company, there are still certification options. LPI, for example, offers independent testing to certify individuals for Linux system administration. Although LPI itself does not get involved in the training process, it does work with several different training organizations, and the LPI exams are delivered through Virtual University Enterprises, which has a network of over 2,500 testing centers around the world.
Red Hat, a Linux vendor, offers a training and certification program of its own. The Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) is a performance-based certification program that includes four days of intensive training; the program concludes with a hands-on exam on the fifth day. You can take the training courses at Red Hat facilities in North Carolina, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, and Santa Clara, Calif.; the course is also offered at the thousands of training facilities run by Global Knowledge or IBM Global Services. In addition, Red Hat, in conjunction with distance-learning provider DigitalThink, is currently developing a Web-based curriculum to present the same material in a distance-learning environment.
Certification can certainly be a path to employment, but when it's not accompanied by experience, it's not enough. "It gives [those who take the test] an edge in the sense that it provides a recognized litmus test of Linux skills," said Leibovitch. "But we are the first to recognize that certification is only part of the hiring process. An organization that hires people just based on certification is not going to get the kind of employees they want. Certification is no substitute for good references, experience, or a good resume. It's like a balanced breakfast. The certification is a very useful tool, and it shows at a glance that the person has accomplished and demonstrated a certain minimum level of Linux skills -- but as far as we're concerned, it's only one part of a sensible hiring process."
Before there was formal certification, determining a Linux professional's level of skill was based solely on a "meritocracy," according to London. "A lot of these people had been writing code in their spare time for years, and they've gained a reputation and a name for themselves on the Internet based on their code. It's on that reputation that a lot of these people got hired."
Says London: "If your name is known and you've written some good code that's been incorporated into the Linux operating system already, there's no amount of formal education or training certification that can equal the name you've already built up for yourself."