The HP-UX Admin Man: For Whom the Test Tallies

Prentice Hall's "HP Certified" book on HP-UX system administration.

The topic is certification. Technical Certifications, that is. Microsoft started its Certified Engineer (MSCE) thing, and a couple years ago, HP also jumped on that wagon with several types of certifications. It has had a rocky start, and I heard various rumors of the tests being re-written after an initially high failure rate. My first real experience with the HP certification information came when I saw the Prentice Hall "HP Certified" book on HP-UX System Administration. It is an 800-page book, rather obviously loaded with information. Being the cocky sort, I immediately jumped to the back (appendix D) and started taking the Sample HP-UX Certification test.

Well, let’s just say that there were a few questions that slowed me down in there. For example, what is rsh? Dang, since I work on mixed systems, it took a few seconds to remember that HP-UX calls remsh what most other UNIXs call rsh, but rsh is HP-UX’s restricted shell. Another question asks what a pipe is used for, and lists that answer as "redirecting standard input," rather than connecting two commands. A third question asks how to determine the number of command line arguments supplied to a shell script. $# was my answer, but the book said $*. This was when I realized that the answers were wrong. Looking back into the actual chapters that cover the information, the book’s data was right, and the test questions in the chapters I read through were answered correctly, only the sample test in the back had some incorrectly labeled answers.

I have always leaned toward the side of "Who needs it?" about certification. Just because you answer a few questions correctly, does that mean you can troubleshoot? Does it mean that you can quickly learn new technologies? Does it mean you can work well with others, or deal with users efficiently? I think the answers to all those questions are "no."

More recently, I have been seeing the other side of certification. What does it mean? Well, read through some sample tests online at, and you will probably find a few tough questions in there.

So, what it might mean is that the certified person has probably spent some time studying through the books, and studying is always a good thing. The exam is rather wide ranging, so you have to be familiar with many areas of HP-UX, some of which you might not use in your network. It means that the certified person has some baseline knowledge _of HP-UX.

The root of the whole issue can be phrased with two questions:

1. If you are certified, does that mean you are capable of performing the job of an HP-UX system administrator?

2. If you are not certified, or fail the test, does that mean you are not capable of performing the job?

The HP Web site has this blurb: "The HP Certified program is designed to create a high level of technical competency among information technology professionals. This program includes HP-UX, HP OpenView, MPE/iX and UNIX/ Microsoft Windows NT Integration certification tracks."

Another page on the Web site lists employer benefits: Increased staff productivity, motivation and performance; efficient operations and reduced business costs; improved service quality, technical support and user satisfaction; company-wide recognition for HP technical expertise; and increased reputation as a technical services provider.

The site also lists the benefits to the employee (certification recipient): Technical credibility; continuous opportunities for professional growth through HP’s learning communities; technology updates and white papers; the latest HP Certified news; greater job satisfaction through increased technical competency; customized technical support for HP; certified IT professionals; and recognition by peers within the industry.

I am not sure I can go along with all of these benefits. If a system administrator took a training class (or some study time) targeted toward a certification test, it seems that they might be wasting an amount of time learning things that they don’t need to perform their job (like the layers in the OSI network model). Might that time be better spent studying something that your network currently uses or plans to implement?

But, what about new admins? It is nice to have a new person familiar with all aspects of administration, and it does speak to the breadth of a person’s knowledge. Then again, it is highly possible to study a book, take a test and pass the exam without ever sitting in front of a keyboard on the system you are certified on. Would you want to hire that person?

I had always held certification as a black mark against a potential employee. I felt that if they needed to be certified, they probably had no experience. I now realize that it at least means the potential employee has some fixed level of knowledge, and I could spend my time seeing if they could use that knowledge, asking about troubleshooting and relational issues.