5 changes to help grow your IT career

Change is an intentional, methodical process. You don’t need to wait for a specific date, like New Year’s Day, to resolve to change something—you just need to make a list, and start making small changes today.

To do so, make a minor change, stick to it, then make another change. This builds momentum, and you can make even more changes. If you start making slow, intentional changes to your career now, when you look at 2023 in the rear view mirror, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come.

Disclaimer: I have been a Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)-focused sysadmin for most of my career, and I currently work for Red Hat. So there will undoubtedly be some bias on my list; even so, I am confident that the information below will be applicable no matter where you find yourself.

1. Broaden your horizons

As I mentioned above, start small. Make a simple change and stick with it.

  • Download an RSS reader (something like Inoreader or Newsify)
  • Find some blogs that cover topics you find interesting

One part of my daily routine is skimming the headlines of several news sites. This keeps me in the loop of what is happening in the technology industry. A few examples are Ars Technica, Opensource.com, and the New Stack.

I also review product and technical blogs. As a Red Hat-focused Linux sysadmin, I follow the Red Hat blog, especially the RHEL channel, and Enable Sysadmin.

While news sites help me keep up with the tech industry, these more technical sources help me learn about new releases or new skills.

Try to read a little bit each day. Do that for a week or so and try not to miss a day. This will help you build up your learning muscles and form a daily learning habit.

2. Learn a new task or feature

You are learning a little bit each day. Bite off a little more! Tech folks usually learn by doing, and luckily, there are tons of tools to help you learn how to do new things. The better news is a lot of them don’t cost a thing!

One of the best examples is the new Red Hat self-paced lab experience. This site provides dozens of labs you can spin up on demand for RHEL, Red Hat OpenShift, and Ansible.

For each technology, you’ll find everything from beginner labs to more complex labs. New to Linux? Learn how to create a new user. Want to install Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform? There’s a lab for that too.

These labs include instructions, links to additional resources, and a live terminal to try tasks out without needing a cloud subscription or homelab. They typically are self-contained and last 10 to 15 minutes. If you have a 60- or even a 30-minute lunch break, take 15 minutes and learn something new while you eat!

3. Take a class

Once you’ve made the first two skills part of your regular routine, I suggest it’s time to try something even crazier: Take a class.

It doesn’t have to be at a college or technical school. Plenty of online academies provide courses in topics across all platforms and disciplines.

Not sure where to start? Red Hat provides its Red Hat Enterprise Linux Technical Overview class at no charge. (See the disclaimer above regarding my admitted bias towards Red Hat.) Learn the basics of Linux and find out what learning is like within the Red Hat ecosystem.

4. Teach others

One of the best ways to really learn a concept is to teach it to someone else.

Take it from my experience; I didn’t realize how limited my knowledge and expertise were until I started podcasting about technology. Even now, years into my life as “The IT Guy,” I still learn something new almost every episode.

This is one of the more complex methods to implement. You could teach your kids about Linux and open source. Minecraft has a fantastic community around it to introduce coding concepts.

Join a Linux user group (LUG) or meetup; they often take turns sharing different topics and concepts with the group. (In fact, LUGs should probably be a point of their own.) Today, user groups exist in both physical and virtual formats.

5. Get certified

Many people find careers in technology because it keeps them close to the interests and hobbies we formed earlier in life. Others come to IT as a means of earning an income. Regardless of what brought you to technology, it helps to have a way to show others how much you’ve learned.

That is where certification comes into play. Now, I have to admit another bias here (although this one predates my time at Red Hat by at least a decade). Many certifications are multiple choice exams. When it comes to practical knowledge, they aren’t always a fair assessment of your skills. For hands-on tasks, a hands-on exam is the best way to go.

The Red Hat exams provide a lab system, a set of instructions, and a timer. You get so many hours to complete a series of tasks. They come in various difficulties and disciplines, such as Red Hat Certified Systems Administrator (RHCSA), Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE), and Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA).

Wrapping up

You’re probably thinking, “Eric, what about?” or “Did you forget?” These are just a few ideas to get you started. I also wanted to focus on an aspect of these steps without overloading you with ideas while trying to establish a habit of learning.

Focus on one of these items at a time. Make them a habit. Add the next item to the list. See how that goes. When you look back on this process a year from now, I am confident you will be shocked at how far you’ve come.

I believe in you. If you are reading this article, you’ve already taken the most challenging step: You’ve admitted something needs to change. Keep at it; if you ever need any encouragement, my virtual door is always open.

In my next article, I’ll cover a related subject: making an impact. One of the most significant ways we learn is by teaching others, but we grow as human beings in community. This article focused inward, my next will focus outward and discuss how to impact, connect, and help others in their journey.

This article was orginally published on the Enable SysAdmin blog.

How I built a homelab with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)

As a recovering sysadmin, the last thing I want is to end up being technical support at home. I often tell people that I wish I had the tools available in Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) now when I was a fresh Linux sysadmin.

So I’ve set a challenge for myself: to implement some of the best practices in our industry using only Red Hat or Red Hat “adjacent” tools, whether upstream or partner software.

My goals here are simple: I want to build out a homelab that:

  • Allows me to spin up virtual machines (VMs) in an unattended fashion
  • Provides demo-ready RHEL systems for topics I cover regularly (for example, in-place upgrades, Image Builder, and more)
  • Is capable of self-healing my home “production” services (including Plex, Valheim, and Home Assistant)

I hope this series will help you either with your homelabs or think differently about how you administer your employer’s infrastructure.

My old homelab setup

Currently, I have a single-node server running RHEL 9.1. Eventually, I need to rebuild this server from scratch. It’s packed with several TB of storage, 24 cores, and 128GB of RAM.

I have several RHEL virtual machines that I set up for demos I do at conferences, webinars, and live streams. These include a Convert2RHEL demo, in-place upgrades, and a sandbox system. I also have several Podman pods running that constitute my “production” services: Home Assistant, WordPress, Minecraft, and others.

I make copies of the qcow2 files for my VMs. My container pods are running as root. I have no offsite backups. The ol’ sysadmin inside me screams when I think about how inefficient this is.

Building my new homelab

Now, I’ve got some objectives; I have a plan (sort of). It is time to get started.

My existing server host needs to remain in place until I’m confident I can rebuild the services (and their applicable data) in an automated fashion. This bodes well for the project because I can build out the “next generation” of servers in isolation before introducing it into production.

In all the environments I worked in, I tended to build a jump or utility server to store all my tools and act as a single point to administer the rest of my environment. That is where I am going to start.

Since this utility server will be temporary, I want the quickest route to the live system. For me, that’s using the web console (the downstream of Cockpit) with the VM tool and a RHEL 9.1 ISO.

Screenshot of RHEL web console showing three VMs

I’ll select Create VM. Luckily, the web console makes it incredibly easy to spin up a new VM: Fill out a few fields and wait.

Screenshot of fields in the "Create a new VM" menu
Screenshot of fields in the "Create a new VM" menu

What’s with the hostname, itg-stg-jump? Well, old habits die hard. Back in the day, I worked for a company that had servers in multiple datacenters. So the first stanza (itg) is the location. In this case, my homelab: the IT Guy. The second stanza (stg) is the environment, in this case Stage. Finally, the last stanza (jump) is the application it is running.

Screenshot of VM image downloading
(Eric “IT Guy” Hendricks, CC BY-SA 4.0)

If you are wondering, yes, I took all the defaults and the simplest configuration possible. There is no fancy filesystem layout or security profile. I will add all that to later iterations of my golden image.

Screenshot of web console showing running VM

While the system is booting up, I am going to go ahead and mark this VM to start on boot.

Bingo, I have a jump server ready for use. I am going to go ahead and install any available updates, install Git and Vim, and enable the web console.

# sudo dnf clean all && sudo dnf update -y
# sudo dnf autoremove -y
# sudo dnf install -y cockpit cockpit-composer

Then enable the web console and reboot.

# sudo systemctl enable --now cockpit.socket
# sudo reboot

Wrap up

I hope this article becomes a series of posts (and maybe some live coding events). In the next edition, I will revisit our utility server and build the first Image Builder blueprint. That will be the basis of all the other images and servers I will use in future posts.

This article was originally published on the Enable SysAdmin blog.

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