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The Linux Professional

Brainbench and Linux Certification Roundup


Welcome to the sixth article of The Linux Professional. This month I'll give some news on the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) and an overview of the Linux offerings from Brainbench, which offers free exams via the Web to examinees. I'll also give a summary of the certification options presented in this series of articles.

LPIC Level 1 exams completed

The LPI has completed its analysis of the 102 beta exam, and results were mailed to examinees in mid-September. With the scores from both exams (101 and 102) now available, the LPI is able to award its first certification, the LPIC Level 1. Those candidates who have passed both exams should be receiving their printed certificates soon. This is a significant milestone for the LPI and for Linux administrators seeking certification of their skills.

Brainbench - certification for free?

I admit that I was a bit skeptical when I first looked at Brainbench, a company whose byline claims that they're "the skills authority." Brainbench offers Web-based exams on an array of topics, including Linux, Windows, databases, and office suites. Their offerings aren't limited to IT topics, though. They also offer general knowledge exams, covering areas such as the Internet, the aerospace industry, and biotechnology, as well as written language evaluations in English, German, and Russian. The complete list is quite diverse and includes a few hundred offerings.

Brainbench charges no fees to take their exams. Instead, the company caters to employers seeking a source for qualified job applicants. After you pass a Brainbench exam, you can list your results for these prospective employers to review. This is intended as a recruiting strategy and is funded by pricy access subscriptions charged to corporate customers.

The Linux exams offered by Brainbench include:

After taking both of the administration exams, I can say that they're not trivial, and they differ significantly from other Linux certifications like the LPIC, RHCE, and Sair Linux & GNU. Instead of testing at a certain level of knowledge using a static exam, these exams use questions requiring knowledge ranging from simple to highly detailed, delivered by an adaptive testing engine. I was surprised at the depth and breadth of coverage present in the exams. And here's the big difference: The results Brainbench reports to prospective employers may contain qualitative analysis of your exam performance, including specific strengths and weaknesses. This information can help employers to determine if you are qualified for senior positions.

If you want to allow non-participating employers to access your record, you can request that it be mailed or e-mailed, or you can give interested parties your Brainbench transcript number. They can enter the number on the Brainbench web site to immediately see your certifications.

Probably the biggest criticism of Web-based testing is the ease with which examinees can cheat. It's an honor system, and the advertised certifications could be considered suspect unless verified by the hiring employers. However, for paying Brainbench client companies, this is easily done during the interview process. Brainbench offers verification exams as a service to their clients, in both a short and long form, with immediate e-mail notification of results.

The cheating problem makes Brainbench certifications (and other Web-based programs) a dubious competitor for proctored certification techniques, and savvy employers won't be fooled. However, as a recruiting vehicle using the freely administered exams, and as an assessment system with the verification exams, Brainbench offers a credible, convenient, and substantive service to both examinees and employers. Those employers who need to quickly and objectively evaluate the skills of applicants may be very interested in this technique.

For anyone interested in certifying their Linux skills, the Brainbench offerings can help establish your qualifications. They're also excellent practice exams, and cost you nothing.

Linux certification recap

In this series of articles, I've discussed Linux certification programs from LPI, Sair, Red Hat Software, and Brainbench. The LPI and Sair programs offer traditional PC-based testing and multiple certificates distributed worldwide. Red Hat Software uses a hands-on approach, which may be seen by some employers as clearer proof of true capability. Brainbench offers exams for free, providing results to their clients for recruitment.

Though each has established a credible following, it's too early to see a clear leader in the overall Linux certification market. Employers will ultimately establish the market value of these progams as they seek qualified Linux administrators. Right now, it's up to us to decide which one will best meet our career goals.

This table includes a brief summary of the Linux certification offerings I've covered in this series, which may help you if you're considering one of these options to enhance your Linux career.

Certificate RHCE LPIC Sair Linux & GNU Brainbench
Offered by: Red Hat Software Linux Professional Institute Sair/Wave Technologies Brainbench
Delivered by: Red Hat and qualified testing centers VUE Sylvan Web
Test Method: Hands-on, lab-based, debugging, written PC-based, static PC-based, static Browser, adaptive
Cost: $749 $100 per exam
$200 total per level
$100 per exam
$400 total per level
  • Lab-based, hands-on monitored exams test actual performance
  • Includes debugging, installation, and general knowledge
  • Mature program
  • Familiar Red Hat brand
  • LPI is objective, non-profit
  • Community developed exam questions
  • Distribution-neutral
  • Only two exams are required for Level 1
  • Cost effective
  • Worldwide availability
  • Distribution-neutral
  • Impressive list of advisors
  • Portion of proceeds returned to the open source community
  • Worldwide availability
  • Exams are free
  • Exams are a placement method
  • Exams can be taken conveniently at home
  • Internet-wide availability
  • Distribution specific, targeted toward enterprises implementing Red Hat Linux
  • Expensive
  • Limited availability
  • PC-based exams aren't hands-on
  • Potential conflict of interest: Sair produces exams, prep materials, and training programs
  • PC-based exams aren't hands-on
  • Somewhat expensive
  • Honor system invites cheating
  • Better for employer verification than objective proof of certification

Jeff Dean is an engineering and IT professional currently writing a Linux certification handbook for O'Reilly Media, Inc..

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