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How to become a Linux pro

Now, more than ever, companies want employees with Linux skills. Here's how to get prepared for those jobs.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The great resignation has left employers desperate for developers, project managers, and system administrators. One thing these jobs have in common is they require Linux-savvy people. 

As technical job site Dice wrote in its most recent job report, "Job postings in the third quarter demonstrated that employers are looking for technologists who understand the core concepts of software development and project management, in addition to possessing technical skills such as … Linux."

The Linux Foundation and edX, the leading massive open online course (MOOC) provider, made some interesting discoveries in their 2021 Open Source Jobs Report. They found more demand for top open-source workers than ever; on top of that, 92% of managers are having trouble finding enough talent. Many of them are also having fits retaining their existing senior open-source staffers.

These are good-paying jobs. Job hiring platform Hired analyzed over 525,000 interview requests and 10,000 job offers between January 2019 and June 2021, revealing the average US tech salary is now $152,000. Even low-level Linux system administrators, according to Payscale, can average $76,880 a year. 

Here's how to get the skills you need to get jobs like that. 

1. Use Linux

It's that simple, and Linux doesn't cost you a penny. Download and install an easy-to-use Linux distribution and just start playing with it. 

Trust me: It's not that hard. It really isn't. If you're a Windows power user, picking up Linux these isn't a big deal. Yes, you'll need to spend a lot of time and effort to become an expert. But just to get the hang of using it? Anyone can do it these days. 

In particular, you should focus on one of the three main enterprise Linux families: Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), and Ubuntu. There are hundreds of others, but there are the ones that matter if you want to get a job.

For RHEL, you can get started with Red Hat's community distribution, Fedora, or one of the RHEL clones:  AlmaLinux or Rocky Linux. All of these are totally free. For SLES, you can get your feet wet at no cost using openSUSE. Finally, Canonical's Ubuntu is exactly the same, whether you're running it on your PC or running your company on it in your data center. 

Once you've got the basics down, you can move on to the resources I mention below and start building up your skills. 

2. Take Linux classes, get Linux certifications

One way to pick up Linux basics is to watch the entertaining and informative Eli the Computer Guy on YouTube. His 29-video Linux introduction is great at covering the basics. 

Another good way to get started is with the Linux Foundation's free online class Introduction to Linux

Follow up the previous options with Essentials of Linux System Administration (LFS201) and Linux Networking and Administration (LFS211). Your goal on this path is to get a Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator (LFCA) certification. 

CompTIA Linux+ certification is also handy for getting your first Linux sysadmin job. CompTIA offers a variety of classes to help you master Linux administration.  

If you're sure your future lies in RHEL, start with Red Hat System Administration I (RH124) and Red Hat System Administration II (RH134). Your goal here is to become a Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA)

If you already know your way around Linux, you can also fast-track your way to an RHCSA with the RHCSA Rapid Track course (RH199)

I know, I know, some people don't think certifications are meaningful. Here's the bottom line: Human resources departments do care about certifications. If you don't have the right certifications, many companies won't even consider you for a job -- even if you have fantastic experience and skills. Your resume, LinkedIn page, etc. won't even get viewed without the right certifications on it. 

It's that simple.  

Also: Linux Foundation survey shows companies are desperate to hire open-source talent

3. Read the best books on Linux

The best way to learn Linux is to use it. 

That said, there are helpful books to help someone who knows a thing or two about Linux to become a real pro. Word of advice: Be sure to get the most recent edition of any of these books.  A book that brings you up to speed on how init gets a Linux instance running won't do you any good, since it's largely been replaced by systemd

Here are some of my favorite reads:

  • How Linux Works, 3rd Edition: What Every Superuser Should Know by Brian Ward: This title covers the historic basics and their modern equivalents. For example, besides just covering Linux disk partitions, it also covers Logical Volume Manager (LVM).  

  • The Linux Command Line, 2nd Edition: A Complete Introduction by William Shotts: This book delivers just what its title promises. After you absorb this, you'll not only know how to make your way around the Bash shell (the most popular Linux shell), but the fundamentals of how to use such powerful shell programs as sed, grep, and awk. There was a time when I made a living from having mastered that last trio. 

  • Linux Command Line and Shell Scripting Bible 4th Edition by Richard Blum and Christine Bresnahan: Mastered everything in Shotts' book? You're ready to move on to this massive tome. This new edition, published in early 2021, walks you through the basics and works up to more advanced topics. It does this with easy-to-follow tutorials and examples.

  • Linux Cookbook: Essential Skills for Linux Users and System & Network Administrators 2nd Edition by Carla Schroder: Schroder knows her Linux, and this update to her earlier classic delivers the goods. Essentially its recipes are mini-how-tos for some of the most common situations Linux power users and system administrators face. I highly recommend this book.

  • UNIX and Linux System Administration Handbook 5th Edition: This one has been rewritten by a host of experts over the years and provides broad Linux administration coverage. My one caveat is that this most recent edition is from 2017, which means some of its specifics are a bit dated. Still, for general guidance, you still can't beat it. 

4. Bookmark and follow the essential Linux websites

If you really want to know Linux, you want to read everything I've ever written -- well, maybe not. But there are sites you should bookmark if you're a Linux pro.

To really know what's going on with the Linux kernel, you must keep an eye on the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML). Note I don't say read it. I'm not sure anyone can actually read everything posted to the list; its message volume is insane. But, as you gain experience with it, you'll be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. For instance, it's a safe bet that anything Linus Torvalds posts is worth at least a glance. 

I recommend getting a handle on the LKML by reading its FAQ. It will make understanding what's going on much easier.

If that's too much for you, you can subscribe to the LWN.net. There are many Linux news sites, but there's only one LWN. Run by Linux kernel maintainer Jon Corbet, LWN goes deep into the ins and outs of Linux kernel, open-source software, and coding. For example, I can tell you about the latest Fedora release; LWN cam tell you about the Fedora community debate over whether non-free Git forges should be used in developing the distribution

If you just want to keep up on general Linux news, the aggregate site Linux Today does a great job of rounding up Linux news stories, features, and the latest tutorials. Here, I'll add, you'll also find links to many of my articles.  

Also: Best desktop Linux for pros: Our top 5 choices

Do you want to know exactly how hardware works with Linux? Then Phoronix is for you. This site covers kernel news, but it's most well known for its detailed reporting and benchmarking on the latest Linux distros and hardware. If you want to know the current state of Linux support for Intel's Software Guard Extensions (SGX) or how Linux and Mesa Drivers compare on Intel Core i5 12600K/UHD Graphics 770 with each other in raw performance, this is the site for you. 

If you're a system administrator, or that's your goal, I highly recommend the Reddit groups Sysadmin and LinuxAdmin.  

Finally, for those of you who like to know about every Linux distribution, your site of choice should be DistroWatch. It tracks every -- and I mean every -- Linux distribution out there. By my count, there are about 600 distros today, and most of them are still being actively developed. This is the place to go to keep track of them all.

I have every hope that, by this time next year, you'll be well into your first Linux job. Good luck!

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