Getting Started With Linux Certifications

Earlier this year, 77 percent of hiring managers told a Linux Foundation/Dice poll that they ranked hiring Linux talent among their priorities for 2014, up from 70 percent the previous year. But is a Linux certification the best path to getting one of those jobs? That depends on a number of factors.

Research the Market

linux penguinDo you have an idea of what sort of technology job you want to pursue? If so, research to see if Linux is a necessary component; certification might be necessary, say, for a senior security engineer position, or a senior systems administrator on a cloud-and-virtualization team. In job postings, some companies will list Linux certification as a “plus” or “preferred,” even if it’s not a requirement.

Tech pros should also expect strong growth in pay premiums for Linux as a non-certified skill, meaning employers aren’t necessarily looking for a specific vendor certification. So, the decision to get certified should depend on the type of position you’re targeting.

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In order for any certification to help you stand out from the crowd, it has to have recognition and status within the industry. Linux certifications certainly have brand recognition. But, according to Randy Russell, director of certification at Red Hat, any certification you get should help you meet your specific goals.

Choose the Right Certification

After a seven-year slump in the value of IT certifications, employers are interested in them again, according to analyst firm Foote Partners. Linux Professional Institute (LPI) certifications, CompTIA Linux+ and Red Hat Certified Technician were among the certs that made the biggest market-value gains in the firm’s analysis.

The Linux Foundation recently paired with Harvard and MIT to offer a free online course through edX, “Introduction to Linux.” It’s been one of the most popular courses on the site.

The Foundation has also created two new exams: Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator (LFCS), which covers skills required to do basic-to-intermediate system administration from the command line for systems running Linux, and the Linux Foundation Certified Engineer (LFCE), which focuses on design and implementation of system architecture. Both are performance-based certifications that allow candidates to choose their favored distribution: CentOS, openSUSE, or Ubuntu.

Other certifications require varying levels of experience. Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) is considered an entry-level certification, but one that necessitates about six months of experience. Meanwhile, for the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE), you need to be a Linux pro for about two years.

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Shawn Powers, an associate editor for Linux Journal and video trainer at CBT Nuggets, advises candidates to look through a certification’s core competencies and a training course’s objectives. He created a new course, “Linux Essentials,” designed for the absolute beginner, as a precursor to the Linux Professional Institute’s LPIC-1 certification: “The learning curve from ‘no Linux’ to LPIC-1 certification is just too steep.”

Make Use of All the Available Resources

There’s a wealth of resources and advice in community forums about the best way to proceed, complete with recommended books, video tutorials and online training.

Powers, who credits the openness and support of the open source community with helping him relearn his skills after a debilitating car accident, urges candidates to use everything available to them: “With Linux, you can get virtual machines set up, entire infrastructures with the actual software you’d be using.”

Linux, he added, “is one of the easiest, most fun subjects to study because there are so many tools out there that you can download and use.”

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