How to become a Linux Systems Administrator
Believe it or not, on the blog on real life and on the board I moderate, I get asked the question “I want to be a Linux Systems Administrator/Engineer, where I do begin?” more that I would like to hear. Well this holds true for a series of other questions like “Would you fix my computer?” or “What is Linux?” but this is a tale for another day.
The short answer to this question, and the most honest I can give you, is “I don’t know”. When I tell this to people they think I’m kidding them or just not wanting to give them an advice trying to protect my position or keep my secrets, but honestly this is the real truth I don’t know or, better, I can’t give you a better advice than this. I think telling a bit about my story and how I become a Linux Systems Engineer together with some thoughts can prove useful.
My tale in becoming a Linux Systems Administrator
When my passion for IT began, around 16 years ago, the Internet was not what it is today and, worst of it all, I lived in a very small town (less than 8000 habitants) very isolated in an Italy where IT arrived really late, so you can guess internet was not widely available and far from being cheap. I still remember by the time for me the only OS out there was Windows with IBM and Microsoft being the only 2 big players in the industry, somehow true, and the only people I later met in the *nix field have started in academic environments like university, just to make this worst I could not pay for universities taxes so I could never come in touch with such an excitement environment
If you took some time to read my profile or you know about me probably you know I’ve started as Windows Systems Administrator covering the standard curve Engineer and finally Architect this is why that is where the market took me. When I was 19 I was so lucky to find a sponsored course for MCSE, with the same company that later has become one of my main customers, which eventually lead me to work with large companies with enterprise level AD and Exchange deployments (up to 40k users). During this period I was eventually faced with integration problems with Linux/Unix machines, stuff like Samba BIND for AD and so on, I’ve finally come in touch with *nix Sysadmins and I’ve started to “steal” always more knowledge from them, my first Linux was back in 1997, learning tricks and getting passionate about this wonderful world… After that I kept building my Linux skills messing with Virtual Machines, buying books and trying to implement in Linux what I used to do in Windows, mail servers, authentication services etc.
So answering my original question, how did I become a Linux Admin? Well part of the answer is hard work, lot of damn hard work. But I guess this holds true for everything in the IT industry and not.
So which certification should I get to become a Linux Systems Administrator?
This is another pretty common question I come across and well again there is not a precise answer. The certification industry in the Linux field is still fairly obscure in some senses, as you know the Linux Distribution panorama is pretty fragmened and so it is the certification world… worst of it all I never met a company using just a single Linux brand but rather a mix of the different distros (90% of the cases) whcih makes all of this difficult, which one is the right one for you?
In the Linux world there is not clear distiction like MCSE, MCSA, CCNP or whatever vendor you are certifying with.
Who follows the blog and knows me is already aware that I consider certifications just a cool piece of paper if they are not backed up by genuine and strong knowledge. Back to the days when I was giving technical interviews I’ve met countless candidates who were CCNP, RHCE, MCSE and could not even implement DNS, tell me what subnetting is or how to backup an Active Directory installation. The good part of this is that I also met a lot of certified (and not certified) really skilled who added a lot to my IT career.
So again I don’t have a short and clear answer the best I can say is focus on what you will be working with and be “honest” with yourself here, don’t get an RHCE just because it seems cool if you even don’t know how what will be expected from you as a Linux Systems Engineer. A good path for starter would be LPI level 1, followed by LPI level 2 and then RHCSA (RHCT) or RHCE this will give you enough time to assimilate all the needed arguments, give you time to get experience and be more confident on what will be expected from your role.
The Bottom Line
So what? How do I become a Linux Systems Administrator?
As I’ve said in the post there is no a clear answer to this tough question but I think something good can be taken away from this post and I will split what “you” should do and what I would expect, or would love, to see from the various companies.
You as a Linux Systems Administrator
All can be resumed to, it will take a lot of effort and hard work. This holds true for every career/certification/specialization you choose to follow. My advice is again be honest and don’t just go after a certification because it is in demand and cool, a certification, ANY certification, won’t make you a Network Engineer or Linux Systems Engineer. That comes with experience and hard work, try to build your experience with labs, finding new ways to get hands on experience. With the available technologies available today, again when I started no virtualization or IOS emulators did exist, that should not be a problem. Least but not last remember that achieving a certification is not the end of a path, it is just the beginning to a broader learning curve, only because you are RHCE or even RHCA that does not mean you know everything in the field!
What I expect from the Industry
Well this is a very hard argument to talk of, what I would love to see if more awareness from recruiters (I talked to head hunters who even did not know what my RHCE is) but also a more “easy” approache from the vendors as well.
LPI did a great job bringing a standard set of certification to the table which are vendor neutral and available to the different levels, Junior and Senior Admin, but yet I feel like this is not enough or at least the certification is not that widely know or adopted.
I would love to see companies like Red Hat or Novell to start publishing or making available for a fee study material for their exams without forcing you to attend one of the official courses just to feel confident to pass an expensive exam more or less like Microsoft or Cisco are doing since a few good years. Unfortunately not everyone is able to attend courses due to money or time constraints, or both, and having the ability to choose from a wider source of study material would mark an increase in the number of people going for a specific certification like RHCA (just to mention an example as I’m preparing for this series of exams just using experience and the documentation of the various products, which is not exactly the same as studying on a book) which in turn would mark a wider adoption of the certification and technologies from the various companies as well.
Of course all of this are just my personal thoughts and experience, most probably different from yours, but I think what expressed here could be a good starting point to have a better start in the Linux world as Systems Administrator.
Let me know your thoughts, ideas, views on this. I would love hearing from you.