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Why I don’t spend money on IT certifications

Posted on | October 30, 2007 | No Comments

Some reports that were recently published talked about GNU/Linux professionals without certifications making more money with less turn over than professionals with certifications.

I have never felt the need to waste my money on Linux certifications, for serveral reasons:

  • I actively contribute to many free / open source software projects as well as GNU/Linux distributions. My code and contributions on third party (authoritative) web sites carry much more weight than any certification.
  • I’m often in charge of interviewing and hiring people as programmers and system administrators. I don’t look at the certifications, many of them aren’t worth the paper that they are printed on.
  • I’m far from alone in my decision to give Linux certifications any serious weight when considering a new hire.

If you were interviewed by me for a position as a system administrator, the interview would be rather quiet. I would sit you down in front of a small network of VPS servers and say “Set this, and this, and this up, then install this and this. After that, install and configure this with this”

Knowing that my list would take most ‘good’ admins slightly under an hour to complete, I don’t inform you that the test is being timed. 2/3 of the things to install and configure would be found in the OS packaging (yum/apt-get able). The rest of the stuff would need to be built from source. Whoops, I must have forgotten to install gcc and needed libs when I setup the small sandbox network.

8/10 RHCE’s could not get through the list. 1/10 got through it, but took several hours. 1/10 got through it with no problem. I’m not picking on Red Hat, most of the certificates are equally misleading when speaking of the competency of the certificate holder.

When Red Hat first offered training and certification, it was solid, even I considered getting certified. I hesitated, remembering Microsoft’s decline in quality training after so many training centers began offering courses. Red Hat followed a similar fate, despite their best efforts.

I’m also not about to sign a NDA to take a test on GPL software :)

I was fortunate, I have been using GNU/Linux since, well, it first booted. I did not have the hardship of having to go and learn an OS that evolved over 15+ years from scratch in three month’s time, I just kept up with things as they changed and studied other people’s patches.

This is one of the (many) reasons why you advance yourself while you work to advance free software. If your resume says:

  • Package maintainer of x-y-z
  • Author of x-y-z
  • Credited with discovering vulnerability x-y-z
  • Accepted patches in x-y-z, a-b-c and d-e-f projects

You’d look a lot more appealing than simply listing certs that everyone else also lists on their resume. Employers know that accomplishments equal experience.

Besides, building a solid resume in free software lets you advance yourself while you do what you would (likely) be doing otherwise. You have to get up early and sit in a boring room for hours (after paying thousands) to get a certification. You can work on free software while you sit in your shorts at home sipping something yummy.

In (this) interviewer’s opinion, save your money, go work on free/open source software projects instead. You don’t need to be a programmer, plenty of things for system administrators to do exist in most major projects.

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