[svlug] *nix education & certification questions

Karsten M. Self kmself at ix.netcom.com
Tue Jul 5 15:13:21 PDT 2005

on Tue, Jul 05, 2005 at 02:47:43PM -0700, Cooper Simmons (cooper.simmons at sbcglobal.net) wrote:

> I am a fairly recent transplant to the Bay Area and have been spending
> more and more time with Linux/Unix. I would like to move into a career
> as a Linux and/or Unix System Administrator.

Note that while the local market is looking _very_ slightly up, it's
still very depressed.  Gigs seem to be concentrated in SF, then pretty
even across the South & East Bay & Penninsula.  Note your housing costs
and BART strikes.

> I have quite a bit of experience in first and second level support
> (mainly in Windows and Mac environments) and some sys admin experience
> (mainly, however, in Point of Sale environment using Unix). I use
> Debian at home as a Web/SAMBA server and like it a lot.
> I have taken a couple of Unix classes at Foothill Community College
> and found them to be too introductory (though I highly recommend the
> Cisco certification courses, if you're interested).
> I have quit my current job to commit the next year to my education in
> *nix.

Hrm.  Not sure I'd recommend doing that.  Working and learning would be
preferable, unless you're pursuing a degreed course.

I think you're trying to view your education and employment as separate
acivities.  Don't.

> My questions are these:
> 1) What would be the best certification path(s)? Do you think
> something like a Solaris Sys Admin cert program or a Red Hat cert
> program would be best? Or something more generic (CompTIA, SAIR,
> LPI?)? Granted, I would rather LEARN the OS IN AND OUT, not just have
> some highly-regarded piece of paper.

RHEL is the most commonly seen specific requirement in GNU/Linux-related
job posts, followed by SuSE and Debian, without much clear
differentiation.  A lot of posts to Craigslist or DICE don't make any
specific mention.  Sun's dying, but Solaris experience will help in some

I generally recommend Craigslist and DICE (which seems to be doing
better for posts), don't follow Monster much.

Certs themselves aren't likely to make a huge difference, though they
may help in some edge cases.  I'd look at RHCE, LPI, or SAGE myself,
favoring the latter over the former.  In part you're selecting your
employer as well.  I find that the employer likely to put a high value
in a meaningless cert also tends to be less overall fulfilling.

The single cert you *can* get which is likely to make a difference is a
security clearance.  Given the current political environment, that's
likely to be a valuable commodity for the forseable future.

Experience counts for a lot, and there are a few local firms, brought to
you by the letters C, G, I, Y, and possibly E, who would be good resume
material (hell, some of 'em might even be good to work at).  Specific
skills also count.  The market is looking favorably at kernel developers
(kernel + C), database (MySQL, Postgres, Oracle), scripting (PHP, Perl,
Python), and programming (C, C++, Java).  There are also opportunities
through volunteer and non-profit organizations.  See in particular
CompuMentor and IdeaList.

I find basics count and last longer than flavor-of-the-month, though
FotMs can pay more while they're hot.

Admin positions as opposed to adin + dev skills are rarer.  Most of 'em
call for heterogenous environments, usually a mix of 'Nix + 'Doze, and
will want experience on legacy MS Windows-specific skillsets (AD, 2K3S,
Crapchange, etc.).  Security, spam, VPN, etc. tend to show up a lot.
Look through postings and see what's being called for.

Business-area expertise is also likely to be useful.  In and around the
Bay Area, that's healthcare, pharmaceuticals, transportation (air, sea,
rail, road), tech, biotech, special effects (Pixar, ILM), entertainment,
politics.  See the SF Chronicle's "Chronicle 200" on biggest employers:


> 2) Would anyone like to recommend a specific training program in the
> Bay Area from which you have seen good training and teaching...and
> maybe even a good lab?

Best lab is probably your own home LAN.  Set up boxes, and run services
among them.

I'd look at SAGE's guidelines for SA skill levels, and LPI's training
options.  If I could get someone to pay for it, I might look at an RH

I'd also try to get a job at a good shop with smart people.


Karsten M. Self <kmself at ix.netcom.com>        http://kmself.home.netcom.com/
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