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Linux for Mortals: The Next Steps

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of posts about Linux written by CBT Nuggets’ Linux expert, Shawn Powers. Check back each week for his latest installment.

I can already see the eyes rolling. “Here it is, the pitch. Six weeks of how great Linux is, then a follow up sales pitch for training he just happens to create.”

Blog-email 2Well sure, to a degree. I know the guy who does most of our Linux training (har har har), and he’s pretty passionate about the stuff. But whether you ultimately use my training here at CBT Nuggets, some other Linux training, or you just fiddle on your own, there are some “next steps” that are worth considering. Whether you take those steps with me is completely up to you.

The Nuts and Bolts

As much as I love Linux, I have to admit the learning curve is steep. It’s not tall really, but that first step is a doozy. Most people don’t get into Linux, because it’s so drastically different from what they’re used to. Once you push past that initial alien feeling, however, it’s really not all that difficult. At first glance, the command line is overwhelming, but once you get the hang of what’s what, you’ll wonder why every system doesn’t have simple text-based configuration files.

If you want to become proficient with Linux, the first thing you need to do is start using Linux. Don’t assume you need to start by configuring reverse proxies in an Apache name-based virtual host, or that the first thing you should learn is to set up SSH tunnels for remotely accessing a double-NAT’d network. (Yes, I purposefully tried to come up with complicated sounding things there). Just learn to move around in the command line. Learn to copy files, move files, rename files, do directory listings, and etc. That “doozy” of a first step is the reason the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) came up with the Linux Essentials certification.

Yes, here’s the inevitable plug for my new “Linux Essentials” course, but really, as I’m finishing the course I truly feel it’s that crucial first step to becoming familiar and comfortable with Linux. Even if you have no intention of taking my course or even getting certified, check out the exam objectives from the LPI to get a feel for what sorts of topics are essential to a new Linux user.

Experience is King

It’s hard to beat the school of hard knocks. The classes can be brutal, but the lessons tend to stick with you. It’s hard to find someone as diligent about backing up as me. If you do know someone who seems a bit crazy and over the top about backing up files to multiple locations in different geographic locations — ask them why they’re like that. Chances are, they got really, really good at backup solutions because they once lost really, really valuable information. If they’re really paranoid, it was likely someone else’s data they lost. Someday maybe I’ll tell you about user data I thought I was backing up for over a year, only to find my backups did run every night, but I hadn’t selected any data to actually back up. Only when someone needed a file recovered did I realize what was happening. I still wake up some nights panicking about what might have happened if a server drive had failed and I’d lost millions of user files. *shudder*

If you can find a local system administrator willing to take you on as an intern, it’s a great way to learn how things really work. During my years in the server room, I had a handful of interns and almost all of them moved on to be very successful IT folks. They’re not all Linux administrators, but real-world experience is that je ne sais quoi which seems to make all the difference when applying for or executing a new job. It was actually that mindset that inspired the “Linux in the Real World” course I created last year. While it’s not a true internship, I drew from the experiences I had with interns in the past to come up with the subject matter. However you go about it, I highly recommend getting some real-world experience with Linux in the workplace.

Dog Food

The last bit of “next steps” advice I have is to make sure you actually use Linux yourself. If you “eat your own dog food,” so to speak, you’ll garner incredible insight on what your current or future users experience. This is something I struggle with myself, because we tend to like what we like, and not move past our preferences. For example, I really detest Ubuntu’s Unity interface. I think it’s clunky, awkward, and it slows me down. But I need to force myself to use it, otherwise when people have questions, how can I possibly answer them? That’s not to say we have to live in misery just so we can serve our clients, but it does mean we should be familiar with all the software packages first hand, so we can best troubleshoot and educate our users.

Regardless of where you are in your Linux journey, I can say with certainty that your next step will involve actually using Linux. Maybe that means fiddling with a VM on your laptop, or maybe it means installing a small Linux server in your basement. Whatever your level of expertise or interest in Linux might be, I urge you to push yourself over that initial hump. Yes, the learning curve is steep, but the rewards are incredible. If my writing, training, webinars, etc., are a help along the way? Even better. I hope you come to love Linux as much as I do. I think it is changing the world, but only when people like you and me help it along the way.

 

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