LPI and My First International Proctoring "Job"

One of the contributions that I have lent to LPI, and of which I am very proud, is the constant drum beat about making LPI multinational. From the very beginning I remember talking about the issues in various countries around the world in terms of language, costs of certification and ease of finding and taking the tests. As in other interactions with LPI, I acknowledge that others also spoke and were concerned about these issues, but for me they were the heart-blood. Either LPI was going to be an international organization with an international certification, or it would be ineffective for the needs of Linux and FOSS. Of course lots of things take time. LPI had to develop the tests and set up the relationships. LPI was starting out on very small budget.  We had plans to deliver the tests in multiple languages, but to translate the questions and to run them through the same rigorous testing that the English tests were given took time and money.  Even using strict translation, there can be clues introduced or misinterpretations created that bias the tests.  You have to qualify the test questions again after every translation.

So although LPI was incorporated in Canada in October of 1999, close to two years later LPI had not delivered a test in Brazil. I had been to Brazil before 2002, and even before 1999. Two years after I had met Linus Torvalds and a few months after Red Hat Software's Alpha Linux distribution was first distributed, I was flown to Sao Paulo in 1996 to speak at the University of Sao Paulo (USP), and saw my first Beowulf high-performance computing system running Linux at that university. USP had 160 PCs hooked together to do real-time computer graphics of “Toy Story” quality.

While others were using Beowulf clusters to render animation frames over time, USP was doing it in real time. USP was also using their Beowulf to shorten the time needed to analyze a mammogram for cancer from close to a day to a few minutes. And finally they were using Linux to help manage remote Windows systems. “When the windows systems do not boot we tell the user to boot Linux, then we FTP a new copy of Windows onto their system. Is this a legitimate use of Linux?” asked the school's president. I told him that every use of Linux was a legitimate use of Linux.

After that trip I started spending more time in countries in the southern hemisphere. Venezuela, Peru, Uruguay and other countries, but I still came back to Brazil more than most because of the FOSS activity there, and simply because Brazil is the 12th largest economy in the world. I knew that Brazil was going to be a hot-bed of Linux and FOSS, and quite a few of their Linux people could read and write English very well, but sometimes that was difficult to demonstrate to others. In January of 2002 a FOSS training company in Brazil named “4Linux” decided that Brazil needed a certification for Linux. They naturally looked to LPI to supply that certification.

However, the fledgling LPI stated that only LPI representatives could give the tests, and it was not cost effective to fly someone from Canada to Brazil to test 100 or 200 people, particularly when Marcelo Marques, one of the owners of the 4Linux company kept telling LPI that 200 US dollars was “too much money” for the test. Six months Marcelo kept contacting LPI and asking when LPI could deliver tests to Brazil, even offering to pay for the instructors to come to Brazil to give the tests and all of the money from the tests would go back to LPI. For some reason this did not resonate with the LPI staff, but in the meantime 4Linux was creating demand for the certifications by mentioning LPI to their students and talking about the importance of certification. Eventually Marcelo called the president of LPI in Toronto, Canada. However, Marcelo did not take into account the time differential, and while it was nine o'clock in the morning in Brazil, it was only six o'clock in the morning in Toronto. Groggy from sleep, the president of LPI agreed to send someone to Brazil to administer a paper exam. LPI contacted me, and on July 29th, 2002 I sent an email to Marcelo telling him that I was going to be on a series of trips, including one to Uruguay, and if I could get travel sponsorship I would travel to Sao Paulo to administer the tests for LPI while on my way to Linuxworld in Germany. The Open Group graciously sponsored the “detour” to Sao Paulo, so the tests were scheduled to be offered on October 23rd. 4Linux paid for all of my lodging and meals, and even hired a photographer to capture the event. Of course for Marcelo and the rest of the 4Linux staff it was now a big rush to advertise the tests, get the potential test takers registered and run the event. Marcelo even negotiated the price down to 150 Reais from 200 US dollars, a large reduction in price for LPI.

To be fair, LPI's costs were not huge on this test, since I was donating my time and travel expenses were covered. It was a huge victory for the Linux market in Brazil and for 4Linux. Marcelo and I applied the test. 4Linux even had a T-shirt made to celebrate the event. [Hmmm, did I ever get one of those T-shirts?] I do admit to being nervous, as this was the first time that I was the “lead” on being a proctor for the test. I had co-proctored with other LPI representatives previously, giving paper tests at various Linux events and I knew what to do, but I was nervous nevertheless. Of course everyone was nervous, and in a case like that the only thing you can do is remember that famous quote from “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy”:

Don't panic

which I told them several times. I also wanted to tell them the right answer was “42”, but felt that might be disruptive to the test, so I controlled myself. I did manage to crack a few more jokes that, despite the language barrier, most people understood...the jokes helped relieve the tension. I brought along a few “prizes” for the test takers, including a clock made from a CD-ROM signed by Linus Torvalds, so after the testing was over we raffled the prizes. On October 24, 2002 I sent this email to LPI headquarters as I was leaving to fly to Germany:

Hi, I just thought That I would report on the successful testing of 101 students in Sao Paulo yesterday. I will copy the test sheets tomorrow when I return to the USA and mail them to Wilma. Marcelo Marques was more than a host and a facilitator, he was (and is) a good friend, and his staff at 4Linux made me feel more than just "at home". I am really glad that we did this for them.

Maddog

4Linux went on to form an NGO inside of Brazil to promote the LPI certifications. In 2006 a larger, stronger and growing LPI decided to form affiliates around the world, and 4Linux closed its NGO and became an LPI affiliate. Over the past nine years LPI has continued to reach out to a world-wide audience in a systematic, sustainable fashion.  They create affiliates, translate tests into major language when appropriate and business sense applies, and help to promote FOSS at major events. I (of course) continue to travel the world preaching the word about Free Software and pushing education and certification for systems administrators, but those early days in Brazil with the 4Linux people will always have a place in my heart, with or without that T-shirt.