There's always a bit of controversy surrounding discussions of certifications and training for system administrators. I've personally been on both sides of this argument and have changed my mind over the years. I used to think that certifications were a waste of time and training was generally a waste of time and money. I think what bothered me about certifications was that anyone with the money and the time to sit in a class could get one regardless of experience. And that annoyed me because I'd gained my knowledge through self-study and job experience. One of my personal issues was that I could never convince my employers to pay for training and then allow me to take a week off of work to attend that training. These days I think training and certifications are both good investments.
It's your career and even if your employer won't pay for training, you should pay for it yourself and use vacation time to attend. Yes, it's that important to your career and professional growth to do so. No one ever gets fired for having taken a class or for earning a certification.
Now that you've decided to explore training and certification further, the question of what training and certifications should you search for as a Linux administrator is at hand. There are so many options available that it's hard to decide where you should spend your money and your time. Most technology training classes require from one to five days to complete. And then you'll need to set aside a few hours for your certification exam, should you choose to take it. And, before you ask or ponder it, yes, you should definitely take the exam. Exam costs vary widely, from around $100 to several hundred dollars, and some training classes include an exam voucher. The cost of the exam is baked into the cost of the training for those that include a voucher.
For Linux system administrators and for those who want to become Linux administrators, I suggest that you explore the following list of training and certifications. Please note that these are suggestions and neither recommendations nor requirements.
Some examples of certifications in this space include Red Hat's RHCE, RHCSA, and many additions specific exams and certifications, as well as those from the Linux Professional Institute, CompTIA's Linux+, and others.
Some exams require that you take classes prior to sitting for the exam, while others do not. In any case, I suggest you gather study materials and focus on exam-specific items. You might be a Linux expert with many years of experience and still fail an exam because of the many coverage areas such as storage, security, graphical user interface, troubleshooting, networking, and more with which you might not be completely familiar. I also suggest that you take some practice exams to get acquainted with how questions are asked and the answer options available. Again, you might be an expert at the command line, but sitting for an exam is a different experience. Study and practice.
I believe that any system administrator should have security training and optionally a security certification. You might feel that a CISSP is overkill for a Linux system administrator but it does demonstrate a high level of understanding of security, best practices, and a security "big picture." Perhaps more practically for system administrators are the SSCP and the Security+ certifications. Holding a security certification doesn't make one a security expert but it does mean that the system administrator thinks about security in all aspects of their jobs from initial setup through decommissioning and disposal.
Security knowledge is no longer optional. It is a requirement of any technology position and annual corporate security training just doesn't cut it. Awareness is a good thing but system administrators require a deeper dive.
Certifications in this space include the CompTIA Security+, ISC2's CISSP, SSCP, and others
Additional training and certification
Believe it or not, being a system administrator means that you need to know quite a bit about everything in your enterprise not just Linux. As shocking as that sounds to your ears, it's true. Rarely does anyone just get to do Linux work. In smaller companies, and in some larger ones too, you have to wear many hats: system administrator, network administrator, security administrator, hardware technician, and desktop support. You might even be called upon to work with, dare I write it, Windows.
Please consider some additional training and certifications outside your Linux shell. See what I did there? It's funny. But you really do need to expand your knowledge base beyond the status quo to advance yourself beyond the $ prompt and propel yourself into prompts that include multiple $ signs. Here are some options for doing just that.
- CompTIA - Network+, Security+, Server+, A+
- Microsoft - Windows Server, Windows 10
- Storage - Learn and certify on a storage technology
- Virtualization - Learn at least one virtualization technology
- Cloud - Learn at least one cloud computing technology
I know this all sounds like a tall order but chances are good that you already have some of this knowledge stored in your experience. If not, it's time to expand your horizons and to learn something new. Doing so is also one of the ways to avoid system administrator burnout.
Technical training and certification are optional, however, they show that you've invested in yourself and in your career. They also prove that you have a certain body of knowledge. If you work closely with a particular technology, you should certify on it first and then expand outside of that. Show that you're dedicated to your work and your employer's technology choices by taking advantage of vendor-specific training and certifications. Remember no one ever gets fired for knowing too much or having verified credentials.