Experience matters more than anything
It's clear that experience is what matters most to employers. By themselves, Linux certifications are "just a piece of paper," Little says, and employers will avoid candidates who "don't have any real-world experience." Yet employers will hire experienced candidates who don't have a Linux certification, he notes.
That's the case at hosted service provider Rackspace, which does not require technicians to gain Red Hat certification. "While we don't require it, there're not really any technicians that don't take it," says Frederick Mendler, a vice president for support at Rackspace. And he sees that Red Hat certification is common on employee résumés. (More than 100,000 people have taken its certification exams, according to Red Hat.)
Some certification providers have gotten the "experience matters" message and adapted their tests to be more real-world. For example, Novell now determines attainment of its Suse-oriented Certified Linux Professional certification on a performance-based test. "You have to actually perform administrative and troubleshooting tasks," Swenson says. If something is broken, the candidate must fix it. "I usually tell people, if you have a downed server in an exam, you have downed the server and now you have to figure your way out of it," she notes.
Only about 45 percent of candidates pass Novell's tests on the first try, Swenson notes, while the second-time passage rate is about 70 percent.
Likewise, the decade-old Red Hat Certified Engineer program's certifications are performance-based. "People earn these certifications and credentials by passing practical examinations using live equipment and performing real-world tests," says certification director Russell.