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No formal certifications? CUE the Ubuntu skills testing scheme

Canonical is working on a new way to prove to employers you know your stuff

Ubuntu Summit Canonical is working on a new training and skills-testing scheme, currently codenamed CUE, to help people without formal certifications to show that they've got what it takes.

In a talk titled The Problem of "Street Cred" at this week's Ubuntu Summit in Prague, Adrianna Frick from Canonical's credentials and curriculum team presented it's proposed skills-testing and training scheme CUE: Canonical Ubuntu Essentials.

Frick laid out a problem she said went back to the long-gone COMDEX trade show in 1998. We can't help but wonder if that was the one with the legendary Bill Gates bluescreen demo.

Open source operating systems are (mostly) free, and that means that many of the people using, and indeed building, them are hobbyists, working on their own systems, she said. There's a lot of overlap with the "weird systems users" that Citrix misjudged so badly.

If you have acquired open source skills and knowledge by using it, how do you prove that? Indeed, how can the open source world identify what the important skills are, and how can it measure them? What are the commonly-performed tasks? Do they require specialist skills, tools, or knowledge? How should they be performed, and which tasks apply to which levels of expertise? How important are they to paid jobs?

There are lots of Ubuntu users with strong skills and knowledge of the OS, how to fix it and tweak it, or how to teach people about it, or how to write about it – but how can you prove it? There are professional certifications, of course, but the courses and the exams are expensive. Worse still, the syllabuses often include lots of irrelevant or obsolete material, rather than focussing on useful current knowledge.

The plan is that the CUE program will address this, with a modular format of both lessons and tests that are under one hour each, with separate tests for different areas of interest, Frick said.

Students will be able to study what they want, when they want, and work towards specific milestones at their own pace, based on their skills and experience. The aim is to assess real-world skills, with practical problems and scenarios and realistic test environments.

The company hopes to launch a limited beta test of the first version, CUE:Linux with 100 places for volunteer testers, who will be the first to get certified. Additional future rewards yet to be worked out, we're told.

For the big vendors of commercial open source products and services, training courses and certifications are a significant source of income. Canonical's model is different: it gives its flagship products away for nothing.

Founder Mark Shuttleworth's original goal is summarized in the Ubuntu bug tracker's bug #1. By giving away an OS that aspired to be "Linux for human beings", the company has gained a lot of mindshare. In his opening keynote at the Summit, Shuttleworth called Ubuntu's rough patch a "brutal time five years ago, which was the worst thing I've ever been through." More problems lay ahead, as for everyone: "You'd think the pandemic would've been easy for a remote-first organization, but it wasn't."

"But now," he continued, "we are growing, we are investing."

Certainly many of the Canonical staff members that The Reg FOSS desk met during the event are fairly new hires, joining within the last year or two.

Canonical now has to find ways to turn its considerable mindshare into a profitable, sustainable business model, so that the company can fund itself, and new approaches to acquiring, measuring and demonstrating skills will be important.

It's a bold plan, and it might just work. ®

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