Is the role of Linux system administrator on the decline? Personally, I think it is. But when my colleague Leslie Stevens-Huffman included it on a list of “endangered” jobs, she struck a nerve deep enough to spur a whole lot of piling on in the post’s comments.
So what now? Do you sit there and worry that your role might be gone in five years, one year or even three months from now?
No! You dig in and look for opportunities to use what you have or can develop, and to put yourself in a better place. While it’s painful right now, with the sour economy and job situation, you have no choice but to keep going. That’s not our rule, it’s life.
Yes, Linux sysadmin jobs might be going away. But Linux certainly isn’t. So leverage your knowledge (expert or complete noob, both with enthusiasm) to morph in another direction.
Linux and the Internet of Things
“The Internet of Things” has languished for a few years now. After an initial burst of momentum with the advent of in-circuit micro-controllers like the now ancient Basic Stamp and the more recent Arduino family of devices, it’s steadily been making progress. I think it could move into the mainstream shortly.
Don’t see the Linux connection? Bear with me.
Arduinos and other micro-controllers, those tiny special-purpose computers, perform a pretty specific function. They read inputs, do a little processing, then set outputs. Some devices have a lot of inputs and outputs, while others have only a few. Sometimes you send data out through a serial port. Sometimes you send data in to make the micro-controller do something.
In other words, micro-controllers connect computing to the physical world. But, they are local. They can sense and control a wide variety of physical things but it’s a tiny, very modularized job.
They either work standalone — as a little data logger, for example, storing information on an SD card — or they’re connected to some computer through the serial line, like the temperature sensor I recently demoed at OSCON. That little device reads a sensor every second and plots a pretty graph, in near real-time, on my Linux notebook.
There’s your Linux connection.
It’s an easy leap to move from a Linux notebook to a micro-sized Linux machine like the headless (no monitor) GuruPlug, which has a wired or perhaps WiFi connection to the Internet, a selection of servers and programming languages available for processing data, and remote login capabilities through either SSH or an Apache-served Web page. You could even use PHP to build Web pages that interact with the Arduino — in both directions. Scale it up and what do you have?
Without Linux, connecting mainstream computing to the physical world is definitely harder to do and nowhere nearly as seamless.
Of course, the Linux-based Raspberry Pi is also coming on strong. It’s cheap at about $35. You could hook up all kinds of cool Arduino projects to that little Linux machine and create your own automated future. It even has digital input/output capabilities built-in, so some apps might not need a micro-controller. It’s not very mature just yet, although I think developments will proceed rapidly considering the high demand for the boards and vigorous community interest. And, what about Raspberry Pi clones?
Maybe you’ll sysadmin 1000 Raspberry Pi’s with Arduinos hooked up to them. What would that application look like? Maybe you have an idea.
The Internet of Things is but one example of where, I believe, Linux jobs of the future might be. The same logic can be applied to Linux in mobile development, Web, Search, the cloud, and most any area of what we consider today’s mainstream information technology.
Mainstream won’t be that way for long. It’s constantly morphing. So what will your Linux job look like in the future? Your morphing is all up to you.