Jon “maddog” Hall Discusses Global Open Source Certification

Jon “maddog” Hall, a long-time FOSS advocate and educator, joined Doc Searls and Aaron Newcomb on a recent episode of the FLOSS Weekly podcast. The wide-ranging interview touched on topics including global certification, Hall’s early career, open source licenses, Project Cauã, the “maddog” nickname, and much more. In this article, we’ll cover a few highlights of the podcast.

Hall currently serves as the board chair at Linux Professional Institute (LPI, which also sponsors FOSSlife). He is the cofounder of Caninos Loucos, a project to get single board computers designed and manufactured in Brazil and is President of Project Cauã, which teaches university students how to set up and run their own IT business in order to pay for school.

LPI Certification

LPI, which was created in 1999 as a nonprofit, focuses on certification to “help professionals be recognized and trained properly to be able to maintain systems,” Hall said. Through the years, LPI has concentrated mostly on the certification part, which allows the training part to be left up to the individual, through attending classes, reading books, or other training methods. Currently, LPI has approximately 160,000 certified people in 180 different countries, Hall said.

LPI also strives to make its certifications as general as possible. This is done for two reasons, Hall said: “1) We want to be distribution agnostic. 2) We want to train people to be able to go into jobs like in a call center, where you’re not sure what the customer will have as a distribution, and problems may lie above the distribution line.”

In regard to the sys admin certification exam, Hall stated, “The certification itself is difficult. I don’t encourage people to just go and take it and see how they do. I really encourage people to go to the site and look at the objectives one by one and say to themselves, is this something I really can do? And if not, study it, so that when you go to take the test, you’re ready for it. We have quite a high failure rate for people who don’t do that.”

Education and Experience

When asked about the benefits of a training boot camp versus a traditional computer science degree for job seekers, Hall said, “You’re talking to someone who started out as an electrical engineer. There was no CS back then. I taught myself how to program. I taught myself assembly language.”

However, he continued, when you go to university, “Yes, you study a curriculum, but what universities are supposed to be teaching is how to learn on your own.”

“Is a university degree necessary?” Hall asked. “I don’t think so, but you have to learn how to put together your portfolio. Maybe you should go out and get some jobs, what we used to call internships or cooperative education, to get the practice you need in a real-life situation of solving somebody else’s problems.”

To gain experience in the world of open source, he said, “You can also go to an open source project, take a look at their bug lists, [and] see what bugs need to be fixed. Go into the source code, fix the bugs, and submit the patch. They may reject your patch a couple times… but you get your patch accepted, you learn how to make your code look like theirs, and afterwhile, they say, ‘hey, you’re pretty good at this, would you like to create some new functionality?’” Such contributions can also lead to job opportunities. 

Free and Open Source

When discussing the difference between free software and open source software licenses, Hall said, “Open source benefits the developer.” Basically, he explained, in order to use code that someone else has written, you need a license that says, ok, go ahead and use it, and these are the terms and conditions to follow. MIT and BSD licenses, for example, are considered permissive licenses, so all you really have to do is tell people where the code came from and so forth. “You can use it, you can create your own distribution, and you do not have to distribute the source code,” Hall said. 

“It doesn’t do anything for the end user really,” he said. The user can’t change it or fix it, and if the developer loses interest, it may become unusable. 

Free software, on the other hand, has the same permissive guidance about getting and using the software, but it has a very strict set of rules to follow to be able to distribute your binaries. You have to make your source code available, you have to tell people how to build it, and you have to give people the ability to fix their own problems or make their own changes. That, Hall said, is the biggest difference between open source licenses and free software licenses, meaning mostly the GPL.


Newcomb asked Hall about the origins of the nickname "maddog," which seems incongruous for a man of such calm and thoughtful demeanor. Hall replied by saying that he is close to 70 years old now, and, over the years, he has learned that when you lose your temper, you lose the argument.

“I was about 27 years old when I realized that showing my anger just made me lose the argument, but I keep the name to remind me every single day, every single hour, every single moment, not to lose my temper,” Hall said. 

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