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Jim Lacey, CEO, Linux Professional Institute

Jim Lacey At the beginning of the Linux revolution, Linux entered many enterprises through the back door with experienced users just managing it on their own. As Linux has matured, so too have the demands of the enterprise and the demands on IT professionals that manage Linux systems.

How does an enterprise ensure that its staff has the skills necessary for Linux? One answer is skills certification. That's where the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) comes in. LPI, founded in 1999, is a non-profit entity that runs a core Linux certification program called the LPIC (Linux Professional Institute Certification), which is offered around the globe.

Internetnews.com recently talked with LPI President and CEO Jim Lacey about the challenges of Linux professional certification and whether it's necessary.

Q: I've been running Linux for 10 years. What do I need certification for? Is there something that LPI adds?

That's the big question that comes up. It's a bit market-dependent. As you travel around the globe, certification means different things. In Japan certification is very strong and they believe in why they need it to get a job. In Latin America certification is really starting to take hold.

In the U.S., the problem is that people lost the value proposition around certification through the last 10 years. There are a lot of promises made in the past that certification could help people to make money.

The bottom line is that many of those promises didn't ring true, and people spent a lot of money to find that out.

The value of certification in the U.S. took a nosedive. That, coupled with the flooding in of a bunch of paper cert, sooner or later the CIO and CEO were saying, "You've got the certification, but you're not proving that you can do the job." So the value dropped off.

I think it's starting to come back now because people have been more research-oriented on what certifications really prove and what they are worth. People aren't saying certification overall is valuable, they are picking and choosing.

On the LPI side, I think our value is that we are creating the global bar of Linux certification. We are creating the mindset that this is where you should start.

Our biggest value for you the candidate that has been working with Linux for 10 years: the answer to that is does your employers see value in it? Does the employer look for the certification and do they understand that it is a bar? We're working hard at the top to make sure people believe in what we are doing.

Q: What are the biggest myths or misconceptions about what LPI does today?

First and most critical for us is brand awareness. We had a lot of people engaged at the beginning of LPI, but they didn't have a great presence in the market itself.

First question we normally get is. "Tell me about LPI." Even though we've been here for seven years, it's still a big push in a brand-awareness campaign. We've solved that in the last 18 months by creating area operations positions where we've hired people that have built large channels before in large geographies.

Second is the misconception about computer-based testing versus hands-on operating with the server itself. The answer is that, as long as the exam itself is based on a job-task analysis, then in certification terms it's a performance-based test just like a practicum.

Our other issue is accessibility; it's very hard to set up 7,000 exam centers around the world, so in order to keep our costs market ready, the computer-based model really is the best.

Q: Red Hat offers its own certification programs that some would argue compete with LPI. Are you competing against Red Hat's certification or is LPI complementary?

LPI sees itself as the Switzerland of the certification space. We are very open and willing to participate with anyone and create programs that build on one another.

I've had some good discussions with Red Hat and extended to them the offer of working together when the timing is right.

We're never going to speak down about any other program. LPIC 1, as we position it today, is really the entry-level professional-level certification for Linux, and everyone should start there. Where they go after that is up to them. If they want to move to a propriety certification program that's fine.

With Novell they respect our LPIC 1 and accept it as part of their CLE [Certified Linux Engineer]. They don't require it but they accept it. Ubuntu is another example; it sits on top of LPIC 1.

I think Red Hat has its own mindset of how they want to approach the market, and, hey if you're going to be a strictly Red Hat shop, RHCE [Red Hat Certified Engineer] is a good cert for you. But as Linux becomes more of a commodity you're going to need the generalist skills.

Where we think LPI brings value is the vendor-independent side where you can go work on any distribution regardless, so long as it Linux our skills our viable and relevant.

Q: Is there a large roadmap about where LPI and LPIC is going in the coming years?

We do. We recognize that to be the entry-level place for everyone, we have to look hard at how we create that future base. Other people are entering into the market. With the Novell-Microsoft deal, we have a lot of Windows administrators coming into the market now, and we want to make sure when we provide a skill base that it applies to everyone.

We want to move away from people thinking of us as strictly a systems-administration exam. Largely we've made a good move to reposition LPI as a professional exam. Whether you are a systems admin, a security specialist or a developer you should come under our wing.