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The Ever-Changing Linux Skillset

By 2012-02-218月 22nd, 2017Blog

Just because you had what it takes for a good Linux-related job a decade ago, it doesn’t mean that you have what it takes today. The Linux landscape has changed a lot, and the only thing that’s really stayed constant is that a love of learning is a requirement.

What employers want from Linux job seekers is a topic I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but this post by Dustin Kirkland got me to thinking about just how drastically things have changed in a very short time. The skills that were adequate for a good Linux gig in 2002 may not be enough to scrape by today.

This isn’t only true for Linux administrators, of course. If you’re in marketing or PR, for example, you probably should know a great deal about social networks that didn’t even exist in 2002. Journalists that used to write for print publications are learning to deal with Web-based publications, which often includes expanding to video and audio production. (Not to mention an ever-shrinking number of newspapers to work for…) Very few skilled jobs have the same requirements today as they did 10 years ago.

But if you look back at the skills needed for Linux admins and developers about ten years ago, and now, it’s amazing just how much has changed. Kirkland, who’s the chief architect at Gazzang, says that he’s hired more than a few Linux folks in that time. Kirkland worked at IBM and Canonical before Gazzang, and says that he’s interviewed “hundreds” of candidates for dozens of developer, engineer and intern jobs.

Over the years, Kirkland says that the “poking and prodding of a given candidate’s Linux skills have changed a bit.” What he’s mostly looking for is the “candidate’s inquisitive nature” but the actual skills he touches on give some insight as well.

Ten years ago, and Kirkland says that he’d want to see candidates who were familiar with the LAMP stack. Nine years ago, and Kirkland says that he’d look for candidates who “regularly compiled their own upstream kernel, maybe tweaked a few configuration options on or off just for fun.” (If you’ve been using Linux this long, odds are you have compiled your own kernels quite a bit.)

Basically, a decade ago, you were looking at folks working with individual machines. In a lot of environments, you could apply what you knew from working with a few machines at home to a work environment. That didn’t last.

Six years ago, Kirkland says that he was looking “for someone who had built their own Beowulf cluster, for fun, over the weekend. If not Beowulf, then some sort of cluster computing. Maybe Condor, or MPICH.”

Not long after that, Kirkland says that he was looking for experience with open source virtualization – KVM, Xen, QEMU, etc. Three years ago, and Kirkland says that he wanted developers with Launchpad or GitHub accounts. Note that would have required early adopters on behalf of GitHub, since the site had only launched in 2008. Git itself was first released in 2005, but it took a few years before really catching on.

Two years ago? Clustering and social development alone weren’t enough. Kirkland says that he was looking for folks using cloud technologies like Eucalyptus. (He also mentions OpenStack, but two years ago the number of people who’d actually been using OpenStack would have been fairly negligible since it was only announced in the summer of 2010..)

Finally, the most recent addition to the list is “cloud-ready service orchestration,” which translates to tools like Puppet, Chef, or Juju.

Even that’s not enough. What’s next? Kirkland says that he’s looking for folks who’ve rooted their phones, tried out big data and thrown together “a map-reduce Hadoop job or two, just for grins.”

Naturally, this is just a snapshot of what one interviewer considers important. Kirkland’s list of topics may or may not mirror what you’d get in an interview with any other company, but the odds are that you’ll see something similar. His post illustrates just how much the landscape has changed in a short time, and the importance of keeping up with the latest technology.

If you’re a job seeker, it means a lot of studying. If you’re already employed, it means that you should be keeping up with these trends even if you’re not using them in your work environment. If you’re an employer, it means you should be investing heavily in Linux training and/or finding ways to help your staff stay current.

Even if you’re a big data-crunching, cloud computing, GitHub-using candidate, the odds are that next year you’ll need to be looking at even newer technology. From the LAMP stack to OpenStack, and beyond, things are not standing still. The one job skill you’ll always need is a love of learning.

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