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All hail the penguin

After 13 years of waddling around the world, it seems the little penguin has developed some serious muscle.

The mascot for Linux is a pudgy and rather adorable penguin, chosen by the system’s creator simply because he liked the critters. After 13 years of waddling around the world, it seems that little penguin has developed some serious muscle.

Designed as a free version of the Unix operating system, and then touted as a programmer’s toy, Linux has increasingly entered the corporate arena. IBM uses the system extensively in its products, and Linux-geared companies like Red Hat have gone from spunky start-ups to established businesses. Always popular among software developers, Linux is now used for a variety of tasks, from security implementation to system administration.

For companies that opt to employ Linux–and for the many considering making the move into utilizing it–it’s crucial to have IT professionals who understand the nuances of the operating system. Because of that, Linux training is on the rise, with more classes and certifications than ever, and also more of a need for them.

Options and more options

Like many other kinds of training areas, Linux education is available in a broad range of offerings. Universities that offer Unix classes for a Computer Science degree frequently have Linux as well, and student interest has boosted what’s available. Love for the operating system isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon, either. Students who get internships at the IBM Linux Technology Center fly in from Romania, Columbia, China, India, Singapore, and other spots on the globe.

For professionals who are swimming in the job pool already and want to boost their expertise by learning more about Linux, there’s no need to head off to a college’s night school. Vendors like Symark Software provide training on different aspects of Linux, and gear the education toward specific company needs.

The most popular option, though, looks to be certifications. There are several in the field that are gaining adherents, and looking pretty spiffy on a resume, including two from Red Hat, the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) and the Red Hat Certified Technician (RHCT). The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) has certification exams that are given at thousands of locations worldwide, and are recognized as giving students a broad base of Linux knowledge.

Certification powerhouse CompTIA has the Linux+, and also jumping into the field are other companies like SAIR Linux. Basic certifications test key areas of Linux knowledge (like configuration, planning, administration, system maintenance, and troubleshooting), and higher-level certifications go into more detail with different aspects of administration.

Schools that offer IT training, like The Training Camp, have embraced the trend and are only too happy to welcome Linux devotees into their classrooms. Ross Brunson, director at Unix and Linux education at The Training Camp, says that as Linux spreads across the enterprise, schools like his will be busier than ever. “People are starting to be serious about implementing Linux in their companies,” he notes. “I’m really excited to watch this happening, and to see it taken more seriously.”

What to pick?

With such a bevy of certifications and education options available, it can be tough to figure out what to choose for professional advancement and personal edification. But fear not. Linux is available for individuals at all levels of expertise, from the beginner to the guru.

Peter Childers, vice president of global learning services at Red Hat, notes that the RHCE is designed for people who want to manage servers and set up enterprise-level network services and security for an entire company. “An RHCE has the keys to the server room,” Childers says.

At a lower level comes the RHCT, for people who prefer to configure new workstations. “That’s the entry level, like a journeyman,” says Childers. The difference is seen in the amount of time and money that’s needed as well. The RHCE exam is six hours long, and costs $749, while the RHCT is a three-hour test and costs $349. Red Hat certifications have made a major foothold in the industry, since the company has been building up its reputation since it started making software geared toward Linux. That means, in some ways, other certification providers have to work a little harder to be as noticed as Red Hat. But, fortunately for Linux students, there are plenty of contenders trying to get the Linux certification crown.

With vendor training options, costs vary and education usually centers on a company’s specific applications. At Symark, training is given at various levels and encompasses an array of Linux issues. “Roles are increasingly cross-functional,” says Richard Williams, director of Symark University, the company’s training division. “That means everyone is involved in administration, and has to maintain the integrity of data. So, at companies that have Linux for those tasks, learning as much as possible about Linux is vital.”

Suzanne Dickson, Symark spokesperson, says the company began to offer training when it found that most of its support calls weren’t related to its Linux and Unix products, but rather, to implementation and administration. “It was obvious that there was a need for education,” she says.

For people who want to learn about Linux in general, and garner some vendor-neutral training, certifications from CompTIA and the LPI Institute give a rounded view of the operating system. Brunson says, “If someone wants a broader scope, they should absolutely be looking at something like the LPI certifications.” Currently, LPI offers two levels of certifications, and The Training Camp’s Brunson notes that the LPI Level One certifications are quite popular, especially when the material is delivered through a bootcamp style.

Penguin love

The rise in certifications shows that Linux is putting its days as a programmer’s hobby far behind it. The penguin has truly learned how to fly in the corporate world, and those who teach it look forward to the future.

“I can’t even think of an industry that doesn’t have an interest in Linux,” Childers says. He adds that Linux is embraced because it’s more flexible than some other operating systems, such as those crafted at Microsoft.

“With an open-source platform like Linux has,” he says, “it means the IT department has the freedom to know what’s going on in the operating system. They can use technology to the fullest, and that’s good for every company.”

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