Linux Careers FAQ

This page contains questions and answers about Linux-related careers.

Q: Is there any advantage in studying Linux now that so many of the IT jobs are being outsourced to low wage countries such as India?

A: The most important reason to study Linux is because you enjoy it. There is no job guarantee.

However, having Linux skills certainly will not hurt your career, no matter what your profession. And, Linux skills are widely considered to be more valuable than Microsoft Windows skills.

It is also important to keep in mind that not all jobs are being outsourced. There are many types which must be done locally, including systems administration, security and help desk.

Other types of Linux-related jobs that are difficult to outsource to low wage countries are those that use skills primarily in another field (such as biotechnology, engineering or education) but also use Linux as a tool.

Q: How does a Linux certificate compare with an MCSE?

A: Linux certification is said to be more difficult to obtain, and the compensation is often substantially better because there are far fewer Linux specialists than MCSEs and they generally have considerably higher skill levels.

(An MCSE is a certificate showing that its owner has passed a series of written examinations about one or more of the Microsoft Windows operating systems.)

Q: How important is it to get certified in Linux?

A: It is debatable, as is the value of certification for IT skills in general. One opinion is that experience is much more important than certification. Another is that the certified candidate has a better chance of getting a specific job than a similar candidate without certification. But, without a doubt, if you want to get certified in some IT specialty, Linux is one of the best choices.

Q: What is the outlook for the future of the Linux job market, say five or ten years from now?

A: It looks like it could be pretty bright. One reason is that the use of Linux is expected to continue growing at a swift pace as more and more businesses and other organizations discover its advantages.

It is also important to keep in mind that Unix has been around for more than 30 years. During this period many other operating systems have come and gone, making Unix the oldest operating system still in use. Unix-like operating systems (including Linux) will likely be around in some form for at least the next 30 years. Although a considerable investment in time and effort is required to become proficient in Linux, the value of your investment should last for a long time.

Q: How much does one have to know about Linux in order to get a Linux-related job, and how long is it necessary to study to reach that level?

A: It depends on what you want to do. If you just want to use Linux like most people use Microsoft Windows for word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, etc., then virtually no study is required. It has become that simple.

However, if you want to become a system administrator or a security expert, it might take several years of intense study if you do not yet have much IT background.

It is important to keep in mind that the market for IT specialists is generally in its most depressed state ever and that this also affects the demand for Linux skills. However, this situation will most likely improve (eventually), and at such time the demand for Linux experts could soar.

Q: The outlook for IT jobs seems pretty hopeless, especially as a result of the ever-increasing use of outsourcing to low wage countries. I met somebody with more than ten years of solid Unix experience who is desperate for any kind of job. Why do you think it will improve?

A: Whether we like it or not, outsourcing is real and it will continue. However, there is more at work here.

The current situation is also the result of several one-time factors including the collapse of the Internet bubble, the ending of the huge IT expenditures to deal with the Y2K problem and the severe slump in the economy as a whole.

As these one-time factors gradually dissipate, IT expenditures should gradually pick up. Other factors that will exert a positive influence on IT expenditures are the continued advance of the technology and the growing importance to businesses of using IT effectively to remain competitive.

Much of this new expenditure will center around Linux, as companies increasingly realize that it gives them much more "bang for their buck" than the alternatives. And the very substantial savings from not having to pay hefty licensing fees, etc. can facilitate the hiring of highly qualified, local Linux experts.

Q: What are the fields in which Linux skills could help me get a good job other than the computer field?

A: There are many. They include various aspects of business, research, education and engineering, in other words, almost anything that computers are or could be used in.

Q: Is the employment situation the same for Linux experts as for Unix experts?

A: This is a difficult question to answer, both because the skill sets for the two are highly transferable and because the situation will likely change over time.

A recent search on the job site turned up "more than 5,000" jobs when the "Unix" keyword was used and 2794 when the "Linux" keyword was used.

One obvious caution here. Although the number of job listings mentioning Unix is much greater than that mentioning Linux, the use of Linux by businesses is increasing far more quickly than the use of various flavors of Unix. Also, some of the employers might be willing to accept applicants who have good Linux skills even though they requested Unix skills, especially where such skills are not the primary job requirement.

By the way, when a search was conducted using the keyword "MCSE," only 1342 results were returned.

Q: I have been studying Linux for some time. However, it has been on my own and I have taken no classes in it. Also, I do not have any actual job experience with it. Should I still mention Linux on my resume?

A: Yes, absolutely. Most Linux geeks never took classes in it, and they all began at one time with no on-the-job experience. Classroom experience certainly is not necessary, and, in fact, it is often more efficient (and definitely cheaper) to study at home. The important point is to just be very honest about your qualifications on your resume and in interviews.

Q: I am really good at Linux, but I can't get a job because every time I apply they tell me that I have to get some job experience first. But I can't get any experience until I have a job. Is there any way out of this?

A: Yes. First of all, you are probably, at least in part, a victim of the bad economy. Hopefully it will improve in the near future, and when it does, obtaining an entry level position will become easier.

In the meantime, become a volunteer. Offer to help local organizations, such as a school, church or small business, set up or maintain a Linux system. Not only could this look good on your resume, but it will also be a learning experience for you and you will be helping others. Remember, volunteering is what has made Linux possible -- and great. Be happy to do your part.

Q: I have beginning level Linux skills. For example, I can install it (most of the time), configure the desktop and use some of the basic programs such as OpenOffice and Mozilla. But I don't know much about the command line or programming. Should I still mention on my resume that I have Linux skills?

A: Yes. The reason is that relatively few people have attained even your level of Linux proficiency yet, thus it could be a valuable addition to your other skills. Also, remember than even most people who use Microsoft Windows have little or no experience installing or configuring Windows -- usually all they can do with it is e-mail, web surfing, simple word processing and playing games. So you are already way ahead of the masses.

Q: Linux is a huge topic. What things should I focus on in studying it in order to maximize my chances of getting a good job?

A: As intimidating as it might seen, you really need to study the full range of topics that are covered in Linux textbooks. This is because it all fits together. Among the things that you should know are installation, configuration, user administration, security and networking. It is also important to have some knowledge of applications, including how to install them and how to use the most popular and useful ones.

But it is also important to know a lot more than just Linux in order to maximize your changes of getting a good job -- unless you really have extraordinary Linux skills (such as the ability to hack the kernel). For example, it would be good to understand some combination of databases (both theory and SQL), the Internet (including TCP/IP and Web site development) and computer security.

Q: You mentioned that it is important to know something about some Linux applications. To what extent? And can you recommend any in particular?

A: As a Linux system administrator, you would need to be able to install, upgrade, optimize and troubleshoot application programs for your users. In addition, you might be requested to provide some basic instruction on how to use the programs. Thus, it is important to be familiar with a wide range of applications.

You will also need to use a variety of specialized application programs in your role as a systems administrator, security expert, etc. Although the applications that you would use would vary according to your position, there are some basic ones that every Linux expert should know. One of the most important is vi, which is a simple text editor that is found on virtually every Linux installation and is invaluable for all kinds of system modifications, repairs and other tasks.

Q: How will my Linux skills be evaluated when I apply for a job if I do not have a certification?

A: You will be asked about your experience. If you did not use Linux in your previous employment, you can discuss how you used it for volunteer activities or other projects. You might also want to mention how long you have been using it as your primary or sole operating system at home and what you have been doing with it.

You might also be tested. Such testing could range from being asked a series of informal questions by a technical person to actually being required to perform some hands-on activities (such as installing Linux, setting up new user accounts, installing application programs, setting up a network or repairing an installation that won't boot properly).

Q: As it is possible that the IT job market could remain depressed for some time, would you recommend that I also study some other field that could be combined with Linux skills to give me an edge in the job market? And, if so, what fields?

A: As nobody can predict the future with any accuracy, the best thing is to study what you are really interested in. This is because one tends to become most proficient in the subjects in which they have the greatest interest. For example, if you are interested in education, by all means study it -- this is a field in which Linux skills will likely become increasingly in demand. Or if you like biotechnology, this would also be a great field to study -- and it is expected to make increasing use of Linux and other open source software. Perhaps you are interested in cinematography. This is a field in which Linux is already very important because of the growing use of computerized special effects.

Q: Can you help me get a job?

A: Yes, there are several things that BELUG and many other LUGs can do at their meetings to help (although obviously there are no guarantees). One is to suggest areas to study in order to enhance your marketability. Another is to look at your resume and make helpful suggestions as to how it could be improved to portray you in the best possible light. Also, networking with fellow members could be useful in obtaining job leads.

You are invited to submit suggestions for additional questions as well as suggestions for corrections or additions to the answers already on these pages. Selected questions and answers may be shortened or otherwise edited by the webmaster or site editor. Please send to bellevuelinux at

Created March 13, 2004. Copyright © 2004.