Open Source Certification , Friend or Foe

With 2 of the bigger Open Source projects I care about talking about certifications programs questions pop up again ...

Should we certify ourselves ?

So let me tell you about my experiences in getting Open Source related Certifications ..

Over a decade ago, (2001) when RedHat was still Redhat and not yet Fedora the company I was working for was about to partner with RedHat and needed to get a number of people certified for that.

So I took the challenge, I bored myselve to death during a 4 day RedHat fast track training and set out to do the exam the next day. Obviosly I scored pretty well given my yearlong experience in the subject. Back then I was told that I scored the one but European Record on the exam which was actually held by another collegue (hey Ico) , our CTO however was not amused when I told that I could have scored better but I didn't bother running a chkconfig smb  on since I didn't see the use in using windows fileshares in a unix environment (Yes I was young , we're all allowd to make stupid mistakes :))

So I was certified, we were expecting the requests to flow in en masse ... nothing happened... not a single customer request... If I recall correctly we got 2 requests for certified engineers over the course of the following years. One was from a customer that wanted to have us do some junior level sysadmin work on their systems which we didn't care about, we proposed a more junior profile, but they insisted on having someone who was certified, The other one was from a Large institution that wanted certified people for their RedHat support, only to quickly learn that the budget they had planned for this project was about half the rate we usually charged ..

When RedHat introduced their certified Architect program my answer was, sure .. if you bring us the customer that will make the investment worthwhile , guess what..

My second experience with Open Source certification came a couple of years later with MySQL, same story partnering etc, . only this time our trainer had put some focus on a couple of slides during the training (Hi Tobias) and during the exam indeed one of those questions popped up, The correct answer to "What are the core values of MySQL AB" was "We reply to email" , I stood up and left the exam ...
I ranted about this to a number of people including Roland Bouman who back then was just starting on the MySQL (NDBD) Cluster certifciation track and I assisted him in making the book to study for that exam better.
Once again .. pretty much no one asked for MySQL certification in Europe back in those days (2007 ?)

I won't go deeper into discussing the Xen certification I got from Citrix, but it involved correcting slides from the presenters at the first European training.

Based on my experience with these certifications in Belgium/Europe you can see that I`m not a big fan of certifications I have not seen a reason for me to certify yet

I actually think that noone within the Open Source community should be looking for certification, we should be looking for people that are active in the community and that are contributing to projects.
Unlike in the proprietary world where you have to cough up tons of money in order to get a license to play with a tool and learn itl In the open source world with projects such as both Drupal and Puppet, there are absolutely no excuses for Junior people not to engage and prove themselves. they have full access to anything they need, the only thing they need to do is want to get involved.

Sadly this world however is still full of incompetent recruiters, middlemarket agencies that will never understand this and will ask for cerftifications of some kind. My fear is indeed that there will be a group of mediocre but certified developers swarming these growing markets at dumping rates and that the people with the real experience that have been involved in the communities for ages already will be the ones pulling the short straw.

Anyhow ... in just a short couple of years everything will be fine again .. as by then my RHCE will be current again and the incompetent recruiters that need people that are RedHat 7 certified will start calling me by the dozen.


Adrian P's picture

#1 Adrian P : certifications

There are a lot of pros and cons and the discussions can go forever.

I think they are needed just to be clear from begining on my point of view .

I value all the points expressed and i say, why not make it better than the other did it? One common point i see is that it should be linked to the involvement in the community. It can take the form of a gamification process on The overall goal should be increasing involvement and quality of our work.

Let's not forget that certifications have a strong value in recruiting process where the first layer of selection is not technical.

Heather's picture

#2 Heather : Need for certification

It's clear the positive experiences of certification are very few and far between. The level of Cisco certification we admire is very costly and time consuming, thus difficult to scale and distribute.

I hope you'll read about the previous discussions on this topic.

Please also read this page about definitions of terms for clarification:

And if you want to continue the discussion, please join:

I think many people would benefit from assessment: "Where am I and how can I develop my skills?" I get such emails directly from individuals who want to know how they can develop their skills. Right now, there is nothing available beyond me speaking to them individually and pointing them in the right direction. I can't scale that, heh.

So I do think assessment is needed in the community. In some cases to validate someone's skills/experience in ways that can't be done in the issue queue, and also to help form a plan for personal development. Guidance could direct people to specific training programs and core initiatives to get involved in.

And of course, as mentioned above - to help clients and partners HIRE and expand their teams. Please see some documentation about this: - How to hire a Drupal developer - Skills of a successful back-end web developer - Skills of a successful front-end web developer

(The above inventory of skills are transferable between different applications - this can help an employer identify someone who would be able to learn Drupal.)

Walking around Munich, I saw "certifications" in the shop windows of bakeries. To say certification is important in some countries would be putting it mildly. Acquia has clients and partners in western Europe, India, Asia that need certification to get contracts for jobs. They are literally begging for it.

I was very against it before, but I came around to the idea that it is necessary and needed in some cases.

Again, if you want to continue the discussion please join

Mark Burgess's picture

#3 Mark Burgess : Certification

I was involved with the team investigating sysadmin/SAGE certification around 2000. Like Kris, I could not find any interest for this topic.

To my mind, only really CISCO has managed to build a certification programme that anyone believes in. I never heard of anyone with a Red Hat cert, and MS is mainly a money spinner, etc. Certification is a business rather than a form of education. Badges of honour are not really looked upon seriously in our field because it is what we do that counts, not which club we belong to.

In 2003 I established the first Masters degree in system administration to encourgae deep learning. I think that kind of accomplishment is a better approach to setting industry standard, because i) it is NOT a business, and ii) college education is a depth and breadth exploration. Certification only captures some soundbites.

After starting the company CFEngine to support our "next generation" CFEngine 3, we did a similar trial. Again. not much interest in certification. Many people do not even want support -- there is a strong mentality of individualism in system administration. So far, that makes certification mainly an issue for vendors -- like us -- to standardize our own internal knowledge management. We want to certify our own materials for QA and not pass fake judgement on people.

Henrik Ingo's picture

#4 Henrik Ingo : Certify the contributors

So the obvious answer is, these projects should create a certification that you can earn by contributing to the project. At least for Drupal this would obviously work: If you can develop in PHP/Drupal, you can prove that by contributing. There could also be a certification for contributing themes, graphics, or even content on

Perhaps for other situation this doesn't work as well: It's not obvious that a acompetent Red Hat sysadmin can contribute anything meaningful to the Linux kernel. Otoh a certified developer can.

Kris Buytaert's picture

#5 Kris Buytaert : Same for Puppet

Plenty of opportunity for Puppetlabs to certify people with quality modules on their forge on github .. so that approach should work for them too !

JP Mens's picture

#6 JP Mens : minesweeper consultants and solitaire experts

I've not believed in certifications since I met my first MCSE many, many years ago. That was followed by lots of other "certified" people. I still don't believe in them. In fact you probably know what mcse stands for right? ;-)

paul's picture

#7 paul : mcse

Mouse Clicking System Engineer ?

btopro's picture

#8 btopro : Apprenticeship

The way I deal with the issue of "Anyone can hire themselves out as a 'Drupal expert'" is checking their level of commits, patches, and experience on That's the first step to telling if someone is actually a Drupal expert that lives and breathes the community or a regular old php dev doing one-offs with a little structure.

Personally I think the way to go is an apprenticeship model. I'd much rather hear from someone that they helped work on Module X with established developer Y then the fact that they have certification from any vendor. This continues the fallacy that a degree = competent employee. A degree could an indicator of a potential good hire but references and experience are far more valuable.

Raf's picture

#9 Raf : This raises another problem.

This raises another problem. Say you work for a Drupal shop, or for a company that does Drupal alongside Sharepoint / Java / Coldfusion / ... . You work intensely with Drupal on a day-to-day basis for years and got a decent amount of expertise. You're always fully occupied with projects, so don't have time to maintain modules on d.o. Does this make you a junior instead of an expert? Does this make you a bad dev? Does this mean you're not certifiable? Does this mean you should be looked down upon by those who do have the time to contribute?

Ken Whitesell's picture

#10 Ken Whitesell : In theory I agree with you...

... but _we_ aren't the target market of my comments.

Think of a non-technical "Joe Business Owner" who wants a web site for his company. Somehow he finds our generic incompetent web designer who dabbles in Drupal. He has no clue how to properly evaluate this person, so hires him based on his sales pitch.

Six months later he's stuck with a web site that's difficult for him to administer, and costing him a lot more than he expected for maintenance and hosting - and a bunch of excuses from the designer who says that that's just the way that Drupal is.

So now, Joe Business Owner talks to his friends, and complains about how much his web site costs, and says things like "I would never let anyone sell me another site built on Drupal." So instead of one dissatisfied customer, there are now a half-dozen people or so who are worried about getting a site built with Drupal.

What I would like to see is *something* that can be used to identify people who have proven skills. Even if it were just something like an "Angie's List for Drupalers".

patcon's picture

#11 patcon : We need to better surface the

We need to better surface the technical indicators on that the "pros" already know how to read. It can be an evolving set of metrics, but it should be something that will inherently be lead and shaped by developers (coded into site), and not business interests (certification. The vast majority of devs will take no interest in a certification curriculum, and so it won't reflect the community's real values. Stats on thr site will be dogfooded by us constantly, and so will remain relevant to knowing a developers real skill level.

Just my thoughts. Certification strikes me as worthless. Rresurfacing the community's self-contained and introspective self-understanding is much more valuable.

Ken Whitesell's picture

#12 Ken Whitesell : Certification isn't necessarily a bad thing....

Forget the financial implications for a moment - important, but not relevant to my first point.

The problem right now that I see is that Drupal risks gaining a bad reputation as being "unreliable" or "difficult", when the problems are really related to the people trying in install or maintain it.

Anyone can hire themselves out as a "Drupal expert", and assuming they can market themselves as such, can get work doing that - when they're really not qualified to do it. As a result, they end up creating a site that either doesn't perform well, isn't stable, or has any number of other problems. And, when the customer / client complains, those people then put the blame on Drupal rather than acknowledge their lack of skills.

I've worked with enough people who have had to go in and fix "bad" sites to believe this problem is only going to get worse unless *something* is done - acknowledging that certification is only one possible solution.

I do believe that this is an issue that needs to be addressed somehow - and it needs to be heavily promoted on, such that a prospective client / customer has confidence in it.

I think there's also a substantial difference between the need for Drupal certification and certifications for things like MySQL or RedHat - and that relates to the target customer.

Generally speaking (knowing that like any generalization there are lots of exceptions), it's going to be larger companies or corporations that would / should be looking for certified MySQL or RedHat expertise. In those situations, the 'experts' are usually working with in-house staff who can end up properly evaluating those people's skills.

But, in this area (Baltimore/Washington), there are a _lot_ of small businesses that want to establish a presence on the web. Those companies are the ones that tend to see their money wasted on bad implementations, and end up believing it's Drupal that is the problem. The individual contractor moves on, leaving behind yet another business believing that Drupal isn't ready for prime time.

Wouter Vanden Hove's picture

#13 Wouter Vanden Hove : Certification is a concept from the closed source world.

Great you walked away from the MySQL-exam.
I'm rather negative about certifications.

In the closed source world, certification is an extra income-stream for the software-company. They sell licenses to users and sell certifications to developers. Good for them.
Usually getting certified is insanely expensive, where you are required to follow a series of expensive proprietary courses.

In the past, I evaluated some certification-programs about project-management. But most questions of the test-exams were self-referential, and thus did not refer to actual knowledge.

In the open source world, you prove your skill-level in a very different way: by contributing to the project.

Bartek's picture

#14 Bartek : I'm an Oracle-certified MySQL

I'm an Oracle-certified MySQL for both, dev and dba. I did it only because I received majority of my experience doing private stuff, so it wasn't easy to document it otherwise.

Just a certification use case.

Patrick's picture

#15 Patrick : Same here

I have a similar experience. Got RHCE certified a decade ago and got surprisingly little leads from Red Hat or RHCE focused interest from the market.

My not-so-current RHCE is for 7 too. It will be a good laugh when people start calling how we already got certified for 7 when it's one day on the market. Maybe it will actually create some new business.

So friend or foe? It's a friend because the RHCE education was a really good experience. It's a foe because the market is oblivious what a RHCE/RHCA really is and what a reasonable rate is for an experienced RHCE and RHCA. Examples of demanding a RHCE for 35 euro/hour to do low-end sysadmin work are too common... Unfortunately the Enterprise demands some kind of certification so you can't really be without it. In the end I guess it's a friend for the wrong reasons.