What Is Linux Certification?

Introduction

Do you wish to increase your Linux knowledge and have some form of recognition? Good news! Linux certifications exist, and they are worth pursuing due to the journey of knowledge they offer.

I have Linux certifications from both CompTIA and LPI (Linux Professional Institute), so, based upon my experience in obtaining Linux certifications, here are some thoughts that might help others wondering what is involved.

The Certifications

First of all, you become Linux certified by taking tests. These tests have a required score that you must meet or exceed in order to pass. As of this writing, two tests are required to get a single certification (except for LPI Level 3). For example, to get the CompTIA Linux+ certification, you must pass two exams, LX0-101 and LX0-102. Passing only one exam by itself does earn the certification.

CompTIA and LPI (Linux Professional Institute) are two organizations that provide general Linux certifications, and their tests are different. CompTIA offers one test called Linux+ Powered by LPI, and LPI offers three levels named LPIC-1, LPIC-2, and LPIC-3.

Where Should I Start?

I would recommend beginning with the CompTIA Linux+ certification since this is considered to be the entry level exam. It covers the basics. Two separate exams, LX0-101 and LX0-102, are required in order to receive Linux+ certification, and getting Linux+ automatically qualifies you for LPIC-1 as well.

The Exams

Linux+ Powered by LPI

Please do not feel intimidated. This is an exam covering Linux basics. Nothing advanced. If you have been using Linux for any time, then you should do well. The exam covers basic commands, system files, and concepts that most Linux users absorb through usage.

One book worth studying in preparation for Linux+ is the Linux+ Guide to Linux Certification from Course Technology. I would recommend the second edition over the third edition in order to save money since the two books are nearly identical, but either book will be fine. A few questions on the exam I took were not covered in the book, but I answered them correctly from my experience in using Linux every day.

LPIC-1

After successfully completing Linux+, it is time to move to more advanced material. LPI Level 1 is the next step. The LPI tests are more advanced than Linux+ and cover a wider range of topics depending upon the level.

As of this writing, once you pass Linux+, you also become certified in LPIC-1 according to the CompTIA web site, so a separate LPIC-1 exam is not required.

In case you need to take the LPIC-1 exams separately, keep in mind that LPIC-1 consists of two exams named 101 and 102.

Exam 101

Is exam 101 hard? No. In fact, LPI 101 felt like the same test as Linux+ and covered mostly the same entry-level material. If you can pass Linux+, then you can pass exam 101.

Exam 102

Exam 102 picks up where Linux+ and exam 101 finish. Slightly new material is introduced, but nothing is beyond the scope of beginners. The best way to prepare for LPI 102 in addition to studying a Linux+ guide is to actually use Linux. Any distribution is sufficient, but become proficient with the command line until you can navigate through your system and perform basic file tasks.

LPIC-2

LPI Level 2 is the next step after successfully completing LPIC-1. There are two exams, 201 and 202, needed to pass, and you must already have an active LPIC-1 certification. This is a good idea, since LPIC-2 is definitely more advanced than either Linux+ and LPIC-1. You want to have a firm handle on the basics before tackling level 2.

You are probably asking, “Is LPIC-2 difficult?” This depends upon your experience. Let’s look at the exams individually to see what this means.

Exam 201

Not so bad. The questions are certainly a step up from Linux+ and LPIC-1, but nothing impossible. The material is more advanced and covers more depth and details. Exam 201 is intended for intermediate users, but if you use Linux as your primary system and know the basics well, then you should not have many problems. Advanced concepts begin to appear at this point, but nothing obscure.

Exam 202

So, you think you are a Linux guru, huh? Brace yourself, because this exam will surprise you by its difficulty. If Linux+, LPIC-1, and the LPIC-2 exam 201 felt like a stroll through KiddyLand, then LPI 202 exam will feel like dancing barefoot across glowing coals of fire!

Exam 202 is a very advanced test covering servers, security, network administration, advanced user management, and other lesser used concepts in Linux.

Daily Linux usage is necessary in order to pass this exam. Studying books and memorizing terms no longer work at this point since exam 202 quizzes you about knowledge and situations you encounter from real experience, not from book examples.

Strong focus is given to running and maintaining Linux servers, such as Apache, email, and DNS. Exam 202 also quizzes you about server configuration files and tests your knowledge of network troubleshooting and security. I would highly recommend studying the book Advanced Guide to Linux Networking and Security to prepare for this exam.

Even this might not be enough. You need to live and breathe Linux networking and have experience running servers under Linux in order to do well on exam 202. Using another OS such as Windows for your primary system while dabbling in Linux every now and then is not going to cut it for the LPI exam 202.

I passed the 202 exam mainly because I had been using Linux exclusively for about five years before I took the exam. The Advanced Guide to Linux Networking and Security book helped, but it was my personal experience in Linux that helped the most, not from studying a book.

What About LPIC-3?

LPI Level 3 is the highest Linux certification available from LPI. Four exams are possible, but only the LPI 301 Core exam is required to obtain LPIC-3 certification. The LPI web site provides an overview of what to expect on LPIC-3 exams.

Exam 301: Core
Required. Pass this, and you win.

Exams 302, 303, and 304
These are optional specialty exams that deal with specialized areas involving mixed environments, security, virtualization, and high availability.

Outdated Test Material

When I took the exams (Linux+ through LPIC-2), they were all about five years old, so I stopped at LPIC-2 since the LPI material was becoming too advanced about lesser-known, outdated topics.

I had intended to take LPIC-3 but decided not to. LPIC-3 begins with a $260 USD core exam followed by three optional $173 USD specialty exams (as of 2012). The material was becoming too expensive and too enterprise-specific on topics I rarely use, so I brought my journey to an end with LPIC-2.

Cost and Time

You must schedule and pay for each exam separately. Scheduling and payment is handled online at the Prometric web site since the exams are administered at official test centers where you must go to take the exams.

Expect to invest a significant amount of time and money to take these exams since they cost at least $173 USD each, and you must wait until your test day arrives before taking an exam. You might have to wait two weeks to a month before you can take your test depending upon testing availability, so plan your tests in advance.

Do Certifications Expire?

This varies. To the best of my knowledge, the CompTIA Linux+ certification never expires even though the other CompTIA A+, Network+, and Security+ certifications expire after three years.

The LPI certifications expire after five years from the date of certification.

Are There Any Rewards? What Do You get?

Both CompTIA and LPI treat you as if you have accomplished something significant by mailing you a welcome package for each certification you earn.

CompTIA mails a small, color certificate, a welcome letter, and a plastic card with your name and certification ID.

LPI goes a step further by sending a large, framable certificate (comparable to a diploma complete with a shiny seal), a welcome letter with information about your certification, and a colorful, plastic ID card containing your name and the exam numbers successfully completed for the certification level.

In the End, Is Linux Certification Worth the Time and Money?

Only you can answer this question for yourself since it revolves around your own needs and personal experience. In the end, Linux certification shows that a third party recognizes that you possess a certain degree of knowledge about Linux needed to pass the exams.

As for myself, Linux certification was a personal goal. It was something that I wanted to do to improve my mind and my skills. My question was not, “What good is Linux certification?” but rather, “How much will I learn and grow during the process of becoming Linux certified?”

The time spent studying Linux in order to pass the exams was well worth the investment. My knowledge has grown, I understand Linux better than before, and I have something to show for my studies.

Conclusion

There is much to learn about Linux, so certification is a good first step to acquiring knowledge and recognition about Linux. Keep things in perspective be realizing that Linux certification is just that – certification. The knowledge you carry is what truly matters, not a certificate.

Treat Linux certification as a springboard from which to dive into more advanced learning. By having a firm handle on the basics, the more advanced topics will be easier to grasp, and you will have something you can look at with pride that says, “Congratulations!”

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