Getting Started with Linux and I.T. Careers

I get asked on a regular basis how I got my start in Linux; over the last couple of days, I put together my most comprehensive list yet and I wanted to share it with all of you!

Where do I start!?

One of the best ways to get comfortable with Linux is to utilize it everywhere you are. The first place I think about is your daily computer driver. I learned so much by working in Linux on a daily basis. Linux-powered laptops are far more prevalent than they were a decade ago. I can recommend a few companies that I know are dedicated to Linux: System76, Lenovo, and Slimbook to name a few. Of course, you can buy a lot of these second hand on eBay or similar.

What distribution do I pick?

(Disclaimer, I work for Red Hat, so I maybe a bit biased.) I talk to Sysadmins regularly who are split between different distribution families. For instance, Ubuntu and Red Hat-based distributions are very different in terms of operation, commands, and…we’ll call them “ idiosyncrasies”. I would recommend if your work uses Red Hat, to focus on learning Red Hat based distros. I, myself, came up in much the same way: I learned Red Hat as a Linux Systems Administrator, so, that’s what I primarily use even at home.

These include:
Red Hat Enterprise Linux (Free Developer Subscription!)
CentOS Stream

What advice can you give for someone interested in learning more about Linux distributions? Where should I start?

Linux is one of the most studied topics online. There are countless YouTube videos, blogs, and podcasts. I started learning about Linux and Open Source through a podcasting community called Jupiter Broadcasting. They have Matrix channels, live podcasts, and an amazing community of people to help new members learn and grow. I actually got my start podcasting on Linux Unplugged, one of their shows.

If you want to get your hands dirty, I would also recommend a Linux laptop and get comfortable with virtual machines and cloud providers. You can get a free credit when you sign up for Digital Ocean (FYI, that’s a referral link tied to my account.) You can spin up all sorts of servers, distros, and play with different applications. Their documentation and walkthroughs are next level! I also help support a series of labs for learning on RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux). There are some Admin 101 and Developer 101 labs that are great at teaching the basics of Linux and moving into more complex topics: (They are free to use!)

Number one thing I can recommend here is to find a community of people to learn and grow with.

How did you discover that you wanted to focus on System Administration, and do you have any insights for someone interested in this specialization?

Great question. Since I was 5, I had an interest in computers. I learned how to change my Dad’s desktop wallpaper on an old Mac PC and never stopped learning from there. Once I graduated high school and started college at DeVry University, I did the obvious thing: I signed up for a computer science degree. A couple of semesters in, I was taking a C# class and knew I would never survive as a developer. I got so lost with arrays, ha ha! So, I distinctly remember walking by this lab with racks of hardware, cables, and flashing lights. I knew that was where I needed to be. I went to my school advisor and switched my major to Network Communications Management. I started learning Cisco, firewalls, switching, and my favorite – operating systems.

Around the same time, I got a job as an IT Support Intern for a local municipality. I got to do desktop support, help desk, and even some Active Directory management. I loved what I was doing. After college, I got a job doing IT support – desktop and servers. After a couple of years, I was managing all sorts of servers and working on desktop refresh programs – new hardware every few years, desktop imaging and the like. I helped manage a handful of Linux servers that no one else really wanted to touch; I had tinkered with Linux in my college days, and decided I wanted to specialize.

I pursued a new job that would allow me to focus on Linux Systems Administration and started studying for my RHCSA (Red Hat Certified Systems Administrator). Over almost a decade, I was a Linux Systems Administrator, a Linux Systems Engineer, then a Solutions Architect (pre-sales Sysadmin basically), then finally about 2 1/2 years ago moved into Technical Marketing for RHEL where I really hit my stride!

What experiences and skills would be helpful for someone entering this field?

In today’s computer-driven resume world, its important to check as many boxes as you can. Have a “home lab” (like Digital Ocean or a PC at home you use as a “server”). Showing that you are constantly learning is huge. A bachelors degree is a huge plus as well as a technical certification in a field related to what you are interested. You don’t have to have all this up front but every step you take makes it easier to get the next job then the next and so on.

In your opinion, where’s the best place for me to find out about openings within this field?

Now, its been 6+ years since I had to job hunt… However, from what I’ve kept my eye on, LinkedIn is a HUGE place to get started. In fact, LinkedIn Premium is a good way to go. You can use their “AI” to help you write a title and about sections. LinkedIn has job postings, but you can also mark yourself as “open to work” and job recruiters will find you and match you to jobs they have available. (The link above will give you 2 months of Premium for free, after that it gets really expensive but you can cancel at any time.)

There are still other sites like Monster and Dice, but I haven’t had good luck there. Though if you are really eager to start your IT career you can never send out enough resumes!

Do you know of any programs or webinars that you think could be helpful to someone looking to enter the IT Support field?

Oh do I! You can check out the Sudo Show where I am a founder and former host. The Sudo Show is part of the Tux Digital Network, home of Destination Linux among others. There’s Jupiter Broadcasting and the Ask Noah Show. There’s the Fedora Podcast, the CentOS video podcast (new), and the RHEL YouTube channel. Our show Into the Terminal is a great place to start learning.

Do you know of other individuals in the field whom I could contact?

I’d start with posting questions on LinkedIn or Mastodon and using hashtags, like #linux. Get invovled with podcasting communities like the Ask Noah Show or Jupiter Broadcasting. They are on Discord, Mastodon, Telegram, and others!

I hope these questions and answers help you in your journey. I’d love to know what other topics you’d like me to cover or what other questions you may have. My virtual door is always open!

I know a lot of these resources have my name attached to them in some way, but one of the reasons I moved from Systems Administration to Technical Marketing was to build tools and resources I could have used when I was in your place – to learn and grow into a field I was very interested in.

Image courtesy of Max Duzij, Unsplash

5 ways to make an impact on your IT community

In 5 changes to help grow your IT career, I discussed establishing a learning mindset and forming daily habits to build your mental muscles. Learning will help you grow as a person (and hopefully as an employee), but work is not the extent of our existence.

People need people—in technology as much as anywhere else. So, how do you take your daily learning habits and use them to help others? I have a few thoughts on the topic. (I know. That likely won’t surprise anyone who knows me.)

1. Share your knowledge in the workplace

You can probably relate to this: When I was only a few years into my Linux career, I took a contract working for a company that had seen many turnovers in the preceding years.

The infrastructure was understandably behind in terms of refreshes and security patches. In and of itself, that would be a difficult task to overcome. However, that wasn’t the worst of it.

Several generations of systems administrators came and went after the original architecture was developed and implemented. I’m sure you can guess what comes next: Their documentation was… lacking. The original sysadmin was also a huge fan of scripting, custom compiling applications, and finding ways to over-engineer solutions.

Hoarding knowledge doesn’t make you a better operations person, nor does it keep your job more secure. Sharing information and ideas is essential to a healthy organization.

Even if you are a one-person IT shop, do you think you can remember every facet of every decision you make? For that matter, do you remember what you ate for breakfast yesterday?

How do you overcome this problem? Start an internal wiki, a Git repo, or at the very least, a text document on a shared drive.

Yes, that’s a lot of work, but take it from a recovering sysadmin; it’s worth it. Start with one process or one application at a time. Set a goal each week to add a little more. You’ll be amazed at how much knowledge you accumulate over a month.

2. Contribute to a publication

Guess what? Enable Sysadmin articles aren’t written by a highly trained team of bloggers who sit around a table at an undisclosed location and make this fantastic content. A small core team manages the site, reviews the content, and makes suggestions. The real heart of Enable Sysadmin is the community of dozens of volunteers who have a passion for a topic and write about it. (Yeah, I am not getting paid to write this blog. I am just passionate about growing and seeing others grow as well.)

3. Join a community

Some of my best ideas come in the wake of a conference or a meetup where I sit around a dinner table for hours chatting with fellow nerds and techies.

Inevitably, we talk about a problem one of us is facing, and someone else has a solution. I am just a person who loves writing and telling stories. However, I couldn’t grow without the help of those more competent individuals around me. (Yes, it’s usually me trying to do something dumb in my home lab and someone else bailing me out.)

Look online. Look in your city. There are meetups and communities for just about every conceivable interest. Some of my favorites are DevOps Days or Linux user groups (LUGs).

Can’t find one? Start a community! It’s not as complicated as it seems. Find a place to meet, pick a time, find something to talk about for 15 minutes, and invite your friends and or coworkers.

4. Volunteer

Many charitable organizations need help. Find an organization that focuses on an issue you care about and email them or call their office. Tell them what you have to offer and see what happens.

Not only can you make a real difference in your community, but you can also sharpen your skills in the process. (Yeah, that also looks good on a resume.)

5. Be a mentor

If you’ve been in IT for a few years, find someone new to the field and take them under your wing. If you are new to IT, find someone doing something you find interesting and introduce yourself.

Talk to your mentee. Form a relationship. Get to know their interests and their drives. You have more to say than you think you do. I owe much of my career to having trusted relationships around me, guiding me.

Many companies (Red Hat is one of them) have mentorship programs where you are matched with someone you can lead—or who can lead you—in a particular career path or technology.

Wrapping up

I am writing this on an international flight home from Tech Exchange, an internal Red Hat conference where technologists meet to learn about our product portfolio, grow their skills, and get to know one another. I got the chance to speak about many of the resources that the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) technical team produces.

During one of the team dinners, a solutions architect came up to thank me for the work I was doing. Content I produced made an impact on his career. He felt more confident as a technologist and as a Red Hatter.

That moment was humbling to me. It wasn’t but a few years ago that I was on the other end of that conversation, where I was guided into my current career path by friends and co-workers. Busy and intelligent people saw more for me than I saw for myself.

Step out of your comfort zone. Make some human connections with people. The impact you have on them will also impact you.

This article was originally published on the Enable SysAdmin blog.

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,, 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.

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