Red Hat Certification Still Pursuing Performance-Based Path

Red Hat certifications are proudly performance-based.

With all of the hue and cry over the better jobs and better wages that can come from IT certification, it sometimes feels as though a person's quality of life is dependent on their ability to pass a test or exam. It hardly seems fair, in that sense, that we would put so much weight on something with an outcome that can be easily swayed by diligent cramming, and is even subject to outright guessing.


Our right to be taught at an institution of higher education that we choose to apply to, should not be measured by our ability to fill in bubbles on a piece of paper. Your ACT or SAT scores should not overshadow your ability to work hard and really learn tough concepts! (Ahem.) Sorry, I may or may not have had a bad experience with past exams featuring multiple-choice questions. I'll get off my soapbox now.


The continued presence of multiple-choice questions on both academically and professionally meaningful exams, however, really is questionable. And in IT certification circles, one organization that stands apart as a valiant fighter against the enduring multiple-choice exam epidemic, is Linux-powered tech titan Red Hat.


Instead of measuring those who embrace its certifications by a multiple-choice standard, Red Hat has been a technology trailblazer for decades in staking out a different, performance-based approach. If you take a Red Hat certification exam, then you should expect success or failure to be gauged based on what you can do, and not necessarily what you may have memorized. Performance-based assessment has inarguable virtues and many defenders in the IT certification realm.


Not that testing what people can actually do is as simple or hassle-free as merely paying lip service to a different mode of operation. The performance-based means of accomplishing the ends of certification testing pose some unique challenges, as I learned in a recent interview with Red Hat's longtime director of certification, Randolph Russell.


"Wide-scale multiple-choice testing has been around for about a century, so there is a whole ecosystem of tools, vendors and academic thought that have been built up around it," said Russell. "While performance-based testing is not a new idea — think medieval guilds, for example — it has not had the same sort of ecosystem and hence has tended to be more of a do-it-yourself endeavor.


"That is starting to change now and I like to think that we have played a part in that change by showing how beneficial this approach can be."


Despite not having that robust ecosystem of tools and support for testing organizations, performance-based exams have proven their usefulness at preparing students for the real-world workplace. And Red Hat would know — the company's certification program has been proudly performance-based since its inception in 1999. "We believe having people actually do things in a controlled environment is a more effective measure of skills than asking people questions about doing things," Russell said.


"If the goal of certification is to identify people who are capable of doing the work, then the more effectively you can measure real-world skills, the more effectively you're achieving the goal."


In performance-based exams like those used by Red Hat, test takers are asked to practically execute real-world tasks in a timed environment. "Every task on every exam uses live operating systems and applications," Russell said. "Using the real thing ensures fidelity to the real thing." What makes this so effective is that it eliminates the usefulness of "brain dumps" or memorization via cramming, approaches that are common found in preparation for traditional multiple-choice exams.


A universal action associated with a multiple-choice test taker is that of guessing. While guessing isn't completely eliminated in a performance-based scenario, it takes on an entirely different meaning, according to Russell.


Red Hat certifications are proudly performance-based.

"People will sometimes say they 'guessed' how to do something in one of our exams but it really isn't guessing and it certainly isn't random selection with a 25 percent chance of success," Russell said. "Rather, 'guessing' means applying relevant domain knowledge and skills and successfully implementing a solution."


Rather than simply studying for a test, Red Hat certificants are learning how to do actual tasks that might be asked of them in a real-world IT workplace. This lends itself to an ongoing high employment rate for the hundreds of thousands of Red Hat certification holders.


Red Hat builds, deploys and supports versions of the Linux operating system, which is the tech world's foremost alternative to Microsoft Windows. The organization's core product is Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), which is an commercial-grade version of Linux used by large corporations.


Red Hat has been successful at using its open source platform to channel energy, dynamism and innovation into subscription-based products that help enterprise customers meet their business needs. This makes for a large number of career opportunites for anyone with a good working knowledge of RHEL (or any of its corporate cousins like Fedora). Career doors will be opened to anyone with a Red Hat certification.


And even though RHEL is recognizable and is the cornerstone of the organizations business, Russell made it known that it is just one of the many products available through Red Hat. Red Hat has expanded into other areas including virtualization, cloud, software designed storage and more. One of its more popular certifications now is the OpenStack cloud computing cert.


"OpenStack skills are particularly sought-after today," Russell said. "We are seeing a lot of interest and growth in the two OpenStack certifications we offer to date, Red Hat System Administrator in Red Hat OpenStack and Red Hat Certified Engineer in Red Hat OpenStack."


In short, Red Hat certifications are designed to give you the best skills-based education that any open source platform has to offer. Red Hat is constantly innovating and striving to make its performance-based approach a better fit for the needs of both academic and professional certification seekers.


Russell also clarified that "Red Hat certifications are not just for when you are on the outside trying to get in. They provide a useful benchmark for professional growth for those who are already on an IT team using Red Hat technologies."


Performance-based assessments and education don't just weigh heavily against the temptation to cram or cheat. Many find them so effective at providing prepariation to be immersed real-world Linux-based and cloud-based work environments, that it's like a second education. Some have even reported that they view their Red Hat credential as being more impactful than their college degree.


"I have had numerous people over the years tell me that they value their Red Hat certification more than their college degree," Russell said. He said it's humbling to hear such praise, but also that, "There is a lot of pride in being a part of something to which people have that kind of attachment."


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
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