TOKYO -- There aren't a whole lot of really tall buildings downtown here. From the 22nd story of an office tower you can see the city totally spread out around you for miles, until your vision is stopped either by the horizon, the clouds, or the pollution.
It was in a meeting room with this vista, earlier this week, where the Linux Professional Institute's Japanese wing took flight and announced to the world the availability for the first time of the LPI's certification exams in a language other than English. Forgetting the fact that I seemed to have spent more time flying to Japan than actually staying there last weekend, the trip left me somewhat awestruck.
There for the start
Before I go any further, I will state up front my bias here. I played a part in the beginnings of LPI, and I'm still on its board. That's why I was sitting at the table at the press conference as a participant and not as a reporter, offering answers rather than asking the questions. The room was full -- more than 30 reporters were taking notes and/or shooting cameras.
I'd be lying if I didn't say this trip was something of a source of pride for me; I scanned the press conference in near-disbelief a number of times. Sitting around me were top executives of Japanese computer giants Fujitsu, Hitachi and NEC, Japanese reps from SGI and IBM, and folks representing Japan's two top commercial Linux distributions, Laser5 and TurboLinux. In total, nine LPI-Japan people were there alongside me. It was like a who's who of the Japanese corporate Linux scene, all sitting at one table supporting a project that started out as a couple of modest mailing lists barely more than two years ago.
LPI could (and likely would) have happened whether or not I got involved -- but it couldn't have happened without the thousands of people that have become involved with it. They include the whole range, from President Dan York and the hundreds of hours he's put in, to the many hundreds of casual mailing list participants. LPI's organizational model, of combining industry talent with community contribution, stands as a living demonstration of the smooth cooperation between the two groups that the Linux working environment encourages.
Consider, for a moment, the way LPI's exams were actually crafted. A professional -- Scott Murray, who holds a masters degree in psychometrics -- was charged with the design of each exam and making sure that it does the best possible job of separating those who know their stuff from those who don't. Yet who actually wrote the questions that showed up on LPI's two existing exams? Anyone and everyone.
A special page on the LPI website was used to solicit exam questions from the public. Scott and a team he'd assembled picked out the submissions that were useful from those that were not. The fascinating (to me still) fact is that the LPI exams were written by the Linux community. That page will no doubt return during the creation of LPI's second level exams, a process which has already started.
And the community involvement doesn't end there. The LPI logo was designed by a student from Bogota, Columbia; the design of the website from a small company in Florida, and it's maintained by a truly international team using management models that could just as easily apply to open source software development.
LPI supporters are helping spread the word in almost every country. The LPI website has already been translated into five languages, with more certain to come. The process of translating the exams themselves is more difficult because doing it precisely is expensive, but no doubt that will happen as well. In the meantime, volunteers are helping with everything from the system's database to its publicity and fund-raising efforts. And the support of Linux companies from around the world has certainly helped in ways far beyond the simple financial benefits. Every new vendor or group supporting LPI is another group that's chosen not to re-invent the wheel, another group that has recognized the benefit of one community-wide distribution over a landscape (such as we see in the Unix world) where every vendor has their own parochial system.
In this regard, LPI is different from any other certification because it is totally independent of vendors -- Linux vendors, training vendors, book publishers, whatever. LPI's independence and non-profit mandate ensure that the overall needs of the community -- which includes the vendors -- are paramount.
When it all comes together, as in the case of LPI-Japan, it's a work of art. I wish I could take credit but all I can do is sit back and watch Gen Nauri (who started it all here in Japan) and his team at work. And I know of other groups in other countries that are interested in following the lead; the momentum is all forward.
Of course, where they're moving forward is not necessarily of interest to everyone. Linux certification isn't everyone's cup of Oolong tea; it's a specialized field that's designed to help develop the skilled Linux administrators who are going to be in high demand as Linux moves further into the computing mainstream.
(And yes, I know the objections. Linux certification is no substitute for background- or reference-checking, or a good interview. But when it comes to the task of making the choice to use Linux in business as easy as possible, certification most certainly has a role. That issue is discussed right on the LPI website.)
OK, so I'm gushing a bit. I figure I'm entitled, since my last few columns have been downers of sorts, and it's just as important to bring attention to what gets done right in the Linux world as to what needs help. Besides, given the scope of this column, leaving out the role of LPI in the growth of Linux into the computing mainstream is more of a disservice than writing about it from my admittedly biased perspective.
LPI is one such example of industry and community factions getting together to do it right. And while I'm indeed proud to have played a part in it, I'm only one of a cast of hundreds who have each done their part to help Linux into the business world. They are too numerous to all be mentioned, but I hope readers here will have a look at the LPI website themselves and see that the Linux spirit doesn't just apply to writing code.
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