The obvious reason is to quickly give yourself verifiable credentials with Red Hat Linux for your employer or potential employers to consider when evaluating you for a new position. For most, this is reason enough to go through the certification process. Like other certification programs for development, systems administration, and other IT fields, certification in Red Hat is used as proof of your working knowledge of the platform.
Unlike many other certifications, however, receiving a recognized cert in Red Hat also says that you have passed hands-on requirements. Two thirds of the testing requirement for Red Hat certification is done on a terminal using Red Hat and doing things most sysadmins and developers (depending on the specific cert) will have to do not only every day, but will also do only occasionally yet often enough to warrant having knowledge to accomplish it easily. These hands-on tests are also engineered to show that the person being tested has a fundamental, real working knowledge of Linux and Red Hat in particular.
Longer Term Benefits of Certification
Beyond the immediate benefits of a certificate, however, are the longer-term benefits of taking the courses themselves. For many, certification is the next step after learning the basics of the system and is a way to accelerate understanding when moving from one platform to another or from one job description to another. Most Red Hat admins began with a basic understanding of Linux, but were not necessarily familiar with the specifics of Red Hat itself. The certification can become a stepping stone towards a wider range of skills and broader understanding.
For IT management, having the certification can mean having a better understanding of what in-the-trenches employees are doing as well as the ability to jump in, hands-on, when required. This not only engenders respect from those being managed, but also increases your value to the company as a whole.
Even in fields or IT positions not requiring Red Hat experience, having certification can mean owning a broader understanding of the options and systems available as well as solutions that otherwise may not be considered. For example, if a dedicated mail server were to be installed, a Windows-only enterprise may not even consider Linux as a solution yet many robust Linux-based (including Red Hat) options for mail server integration with Windows networks are available and often even preferable to a Windows-only solution.
The Certification Options
The process of achieving a Red Hat certification, which can be had in three graduating types (in order of difficulty) plus specialization certs, is basically the same with only the requirements becoming more or less intense according to the type of certification being pursued.
A Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) is considered the “base” or most fundamental of the Red Hat certifications available. This cert includes the core concepts of installing, configuring, and using Red Hat Enterprise as well as the day-to-day maintenance and operations of that system on a small and large scale.
A Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) goes one step further, focusing on building systems, apps, and architecture for and around Red Hat configurations. This builds on an RHCSA coursework environment to include a focus on engineering and development and is meant for senior administrators.
Finally, the Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA) certification moves Red Hat knowledge into the architect level, going from a mission-critical datacenter understanding into advanced networking, systems monitoring, and performance tuning.
Other Red Hat certifications are much more task-specific, with the Red Hat Certified JBoss Administrator and Developer certs focusing on using Java Enterprise Edition (JEE) and JBoss Enterprise in a Red Hat environment. Similar options for Persistence (JPA), ESB, and security are also available. Several Certificates of Expertise for specific needs after an RHCE can also be had to further hone skills as a senior administrator.
The Red Hat Certification Process
As stated, the process of becoming certified is largely the same, no matter the specific cert being pursued. It usually involves classroom time with hands-on experience specific to the certification being taught. The time for this training period will vary according to the cert focus, lasting from a few days to weeks and culminates in a test for certification.
Once training is complete, the actual test is given. This is often a day-long process and is usually broken into two or three parts. The first part will be a general multiple choice test, common in all certification courses of every type. Next, however, comes a hands-on test with real-world, working Red Hat installations as your backdrop. This is unusual for IT certifications and is what sets Red Hat apart from most others.
These lab tests will mean half or two thirds of the total test grade and require a real, working knowledge of Red Hat and the specifics taught for the certification at hand. In the case of an RHCA, for example, one of the final tests is a pre-configured Red Hat Enterprise setup which has “broken” and must be fixed in order to complete the larger part of the test tasks. This means problem solving rather than information regurgitation and therefore proves the student’s mastery of the system.
Test sections are graded individually with a score under 50% on any meaning failure of the test overall. The overall score for the test must be 80% or better to pass and achieve certification. It is possible to take the exam without the course, but the success rate for certification is much lower for those who skip the course work. Conversely, the courses can be taken without the exam if knowledge is the only goal.