Red Hat: Premliminary Exams Helped Open the Door to Remote Certification Testing
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has proven disruptive at all levels of society, with both individuals and organziations scrambling to find new ways of transacting business as usual. One key shift for many in the IT certification realm has been a more robust commitment to remote testing for certification candidates.
Delivering certification exams via the internet is not a new idea, but until this year it had been slow to catch on. In mid-April, CompTIA launched an all-in effort to offer remote certification exams and, on Aug. 3, Red Hat followed suit, launching online testing with four of its more popular exams and quickly expanding its remote testing repertoire.
The sudden need to more or less literally meet exam candidates where they live (so to speak) probably caught some certification programs flat-footed. Thanks to a shift in exam policy initiated in 2019, however, Red Hat was already several steps down the road to offering remote testing for certification exams.
Randy Russell, director of certification for Red Hat, said that the company began exploring preliminary exams in part to better serve schools and universities that participate in its Red Hat Academy education program. Educators wanted to align a certification with the System Administration I course offered through Red Hat Academy.
Red Hat didn't believe completion of one course should merit a certification, but wanted to address the need for schools to help students enter the workforce. In the end, preliminary exams gained traction as a means of identifying individuals who could demonstrate a foundational grasp of Red Hat technology with room for growth.
"Red Hat Preliminary Exams provide a bridge between the needs of industry to identify people who are measurably on the journey to proficiency without compromising the standards we have for the certification program," Russell said.
There was a second key factor, however, in the development of preliminary exams. Like other certification programs, Red Hat had explored the possibility of remote testing. "Preliminary exams offered us an opportunity to step cautiously into the world of online, bring-your-own-device testing," Russell said.
"Various stakeholders had been seeking this delivery approach for a while and preliminary exams provide us an avenue to develop capabilities while not betting the farm right out of the gate."
Preliminary exams have all of the features, if not the breadth and scope, of a Red Hat certification exam: They are hands-on, performance-based evaluations that require a live Red Hat environment. In essence, the Red Hat certification program had already developed a stable blueprint for creating and deliving online exams when COVID-19 hit.
While preliminary exams do validate a subset of the skills needed to pass a full certification exam, completion of a preliminary exam does not, in most cases, count toward earning a full certification. Russell did outline one key exception, however, that provides another example of how preliminary exams support Red Hat's overall certification mission.
Industry interest in key Red Hat technologies, Russell said, has never been higher: "There is a keen interest in containers, for example, and many organizations are using this period as a time for their technical teams to learn about containers and Kubernetes.
"With these things in mind, we decided to take the unusual step of offering certification to anyone who passes the PE180 Red Hat Preliminary Exam in Containers, Kubernetes and OpenShift retroactively and through Sept. 30, 2020."
The PE 180 preliminary exam will thus provide interim certification coverage in an area where Red Hat is currently developing a more robust solution. "In October," Russell said, "we will launch a certification exam that will replace (PE 180) and that will be more aligned with the rest of the certification program in terms of exam duration, delivery options, and costs."
Preliminary exams will continue to be available to support Red Hat Academy, to help working professionals with some exposure to Red Hat technologies evaluate their skill level, and for other needs. As Russell pointed out, preliminary exams can also support business objectives, particularly when it come to hiring.
"We see preliminary exams as powerful tools for recruiting," Russell said. "A recruiter or hiring manager could use them in lieu of a technical interview, or, if they want to conduct technical interviews, as a means of gating which candidates receive them."
One thing preliminary exams are not suited for is individuals with little or no exposure to Red Hat technology who want to dip a toe in the Red Hat certification waters. Preliminary exams, Russell said, are best suited for individuals who "have experience — whether on the job or through self-study — with a technology or else have received training on it.
"These exams aren't cream puffs to be undertaken with luck as the strategy."