Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)

Posted on 30th January 2008

A few weeks ago, some colleagues of mine sat an LPI 101 course on Linux. A couple of years ago I took the 201 course and although the course itself was fine, the exam at the end provided me with no confidence in anyone, who would put that they had passed an LPI exam on their CV. I have heard of others being critical of the LPI exams, so I know I'm not alone. Many of those on the recent course had an understanding of a Linux based operating and had used it as basic user. However, the reports coming back were not good. One attendee had trouble trying to install a copy of Red Hat and ended up having to abandon 3 different machines, thus wasting a good portion of the first day. Considering this is a 101 level course, I really don't see any point in teaching someone to install a distro. In a few cases some had already done this on their home machines, but for the majority at work the boxes are already preconfigured and setup by a dedicated team who build our testing and production environments. Aside from that, every major distro installs differently, and has vastly different configuration tools, so why bother?

The recent course wasn't taught by the LPI, but it was meant to follow their course outlines. It was very obvious that in some areas the course notes were out of date. In this day and age four years is a long time. Four years ago who had heard of Ubuntu? While that might not be a problem when you're explaining things like top, grep, locate and many other tools that have been around for a long time, but it does get ridiculous when you have to memorise the command line options to lpr (which I haven't had any reason to use in over 15 years!). It also doesn't help when the course notes are written for SUSE and you're trying to install Fedora Core.

When I took the exam an actual question was "Who writes the official Linux documentation?", who cares? The answer was 'The Linux Documentation Project', which I'd never heard of and have never referenced since. Another was along the lines of "How do you find what command line tools are available for what you want to do?". The answer they wanted was 'apropos', and again I've never used it, and had never heard of it before the exam. The answer I provided in the comments was "I use Google". I took issue with the examiners about these sort of questions as they are pointless and have no bearing on whether I know my way around a Linux distro. I can well imagine some could memorise all the command line options to various tools and scrape a pass and still have no clue about how to configure a distribution.

Certification is a dodgy concept and only serves to line the pockets of the examining body. With badly presented courses and exams like those of the LPI, they serve only to fail the examinee by teaching very little that they can actually use in their workplace. In truth I don't believe I've used anything I learnt in the 201 course I did, apart from understanding better how to compile a kernel. I have heard that Red Hat certification is worthwhile, and seeing as we use RH8 or RHEL5 at work, then that would likely be a better course to apply for, but I suspect the cost may be an inhibiting factor. Having said that, you also get what you pay for.

I would be intrigued to meet someone who actually values the LPI exams and can prove that they are worth taking. Since a very highly skilled Linux system-admin and programmer (you rarely find someone proficient in both those skills) that I know, failed to get near 100% in the exam, I don't have any faith in any accreditation bestowed by LPI.

File Under: exams / linux / rant

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