November 9, 2011

What Employers Want from Linux Job Seekers

Job seekers with Linux smarts have the upper hand in the Linux job market right now, but the right combination of technical and people skills are still required.

"When we look to hire Linux system administrators, there are a few key aspects that get our attention," says Peter Baer Galvin, Chief Technologist for Corporate Technologies. "Natural curiosity is one. Is the candidate interested in technology, finding solutions to problems, inventing new solutions, and experimenting? We find those attributes to be a good indicator of whether the admin will be able to improvise, learn, and determine the best course of action."

Obviously, no Linux admin can have all the skills every employer will want. But as Galvin says, natural curiosity can help make you stand out as a job candidate.

Previous experience doesn't hurt, either. "Another key is production environment experience," Galvin adds. "It's one thing to be able to debug a problem and put a fix in place. It's another to be able to do that with a view toward long-term stability, repeatability, and without breaking other things in the short or long term. A good admin can put together a string of innovations to create an environment that suits today's needs. A great admin does that while solving tomorrow's potential needs and providing a stable, debug-able, and manageable facility."

Play Well With Others

And then there's the good ole communication. Yes, admins are expected to work well with others. "Another aspect is teamwork and sociability," Galvin says. "Is this a person others will want to work with, learn from, teach, and support? Because we provide consulting services, we need to know if the sys admin can be trusted in client environments and be able to work with the clients, sometimes in stressful situations, and whether they will be supported by and support the other admins and consultants."

Roll the Dice

The first week of November 2011, my search for "Linux Admin" on turned up 595 job listings. Required qualifications in the job listings are all over the board, with experience such as:

  • Web server administration
  • Virtualization and managing virtual machines
  • Enterprise monitoring and management frameworks
  • Working in structured change management processes for highly available enterprise systems
  • VMware
  • Perl, Bash, Python scripting
  • Work well with others
  • Self motivated
  • Ability to learn new technologies on own
  • Knowledge of the Linux kernel and kernel modules
  • IT security
  • Familiarity with open source tools, monitoring systems, hardware troubleshoot, tracking, resolution, and routine maintenance with security updates
  • Perform installations/patching of operating system, software installation, and system backups - data recovery
  • Possess great people skills
  • Strong technical aptitude and ability to research and solve complex issues independently
  • Systems administration vendor certification
  • Working exposure to networked storage (SAN, NAS) concepts
  • ITIL Foundation certification
  • Symantec
  • Solaris 10 experience
  • Red Hat clusters
  • RHCE certification

And much, much, so much more. Obviously, you can't have every skill all employers want. So which ones are the most in-demand right now?

If you search for Linux admin jobs (check out the Jobs Board, too), and then click the Skill button, you'll see a list of keywords and the number of ads in which they appear. For example:

  • AIX (91)
  • Access (76)
  • Active Directory (78)

Besides the skill "Linux," the top 10 skills employers are listing in their wanted ads are:

  1. Unix (311)
  2. Scripting (275)
  3. Network (263)
  4. Communication (258)
  5. Windows (251)
  6. Development (246)
  7. Security (244)
  8. Design (223)
  9. Shell (199)
  10. Engineering (190)

Let's assume every job interview will require communication, and most employers will want something along the lines of what this employer, who is looking for a Senior Linux Admin/Engineer with Disaster Recovery, wants: "Effective communication skills, flexibility, a strong teamwork approach, and the desire to work in a fast-paced and sometimes stressful environment are necessary for success." And your odds of landing a job naturally go up if you're able to work in Linux, Unix, and Windows environments.

If you're an Ubuntu enthusiast looking for a Linux admin job on Dice right now, you might be disappointed with the 12 results that pop up in your search. On the other hand, if Red Hat is your thing, you'll have 100+ job openings to review. Prefer SUSE? You can fight with other SUSE experts over the 21 openings with that keyword. Linux admins with Solaris skills can choose from 141 job openings. Your best bet, as always, is a combination of these skills.

On on, two keywords that turn up even more jobs than "Linux admin" is the "cloud virtualization" combo, which returns 597 results.

"Virtualization in the cloud — virtualization is already here, and everyone knows the cloud is coming," says Joe Casad, editor in chief of Admin magazine and former editor of Sys Admin magazine. "If I were a sys admin, I'd make sure I had command of those topics."

Supply and Demand

If you're a Linux admin, the good news is that demand is high and supply is relatively low. PC World's Katherine Noyes recently spoke with the Linux Foundation's director of communications, Jennifer Cloer, and's managing director, Alice Hill, and offers four best practices for landing a Linux job.

First, you should be networking. If you don't already have a Linux network, consider attending or volunteering at an industry event. Many events have grants to help cover expenses, too. Or submit a talk, which, if accepted, could get you in the door for free and then some.

Second, focus on your cover letter. Believe me, I hate writing a cover letters even more than the next guy/gal, but when I was a hiring manager, the cover letter was more important than what was packed into the resume. The cover letter is where you might want to call in some support from friends and former colleagues. I once read a colleague's cover letter and reminded her of a bunch of achievements she'd left off. After she rewrote it, she emailed me, saying, "You're right. I rock!"

Third, in the Linux world, code is king. Be sure to list your technical skills and any projects you've worked on or contributed to, along with the results you achieved. Fixed a bug? It's resume-worthy. Took Linux training courses? Include it. Noyes's article also suggests that you post your resume on sites like Dice because 80 percent of employers search the database before even posting their openings.

And then there's the interview. I'm a horrible interview, which I know cost me a job or two or three over my career. My relatively new public speaking experience has helped me improve my interview skills. And don't forget to do your homework on the company and position for which you are interviewing. Research the history of the company, remember the details of the job listing, and consider how you'd answer any question about the skills you have that would fit well with the open position.

As we're winding up 2011 and planning for next year, which skills do you predict will be most in-demand in 2012?

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