SysAdmin's Journey


After taking and passing both my SCSA and my RHCE exams this year, it’s time to reflect. Read on for the pros and cons of each from a student’s point of view.


The Sun Certified Solaris Administrator certification is obtained by taking two exams. Both exams are all multiple choice and drag-and-drop format. The first test costs $300 and consists of 59 questions; you have 2 hours in which to complete them. Anything over 61% is passing, and you walk out of the testing center with your grade in-hand. You must pass this first test before moving to the second test.

The second test also costs $300, and consists of 60 questions. Anything over 63% is passing, and you have 105 minutes to complete the second test. Like the first test, all the questions are multiple choice or drag-and-drop, and you walk out with your grade in-hand.

The time limits on both exams were adequate for me. I had enough time to go through once, then review all my answers at leisure with a little time remaining.

Find out more from Sun’s SCSA home page.


The Red Hat Certified Engineer certification is obtained by taking one exam. The exam costs $799, and you have 3.5 hours to finish the exam. The exam includes content from the RHCT and the RHCE – you must score 70% or higher on the RHCT portion, and 70% or higher on the RHCE content to get your RHCE. It is possible to get over 70% on the RHCT portion, but get less than 70% on the RHCE content; in this case you will obtain your RHCT (think of it as a consolation prize). You will not know your score until some time after your exam. I took my exam on Friday and got my score Tuesday afternoon.

The exam is what Red Hat calls a “performance-based” test environment. There are no multiple choice, drag-and-drop, or written answers. You sit down at a machine, and your questions tell you do things to that machine. Red Hat doesn’t care how you get the machine there, they only care about the end state of the machine.

The time limit on the exam was enough for me to go once through, and then go back and double check my answers one time with only a couple minutes to spare. I actually found some mistakes on my review, so it was time well spent. The nature of the performance-based exam means that you may not be able to proceed to the next step until you finish the current step, so if you get stuck, you may find yourself short on time.

Start your research at Red Hat’s RHCE home page.

My Opinion

I’m under NDA’s for both exams, so I’m limited in what I can say. Here’s a few points to ponder:

  • RHCE
    • I feel like a huge nerd for saying this, but the RHCE was the most fun I’ve ever had during a test.
    • You don’t get access to the Internet, but you do have access to the commands and the man pages just like you would in the real world.
    • The RHCE does not test your memorization skills, your ability to “read between the lines”, or your test-taking ability. It tests your ability to administer a Red Hat Linux system.
  • SCSA
    • The SCSA covers, in my opinion, much more information – both in depth and in width.
    • There are what I would call trick questions, and you are tested on your ability to memorize. You have to memorize command-line flags, and many times you have to really read into the question to determine the right answer. I honestly left the testing center angry, because much of what I missed I felt that I knew the answer to.

This could be due to my background knowledge on the two exams, but it felt to me like the SCSA exam focuses more on the core OS, whereas you have more focus on some third party daemons on the RHCE. For example, setting up an IMAP server is on the RHCE Exam Prep page, but not addressed by the SCSA Objectives.

Both exams have free online assessments you can do to find out where you stand, both have the objectives of the exam listed online, and all the study material you need is available free online.

Study Materials Used

Personally, for the RCHE, I took the RH300 “Rapid Track” course, which served as a nice refresher course before taking the exam. I think I would have obtained my RHCE without the course, but I certainly wouldn’t have done so well. Aside from the course, I didn’t buy any books or anything. Oh, but I have used Red Hat since Red Hat Linux 5.2 - that’s gotta count for something.

For the SCSA, I bought Sun’s Web-Based training course. After taking the first exam, I felt the course was inadequate in preparing me for the exam, so I picked up Bill Calkins Solaris 10 Exam Prep CX-310-202 book. It was excellent, and I strongly recommend it to anyone looking to take the exam. The book actually hadn’t been printed yet when I needed it, and I picked it up pre-press via Safari’s RoughCuts program. I actually had quite a few emails back and forth with the author – he knows his stuff and does an excellent job teaching the reader.

In Closing

In the end, I must say that I feel that I learned more by obtaining my SCSA, but much of that knowledge was has “fell away”. I remember the technologies, but I’ve forgotten the command-line flags I was forced to memorize. The RHCE, on the other hand, was almost easy for me. It tests not what you’ve memorized, but what you know.

I’m glad I have both, but I think all certifications should take Red Hat’s lead and switch to that testing format. I feel it’s far and away a better real-world testing method.