BSD Certification

Back in the early days, before the stock market collapsed upon itself and Caldera turned evil, one of the problems in promoting Linux was certification programs that would allow hiring managers to sort the wheat from the chaff when going through resumes.
Written by Joe Brockmeier, Contributor

Back in the early days, before the stock market collapsed upon itself and Caldera turned evil, one of the problems in promoting Linux was certification programs that would allow hiring managers to sort the wheat from the chaff when going through resumes. While certification programs are by no means perfect -- certification won't usually tell you if the person has decent problem-solving skills, and certaintly won't tell you if they have a tendency to show up a couple of hours late every other day -- admins with certifications usually have at least a modicum of skill on the platform(s) they've certified on.

Linux has passed through that rough patch, and now has several well-regarded certifications, including the Linux Professional Institute program, which is community-driven rather than vendor-driven, and the Red Hat certification program, and Novell certification programs.

But the BSDs (FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, and DragnonflyBSD) do not have a standard certification, though it looks like that's going to change. A few weeks ago, the BSD Certification Group announced its existence and intention to create a standard BSD certification for all the BSDs.

Dru Lavigne, Chair of the BSD Certification Group, and author of the excellent FreeBSD Basics column and BSD Hacks book, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the program.

What's the motivation behind creating a BSD certification?

Until now, there hasn't been an accredited method for proving competency in BSD systems administration. This is in contrast to, say, a developer who has the ability to gain recognition and prove skill by writing code and possibly gaining a commit bit for third-party software or even one of the BSD operating system code bases. However, many administrators find that employers are sometimes hesitant to choose BSD solutions as they're concerned that they won't be able to find and hire competent BSD administrators. BSD Certification is one way to start to address those concerns.

Do you forsee any problems in trying to cover all of the BSD OSes with a single certification? How will the project avoid over-emphasizing a specific BSD?

We're still in the early stages of development so it remains to be seen if there will be a single or multiple certifications and to what extent each of the BSDs will be covered. It's important to the BSDCG (BSD Certification Group) that the resulting certification(s) provide practical value to both BSD system administrators and employers. On April 21, BSDCG will launch a Task Survey Analysis to assist in determining which BSD administration skills are valuable in the real world and which skill levels are most useful to employers.

This project does seem a lot like the LPI approach - what have you taken from the LPI approach, and is there anything in the LPI approach that you'd like to avoid?

I think it's too early to compare our approach to LPI or any of the other IT certifications. Like many BSD administrators, many members of the BSDCG hold or have taught several IT certifications and have first-hand experience regarding the pros and cons with the different vendor approaches to certification. We'll be considering that input as we create our own exam objectives and testing methodology.

What about study materials? It seems like there are very few good BSD-related books on the market.

I'd reword that to "There are very few BSD-related books on the market, but they are all very good."

This perceived lack actually speaks to the first-rate quality of freely available BSD documentation. Each of the major BSD projects has a thorough documentation section on their website (many of which are internationalized) and BSD manpages are renowned for their practical usefulness.

One of the goals of the BSDCG is to make BSD certification available, regardless of the candidate's geographic location or financial status. Having freely available quality documentation makes this goal easier to achieve.

Some feel that the LPI tests are a bit too broad in scope - perhaps the certs should aim for more specific tasks rather than "Level 1" and "Level 2" (for example, mail administration or web administration) - do you have the general certifications planned out already? Tied into SAGE, perhaps?

The SAGE approach certainly has been discussed. We'll have a better idea of our specific approach once the results of the Task Survey Analysis have been analyzed and discussed. You can stay updated on our progress by joining either the announce (BSDCert-Announce) or discussion (BSDCert) mailing lists at http://lists.nycbug.org/mailman/listinfo.

What will it take to get employers to accept the project's certification as a "valid" cert - for example, something they'd pay for an employee to take?

The Task Survey Analysis is a start as it gives employers an opportunity to state which skills are important to them and what they look for in a BSD systems administrator. We're also working on other approaches to ensure employers are both aware of BSD certification and have the opportunity to contribute to the development process.

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