Computer certificates in general
Acquiring certification indicates that you have completed the steps and have the knowledge required to perform at a specified level as an IT professional. Certification also proves to your employer and clients that your expertise is confirmed by a recognized industry organization and can increase your salary, enhance your skills and make your job more satisfying. If nothing else, it can keep your resume from being rejected by the resume-scanning programs now used by every Human Resources department these days.
Why a Linux certification?
The number of job ads calling for some knowledge of Linux has risen by nearly 100% over the last year. On the other hand the number of applicants choosing Linux certification has not risen proportionally. Part of the reason for this anomaly is that employers generally have not put much faith in Linux certificates and therefore there has been little demand for them. Also, many of the Linux jobs advertised are for more senior and technical roles such as programmers and developers – skills that far outweigh the level that are tested on some Linux certification tracks. All that appears to be changing however, with Linux becoming ever more mainstream and people with Linux skills becoming more in demand.
Will Linux certification really help?
While actual work experience with Linux or any computer technology will always count for so much more than any piece of paper, gaining Linux certification certainly will not do your credentials any harm. The demand for credentials in every field, computer-related or not, is increasing and one has to keep up with the pack. Having that certification ticket punched may not make your resume stand out in a positive way, but not having it might make it stand out in a negative one. Large bureaucratic IT organizations take them more seriously than groovy startups if that's the environment you're looking to work for. There are certain specific situations where I've found computer certification in general to be of benefit. First, certification courses offer better knowledge retention than the typical corporate training course since you do have to study to pass an exam, even if only a multiple-choice one. Another one is where you have related experience and are moving (or were moved) into a new environment. In my case I was re-orged from a Unix-centric to a Windows-centric IT environment. Getting a Microsoft System Administrator is always helpful come review time. Finally, if you have a discrimination issue, such as the common one that as an older tech worker you're skills are not up to date. If push comes to legal shove human relations people, lawyers, and sentences do take evidence of continuing education very seriously.
Which Linux certification?
There are several options to choose from and, given the amount of time and money that you'll need to invest into earning your Linux certification, you'll want to be sure that you make the right certification track choice to begin with. For those new to Linux then the entry-level, vendor-neutral certificates offered by CompTIA and LPI an appropriate choice. However, these involve only multiple-choice tests and as a result have less less credibility with technical managers. If you are already working with Linux then one of the proprietary, more difficult, and more expensive Linux certificates (Red Hat, Novell) would be better suited. Like the respected Cisco certifications these certs involve rigorous hands-on practical exercises under certain time constraints and have much more credibility with technical managers. The cost is significant, especially if you have to retake the test, as almost 50% of Red Hat wannabes fail the first time around. Given that there are numerous distributions of Linux available one problem of Linux certificates is that there is no central organization that can set the certification standards and ensure that the candidates meet those standards. What this means is that you have quite a degree of freedom to choose which certification track is right for you, but you equally need to be sure that the one you choose will meet your end needs. As with any other certification track that you take, Linux certifications can be taken by way of instructor led courses or you can undertake a rule of self-study on your own. Do not get too bogged down on deciding which distribution is better or is more likely to result in a job at the end of the day. While there are obvious differences between the various Linux distributions a degree of competency in one flavor will set you up to transition to the others if need be at a later stage.