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The problem (or the advantage, depending on the way you look at it) with Linux certifications is that due to its open source nature and the availability of many Linux distributions, it is impossible to have a common standard for Linux certifications. That is why there are several Linux certifications available backed by different corporate or organizations. This raises the most important question for any aspiring Linux professional, “Which certification should I choose?”
Well, first of all, there is no absolute answer to this. Second, it doesn’t mean you have to choose any random certification and go for it. In fact, you should do some research and a little thinking to find out which certification would be best suited for you. So, what are the things you should consider while choosing the certification that’s best for you? Let’s discuss this.
Know your goals
The first question you should ask yourself is ‘why do you want to get certified?’. This is a very important factor to decide your Linux certification. Are you a student who is yet to graduate from college, has heard a lot about Linux and wants to get into a Linux career? Or are you working as a Linux system administrator already, but want to acquire some extra skills to move to the next level? Or maybe you are a Microsoft professional but are thinking to cash in on the Windows Linux interoperability market and want to acquire skills on Linux for that. These are just three scenarios but there are many other reasons and goals for one to acquire a Linux certification. So, find the answer to this question and it will narrow your search down a bit to a few certifications.
Know your expertise level
The second most important factor to determine the most suitable certification for you is your current level of expertise. It is important to assess yourself and know if you fall under the beginner, intermediate, advanced or the expert users in Linux. One word of caution here; don’t go by what you think you know. You may have been using Linux for years or maybe you think that you are an advanced Linux user. But if all that you’ve been actually doing is using a home computer with Ubuntu on it for some daily applications and basic administrative tasks, you may be in for a big surprise (and shock) when you appear for a certification exam. Why I am saying this? Well, the tasks you perform on your home PC and the tasks you need to perform on a Linux setup in a corporate environment are very different in nature and require a different level of skills. So how do you determine your current level of Linux skills? I am afraid there is no absolute solution to this either. But I would suggest that you go through some of the various assessment tests available online. Another approach would be to check out the sample questions/tests for various certification exams: (available online for free, just Google it) and try to take a mock test there. You’ll definitely know where you actually stand. After you are done with the assessments or mock test and know if you are a Linux beginner or Linux expert, you can narrow down which certifications are suitable for you further.
For example, if you are still a student and a Linux beginner, you can go for the CompTIA Linux+ certification, which is the stepping stone of Linux certifications. If you are already a professional and have hands on experience on handling various administrative tasks, you can opt for RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer).
Know your domain
This is another important factor. Decide the domain you want to build your career in. Do you want to be a Linux system administrator or a database administrator?
Any specific Distro in mind?
So, do you have any specific Linux distribution in mind when you think of a certification? Do you want to build career on Red Hat Linux or Novell? Or, do you want a certification which is vendor independent? In the last case, an LPIC (Linux Professional Institute Certification) is the way to go for you.
A certification is no good if there’s no demand for it. So, after you’ve answered the above questions and narrowed down the list of suitable certifications to a few, find out how much demand is there for those certifications. Search job sites, talk to people you know in the relevant field; call up recruiters to know what specific Linux skills they are looking for. You’ll have a fair idea of which certification is in demand and which is not. This further narrows down your certification choice.
You’re almost done choosing the most suitable Linux certification for you. However, there are few more things you may want to consider before you take a final decision. The availability of a test center in your locality, the cost of the certification, and the availability of enough study materials for that certification are a few more things you can consider. I would specially emphasize the last point. Certifications don’t come cheaply and along with that, the courses that prepare you for a certification also cost money. Depending on your current level of skill you may want to take several courses, which will shoot up the total cost of your certification. So, if you are not in a position to spend a lot of money to prepare for your test (there’s a recession on, for whoever didn’t notice), you can find out the availability of enough free or cheap course materials for any particular certification exam. These factors can help you make your decision if you have already narrowed down your choices to a few.