So you want to be a Linux admin…

This is somewhat of a reprisal of some thoughts I shared on a recent episode of the LinuxLink TechShow.

I have been asked many times about being a Linux admin. After a few years of walking the walk and being in on a lot of interviews, I have compiled a few mental notes and thought I would share…

  • Get a cert.
    I have been doing Linux for a LONG time but I never had so many job offers until I got my RedHat cert and put it on LinkedIn. Once that happened I get, some weeks, upwards of 5 job offers per week. Seriously. These offers are also local – not like people are calling me to move out of state or even out of the area. The jobs are out there folks. Linux people are currently on the hot list. Just do it right and you should be a shoe in.
  • Know your stuff.
    Here’s the deal. You MIGHT run into a company where you can snow them into thinking you are a serious Linux guy even though you don’t know how to tell what directory you are in on the command line, but it sure won’t be MY company. I ask potential candidates lots of questions – ones that I am convinced that anyone that *actually uses Linux* should know. Make sure that you do. You should know all kinds of common Linux things down absolutely cold and this includes things like common userland commands, problem diagnosis and resolutions. If you don’t know the fix to a problem, you should be able and prepared to demonstrate that you can quickly find the correct answer / resolution.
  • Don’t rely on the gui.
    I used to think this was a given but after a dozen interviews it bears mentioning. You *cannot* correctly administer a hundred servers if you need to rely on gui tools. They may be handy in a pinch, but they are wildly inefficient. On the same tolkin, you should be familiar and comfortable with at least basic scripting. One of the questions I generally ask is if another administrator left your company, how would you change the root password on 100 servers in a hurry?
  • Do be familiar with Desktop Linux.
    Although I think it’s extremely important to be command line savvy on the server end of things, I am also convinced that a Linux guy should be comfortable with using it on the desktop as well. It always strikes me as strange when I ask a Linux guy what kinds of computers he has at home and what he uses them for and he (or she – it’s just a figure of speech) says they have a windows laptop that they only use for browsing the web and email.
  • At least feign interest.
    In my opinion, a Linux system administrator should be interested in Linux and system administration. Things like playing at home with different linux distributions, running your own home server, setting up , learning about and trying different Linux services are all big plusses.
  • Don’t BS on your resume (or resume inflation).
    A friend of mine I work with and I have this theory that a person’s actual skill level with Linux is conversely proportionate to the size of their resume. Actually, this goes back to that “Know your stuff” rule as well. Put the relevant things you know on your resume and *actually know them*. Trust me, I will ask you technical questions about the things you list on your resume and I *will* find out if you are lying. Inflated resumes may impress H.R. people but not the people who actually have to weed through them.
  • Shake hands like you mean it.
    When you come for an interview, if you offer to shake hands or take an offer to shake a hand, actually do it. Nothing weirds me out more than someone giving me one of those limp wristed, pantywaist, palm tickle handshakes. Grip my hand like you mean it and give it a good shake like you are happy to be there.
  • Be genuine.
    Don’t try and be someone you are not during the interview. Be yourself, relax a little, be honest. Don’t be overly cocky, snarky, apologetic or overtly eager. Also, try and dress decently and speak well. :)

That’s all I can think of right now – Knock ‘em dead!

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