Sunday, September 20, 2009

Open Source Certification

I have just been browsing the relaunched website of the British Computer Society and came across an interesting article on Open Source Certification. Now there are some pretty important and successful open source applications out there, but there is limited experience of 'certification' in the same way that you can be become, for example, Microsoft certified. Red Hat does offer some courses for you to become a Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) but this is an exception for open source applications.

The big question is does it matter? It all depends on your point of view regarding certification. Does the fact that a product is 'certified' make it a better product? Does the fact that an engineer is 'certified' make him a better engineer compared to one who isn't? As in all cases it depends. A certified engineer should certainly have independently demonstrated a degree of competence in using or configuring a product. However certification without experience to back up the qualification is no use to anyone. Similarly a certified product might demonstrate that the product has become too large and cumbersome that it really needs to be entrusted to a select band of engineers who have demonstrated that they understand the product better than those who have just learned to tame the product to met their specific requirements. A certified engineer should also probably be aware of a few tricks and tips which are not widely known.

So should all open source products offer a certification programme? In my view, no. However there is clearly a point at which certification becomes necessary or expected by the customer community. I would suggest that this can occur in a number of cases:
  • When the product is becoming widely accepted as one of the market leaders across multiple platforms.
  • When the product is now developed on 'commercial' lines with a funding line.
In either case, a professional certification programme should be promoted and managed, but recognizing that significant experience of a product should be automatically rewarded (on request) with certification, particularly if the experience has been gained through the formative years of the product.

A similar approach was adopted a few years ago by the BCS when it launched the Chartered IT Professional (CITP) qualification. To date, this has yet to become a widely accepted, recognized (and demanded) qualification for key roles within the IT industry. Until recognized qualifications or certifications within the IT industry become a pre-requisite for certain roles, the certifications people achieve will be little more than another the certificate to put on the wall or in the drawer. Until this is the case open source certification will become little more than a commercial exercise in raising funds for future product developments.