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January 17, 2008

Want to be a Linux admin? 8 Ways to hone your skills

by @ 4:31 pm. Filed under computer tips, education, General Linux, How-To, Linux tips, My Opinion

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Every once in awhile, I am asked, “How do I get good at Linux?” Semi-jokingly, I reply, “Beats me. But please let me know when you find out.” Thus the question, “How does one get to become known as ‘the Resident Linux Guy’?” To take it even further, what if one wishes to have a career as a Linux system administrator? Here are a few suggestions on how you might wish to go about this. By no means is it comprehensive:

  1. Try Stuff – The first thing that I might suggest is to “try stuff.” Build yourself a small lab out of a few computers and a switch. Get creative. Do whatever it takes, but get several machines. Experiment. Set things up. Try things out. Create an environment where you can screw things up and it doesn’t matter. Find tutorials on how to install and configure various types of applications and services. Learn to set up servers, services, processes of varying types. Web server, email server, database server, DHCP server. Learn to set up a router from a machine with two NICs. Learn to install and configure PHP, Perl, or Python.
  2. Solve Problems – One of the things that will help you to learn Linux is to assume the role of your own technical support. Take ownership of all problems that occur. Learn the process of troubleshooting. Gather as much data as you can about the problem. This includes any output, any logs (especially system logs), or any hardware specs that may relate to the problem. Gather information. Learn to look up problems on your favorite search engine. Paste any errors into Google exactly as they appear.
  3. Network with people – Build a network of people who are interested in Linux. Don’t focus solely on the people who know more than you. You don’t want to be a sponge. Look for opportunities to help anyone who may need it. You don’t have to know the solution to their problem to help. You just need to know how to solve problems. Solving problems teaches you skills.
  4. Be persuasive – Learn to argue your cause. I have to tread a little lightly with this one, because I’m not saying learn to argue. I have learned from personal experience that pushing as hard as you can to get others to adopt your point of view does result in movement on their part. Away from Linux. You do, however, need to learn persuasive conversation. Learn to discover others’ hesitations about using Linux. If they are valid, don’t push. If they are not, outline why you believe they may wish to reconsider. For example, let’s say someone says this to you: “I thought you had to install Linux from the command line. I could never do that. I don’t want to try Linux.” You might ask, “What makes you believe that?” or “Where did you hear that?” or “Have you ever tried installing Linux? When?” Based off their answer, you can show them that installing OpenSUSE (and several other distros) is really a matter of being able to click a button with a mouse.
  5. Learn how to learn – Do you know the most effective way for you, personally, to learn? Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer to learn things conceptually? Can you learn by just reading? Do you best learn by hands-on practice? Do you learn best when someone is teaching you one-on-one? Or do you learn best when you do your own research at your own pace? Figure out the process that works the best for you and stick with that in your quest for Linux mastery.
  6. Buy books – There are several excellent books available for getting started with Linux. Go over to Amazon. Search the books for “Linux.” Read the reviews on the books. Pick a couple and jump into them. There are a number of great Linux books from SAMS, O’Reilly, Wiley, and Apress, etc. I bought one of each for OpenSUSE.
  7. Contribute – Find a way to make some kind of contribution to the cause. Participate in the local open source community. This may be by any combination of the following: attending or organizing install fests, creating a blog and writing about the things you learn, letting other people know that you are available to help. There are a very large number of ways to contribute. Are you a developer? Work on the code. Are you great with documentation? Help out with that aspect.
  8. Classes – I left the most obvious for last. Take classes or courses on Linux. A bunch of certifications are available. There may be a Linux class in your vicinity that will introduce you to Linux. Many people have found The Easiest Linux Guide You’ll Ever Read to be quite helpful. You may also benefit from the “Intro to Linux” course avaible from the right nav on my Linux blog.

The number of ways to get started with Linux is limited only by your creativity. Most importantly, just start somewhere. Then, work with what you have to learn the best way that works for you. Give it some time, work at it diligently, and don’t give up. At some point, you’ll have the skills and knowledge that you seek. Good luck, and enjoy the journey.

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