The Road Less Traveled: Certifications Can Chart a Great Career in Linux and Open Source

Taz Brown writes about the challenges of a career in IT and her goals of helping to increase diversity in the field and bring Linux to urban education.

The year is now 2018, and the world has changed tremendously in so many ways. One thing that's changed significantly is the way we learn and the way we demonstrate that knowledge. No longer is a college degree enough, particularly in the area of Information Technology (IT). Speak to two technologists about how they paved their way in the field, and you will get, oftentimes, completely different stories.

It's one of the things I like most about IT. You often can work with many different people with varying experiences, backgrounds and stories about how they came to enter the field, and one of the most common paths to IT is through certifications.

My path to IT could and would not have happened without certifications. First, my college degree was not in any tech or computer science concentration or track. I did not begin my career in IT, and therefore, gaining the knowledge I needed to enter the field began and continues with certifications. Now, this is not to say that I did not need to gain practical experience in order to be able to do the job, but had I only had practical experience and no certifications, I likely wouldn't have attracted the recruiters that I did.

I started with some CompTIA certifications like A+ and Network+, and Microsoft certs like the MCSA, focusing on Windows 7 and Windows Server. So after putting in 25–30 hours a week studying and practicing—and this was all with just a laptop, mind you—I obtained those certifications. But after getting those certifications, I wanted more—more knowledge and skills, that is. I was able to obtain a job in IT on the HelpDesk, and after a few years, and a few more certifications, I became a Systems Administrator.

So fast-forward ten years, and I am now a Sr. Linux Systems Engineer. I moved into the field of Linux about five years ago, because I saw a trend that I could not resist—a niche market. And, it has paid off, but with advancing my career came the need yet again to prove myself, and so I have been focused on the Red Hat track of certification for the last few years.

I have some Linux certifications, but the ones that have been the most important to me at this stage in my career are those from Red Hat. I currently possess the RHCSA (Red Hat Certified Systems Administrator), and for the last few months, I've been preparing to take and pass the RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer). My ultimate goal is to obtain the RHCA (Red Hat Certified Architect).

These exams are arguably some of the hardest certifications to achieve because they are "performance-based". You will not find "a, b, c or d" on these exams. The exams are so challenging because you have to show your work. You have to execute a variety of tasks, such as password recovery, configuring YUM, setting SELinux properly, configuring ACL/permissions and so on.

I purchased a copy of Workstation Pro and installed virtual servers running RHEL 7, although I could have gone with a free open-source option: VirtualBox. I set up a base image with all the necessary networking configurations, and then I cloned it to create three other servers, one being an IPA server and the other two being a server and a client with three network interface cards each. I knew that I planned to grow my environment as I continued to study and practice for the multiple Red Hat exams I'd be taking.

In my journey to Sr. Linux Systems Administrator, I've met more and more women and African Americans who either have entered the field or have obtained their RHCSAs, or maybe the RHCE, but often that's as far as I have seen them go.

So, I want to start a series of articles where I discuss my road to the RHCA. I plan to discuss my challenges (right now, sometimes saying on target and focused can be difficult with all the other stuff life brings, but I have set my goals, which I plan to cover in my next article), and I also hopefully will highlight others who are particularly unrepresented but who have taken the plunge to become Red Hat-certified as well.

Basically, I want anyone who reads this to know that there is no rule book for how to get there. You just need to have a plan, a razor-sharp focus and dedication, and there is nothing you can't achieve.

At the time of writing this article, I am a week out from taking my RHCE. I'll let you know what happens and more as soon as I can. Right now, I am focused on network teaming, http/https, dns, nfs, smb, smtp, ssh, ntp and database services.

I also want to see more people of color and women learn Linux and make it a career. The numbers are minimal at this point, but I know that this can change, and I hope I can somehow make a difference. For me, I believe it starts with learning and education and having the option to learn about Linux in urban schools—not just typing and the use of Windows. I think the use of Raspberry Pis and learning Python can spark creativity, ingenuity and zeal for something not thought of as having a place. There is a place; every supercomputer in the world runs on Linux.

I have started mentoring others and helping them begin their journey of learning and understanding Linux and going even further, preparing for certifications, because it is something that I know I must do if I want to see the change and increase the representation. The opportunities are endless, and the rewards are even greater. I look forward to furthering my career in Linux and open source and bringing more along with me.

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