Are Linux Certifications Worth It?
Linux is a staple of modern enterprise and cloud computing. Long gone are the days when early adopters risked their jobs when they chose to implement a Linux system — rather than opt for an established UNIX or Microsoft Windows server. Nowadays, admins can choose from numerous enterprise-ready Linux server distributions, including Ubuntu, Red Hat, SUSE, Kali, and more. (All these *nix flavors and more are covered in our Linux tutorial.)
It's not just in data centers that you'll find Linux. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud both use Linux extensively to run their platforms, and also support a wide variety of Linux machine instances. Linux is also a preferred platform by cybersecurity professionals for penetration testing and ethical hacking.
With this broad emphasis on Linux, it's not surprising that Linux certifications are a common pursuit for many IT professionals. But are Linux certifications worth it — and which ones should you pursue? We're going to dig in and provide insight on Linux certs and their value.
What Linux Certifications Exist?
Linux certifications are broadly split between credentials that are independent of the Linux distribution and those that are related to a specific distribution or vendor productized version. The independent certifications are offered by the Linux Professional Institute (LPI), CompTIA, and the Linux Foundation.
LPI offers well-known certifications for Linux Administrators (LPIC-1), Linux Engineers (LPIC-2), and Linux Enterprise Professionals (LPIC-3). CompTIA has their CompTIA Linux+ sysadmin cert. The Linux Foundation provides certifications for sysadmins (LFCS) and Linux engineers (LFCE).
On the product side of the equation, we see certifications — typically for administrators, engineers, and architects — from Linux=centric vendors including:
Red Hat: sysadmin (RHCSA), engineer (RHCE), and architect (RHCA),
SUSE: sysadmin (SCA), engineer (SCE), and architect (SEA), and
Oracle: Linux 5 & 6 sysadmin (OCA), and Linux 6 sysadmin professional (OCP).
On a slight tangent away from mainline Linux, there are also some interesting certifications in the super-hot cybersecurity space. For example, there is the GIAC Certified UNIX System Administrator (GCUX) cert that focuses on securing and auditing Linux and UNIX systems.
Then there are the Kali Linux Certified Professional and Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) certs for cybersecurity specialists.
If you're interested in a deep dive into Linux/Open Source certifications, take a look at our Complete Open Source Certification Guide.
What's the Job Outlook for Linux Professionals?
The demand for IT professionals with Linux skills is strong, according to a 2018 Linux Foundation report. A December 2019 search of the Indeed.com job site showed over 60,000 US job openings that referenced Linux skills. But does this demand translate into a complementary demand for Linux certifications?
Drill-down searches into the 60,000 Linux job openings puts a damper on our initial enthusiasm. Searches for LPI and Linux Foundation certifications returned fewer than 250 total openings that specifically required those credentials. Similarly, searches for Oracle and SUSE certifications came up basically dry.
It's only with Red Hat certifications that we see higher numbers of credentialed opportunities (RHCSA: 550, RHCE: 720, RHCA: 115), but even here, they are a tiny percentage of the overall Linux opportunities.
Why do such a small number of Linux jobs require Linux certification? A likely answer, as shared on various online forums, is that hiring companies prefer peer-level interviews to validate a candidate's Linux proficiency.
As reported in our Complete Open Source Certification Guide, employers appear to be willing to pay higher salaries for Red Hat-certified professionals, whereas the "generic Linux" certs (LPI, Linux Foundation, and CompTIA) are on a par with other industry certs like Microsoft's MCSA. However, in these cases, certificate holders average nearly $4,000 more per year in earnings than non-certified professionals.
While MCSA's and admins with generic Linux certifications average $74,000, Red Hat Certified sysadmins (RHCSA) are earning average salaries of $86,00 or more. Similarly at the next certification level, a Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) averages a whopping $22,000 per year more than their LPIC-2-certified colleagues.
Should You Get a Linux Cert or Not?
There's clearly a demand for Linux skills. But few Linux job openings specifically require a Linux certification, with most simply stressing experience with the operating system. However, given the gap between salaries for certified versus non-certified, it's likely that a Linux credential will be considered as an advantage in the hiring process, rather than a must have.
If you are working with Red Hat Linux, or are planning to, then there is no question that you should get on the Red Hat certification track. Start as a certified Red Hat admin (RHCSA), before becoming a certified Red Hat engineer (RHCE). You can then take the final step to become a certified architect (RHCA).
If you know that you'll be working with Oracle Linux, then you might consider going for the Oracle OCA and then OCP in Linux. But do this only if you're locked into an Oracle Linux job. It's a similar story for SUSE Linux and the SUSE certifications.
The generic certifications (LPI, Linux Foundation, and CompTIA) are a different story. Because they are not dependent on any particular distro, they have a much broader application. As long as you have real world Linux experience, and can prove it to a Linux peer, each of these certs will be viewed positively by employers.
Of the three, you're probably best picking the LPI route. That's because it's better known than the Linux Foundation, and unlike CompTIA, has a career development path with tiers for admin, engineer, and architect. Any of these certs will also position you well if you decide to take a career move into either the Amazon or Google clouds.
We mentioned cybersecurity earlier. Because specialized Linux distros such as Kali are preferred platforms for penetration testing, this could be another good career progression to follow your basic Linux certs.
So, is Linux certification worth it? The answer is YES — as long as you choose carefully to support your personal career progression.
Whether you decide to go for a Linux cert or not, CBT Nuggets has training that will help you develop useful and practical Linux job skills. We have training that supports the Linux certification programs from CompTIA, the Linux Foundation, and the Linux Professional Institute (LPI), as well as other Linux distributions such as CentOS and Ubuntu.
If you're on a cybersecurity track towards certification as a Kali Linux Professional, or as an OSCP, then you'll find our Penetration Testing with Linux Tools course to be helpful preparation.
Our training library is frequently updated, so be sure to check CBT Nuggets for new and updated training that's relevant to your career development.
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