• United States
Jon Gold
Senior Writer

Linux server certs becoming a must-have for IT pros

Feb 24, 20215 mins

Becoming Linux-certified professionals can provide financial and career advantages.

intro linux distros
Credit: Thinkstock

Linux certification is increasingly significant for tech workers as the public cloud and software-defined networking become ever more important. A Linux cert can set IT professionals apart from the herd and potentially put a lot more money in their bank accounts.

Once these certifications were a gauge of reliability, according to CompTIA chief tech evangelist James Stanger. “Twenty years ago, Linux tended to attract people who were a little edgier,” he said. “So certification was traditionally used in the Linux side just to find people you can work with—will they show up on time?”

Now, these certifications are a demonstration not only of proficiency but also dedication to self-improvement. “You can’t go wrong with a certification,” said Joe Faletra, director of infrastructure services at Modis, a technology staffing and consulting firm. “I’ll lean towards certs over experience [in hiring], because this person has put the effort into learning and passing the exam.”

The demand for Linux expertise has ballooned over time, driven significantly by use of cloud services. Public cloud almost universally runs on some form of Linux, which means that familiarity with it is increasingly central to modern IT work, according to Clyde Seepersad, the Linux Foundation’ vice president and general manager for training and certification.

“When you go to the public cloud, you’re by definition becoming a Linux admin, and your people need some level of competence on that,” he said. “Invariably, things will break, and the operating system will need to be called, not just the AWS control plane.”

Where to get certified

CompTIA, the Linux Foundation, and the Linux Professional Institute are the three main organizations offering vendor-neutral Linux certifications, useful in any enterprise Linux environment. Individual Linux vendors also offer certifications tailored to their particular distros.

CompTIA bills its Linux+ certification attesting to foundational proficiency in the Linux operating system. Certificate-holders must learn how to perform hardware and system configuration, maintenance, security, troubleshooting, and basic scripting and automation. The test is partially written questions and partially a performance-based exam where students must tame troubled Linux systems. Linux+ costs $338 and the certification remains valid for three years, although continuing education activities can be completed to renew the certificate. CompTIA offers a wide range of preparation options, including online flashcards and e-learning, virtual labs, traditional written study guides and direct instruction.

The Linux Foundation’s Certified IT Associate, System Administrator and Engineer certificates represent the organization’s basic, intermediate and advanced offerings, respectively. At the LFCA end of the spectrum, the certification covers basic IT application management, programming and other skills relevant to entry-level IT work in a Linux environment. A step up from there is the LFCS certificate, which vouches for the holder’s ability to implement, design and manage Linux systems at a higher level. Finally, the advanced LFCE certification shows a holder’s ability to deploy and manage enterprise-scale Linux systems. The two more advanced certifications cost $300 each, or $500 with an online prep course, while the LFCA costs $200. All three remain valid for three years, and the Linux Foundation offers several preparation options, from e-learning courses to months-long online “bootcamp” courses and intensive instructor-led classes.

The Linux Professional Institute offers a basic Linux Essentials Certificate, as well as LPIC-1, 2 and 3, each of which represents a successively more advanced level of enterprise Linux proficiency. Linux Essentials requires candidates to demonstrate basic proficiency with the command line and understand the main components of the Linux operating system. LPIC-1 adds basic maintenance and troubleshooting, while the LPIC-2 certificate attests that holders can administer small to medium-sized networks. There are three separate LPIC-3 certifications, focused on mixed enterprise environments, enterprise security, and enterprise virtualization and high availability systems. Linux Essentials costs $120, LPIC-1 and LPIC-2 cost $400 each, and the three LPIC-3 certificates cost $200 apiece. Linux Essentials is a lifetime certification, and the higher levels all remain valid for five years. LPI doesn’t offer in-house training options, but lists several approved third-party training providers, who offer both online and in-person instruction.

Do certs mean higher pay?

Linux certifications can lead to salary increases or new jobs that pay more, but there are no guarantees. “It’s a little bit of a dark art to try and figure out [salary bumps], because you’re relying on people to self-report,” Seepersad said. “Anecdotally, these things matter, and people hire for it, but we’ve been skittish about trying to assert a particular stat.”

Nevertheless, research that does exist points to a correlation between Linux certs and increased earning power for their holders. “The world needs lots of Linux admins, so I’d think you could see as much as 20% boost to salary—if you find people who really trust certifications,” said Stanger.

Data gathered through the end of 2020 by Foote Research group, which tracks a wide array of IT certifications in an effort to quantify their monetary value, indicates that the certifications that gained the most value over the past three months in the sysadmin space were all Linux-related: LPIC-2, LPIC-3 and Red Hat Certified Systems Administrator.