Tunisia: a small country but a big nation

by Jon «maddog» Hall, president of non-profit organisation Linux International and global GNU/Linux pioneer. The article is reproduced with consent of mr Hall as well as LPI director of communications, Scott Lamberton.

Imagine your commitment to Linux professionalism was so great that you sat for your LPI exam with demonstrations and army in the street outside and snipers on the roof of the building!” – Scott Lamberton, LPI

Tunisia:  a country of slightly over 10 million people, which a few weeks ago may have had little name recognition for many, has sparked a flame of revolution and reform that has put it on the front page of newspapers around the world.

A main catalyst of this revolution is the high unemployment of young people.  While Tunisia in general has been more prosperous than its neighbors, recent rises in unemployment due to the global slowdown was particularly hard on recent well-educated graduates and this has sparked unrest.

Yet despite all of the news of the political upheaval that was going on, a different type of revolution was also happening in this small country, the revolution of Free Software.

In the middle of both of these revolutions the LPI affiliate in Tunisia, LPI-Maghreb, reported:

«The last exams were done in special conditions,  army in the street and snipers on the roof but a very strong motivation to work.»

This prompted me to write to Sonia Ben Othman of LPI-Maghreb about Free and Open Source Software in Tunisia.

Sonia: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak about Tunisia and to show the great effort that we are undertaking to support FOSS in our economy.

maddog: In the United States «small business» tends to produce 50% of the non-farm Gross Domestic Product and 75% of new jobs.  A «small business» is usually considered to be between one and 100 employees, and «medium» is 100-500 employees.

In European countries the numbers are a bit smaller, but in both cases these «small and medium businesses» generate a huge part of the economy, and much of the innovation and exports come from them.

Can you comment on what a «small business» is in Tunisia, a «medium business» and what percentage of your economy is made up of these?

Sonia: Tunisia is the same situation, small business is also called micro-enterprises, and is considered to be between one and 30 employees. A medium sized business is between 30 and 200 employees.

maddog: When people come to you for training, do they come from large companies, small companies, or a mixture?

Sonia: People who obtain LPI  training are from both large and small companies.  Large companies are from the public and industry sector. Those people who come from small companies are especially from the IT sector.

maddog: Do your students come only from Tunisia or do they come from other countries?

Sonia: There are Tunisian students and also many other African nationalities (Republic of the Congo, Brazzaville–the capital of the Republic of the Congo–and Senegal, Morocco and Algeria) and in our universities there are many other nationalities.

maddog: Do many of your students come to train to become self-employed consultants?

Sonia: Yes, because they want to create  offshore and near-shore IT companies supporting the Tunisian, European and African markets.

maddog: What are the goals and motivations for your students to study FOSS and take the LPI certification?  Do their employers require them to be certified?

Sonia: The motivation and the goals of our students to study FOSS and to be certified is to find a job or to create one and to be more competitive in the national and international market . In fact the reality of Tunisia’s  IT economy is that there are many offshore companies in IT that have much business in international markets so the employers have more visibility when their engineers are certified.

maddog: What is the average age of your students?

Sonia: From 22 to 35 years, and many of these students are also active in local LUGS like the Ubuntu Tunisian team.

maddog: How do most of your candidates train for certification?

Sonia: Partnerships with universities allow us to integrate the LPIC-1 certification  into the courses of the students so they can  have an idea about the contents of LPI’s certification program. At LPI-Maghreb we have developed an e-learning  platform to help students prepare for LPI certification (LPIC-1) and we are preparing the same type of e-learning platform for LPIC-2.

maddog: Do you have many women applying for systems administration training and certification?

Sonia: Yes, of course  women have their place in IT sector and for LPI the rate of women who are applying for systems administration training and certification is about 30%.

[Note from Maddog: This was a leading question, because I was aware of Tunisia’s Code of Personal Status and the fact that women hold more than 20% of the seats in both chambers of Tunisia’s parliament.]

maddog: What is your own history with IT?  With Linux?

Sonia: My studies are in e-learning technology and through my experience with the Tunisian education system I found that FOSS is a great solution to help students obtain IT knowledge so they can  discover, innovate and develop IT solutions.  FOSS is a good way to acquire knowledge and to create new jobs.

maddog: What is the government’s position on the use of Free Software?

Sonia: Tunisia already has an advanced position in the IT industry in Africa.  The Tunisian government is aware of the importance  of FOSS in the development of our economy,  and LPI  and other certifications such as JAVA, Oracle, CATIA and Microsoft are working with the National program to certify over 20000 IT graduates in FOSS. There are also many new projects that will be developed by the government in e-administration, e-commerce and collaborative platforms with the use of  Free Software. These projects will create many opportunities for employment of IT graduates.

maddog: Sonia, thank you very much for your time in telling us something about Tunisia and the FOSS industry there.  Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?

Sonia: I hope that you will find in my answers an idea about  Tunisia, a small country but a big nation, so you are welcome to invest in our efforts.