There’s no such thing as “just a Linux sysadmin,” which is what makes Linux professionals so incredibly valuable. We’ve all been hearing that the demand for Linux professionals is “at its highest ever!!!” for years. In recent years, though, it hasn’t just been Linux nuts like me saying it. You may reference the 2014 Linux Jobs Report by The Linux Foundation and assume they’re biased, but a quick search over at Monster.com shows that the demand for Linux professionals is a real thing.
Linux has been around for decades, so why the sudden interest?
Sure, I mean Linux is flexible, but more than that, Linux System Administrators are flexible. It’s not news to anyone that Linux is gaining popularity in part due to its dominance in the cloud and the datacenter. And certainly that large install base needs sysadmins who understand Linux and how it works. More importantly, however, companies need sysadmins who can make those cloud based services work with their particular internal needs.
If you need someone to integrate your homegrown database system with a cloud based Linux infrastructure, you need a Linux professional. Take my personal experience when transitioning from a Linux-centric server room to a Microsoft dominated company. My certifications are strictly network and Linux-based (specifically CCNA & LPIC/Linux+). Still, I was confident applying for a management position in a database department that used 100% Microsoft SQL, even though I’d never touched MSQL in my life. And I never claimed to do so in my interviews, because I understand conceptually what needs to be done. I have first-hand experience with integrating various operating systems, so learning the nuances of Microsoft-specific procedures didn’t worry me at all.
I got the job, and after a year I can assure you my lack of first-hand experience didn’t affect my ability to lead a team or make technical decisions. My point? Linux users tend to be a cut above the rest, not because they’re inherently smarter or better, but because Linux requires you to understand what you’re doing on a level that’s not required with Windows. That conceptual understanding is invaluable, and interviewers know it. As Linux users and pros, we’ve been learning to integrate into heterogenous environments our entire careers. It’s easy to find a strictly Microsoft shop, but 100% Linux? That’s almost unheard of. That means as Linux administrators, we have been forced to understand multiple systems in order to do the simplest of tasks. Think about it, every Linux user in the world would be able to configure a network connection in Windows 7. If they didn’t know how, it would be really easy to figure out. Then, take a Windows administrator and ask them to set up a static IP on a Debian server? That’s far less common.
What makes Linux professionals valuable
In order to fill those desperately needed Senior Administrator positions, Linux folks need to have a firm grasp of what Linux can and can’t do. Is scaling to the cloud a wise move? Will database latency cause transaction errors if queries take place over the Internet? Can we use a cloud service like Amazon, or do we have to use Azure due to Microsoft specific code?
In order to answer those tough questions, not only must a sysadmin be comfortable in their area of expertise, but they must have understanding and experience in cross-platform solutions. Like I pointed out earlier, this pretty much describes what it means to be a Linux professional! Nobody likes hiring or even working with an arrogant Linux zealot. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get an air of superiority. The key to being hirable (and not being a jerk) is to turn that arrogance into fearlessness. Don’t call your potential employer stupid for implementing a Microsoft virtualization platform, tell them how excited you are to get your hands on it so you can learn what advantages and disadvantages it offers.
Who knows, maybe you’ll eventually replace their entire system with open source—but you won’t even have the chance if you start off by insulting them.
What if you have not been using Linux your entire career? What if you haven’t had a career yet at all? That’s the beauty of open source. Nothing, I repeat, nothing about working with Linux is a secret. By design, every bit of information is available freely on the Internet. You can download multiple distributions, countless open source applications, and enough documentation to make your eyes cross. All for free. Certainly there are advantages to professional training when it comes to learning Linux, but not because trainers have access to anything not already available to anyone.
Linux and open source software, coupled with the Internet, have leveled the playing field when it comes to learning and growing as a professional. I’m a Linux professional today because in my early 20s I couldn’t afford to study anything else. Today, I couldn’t be happier with those humble beginnings. Linux has changed my life, and if the studies and job searches are any indication, it can change yours too.