How to Advance Your Career in Linux Administration
Administration positions have experienced tremendous growth over the last couple of decades. This will continue as data centers become more advanced and prevalent in corporate environments throughout the globe. There will continue to be advancements in automation that will eliminate some tasks while creating others. Thus, the ever-changing life of an administrator.
In essence, the most successful administrators become chameleon like, therefore exhibiting the necessary adaptation skills to keep up with the continuous changes that take place. In order to succeed, you will need to do your best to learn this trait if it is not inherently within you.
There are a couple of key questions an administrator needs to ask himself/herself. They are as follows:
Is my employer using or interested in using leading edge technology?
Would I be a better administrator with a recognized certification?
Do I want to specialize in a particular area or be a generalist?
I will detail out each of these questions as you may find yourself contemplating them in you quest for career advancement.
It is of the utmost importance that you are working with technologies that are going to make you a more marketable candidate if/when it is time to look for a new place of employment. Therefore, you must keep track of industry trends through research and networking. By interacting with other Linux administration professionals and reading leading technology driven publications, you will be able to determine what these technologies are. Once concluded, you want to make sure you are either getting the opportunity to work with these technological advancements, or your employer has expressed interest in getting involved with them. The end result is placing yourself in a better position in your current or future role.
We get asked about Linux certification frequently. In my opinion, the answer changes on a case-by-case basis. Overall, the tendency of the answer is largely derived by experience. For individuals that are either early in their career or new to Linux, it is likely to be more beneficial to attain a recognized certification than to not have one. Without having prior professional experience to rely on, one can show their knowledge level with a certification in hand. This assists these individuals greatly in their search for new employment or advancement in their current position.
For individuals that do have prior professional experience, the benefits of a recognized certification dwindle based on the amount of experience an individual has. As I have always stated, any education is good education. Therefore, even if you are a very experienced administrator, it is not going to hurt you in either your current role or positioning yourself for future employment elsewhere. But, do not count on it being a difference maker for you, at least in comparison to individuals with less experience than you possess. Ultimately, if you are a person that is in a continuous quest for knowledge and feel a certification demonstrates that knowledge, by all means pursue it. On the other hand, if you are an experienced individual that prefers to just learn the inter-workings of new technology through hands-on involvement without the paper to show your knowledge in this area, that is fine as well. In either situation, you will probably end up in the same place in most instances.
The last area of certifications to discuss, outside of who is best suited for them, is the certification that is going to provide you the most reward. That is why I mentioned ‚Äúrecognized certification‚Äù above. From what we have seen over the last nine years, there is a tendency for companies to prefer a certification in the flavor of Linux that they are utilizing. Being that we target the North American market and Red Hat has the largest market share there, it is fair to say that we get positions that ask for a Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) the most of any certifications out there. It has won multiple awards over the years with it's ‚Äúhands-on‚Äù component, and thus employers have gravitated toward it.
Not to be outdone, Novell has made strides in this market, as well. Therefore, that is another certification that resembles the RHCE to a large extent, albeit with a SUSE bent to it, and is requested by employers. Outside of those two leading distributions, you have the vendor-neutral Linux Professional Institute (LPI) and CompTIA certifications, among others that are available. I believe these certifications also play an important role in the marketplace, but I must admit that we do not get requests for these certifications as much as the others. Perhaps that will change over the course of time.
The last question that I asked above is whether you want to be known as a specialist or a generalist. There is no clear-cut answer in this case. It is purely driven by your own desires. But, it is something that you must think about. It will determine what opportunities are available to you in the future.
For instance, some administrators prefer to work in large clustered environments, and thus gain the necessary skills to stay in that area. Others thoroughly enjoy working with the latest virtualization software, and therefore travel down that path. Finally, some people prefer to work in a heterogeneous environment, while others stay strictly in the Linux area. It ends up being no different than regular tastes and preferences that all people exhibit. Whatever you have a passion for will lead to your success on a daily basis. You just want to make sure that you are at least aware of the trends in the marketplace, so you do not find yourself left out on a deserted island as everyone has shifted away from what you are working with.
All in all, there are a lot of opportunities to advance your career in the Linux administration area. Much like anything else in life, you have some key questions that you need to ask yourself, and based upon those answers, they will help determine your best path to prosperity. With the growth of Linux and open source software throughout the years, it is a very exciting time to be involved in this area. As I always like to say, as long as you are up to date on what technologies are prevalent, you should not have any problem staying relevant.