Want to Make a Living from Linux?

So you want to make a living from Linux, do you? Well, it can be done, but it's not easy. Linux continues to gain in popularity, but someone qualified as a Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) still has a much easier time finding a job.


So you want to make a living from Linux, do you? Well, it can be done, but it’s not easy. Linux continues to gain in popularity, but someone qualified as a Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) still has a much easier time finding a job.

Can’t stomach the idea of working on Microsoft software? Then consider picking up Web development, eXtensible Markup Language (XML), and the Web Services XML trifecta of Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Web Services Definition Language (WSDL), and Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI). Trust me, with sufficient knowledge of those protocols, you won’t have any trouble finding a job this year.

Okay, so you still want to make a living at Linux; what do you do?

Well, for starters, you need to know Linux inside and out. Some of you may be snorting in disbelief that anyone reading this magazine wouldn’t already know Linux. You’d be surprised. Not every Linux Magazine reader lives and works with Linux. If you’re going to get paid cash for Linux skills, you need to live and work with it.

How do you get that expertise? You start with books. I can’t recommend the O’Reilly & Associates books highly enough. They may not be the end-all/ be-all of Linux and open source volumes, but they come closer than any other publisher’s books.

At the same time, unless you pick up operating systems like picking up change in a parking garage, you need to do all your computing on Linux. The way most professionals learn anything backwards and forwards is by burying themselves in the subject. That’s true whether it’s an operating system, a language, or networking.

Some people would say that to really know Linux well, you have to be an expert C programmer. They’re right — if you want to be a developer. But beware: there aren’t that many jobs for Linux software developers. Unless you’re a hacker, or a budding hacker, I wouldn’t recommend going into Linux. It’s not like VisualBasic, COBOL programming, or a database language, where even a mediocre developer can make a living.

Instead, I think most would-be Linux workers should focus on system administration, network management, or Web management. These days, those jobs tend to get consolidated, so it’s wise to become competent in all three while mastering at least one.

To do that, you need to pick up a scripting language. I think it’s best to get the basics of grep, awk, and sed under your belt and then add Perl and/ or Python to your skill set.

At this point, if you’re not already working in these areas, you should be setting up your own LAN or Web server and working on it just as if it were for pay. The only way to get this stuff down is to get your hands dirty. No book exercise can compare with actually using the stuff in production.

You may also want to think about certification. While Linux certification isn’t a requirement for employment the way it is with Novell, Cisco, or Microsoft jobs, it can help you find work.

If you choose to go the certification route, you have four choices: CompTIA Linux+, Linux Professional Institute (LPI), SAIR Linux and GNU, and Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE).

Of these, CompTIA’s Linux+ is the new kid on the block. However, with their existing A+ and Net+ technician-level certifications and a slew of books about to be published, they’re gaining momentum.

From the beginning, the LPI program was meant to be vendor-neutral; today, it pretty much is. With the backing of companies like Caldera, IBM, SuSE, Linuxcare, and Turbolinux (to name but a few), it should have become the Linux certification. As a mostly volunteer effort, though, its progress has been slower than the commercial certification efforts.

The most established and recognized certification is the RHCE. It’s also the most technically sophisticated of them all. You’re more likely to be taken seriously possessing the RHCE than you are with any other certification.

Despite its name, SAIR Linux and GNU is another commercial Linux certification that has no official connection to the GNU organization, although Richard Stallman does sit on SAIR’s steering committee.

For my money, I’d go with the RHCE. However, if you’re just getting your feet wet, Linux+ might be better for you.

Remember, though, certification does not mean competence. With Linux, the best way to find and keep a job is to have true expertise. No certification or book can give you that. Hands-on experience is the only way.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is a longtime Unix guru and technology writer. He can be reached at sjvn@vna1.com.

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