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For Linux admins, career options remain plentiful

Mark Gallagher

While today's market for IT administrators is tight, the demand for Linux experts continues to increase, according to Brent Marinaccio, HotLinuxJobs.com's open source recruiting director. He sees great opportunities for success in the Linux professional

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market. Emerging technologies, such as Xen virtualization on Linux, are creating what Marinaccio sees as a "talent initiative" within the Linux industry.

Marinaccio describes the current job market and the prospects for Linux managers, administrators and programmers in this SearchEnterpriseLinux.com interview. He also gives advice for job seekers and some insights on contracting, outsourcing and what the future holds for Linux professionals.

For the past eight years, you've watched the Linux and open source job market. How do things look?

Brent Marinaccio: Probably not a shocker, but we continue to see demand for Linux and open source personnel rising at a fairly significant pace just as we have seen in the past several years. The sheer number of corporations that have either ported their software to Linux or have transitioned their code base to an open source-based language has increased exponentially.

Overall, the market for technology workers is fairly tight at the moment.

That's good news for IT professionals with Linux expertise. So what kinds of jobs are in demand right now?

Marinaccio: You name it, and it is in demand. Positions for Linux kernel engineers, PHP developers and Ruby on Rails developers especially. All of these [positions] are in demand -- system administrators and network administrators, too.

I cannot think of any major open source-based language that has seen a decrease in demand. At the moment, [you can] pick your poison and you should be fine from a career perspective.

Are you suggesting that people get certified? What are the most valuable certifications?

Marinaccio: By far the most asked-for certifications are the ones that are provided by the leading vendors themselves. Therefore, system administrators should be inclined to attain either an RHCE [Red Hat's certification] or Novell CLE [certified Linux engineer]. For MySQL DBAs [database administrators], of course, the certification offered from MySQL is the most relevant. And for PHP developers, many companies have requested ZCE [Zend Certified Engineer].

Speaking of DBAs, is there a demand for Linux-based DBAs?

Marinaccio: It is definitely there. There are a number of companies that use either MySQL or PostgreSQL and are looking for people with that expertise.

Last month, our SearchEnterpriseLinux.com experts discussed a recent survey that found noncertified professionals are making more than those with certification. How can a Linux professional increase his value to a potential employer?

Marinaccio: It all depends on his level of experience. If he is a junior administrator trying to make a name for himself, I encourage him to get a certification. That tends to have the greatest value for people who have not had the time to gain significant experience. For more experienced administrators, the key is just making sure that your employer is allowing you to get involved in new technologies. So it is important that you are involved with virtualization, clustering, etc. At the end of the day, the more of an expert you are in certain areas, [the more it can] result in higher compensation.

So how are companies hiring IT professionals? Are independent consultants favored over salaried employees?

Marinaccio: Due to the heavy demand, organizations are hiring IT professionals any way they can. Regarding contractors versus direct hires: as far as what is favored, I would not say that one is favored over another, but we have seen more direct-hire positions than contracts. I believe that is due to these corporations having large Linux/open source initiatives that are ongoing, so it is in their best interest to hire someone as an employee. With that being said, there are a number of contract opportunities as well. I think you will see this increase even more as the market matures.

What kind of contract opportunities are there for Linux pros?

Marinaccio: By Linux pros, I presume that you mean core Linux kernel developers. And yes, in their case, they are often brought on temporarily to solve short-term kernel issues.

Recently, it was reported that Novell plans to move 250 of its jobs to India. Outsourcing overseas continues to be a major concern among IT professionals. What is the effect of offshoring in the marketplace?

Marinaccio: It actually does not concern me all that much. Do jobs continue to be outsourced overseas? Of course they do. But I do not think it is as critical of an issue today as it was a few years ago. That primarily has to do with the rise in salaries in places like India, China, etc. So the cost savings is not there as much as it used to be. Instead of it being a labor-cost-reduction initiative, outsourcing creates, in my view, a talent initiative. The fact is that there are just not enough engineers in this country to meet the demand, so corporations are forced to look elsewhere to get the work done. We need to develop and bring in more engineers, and with open source, the beauty of it is that there are no barriers to entry. If you want to participate, you are welcome to. It is all a matter of how determined you are.

In the U.S., are there cities or areas that are prime for Linux careers?

Marinaccio: As far as system administrators are concerned, the use of Linux is so widespread that I would hope that employers in a lot of cities have a need for administrators. Not surprisingly, most of our positions at HotLinuxJobs are in Silicon Valley. Outside of that, the major cities on the west coast are all pretty strong. Boston is definitely a strong city for kernel development on the east coast.

As far as up and coming cities are concerned, Portland (OR) comes to mind. They have done a good job of promoting open source. Seattle is another city that has gained momentum over the years. Cities like Austin use to have a lot of Linux based startups, but we have not seen that come back fully since the correction.

However, if we can get companies to reconsider their telecommute policies, I think this will be a moot point in a number of years.

Which industries do you see using Linux?

Marinaccio: There are a number of industries that stand out for their early adoption and interest in open source, the financial industry being first and foremost. They were an early adopter and continue to be a leader. The energy sector is another that has utilized open source software to a large degree. The pharmaceutical industry is another consistent adopter of open source software.

These are just some of your early adopters. But we are seeing everything from large enterprises to mom-and-pop businesses using Linux. It is slowly but surely showing up everywhere.

That sounds optimistic. Over the next few years, which kinds of skills do you expect to be in demand?

Marinaccio: As far as what is going to be in demand in the next few years, I would say all of the above. Sure, there are some areas that will see more growth than others on a relative basis. For instance, we have seen a significant rise in the need for Ruby on Rails developers. In addition, virtualization is a very hot area and that will continue. The need for Linux kernel-related engineers and system administrators continues at a nice pace as adoption grows. I know I mentioned it before, but we have not seen any decrease in demand. So if you are involved with open source software, just continue to strive to get better in the area in which you find the most satisfaction.

Thanks for the advice, Brent. The future looks bright for Linux. Anything else you want to tell our readers?

Marinaccio: Don't worry about getting an MCSE, Linux is where it's at right now.

Check out our blog, the Enterprise Linux Log, for more information on Linux and open source software.


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