Linux Certifications Can Pay Off Big

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Print this article Print


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The Linux business is growing fast, and the right Linux certification can help you grow with it.

Want to make money from technology? Linux might be just the technology you need to add to your skill portfolio and certification may be the way to prove to your customers you have those skills.

Dice Inc., a company specializing in online recruiting services for technology professionals, said in its July report, "Job postings requesting Linux on Dice.com are up 190% since June of last year to 2,243."

That's none too shabby. Better still, if you're someone with Linux skills, Dice's "Salary Survey reported earning an average salary of $67,000, which is 6% higher than the overall technology average."

It's not just Dice showing that Linux pays well. According to Certification Magazine's 2003 Salary Survey, people with RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineers) certification, then perhaps the most widely recognized top Linux certification, pulled in over $71,000 a year. Even people with the low-end CompTIA's Linux+ brought home a gross salary of $52,380.

So how do you make that kind of money? Or, find work that will let you pay your Linux staffers those kinds of salaries? One word: certification.

There are currently five significant Linux certification programs:

  • CompTIA's Linux+;
  • the vendor-neutral LPIC (Linux Professional Institute Certification);
  • Novell Inc.'s CLP (Certified Linux Professional) and CLE (Certified Linux Engineer);
  • Red Hat Inc.'s certifications; and
  • Sair Linux's LCP (Linux Certified Professional).

    Of course, by itself a certification doesn't say anything. Given a choice between experience and certification, most employers and companies looking for an integrator will take experience every time. That said, though, a certification can open doors, and that's exactly what you have to do to get any job.


    If you know anything about certifications, you know the CompTIA certifications. Any reseller or system integrator who touches hardware has had technicians with A+ certifications working on PCs and Network+ techs pulling cable. Linux+ fits nicely into this family of entry-level technician certifications.

    Unlike the other Linux certifications, the emphasis here is on basic, practical system maintenance, rather than network administration. In other words, the Linux+ certification is of a piece with the other + certifications that may be all that you or your technicians need.


    The LPIC is the best-known Linux certification. It has three levels. The first, the Junior Level Administration (LPIC1), indicates that its holder can run a stand-alone Linux system and perform such basic network administration jobs as adding a user to a Linux server. The LPIC1 is often regarded as the basic Linux certification.

    At its next level, someone with an Intermediate Level Administration (LPIC2) can run a small Linux-based network, which includes both Windows and Linux workstations. With the highest-level LPI certification, the Senior Level Administration (LPIC3), you should, once it comes out, the LPI says, be ready to run major sites and serve as a consultant. That's saying quite a lot for a certification, no matter how well-regarded.

    Novell, Red Hat and more.

    Novell CLP & CLE

    Novell's Linux certifications are brand new, so it's hard to judge their market value. On the other hand, Novell started the certification business long before the Microsoft Certified Software Engineer (MCSE) was a gleam in Bill Gates' eye, so customers are likely to immediately take these certifications seriously.

    Novell had been requiring that CLP candidates first have the LPIC1 certification, but with its new program, which will be unveiled at this fall's LinuxWorld show, that will no longer be a requirement.

    SUSE, the company Novell acquired to add Linux to its offerings, also had a certification, the SCLP (SUSE Certified Linux Professional), but Novell is retiring that certification at the end of 2004. If you already have the SCLP certification, or get it before it's discontinued, your SCLP makes you automatically Novell CLP certified.

    Both Novell certifications are focused on SUSE Linux and, Novell being Novell, network administration. NetWare 6 CNEs (Certified Novell Engineers) who achieved their certification prior to Oct. 31, 2003, can currently test for the more advanced CLE free. But only the most Linux-savvy CNEs should try this certification without preparation.

    Red Hat Certifications

    If the LPI certifications are the most well-known, it is likely that Red Hat's certifications are the most valuable. An RHCE's $71,000 salary far outpaced the LPI's more modest $58,000 annual income in Certification Magazine's survey. The RHCE is seen as being the most advanced, widely available Linux certification.

    Red Hat also offers a lower-level certification, the RHCT (Red Hat Certified Technician). In addition, Red Hat has just started offering an advanced Linux certification, the RHCA (Red Hat Certified Architect) for network architects.

    Like almost all the other certifications, these are primarily meant for network workers. Like Novell's certification, all of Red Hat's certifications focus on its own Linux distribution, in this case, RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux).

    Linux being Linux, however, skills from a certification for one Linux distribution are largely transferable to other Linux distributions. In any case, an informal survey of online job sites reveals that Red Hat certifications, especially the RHCE, are the most popular Linux certifications around.


    Of all the certifications, Sair's LCP is perhaps the least well-known, which doesn't bode well for its usefulness in getting work. There are two LCP certifications: the Linux Certified Administrator and the higher-level Linux Certified Engineer.

    These vendor-neutral certifications are both designed to train up a Linux network administrator.

    In the end, of course, it's not the certification that's important. It's the brains, skills and work ethic of the person behind the certification that will decide once you're through a customer's door whether you'll keep the job.

    That said, there's also no question that in a rapidly expanding Linux marketplace, a Linux certification that can help you get through that door in the first place is well worth having.

    Check out eWEEK.com's Linux & Open Source Center at http://linux.eweek.com for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

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    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor of eWEEK.com's Linux & Open Source Center and Ziff Davis Channel Zone. Prior to becoming a technology journalist, Vaughan-Nichols worked at NASA and the Department of Defense on numerous major technological projects. Since then, he's focused on covering the technology and business issues that make a real difference to the people in the industry.

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