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Linus Torvalds created Linux in 1991 and released the initial version the same year. Today, this open source operating system, which was initially developed as a free UNIX-like OS for Intel 386 PCs, is used on more platforms than any other operating system. Though only a small percentage of desktop and personal computers run on Linux, it is widely used on other platforms.
Linux is overwhelmingly the most popular operating system in the web server segment of the information technology (IT) sphere. It is used on many mainframe computers and is the only OS that powers Top500 supercomputers. At the other end of the "size matters" spectrum, Linux also dominates the smartphone space because the Android OS is Linux-based.
Linux is a stable, secure, scalable, and versatile OS that has stood the test of time. New technologies such as containers and SDN controllers use Linux. A number of new Linux-based products, including Kubernetes, OpenStack, Docker, and Open Daylight, have been released over the last few years.
Demand for Linux skills has grown primarily because of the steady increase in the use of public cloud services — a major chunk of that market is powered by Linux. A large number of enterprises use Linux to run applications in the cloud, as well as mobile, cybersecurity, and web applications.
Entry-level Linux jobs and further prospects
Linux is one of the most sought-after IT skills today. There are plenty of openings for early-career professionals who have foundational expertise in Linux and some relevant professional experience. Entry-level roles include system administrator, junior system administrator, Linux administrator, junior Linux administrator, network administrator, and web administrator.
System administrators can advance to the role of senior system administrators after they’ve accumulated a few years of experience and earned higher credentials. Linux system administrators also have the option of becoming engineers once they develop the expertise required to deploy and administer enterprise-level Linux systems.
One can also opt to specialize in enterprise virtualization, enterprise security, high availability systems, and other technologies.
Entry-level Linux certifications
Credible Linux certifications offer validation of Linux competencies and indicate the holder’s commitment to professional learning and career advancement. Some hiring managers give importance to relevant certifications because they demonstrate that holders have invested time, effort, and resources in learning new skills.
There are a range of vendor-neutral and brand-specific certifications on offer. Listed below are six Linux or Linux-related certifications that can help beginners learn the basics and create a foundation for more advanced learning, and help early-career Linux administrators who want to validate their skills.
CompTIA Linux+ is a widely recognized, vendor-neutral job-oriented certification designed for Linux administrators and professionals aspiring to work as Linux system administrators. This credential demonstrates foundational skills in and knowledge of a range of Linux distros that are used to power servers, smartphones, supercomputers, cars, and other devices.
The performance-based exam tests hands-on competencies in hardware and system configuration, OS maintenance and operation, security, troubleshooting, networking, and automation and scripting, with emphasis on kernel module configuration, security, storage, virtualization technologies, cloud, enterprise-level device management, git, automation, networking, command line, and server side support.
CompTIA recommends completion of CompTIA A+ or CompTIA Network+ before attempting Linux+, as well as 12 months of experience in Linux administration. To earn the CompTIA+ Linux credential, you need to pass one performance-based and multiple-choice exam (XK0-004), with a passing score of 720 on a scale of 100- 900. CompTIA Linux+ is valid for three years from the date of the exam.
Exam prep options include the CompTIA Linux+ Study Guide, instructor-led training, interactive labs, CertMaster Labs, and CertMaster Practice.
Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator (LFCS)
Developed by the Linux Foundation, the LFCS certification is suitable for professionals in the early stages of their career as Linux system administrators. LFCS demonstrates Linux system admin skills, including designing, installing, configuring, and managing system installations.
The exam tests competencies in basic commands, operation of running systems, networking, storage, users and group admin, and service configuration. To achieve the LFCS, candidates are required to pass a performance-based exam, which includes solving a number of tasks from a command line on a Linux OS.
There are no prerequisites for this exam. The Linux Foundation recommends that certification aspirants complete training in Linux system administration. LFCS is valid for three years. Exam prep options include LFCI Prep Guide, online bootcamp and e-learning courses, instructor-led training, Candidate Handbook, and LFCS Practice Questions.
Founded in 1999, the Linux Professional Institute has evolved to become a well-regarded Linux certification provider. They offer an entry-level Linux Essentials Professional Development Certificate (PDC), designed for those looking to develop basic Linux skills, as well as Linux Professional certifications available in three levels – LPIC-1, LPIC-2, and LPIC-3.
LPIC-1 validates Linux skills in executing maintenance jobs using the command line, installing and configuring devices that run on Linux, and setting up basic networking. All LPI certifications are distro-neutral.
To earn the LPIC-1, you need to pass two exams – 101 and 102. Each exam comprises 60 multiple-choice fill-in-the-blank questions and is of 90 minutes duration. There are no prerequisites for these exams. Though LPI doesn’t offer exam preparation options, there are courses available from third-party providers listed on the LPI website. The LPIC-1 is valid for five years.
GIAC Certified UNIX System Administrator (GCUX)
GCUX is one of the information security certifications available in the Cyber Defense category of the SANS Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) program. It is designed for professionals looking to demonstrate the ability to install, configure, examine, secure, and audit UNIX and Linux systems. Security professionals and administrators, information security analysts, security auditors, and incident responders seeking validation of their skills may find GCUX helpful.
The exam tests knowledge of hardening Linux and UNIX systems, security of Linux apps, and digital forensics, with the ability to use a range of tools, such as AIDE, SSH, sudo, syslog-NG, and several others. To achieve this certification, you need to pass a two-hour, 75-question proctored exam with a minimum passing score of 68 percent. GIAC recommends relevant professional experience. GCUX is valid for four years.
Though an affiliated course is no longer available for this exam, there are other modes of training, including OnDemand and live training sessions.
Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA)
A leading provider of Linux distributions and technologies, Red Hat has significant market share in the enterprise segment. The company offers a number of in-demand vendor-specific certifications.
The RHCSA is a junior-level certification for professionals who have some experience in Red Hat Enterprise Linux System Administration and seek or require validation of their skills, for professionals looking to achieve the RHCE credential, and for students who have taken Red Hat training courses RH124 and RH134.
RHCSA demonstrates expertise in Linux system administration across different Linux enterprise environments and deployments To earn the RHCSA certification, candidates need to pass the performance-based RHCSA exam EX200.
Red Hat offers a number of training courses for the exam. The company recommends RH065, RH124, and RH134 for Windows system admins and others who have barely any experience with Red Hat Enterprise Linux. For UNIX and Linux administrators, Red Hat suggests RH200, and for professionals seeking training in container management, RH065.
Oracle Certified Associate, Oracle Linux 5 and 6 System Administrator (OCA)
Oracle Linux certifications are suitable for professionals who work with Oracle’s Linux distributions or those looking to join companies that use the Oracle Linux OS. Oracle Linux Associate and Professional credentials are designed to enable candidates to develop the knowledge and skills required to implement and manage Oracle Linux distros.
The exam tests knowledge of Linux essentials, Oracle Linux concepts, installation of Oracle Linux OS, Linux Boot process and Service Admin configuration, system configuration options, package installation and management, Ksplice, task automation, managing system logging and kernel modules, network configuration, users and groups, managing Pluggable Authentication Modules (PAM), storage, Linux security, troubleshooting, file sharing, file systems and Swap, and Open SSH.
To achieve this certification, you need to pass one 150-minute exam (1Z0-100) with a passing score of 61 percent. There are no prerequisites for this exam. Oracle recommends the Oracle Linux System Administration course and hands-on experience. Details are available online.
Start with certification
Tech professionals interested in specializing in Linux technologies and platforms would do well to develop enterprise-level Linux competencies. It’s helpful to work at a large enterprise where one can gain experience installing and administering enterprise-scale systems.
Hiring managers normally want to know whether a Linux-certified individual has worked in a large data center environment and is capable of setting up and managing multiple systems, services, and large-scale networks in virtualized and distributed settings. With one or more of these certifications in your back pocket, you'll be well on your way.