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Linux in the Enterprise

Heading for a Safe Harbor in a Rough Market


In case you haven't been watching the news lately, massive downsizing (which is a euphemism for "firing" so that shareholders get more "value" for the shares) is really in fashion in 2001. Now, we all know that someone has to be there to run the data centers, develop new products, and answer customer calls, but in this downturn, many companies are being penny-wise and pound-foolish in their layoff strategies and are slashing large swaths through their technical staffs. These layoffs are driven by a panic, and the layoffs themselves may do more to kill off technology companies than poor sales or a slowing economy.

Anyone who has spent a long time in the computer business knows that the only thing constant is radical change. There has never been "stability" -- things are always "feast, feast, feast" or "famine, famine, famine." The big question is how to make sure you can survive market downturns until the good times come back again. This being a Linux in the Enterprise column, I'll present some ideas on how to make sure that you're still around, and how you can do this by leveraging your Linux skills.

Be seen as an asset, not a liability

Because you're reading a Linux column, it's a safe bet that you're a little bit of a partisan (come on, you can admit it). There's an old maxim that goes something like this:

It's easy to sound like a wise man, just think of something stupid to say and don't say it.

It's easy to bash other products (and companies), especially those from a certain small software house in Redmond, WA, but like it or not the world is larger than Linux. Make sure you're not seen as a partisan that gets in the way of delivering the company's products and services because of your technological biases. Always be seen as someone who delivers positive, helpful suggestions and is ready to dive in and implement them -- no matter what the platform. Management types hate the BofH (bastard operator from hell) type of system administrators and find them the easiest to fire.

Make yourself irreplaceable

The best way to make sure you're not invited to the next pink slip party is to transform yourself into a utility fielder. A lot of Linux advocates have very solid Linux capabilities, but may have limited exposure and experience in other important IT areas. There are lots of areas in IT infrastructure that need continuous maintenance -- everything from backup systems running on Veritas tape libraries to Exchange servers that need to be unclogged and have their disks defragged.

Brush up on the kinds of IT work that you wouldn't have touched with a 10-foot pole back in early 2000. Hey, it might not be the most fun thing you will ever do, but it'll pay the rent. And, if you're going to brush up on other packages, you might as well have some paper to flash to management for your efforts.

Get certified

Get "professional certifications." Yeah. There, I said it. There's probably no more hotly debated topic in professional IT circles than all those professional certification courses and whether or not they 1) are useful, 2) are valid, and 3) prove anything more than good test-taking skills.

Having more than 20 years experience in the commercial IT world, I find the concept of these suddenly en-vogue courses vaguely offensive, but not because I am opposed to training and tests that help you improve and determine your own level of expertise. I find them problematic because IT management types, who usually don't know anything about what they manage, hold them over the the heads of employees as though simply having the certification makes one qualified to perform a given role. There's a lot to be said for real-world experience, and some of the best system administrators and programmers I know are self-taught and have no certifications whatsoever. However, they also have resumes a mile long and job/employer references that could be used to buy a house with no cash down. These types will probably never get fired now matter how bad things get.

Comment on this articleTaken any good courses lately? Had any really bad experiences that your peers could learn from? Please share your experiences with other O'Reilly Network readers!
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Also in Linux in the Enterprise:

Unfinished Business Part 2: Closing the Circle

Unfinished Business: The One Missing Piece

It's a Cycle of Life Thing: Managing Linux Releases

Unfortunately, not everyone has such credentials and in a tight economy, it's a good idea to take any advantage you can. And, if that means spending some time and bucks on a few courses that will strengthen you position, I say: Just do it. Some good places and topics to focus on are the areas that are going to be consolidated during this downturn:

  • Systems administration
  • Help desk support
  • Information security
  • Customer support
  • Remote access services

Here are some good links to Linux and other certification groups:

Linux certification

Windows certification

Network equipment certification

Information security training

If you take the time to hone your skills, you'll be able to weather this storm and will be well positioned to command a higher salary or better consulting fees when things do turn around.

David HM Spector is President & CEO of Really Fast Systems, LLC, an infrastructure consulting and product development company based in New York

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