Why the OpenStack Foundation’s Certified OpenStack Administrator Hits the OpenStack Certification Mark

One of the most amazing tales of certification failure was an “OpenStack Certified” job applicant who admitted to not having retained anything from the training that allowed him to achieve the certification. While this is an extreme example, my experience has been that OpenStack Certified, even if it means the certificate holder “knows OpenStack,” does not equal competent ability to use OpenStack. Yet it seems to me that this is the point of certification- having a potential employer be able to evaluate the certificate bearers qualities, based on the credential?

There certainly is a need for a certification that carries weight. An online search for “OpenStack Jobs” or a visit to the OpenStack Job Board makes it quite clear that there is a demand for (competent) OpenStack users, operators, and administrators. The demand is so great in fact, that there are not enough skilled applicants to support the demand. A survey of 813 professionals, commissioned by SUSE and conducted by Dynamic Markets, identified skills shortages as one of the greatest barriers to private cloud adoption by businesses:

Skills shortage: 86 percent of respondents said the lack of skills in the market is making their companies reluctant to pursue private cloud. In addition, 78 percent of companies that have yet to adopt private cloud are deterred by the skills shortage.

For anyone interested in filling the skills gap, there are quite a number of companies that currently provide training. You can explore Kumulus Technologies’ OpenStack training, along with a number of other organizations that provide OpenStack courses are listed on the OpenStack Marketplace to find out how to jump in.

What is the problem with current certifications?

Now, let’s return to the initial question. How is it possible that students are able to achieve certification and yet, feel they have been unable to retain the content they must have known to be certified? I suspect the problem is twofold.

For starters, most of the introductory “Bootcamp” class of courses are introductory and intensive. They have, correctly, targeted students that do not know OpenStack and need to be built their knowledge from the ground up in a very short period of time. While on the surface this “drink from the firehose” approach to education seems a great way to get students up to speed quickly. Unfortunately, this model of learning is akin to the “cram for an exam” method and might get you through a certification process, but falls short in terms of providing an actual learning experience.

We learn, in simplest terms, through repetition over a period of time. The longer the repetition and time period, the more engrained the learning becomes in our long-term memory. In addition, the greater diversity of learning environments, the better that learning is embedded and retrievable. And just to be clear, long-term memory is where you store what you’ve really learned.

What this means is that sitting in the same classroom for a few days learning OpenStack will get you started. But you need to repeat to remember and ideally do it beyond the confines of a boot camp classroom. Clearly, students that make it through the current, intensive courses can have “learned” enough to get through the vendor-specific certification exams that have been the only option to date. The problem is that without further repetition – use of what has been learned – this learning quickly fades. Thus we get an end result like the interview experience highlighted at the beginning of this article.

How the OpenStack Foundation Certification is different.

So why does the OpenStack Foundation’s Certified OpenStack Administrator exam raise the bar for certifications and better serve candidates and employers? For starters, it is not tied to any training program. The stated requirements on OpenStack.org specifically targeted this exam at “a person with at least 6 months of OpenStack experience who provides day-to-day operation and management of an OpenStack cloud.” In other words, it is expected that people taking this exam have put in the time working with OpenStack to truly have learned the system and know how to use and troubleshoot it.

The COA also differentiates itself in specificity. Where most other OpenStack certifications are general in scope, the COA is focused on a specific skill set that is relevant to employers- OpenStack Administration. Installation and architecture (Day Zero) activities are not targeted. It explicitly targets OpenStack managers that have had experience with managing a working OpenStack system. As a result, the COA would carry much greater weight for me when considering a job candidate’s potential, in this case for an administrative position, as compared to another non-Foundation certification.

As a bonus, the COA was collaboratively developed by the OpenStack community, and the end result is truly a representative, vendor-agnostic product. The benefit of this approach is most obvious in the number of the training companies on the OpenStack Marketplace that now support this certification program. Hopefully, this will start to shrink the skills gap that seems to be holding back so many companies from completing their digital transformation by moving to an OpenStack Cloud. To their credit, the initial certification programs were produced by companies prior to this were pioneering. These companies recognized a need for OpenStack certification and stepped up to provide both training and certification. In cases where an introductory, general knowledge certification is what is desired or certification tied to a specific vendor’s product is needed, these certifications can still make sense.

Will we see further certifications from the Foundation? I, for one, am hoping that an Operators Certification might surface in the near future. Time will tell, but this first step has finally put in place a truly functional certification for both the certificate holders and those that hope to employ them.

John Starmer,
Director of Education


kumuluscoareview_horizWant to achieve the Certified OpenStack Administrator status? Check your readiness with our free COA review guide. Get an overview of the exam,  some example problems and more.

Ready to prepare for the exam? Check out our three prep courses: KTOS 300 Advanced OpenStack Bootcamp, KTOS304 1-day COA Review, and KTOS305 COA Self Study Review.