Will a Linux Certification Help You Get a Linux Job?

Saturday Dec 6th 2008 by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
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There is a wide range of Linux certifications. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols looks for the answer to the question, How much help are they for turning your Linux expertise into a Linux job?

Will a Linux certification help you get a Linux job? The answer is: "Probably."

There are a host of Linux certifications. They range from the high-end Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) and Novell's Novell Linux Certified Engineer (NLCE ) to ones that are appropriate for entry-level Linux system managers, such as the Linux Professional Institute's entry-level LPIC-1. Each are meant to show that those who have them are Linux professionals of one level or another. How much help are they though when it comes from turning your Linux expertise into a Linux job?

David Stokes, a certification manager for Sun's MySQL division, said, "I like to see the LPI or Red Hat certs but that is not a requirement. You do need to find out how many Linux/Unix systems they setup, managed, or have used to eliminate the home hobby-level candidate. Next find out how long, what level of experience, and what type of problems they have solved. It also helps if they have experience beyond the Linux sphere."

So, that's one vote for Linux certifications in general, but, on the other hand, Nicholas Accada, a Linux administrator and Network Infrastructure Specialist at Nokia thinks that "The only certificate that I consider a plus is Red Hat, the others are mostly noise." Accada, who doesn't have a certification adds, "It depends on the hiring manager, but managers who know Linux, always look beyond the certifications, they prefer the 'what can you do' approach."

Accada's not the only one who focuses on the RHCE and its related certification, the Red Hat Certified Administrator (RHCA). Jim Wildman, a senior Unix/Linux engineer at JPMorgan Chase, said. "In the Linux space, the only cert that I care about is the RHCE/RHCA. Even with those, I'm going to test and probe the candidate pretty hard to see if he actually passed the test legitimately. I'm much more interested in what a candidate can do, then what tests he has passed."

The hiring manager, or HR (human-resources) department, is often where a certification can count the most. You may be able to diagnose network and hosting problems with Nagios, the open-source network and system monitoring program, in your sleep, but if you don't have the right alphabet soup on your resume you may never get a chance to show your stuff.

HR departments often serve as sieves. Their job is to keep would-be employees without the right skills from taking up a manager's time. To do that efficiently, they rely on quick and easy ways of determining if you have the right skill sets. That's where certifications come in.

The manager may be impressed by the work you've done on Linux kernel programming, but if HR never sends you to him because they're looking for an LPI, RHCE or NLCE, you're out of luck. There's no use griping about this. It's simply HR performing its job.

Looking at the broader picture, Thomas Mathiesen, president of the Dutch Linux consulting firm LinProfs said, "My experience is that the market's often looking for RHCE's, and that LPI helps if someone does not have a lot of experience."

Mathiesen added, "When we hire people, it's a plus if the candidate has a certification, but it's not required. In a decision between candidates, I value experience and knowledge over a certification. I always look for the drive of using open-source and Linux. As I am quite religious about Linux myself, I consider this to be a plus for a candidate. (s)he will also need to have some kind of logical understanding and experience with Unix and Linux. Candidates does not have to memorize man-pages, but I expect people to know how to find docs which can help them."

"So, to sum up; Mathiesen concludes, "It's important that an employee easily can get a certification, as it sells better to our customers. But non-certified personnel can be better than certified personnel."

Brent Marinaccio, director of open-source recruiting at HotLinuxJobs also agrees with the rest when it comes to the importance of the RHCE over other certifications. "Throughout the years, we have seen an overwhelming interest in the RHCE over other Linux administration certifications out there. They have established themselves as the de facto standard in this area. This seems to be due to the 'hands-on' portion of the exam that differentiated them from some of the other certifications early on. And, they were savvy marketers of their certifications from the get go."

So, all things considered, what Marinaccio recommends is that "candidates get a certification when they do not have a lot of experience to demonstrate their abilities. It tends to be a lot more beneficial to that individual than to a Linux administrator that has proven themselves in the marketplace. In most instances, if you have at least 3-5+ years of experience, a certification is not going to assist your job search in a noticeable way. It sure does not hurt, but the help it provides diminishes with the years of experience you have."

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was the operating system of choice for PCs and 2BSD Unix was what the cool kids used on their computers.

This article was first published on LinuxPlanet.com.

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