Survival Tips for Vanishing Linux Sys Admins

Location MapIs 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.

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22 Responses to “Survival Tips for Vanishing Linux Sys Admins”

  1. john q public

    You’re severely misinformed and seem incapable of looking at the real data from dice itself which shows an explosion in demand for linux admins. Get your facts straight instead of makiing things up.

    • John,

      Thank you for your input.

      You certainly have every right to your opinion. I have mine, as well.

      The point of the story was that I think the job of a Linux sysadmin is changing and morphing, as technology changes and new business models appear. Maybe my definition is different than yours.

      The Linux sysadmins, I know, are all extremely intelligent and very capable people. I’m amazed at how they keep everything humming along, seemingly without breaking a sweat. They are some of the great unsung heroes of IT departments in many companies and organizations.

      And, it’s an elite group. To me, it’s extremely competitive and I think you’d probably agree that not everyone is good at it.

      So, if a person wants to get into the Linux sysadmin line of work, they probably need to be highly talented, they better know what they’re doing, and they should be prepared to learn new things almost continuously. It’s a tall order and the best will definitely have jobs. I don’t think companies can keep people around, who can’t hack the mustard. That by itself limits who gets hired and if or how the sector expands.

      Let’s also not forget that there is a lot of turmoil in the World, right now, bringing uncertainty into people’s lives. Uncertainty for hiring, uncertainty of success in the market, cash flow of the business, outside influences that affect the business, automation, and so on. All those things affect the number of Linux sysadmins at any given time.

      Do you think the role of the Linux sysadmin is expanding? Perhaps, it would be helpful to list the characteristics of a Linux sysadmin, so Dice readers have a good idea of what the job is all about. I guess we can’t assume that everybody knows the details of day-to-day life as a Linux sysadmin.

      Do you know a lot of people who want to get into that business? Are you in a position to comment on how companies are seeking out and hiring Linux sysadmins?

      Lastly, do you have any tips, insight, or recommendations to share with individuals interested in becoming Linux sysadmins?

      Again thanks for your comment.

      Rob Reilly
      Dice Linux Community Guide

  2. I am not sure what you are getting at when you start to talk about raspberry pi and Arduino projects ? Are you implying something I get confused when you start to talk about them and admin 1000 of them ?.

    Also do you think linux certs such as the LPIC and redhat cert are worthwhile to get? I have been working with linux on and off for close to 5 yrs now have BA in comp net systems. Most of jobs have been in NOC but not really hands with linux sys admin in a prod environment. I have setup almost every scenario in a home lab but fail to get jobs that require more experience to make the leap. From your perspective what do you recommend me doing ?



  3. Rob,

    Your post is just as sane as the idea that a computer can self-administer/self-upgrade/self-

    configure/self-maintain/self-etc itself……. Keep dreaming!

    All the best,


    • Mark,

      Not sure I fully understand your point.

      There will always be Linux sysadmins. The need for highly qualified, experienced experts, is still there. I think automation (and the ability to handle ever larger workloads – ie: more systems) will up the ante on who can be a Linux sysadmin, in the future. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. In that case, it would be a good thing for Dice readers who want to do that particular job.

      Thanks for the input.

      Rob Reilly
      Dice Linux Community Guide

  4. Interesting article but I would have to respectfully disagree that its a dying role. I would bet that a large percentage of web hosted solutions are running some form of Linux on their servers. Cpanel anyone? I think you also forget the HPC market. If you look at the top500 supercomputers I bet almost all of them if not every single one is running some flavor of UNIX.

    I will agree that its becoming tougher and tougher to get into the field as I know from personal experience. I myself am on the LPIC path as well. But having 10+ years of admin experience with Windows hardly helps me get my foot in the door. Sure we still have those 3-4 clients that have a 1-2 server shop running Postfix and MySQL but it’s hardly elite level experience. The entry level/junior positions are very few and far between. That I will say. But there will always be a need for Linux admins even if the inner circle is shrinking dramatically.

  5. Rob,
    Very Good article. This is my opinion(I don’t know how many people have this view):
    I don’t think Linux admins are vanishing. The role of an Linux admin is evolving in my opinion. Unix and Linux are still high in demand. They want specific skillskets when it comes to the technology. Linux has evolved into desktop, servers, and now mobile. I know Ubuntu has version that works with android. Here is the website: to give everyone an idea)

    I have certification in Unix/Linux administration. I don’t have a job in the field as of yet. I’m always looking for new opportunities.

    I hope this post helps everyone. Please correct me, I would learn from all of you

  6. Interesting perspective representing quite frankly another reflection of someone who has never been in the tranches of finding and keeping an IT systems engineer job.
    1 – Six months ago, when I was looking to change jobs in the field of UNIX and Linux administration, I was told by numerous recruiters that is next to impossible for them to find people with good UNIX and Linux skills.
    2 – I received four job offers within one month
    3 – It is true that the positions require more than Unix / Linux admin skills and they very often include storage, virtualization, scripting and the ability to easily transition into the AD / Windows world.
    4 – Specific sets of skills (for example AIX / Websphere) are even harder to find, and one such employer told me that he had been looking for a qualified person for more than six months and had not been able to find anybody.
    5 – Take a note of the following article:
    Linux skills in demand, wages up
    Senior-level skills most sought-after as companies launch Linux projects
    6 – Please do not try anymore a TMZ approach when writing about IT jobs
    Good luck with your future articles
    IT Lead Engineer

    • Alex,

      Congratulations on having 4 job offers in a month. Many people would love to have that kind of response.

      Much of my running commentary reflects the points you’ve listed.

      And, in the article, I offered but one suggestion (the Internet of Things) as a direction people might take, if they want to stay or become Linux sys admins. Sure, there are a lot of other directions, you could go with Linux sys admin expertise. You can still be a sys admin if you want to and as you pointed out, there are jobs out there if you know what you’re doing. I’ve echoed that a couple of times, in this thread.

      My intent it to make suggestions, raise awareness of possibly prosperous trends, and interact with Dice readers, so we can generate useful discussions.

      I believe that I’ve been nothing but positive in these discussions.

      Not really sure why you would attack my qualifications or background for attempting to do those things.

      • You are right and sorry if my comment was a bit harsh. It was just a reflection of reality and the fact that, from my perspective, the Linux job market seems to be doing well.

        • Alex,

          Thanks and no hard feelings. I think it’s great to see readers with so much passion. Keep those comments coming, because other readers may find nuggets of gold (well, dollars anyway) in what you say.

          Rob Reilly
          Dice Linux Community Guide

  7. Rob, I’m just wondering out loud here…

    Red Hat just broke a billion (yes, with a “B”) in revenue this year. Keep in mind, there are thousands of we VARs out there and we work quietly, just handling our business. We don’t crow about it, unlike the competition who gets an itch for a media blitz whenever they might need to make themselves feel better.

    Take the appliance for example – it could be anything: a NAS unit, Television, space shuttle, a government drone, car audio, and least of all, cell phones; you take Linux out of the equation and all of these devices disappear.

    The point is, someone is out there creating something, anything, nearly everything with Linux in a way that you just can’t with Windows. If you don’t have these skills some businesses quite simply wouldn’t survive – or would survive the alternative but unhappily.

    A more relevant statement would be, “The cloud is absorbing new business from everyone – at every level”. Please see the link:

    Business is starting to wonder why they should maintain a MS Exchange server when they can just rent the service from the cloud.

    Independent developers have been using cloud services for years now, for web hosting, version control, code repositories, connecting with collaborators, et al.

    An even more accurate statement would be, “Administration jobs are being condensed to a few big players; Google (Apps, AppEngine), Amazon, RackSpace, and so on.”

    When this is true, people are unwittingly transferring all services from in-house Windows-based platform to Linux – though they may not be aware of it on the surface.

    When it is not true, business is just maintaining status quo; the folly of that will become evident in the IT expenses paid to our kind.

    The truth is, the Sys-Admin job is going away. It’s not here yet but the day is coming.

    Even so, who is buying a billion dollars worth of Red Hat goods and services? What about free distros like Debian, arguably in use to a greater degree than any other; they are non-profit and don’t post quarterly sales results.

    The fact is, after the (fictitious) nuclear holocaust, there will be 3 things left over in great supply:
    *Twinkies, and

    Because they have all been designed for resilience.

    • todd_dsm,

      Well put.

      Linux is certainly in a lot of places, people wouldn’t expect.

      While we’ve had good discussion about the role of Linux sys admins, we also can’t overlook the fact, that there are thousands and thousands of Linux systems being used every day.

      It’s also great that Linux has matured to such an extent that regular users don’t have much trouble administering their own systems. Granted, they may not have 1000 users in 100 locations. They definitely could learn the basics on their own, because the infrastructure is built-in and readily available. Still, there’s an enormous amount of knowledge, you need to have, to be a good, highly paid Linux sys admin.

      Thanks for your in-depth post.

      Rob Reilly
      Dice Linux Community Guide

  8. Wait, I’m confused? The title Linux Sys Admin is going away and it’s just being replaced with DevOps. The original article points out that now you need expertise in scripting languages and configuration management. If you didn’t know how to do those before as a Linux Sys Admin, you weren’t a Linux Sys Admin, you had a desktop that you dual booted with Linux and Windows. In Silicon Valley the demand for Linux Sys Admins / DevOps engineers is through the roof. Salaries are following this trend. I get job offers daily for DevOps roles which are really just looking for Linux Sys Admins. I know I live in a bubble, so maybe this article holds true elsewhere, but here it is the exact opposite.

    • Yes, of course, scripting and config management are the core of a sys admin’s job.

      I’m very happy that there’s good demand for Linux sys admins in Silicon Valley. May you charge ever higher fees for your expertise.

      Rob Reilly
      Dice Linux Community Guide

  9. Rob,

    Thank you for putting more doubts in my head about the job market for Linux Admin’s. If you are right (which I hope your not), then my job will be come like that of the old telephone party operator plugging in phone lines. What a great story to read on labor day. Fortunately my linux sys admin job role must still viable, because I get calls and emails daily wanting me to come for yet another RedHat job somewhere (of course, to be fair, a lot are repeats of the same position). Will this change? I hope not until after I retire in 10 years.

    So a quick check on Dice for available Linux jobs as of labor day, was 11,666. Of that, the first 20 listings were mainly for sys admins. I recently changed jobs and reopened my Monster account as well as Dice. I had a new job in less than a week, and the flood gate was opened. The thing I’m hearing is Linux people are hard to find. Even harder because a lot of them can’t pass background checks, or drug tests. That is sad.

    So I hope your doom and gloom outlook is wrong. If not, then I must be doomed to be a Walmart greeter.

  10. I’d like to see an article on survival tips for those long-term unemployed who have been outsourced, discriminated against (especially regarding age), and laid off too many times. Many I know are struggling because of “gaps” (that can’t ever seemingly to be explained satisfactorily) and what I think is misuse and “abuse” of background checks.

    Bigger issues like automation and loss of privacy and freedom are taking it’s toll as well. I believe many have lost confidence one way or another (either in themselves, corporations, and/or this country). I know many feel that even if they get a lousy job, they’ll be treated like slaves, threatened with outsourcing, deal with hostile work environments, and no privacy.

    Maybe we should all be working on, AI, robots, and making “Sky Net” a reality.