I was recently talking with a close friend who works as a systems software developer for a small startup technology company. The architects are planning a transition to Linux servers as their platform, but the company does not want to provide Linux training for their staff. When I asked why, he replied, “It's too expensive.” Even though the OS license is free, the documentation is free, and the source code is free, this company was overlooking an important factor: the costs of inadequate training can far exceed the costs of educating staff.
Networked systems in the workplace continue to grow and expand. As an example, the current growth rate of the Internet is a factor of two every eight months. Linux is considered by many to be the most powerful and versatile network operating system to arrive on the scene in recent years. Due to its power and flexibility, its rate of deployment is also growing rapidly. More and more organizations are turning to Linux as a low-cost, reliable and increasingly supported network-computing platform for a variety of business and Internet applications.
As businesses strive to keep up with this fast-paced network development, their employees need to experience a parallel growth in skills for optimum job performance. Unfortunately, it's common for organizations to bring in training providers only after the need becomes evident—almost as an afterthought. This makeshift method of training prevents adequate planning for anticipated time and financial investments. And “reactive” vs. “proactive” training programs are a sure-fire way to knock off any company's competitive edge.
A Linux training solution that is designed to grow along with an organization brings benefits that can permeate operations across the board. Sufficient education ensures that senior administrators are not overwhelmed with on-the-job training, encourages employees to stay on for the long term, reduces the likelihood of emergencies and strengthens employees' ability to deal with a crisis.
Employees who can benefit from Linux training range from NT administrators with little or no Linux command-line experience to experienced UNIX systems administrators with a broad background in heterogeneous environments.
When introducing or expanding the use of Linux into an organization, the phases of deployment must be dovetailed with a training plan. Clearly, the first training phase should be aimed at decision makers and system administrators. Key administrators and IT managers often attend training sessions together, working and learning as a team. The next phase involves a pilot program, with Linux installed in isolated situations. As the Linux system is implemented throughout the organization, the scope of training broadens to include system developers, content and media professionals and other users. Finally, ongoing training is used to refresh knowledge and ramp up employees new to their organization.
Every Linux distribution is based on the GNU (open-source software that functions as UNIX but is not UNIX) tools and shells, and the installed systems are frequently referred to as GNU/Linux platforms. Since the power and flexibility afforded by Linux begins at the command line, the first level of training should begin with the Bourne Again Shell (bash) along with GNU utilities. The second level of training should address installation of a GNU/Linux distribution, including the best techniques for planning and executing the installation. The third training level should instruct students in the configuration and maintenance of freely distributed software services and daemons running under Linux, along with security and lock-down practices.
During the training cycle, system administrators will be unavailable for their regular duties. Larger organizations often arrange for on-site delivery of the courses. On-site training, where education providers bring the “classroom” directly to a company location, can reduce expenses such as travel costs and also reduce employees' training time obligations.
Providing sufficient operations support for available staff is critical to a successful training plan. Whether courses are held on or off site, students must be relieved of work responsibilities (or on-call status). If a student remains in the classroom while attempting to provide ad-hoc hotline support for an operational crisis, it's a lose/lose situation. The student is unable to focus sufficiently on both the training and the crisis support—the value of training is lost, and the quality of support is marginal. Students must mentally and physically detach to immerse themselves in classroom experience to maximize the return on the educational investment.