November 12, 2015

Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator: Nam Pho

nam pho certified system administratorThe Linux Foundation offers many resources for developers, users, and administrators of Linux systems. One of the most important offerings is its Linux Certification Program, which is designed to give you a way to differentiate yourself in a job market that's hungry for your skills.

How well does the certification prepare you for the real world? To answer this, the Linux Foundation will be spotlighting some of those who have recently passed the certification examinations. These testimonials should serve to help you decide if either the Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator (LFCS) or the Linux Foundation Certified Engineer (LFCE) certification is right for you. In this latest installment of our continuing series, we talk with Nam Pho, a Linux Foundation Training scholarship winner who recently became a Certified System Administrator.

How did you become interested in Linux and open source?

My dad is a computer engineer so growing up there was always stuff around the house to play with. In the 90's he showed me how to build a PC from scratch and install Windows 95 on it for some good father-son bonding. However, in a fit of teenage rebellion and to satisfy my own curiosity I installed Mandrake Linux shortly afterwards.

Linux wasn't as mature back then and support for consumer peripherals was awful; you were never quite sure if your mouse or sound card would even work. There were all kinds of weird quirks in getting Linux to work on my PC and the process of trying to figure it out was a fit for my tinkering temperament. I've been hooked ever since.

What Linux Foundation course did you achieve certification in? Why did you select that particular course?

I am now an LFCS; I selected it because it's the foundational certification upon which to build future competencies so it's a great place to start regardless of your background or experience.

What are your career goals? How do you see Linux Foundation certification helping you achieve those goals and benefiting your career?

There are a lot of Linux certifications to choose from but I loved how forward thinking the Linux Foundation approach was; you can take it from anywhere and at most hours of the day in addition to being able to choose the distribution you wanted to work on. Most importantly, the hands-on competency testing better simulates real life so having the LFCS certificate will convey that experience to people and help me advance my career.

What other hobbies or projects are you involved in? Do you participate in any open source projects at this time?

I'm collaborating with a group at the University of Sao Paulo to develop and further the concept of Science DMZs in transferring large amounts of data. I'm also working with Chirag Patel, a faculty member in the informatics department at Harvard Medical School, on some soon-to-be open sourced statistical packages.

On the off chance by hobbies if you meant non-technical hobbies then I also like to play hockey (Figure A was taken of me before a game).

Do you plan to take future Linux Foundation courses? If so, which ones?

To be honest, I want to take all of them since I love to learn and have an insatiable curiosity around Linux but if I had to choose I'd say LFS416 Linux Security when I get the time/resources/opportunity to do so.

In what ways do you think the certification will help you as a systems administrator in today's market?

Having been on both sides of the process I'll say that hiring is tough. There are so many applicants for jobs these days that say they know this or that and without talking to them it's tough to really know the depth or quality of that experience. I like to think that having certifications is a rough proxy for some competency and will increase the odds that you get a response.

What Linux distribution do you prefer and why?

CentOS because it's compatible with Red Hat and they are the leading solution for enterprises that deploy Linux. A lot of support from hardware vendors for drivers and packages carry over nicely out of the box so it's easier than potentially re-compiling source code for other distros.

Are you currently working as a Linux systems administrator? If so, what role does Linux play?

Yes, I work in the research computing group at Harvard Medical School and part of what I do is systems administration. Since I'm also a trained biochemist I work with researchers on the subject matter nuances of developing and interpreting computational pipeline outputs in addition to the IT work.

The group I work for is responsible for "Orchestra", a 7k+ core high-performance compute (HPC) cluster that supports all the faculty here and at affiliated hospitals in their informatics research. We run Linux so I would say it plays an important role in who we are and what we do.

Where do you see the Linux job market growing the most in the coming years?

More along the lines of automation, DevOps, virtualization, cloud computing, etc.

What advice would you give those considering certification for their preparation?

The LF website has a PDF with a checklist of topics and competencies that will be tested for each exam. I would say go through that list and make sure you feel comfortable with each of them, spin up a VM to practice hands-on so it's more like the real exam. Lastly, if you have some Linux experience I would say don't underestimate the exam. I still scored well enough to get the certification but my ego was punished for my hubris. It's a timed exam so you can't always rely on having to read the man pages for things you don't do regularly.

What was your experience as a LF Training Scholarship Recipient in 2013?

My LF scholarship experience was awesome, I took LFS520 (OpenStack). Overall it helped because it provided some recognition and acknowledgement; but having an opportunity to take an LF course I was able to get an update to my technical skills in a new area from some of the best in the business. I would not have had a chance to take a LF course without the scholarship.

A year after taking the course I was given access to the Open Science Data Cloud (OSDC) platform (it's an OpenStack cluster for the academic community run by Bob Grossman's group out of the University of Chicago). I was tasked to develop something around the OSDC ecosystem and given my OpenStack training I was able to understand what it was, how to do things, and hit the ground running. I built some Ansible playbooks that deploy an HPC environment within OpenStack and helps researchers better utilize their OpenStack resource allocations on the OSDC.

More along those lines, I believe there's a renewed push between OpenStack and Ansible for modules, deployment, and security so I'm hoping to get a chance to review or submit some pull requests on that project in the near future.

Read more profiles:

Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator: Steve Sharpe

Linux Foundation Certified Engineer: Diego Xirinachs

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