This feature first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
According to the people who decide such things, the appropriate gift for a 30th anniversary is pearls. There’s a fast-approaching three-decade milestone, however, that might be more appropriately celebrated with a gift of a … penguin. As of Aug. 25, individuals and organizations around the world will have been using (and fiddling with) Linux for the same period of time that the Habsburgs and the Bourbons tussled over central Europe during the Thirty Years’ War.
Given the pace at which information technology (IT) evolves and advances, it hardly seems fitting that the official mascot of Linux should be a lifeform as transitory as a penguin. Something more along the lines of one of those multi-thousand-year-old bristlecone pine trees would be more metaphorically appropriate. In 1991, there wasn’t a Google, or a Facebook, or a Wikipedia — there was barely even an internet.
Yet going on thirty years later, here we still are with Linux, the open source operating system (OS) that even its creator initially described as being “just a hobby.” The same guy is still maintaining the Linux kernel: 51-year-old Linus Torvalds released the newest version (5.12) on April 20, and if you’re going to get a penguin for someone, then it should probably be him. (Don’t actually get Linus Torvalds a penguin. That was a joke.)
In 2021, however, Linux, along with its hundreds of variants (or “distros”), is far more than just one guy’s off-hours diversion. All 500 of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers run Linux. Most internet servers run Linux. The operating systems that power most smartphones and tablets are Linux-based. Personal computers — eh, not so much. (That’s still largely a Windows universe.) Even so, if you have Linux expertise, then you’ll have no shortage of employment opportunities.
Everybody loves Linux (not)
If Linux is taking over everywhere else, then how to explain its consistent failure to gain traction with personal computer users? Why are so many of them still only minimally exposed (if at all) to the magic of Linux and its veritable rainbow of distros? We decided to focus on this point of inquiry for our recent Linux Certification Survey. Why is the PC and laptop world harshing the mellow of Linux?
For starters, many personal computer users may not really understand what they’re missing. More than 90 percent of those surveyed either agree (65.2 percent) or strongly agree (26.1 percent) that the stability and reliability of Linux is its greatest potential asset to personal computer users. Stability and reliability don’t get headlines, however, especially since most people tend to take those characteristics for granted. Generally speaking, most computers, most of the time, do what we expect them to do.
There’s also the longstanding supposition that Linux is easier to understand and easier to use for nerds — people whose interests lead them to engage in more than just surface-level computing. Only about a third of the certified Linux professionals who took the survey, people who probably use Linux every day, feel that ease of use is likely to be a strong calling card for Linux with those who are Linux newcomers.
In a similar vein, the flexibility and programmability of Linux is strongly lauded by survey respondents. It’s far from commonplace, on the other hand, for the average home or workplace computer user to even think about their operating system in terms of the different ways they can use it, or how they can play around with things to make it do what they want.
After years of using Windows, perhaps the prevailing mentality for many users is one of not fixing things that aren’t broken. Until and unless there’s a Windows price spike that cuts through the cozy embrace of familiarity, a lot of folks could be slow to hearken to one of Linux’s most bewitching features: it’s free. A noteworthy 71 percent of respondents think that’s an argument that could eventually rope in personal computers users.
We will all switch over to Linux … never?
Attempting to determine what might provoke a mass exodus of personal computer users from Windows to Linux is one thing — but is it likely to actually happen? We asked a couple of different questions about timing to see what certified Linux professionals think about the likelihood that Linux will break through and gain a strong foothold in the last computing space where it has never really taken root.
Nobody is optimistic that widespread Linux adoption will happen among personal computer users right away. Just 17 percent of those surveyed agree that a majority of the PC-and-laptop crowd will switch over “soon,” and 0 percent strongly agree with that notion. More than 65 percent of respondents, on the other hand, either disagree (44 percent) or strongly disagree (21 percent) with that notion. (The remaining 18 percent took a neutral stance.)
If we dial back the timeline from “soon” to “only gradually,” then there’s considerably greater optimism. About 39 percent of those surveyed agree that, given time, a majority of personal computer users will switch to Linux. (Nobody strongly agrees that this is likely.) Roughly one-fourth of respondents neither agree nor disagree, while 35 percent either disagree (17.6) or strongly disagree (17.2 percent).
Of course, maybe it’s not a question of time at all. A considerable 57 percent of certified Linux professionals either agree (40.1 percent) or strongly agree (16.9 percent) that most personal computer users will never switch to Linux. A wishy-washy 18 percent neither agree nor disagree, while 25 percent are holding out hope and either disagree (19 percent) or strongly disagree (6 percent) that widespread Linux adoption among individual home and workplace users will simply never happen.
After all, even certified Linux professionals don’t use Linux for everything. A notable 42 percent of respondents either agree (20.7 percent) or strongly agree (21.7 percent) that it’s important to them to use Linux on all of their own personal computing devices. About 14 percent of those surveyed took a neutral stance, but 44 percent either disagree (35 percent) or strongly disagree (8.6 percent) with the “all Linux, all the time” approach.
While there’s not as much hair-tearing urgency about the need to find more skilled Linux professionals as there is in, say, information security, demand is definitely outstripping supply. How is that affecting the current Linux workforce?
About 52 percent of survey respondents consider themselves to be in dire straits, registering some level of agreement that they are overworked. Roughly one-fifth of respondents don’t feel strongly one way or the other, while the remaining one-fourth disagree with the notion of having more to do than they can keep up with.
For most certified Linux professionals, the tasks they perform are complex and engaging. A solid 74 percent either agree (51.9 percent) or strongly agree (22 percent) that their work is challenging. Everyone else took a neutral stance, which means that we heard from a grand total of zero certified Linux professionals who do not feel challenged by their work.
We did ask one question that touches on the broad issue of compensation. Generally speaking, are certified Linux professionals satisfied with their current salary? About 40 percent either agree (30.4 percent of respondents) or strongly agree (8.7 percent) that their current salary is satisfactory, while 30 percent neither agree nor disagree. The remaining 30 percent either disagree (21 percent) or strongly disagree (9.4 percent) that their current salary is satisfactory.
Certification and employment
You definitely don’t have to be certified to find employment in the Linux realm: 83 percent of those surveyed were not required to have a Linux certification when hired for their current job. That leaves just 17 percent of respondents who had to have a cert to land their current job. For many skilled Linux professionals, it would seem, certification is more about learning than about getting a job.
Even in cases where certification is not required, of course, it still has the potential to play a role in any hiring decision that gets made. Asked to estimate the impact of certification on being hired at their current job, 56 percent of certified Linux professionals said it was either influential (43.5 percent) or very influential (13 percent), with an additional 13 percent reporting that certification was at least somewhat influential.
There’s a fairly high percentage of certified Linux professionals who are distro long-timers. Roughly 55 percent of those surveyed report having worked in a job that directly utilizes one or more of their certified skills for more than a decade, while a further 18 percent have been plying their Linux skills for between 7 and 10 years.
That seeming stability is further buttressed by the short-term outlook of survey respondents. More than 78 percent of them don’t think there’s much chance they’ll seek employment outside of IT in the next three to five years. A similar number — 87 percent — are intent on maintaining their certified skills, affirming that it’s either likely (20.9 percent) or very likely (66 percent) that they will remain a certified Linux professional over the next three to five years.
Workplace and education
If you’re wondering where to look for Linux jobs, our pool of survey respondents is spread across 10 different employment categories. Roughly half of the Linux jobs out there, however, are seemingly focused in three workplace sectors: computer or network consulting (13 percent), education (22.3 percent), and government (21.1 percent of those surveyed).
Other popular employment sectors include finance (8.7 percent of respondents), manufacturing (9 percent), and telecommunications (8.1 percent).
For teens and young adults who are considering pursuing Linux as a potential career path, definitely don’t rule out higher education. Among survey respondents, 41.4 percent pursued their formal education far enough to hold a bachelor’s degree, while 37.9 percent went one step further and claimed a master’s degree.
There’s more information to come from our survey. Over the coming months, we’ll be posting additional findings online at CertMag.com, where you can also find ongoing dispatches from our 2021 Salary Survey.