"Here are other links to mailing list discussions about those offered positions at Linuxgruven:
- [Email from Ronald Boney and Paul Berlin]
- [Email from email@example.com]
- [Email from firstname.lastname@example.org]"
Sair GNU/Linux provides certification and testing materials for personal or corporate use intended to show proficiency with various GNU/GPL software. Eric S. Raymond, Jon "maddog" Hall, Bruce Perens, Richard Stallman and other luminaries of Free software sit on the board of Sair, which lends an air of credibility that few organizations can boast.
In an economic niche somewhere near that of Sair, Linuxgruven also focuses on GPL software, by providing training courses and materials and certification, but also provides professional services. They currently have offices in eight U.S. cities, and plan on opening an equal number soon, according to their CEO.
I exchanged email and telephone calls with representatives of both Sair GNU/Linux and Linuxgruven yesterday to find out what each had to say about any legal entanglement between the two companies, and about the uncomplimentary descriptions online of Linuxgruven's hiring practices. If you read the links above, you'll find accounts by Linuxgruven course applicants, who claim that they were offered well-paid entry-level jobs -- in advance, prior to taking any course -- in exchange for paying up-front for the training courses offered by Linuxgruven.
Lenny Sawyer, Sair's Vice President of Operations, was the first to respond to my email, but could offer little information. He said "[w]e (Sair Linux and GNU) feel it would be inappropriate for our company to comment publicly on any possible legal proceedings or an investigation by an outside agency. Sair Linux and GNU Certification has stated it will always take the necessary and proper steps to protect its copyrighted training and certification materials, but we can not comment on any possible individual situations."
Shortly after this, I reached by telephone a Linuxgruven employee named Alex White, who told me that I needed to talk to Matt Porter, the company's CEO. Porter, he said, was on another phone call at the time, but would be able to call me back later in the day. I asked whether I could have Porter's email address in addition, but White said that he had been told not to release email addresses.
While he was on the phone, I asked White (in Linuxgruven's St. Louis office) a little bit about Linuxgruven and his experience there. Was he a Linux user? Did he take a Linuxgruven training course? White answered Yes to both of those questions, and described the 4-week training course as "very comprehensive -- about 80 hours of classroom instruction." White, though, said he was unaware of any legal action either active or in the works involving Linuxgruven, and that I'd have to wait to talk with Porter. White also said he'd never heard of anyone being offered a job at Linuxgruven contingent upon pre-payment of course fees.
I asked White if when he had taken the Linuxgruven course he had been asked or required to pay in advance. "I don't recall," he said. When I expressed surprise at not remembering at what point he'd had to hand over the thousands of dollars the four-week course costs, he explained, "I had relatives who paid for it, and they went through that whole [payment] process." He saw the training course as a route to a better job, after a stint in tech support for another company. What is his job at Linuxgruven now? "Basically, I set up interviews," said White.
A few hours later, Porter called me back, and promised an email with some information (it arrived a few minutes later), and provided his cell phone number; we both agreed that I should read his email and then we would talk again.
During a second telephone call, I asked Porter whether anyone was offered employment at Linuxgruven on a quid pro quo basis, as the user-group emails above indicate, and Porter flatly denied that anyone was ever offered a job based on prepayment for Linuxgruven's training course. "That's never been the case," he said. "That's not how we operate."
"There is absolutely no requirement that any job applicant take our training course and, in fact, we have many employees who have passed either our own examination or the Sair examination without ever taking our training course," reads part of his e-mailed response. "If someone wishes to take our training course in order to prepare for either our own examination or the Sair examination, we offer a discount on our course and we offer to employ the person if he or she subsequently passes one of the two examinations. We do not offer employment in return for simply enrolling in the course, and we do not guarantee that anyone who takes the course will pass one of the two examinations."
Porter told me by phone and in his email that he was aware of the Ross Brunson email cited above, but that he knew of no active legal action involving his company and Sair, or anyone else. Rather than the (singular) "ongoing Better Business Bureau investigation" mentioned in that email, Porter said that he is aware of two BBB investigations, one apiece from the St. Louis and Kansas City bureaus. "We are currently working with both Better Business Bureaus to explain the correct nature of our employment practices," according to his email.
But what is the status of Sair's relationship with Linuxgruven, and why the talk of legal action? According to the email linked above, which Porter says he "assumes is genuine," Sair has "suspended operations with [Linuxgruven] due to non-compliance" with Sair's contracts regarding instructor qualifications.
Porter puts it slightly differently, allowing that Sair and Linuxgruven are no longer parters, but according to him this is because the two companies could not agree on terms for contract renewal. He said via email, "We have not received any word from Sair Linux asserting that it believes that we have misappropriated any of its copyrighted materials. Of course, it is not our company's policy or practice to misappropriate anyone's copyrighted materials."
"The whole stuff about Sair confuses me, because we look at that test, and we have complete respect for what Sair and those guys are doing," said Porter. "We have the utmost respect for the Linux community,and we owe a lot to the community." Porter pointed out that his company accepts Sair-certified applicants, and said this was a good indicator of how much respect Linuxgruven holds for the worth of Sair's training, whether or not the two companies are currently working together.
On the telephone, Porter also seemed slightly taken aback by the disappointment and skepticism expressed online by the people behind the links above, saying "We're a legit company ... We have happy customers," pointing to the testimonials and case studies featured on the Linuxgruven web site. Porter, in fact, is chairperson of the St. Louis LUG, and seems genuinely interested in spreading the idea of Open Source software.
With eight offices open at present, and plans to open eight more in the works, there's no doubt that that aggressive hiring practices are the natural result of Linuxgruven's growth. But why do several people claim to have been offered jobs in exchange for paying for the Linuxgruven training course, if that's "never been the case," as Porter says? The answer to that is likely to come out soon.
If courtroom action is initiated, we're sure to hear more about both Sair and Linuxgruven; anyone with experiences of any kind as a Linuxgruven applicant or employee, or with thoughts on the Sair certification, is encouraged to post comments below.
Update: 01/31 02:04 AM by T : Thanks to Matt Porter for this clarification: Alex White, the Linuxgruven employee I spoke to on the phone, has not yet received certification from Linuxgruven, and his current position is one which allows him to work toward that certification. Any implication otherwise was in error.