January 8, 2015

How Linux Certification Can Help You Change Careers

iStock career change

Most people who pursue Linux certification aspire to greater things – either to land a job initially or to move into a higher-level job.

At the same time, employers value experience over certification alone. So if you’re looking to use certification as a means to switch careers, it’s best to pursue both together – especially to keep the new knowledge fresh in your mind.

As Trevor Simm, president and founder of Millersville, MD-based staffing firm OpalStaff, put it, “There is no use in a helpdesk candidate getting a high-level Linux cert if they don’t work with it on a regular basis."

But certification can pave the way to a new career.

“As long as you have the determination to do it and organize your time, you can do it,” says Jaime Arrocha, senior network security engineer at Sycomp in Dallas and a member of the LinkedIn Linux Users & Open Source Developers group.

“A certification helps you round up the skills to be competent, but it doesn't necessarily give you the job. … I consider certifications more like a self-training where at the end you have proof of it, and that can be shown to employers on a resume. It opens the doors, but we need to cross [over] with our skills.”

Tips for Changing Careers

If you plan to pursue certification with a career change in mind, here are some things to consider:

The type of certification --There are the "pay a fee to take a test and get your cert" types and those that require you to use your knowledge in real-world scenarios.

“There are two types of certifications in the Linux world: theory and application,” explains Melvin Hillsman, Linux system administrator at Rackspace in Houston.

“Certifications in general can help as they reinforce proof of exposure to information, but application-based certifications generally hold more significance as they provide real-world scenarios to solve. Application-based certifications require more than just theory.”

The Linux Foundation’s two new certifications, Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator (LFCS) and Linux Foundation Certified Engineer (LFCE) require candidates to demonstrate what they can do from the command line. Both performance-based certifications allow candidates to choose the distribution in which they wish to certify.

The certification’s level -- Entry-level certifications won’t necessarily be a magic bullet to getting a job – employers are likely to favor candidates who can demonstrate experience over certification. Those seeking to break into the IT field will need to gain experience however they can to go along with the certification, experts say.

David Kurkowski, a senior application engineer with HealthTrust in Nashville, Tenn., for instance, built his career on hard work, persistence and continuous learning. He volunteered for a non-profit organization and at one point offered to work for free at a company to gain the experience he sought.

Lower-level certifications, however, should be viewed as stepping stones to career advancement. Certifications related to a specific position or industry become more valuable as you move up, however. The more difficult the cert, the more experience required to attain it, the more valuable it will be. If you want to move your career in a different direction, gaining the required certifications can be a smart move.

What does the position require? – Check out the backgrounds of people in the position you seek. It’s easy to search resumes online to learn about how people prepared for their current positions. What certifications and experience helped boost their careers? It can be helpful to contact them to chat about what they did and might urge you to do differently. That can help you better prepare for the career you have in mind.

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