Tips on adding Linux to Your Developer Skill Set

The time when developers and administrators can get by with only Microsoft in their bag of tricks is over. With Linux's continuing dominance and growth in server space and with Redmond now embracing open source with actions as well as words, even those who develop exclusively for the Windows platform are almost certain to find times when they need to wrap their heads around an aspect of the Linux kernel or some open source application.

If you've been following tech news, you know that across the board there is an increasing need for people with Linux skills, which has pushed the salaries available for those with certifiable Linux talents to record highs. This opens an opportunity in traditional Windows shops where fully certified Linux people might not be necessary, but where certified Windows people with good Linux skills have extra value.

In other words, you can increase your value as an employee simply by honing your Linux and open source skills, without the need to necessarily shell out big bucks to Red Hat or the Linux Foundation for certification. There are plenty of educational opportunities available online, some free and others offered with a very low price tag.

Where to start

You don't need to rush right off and signup for a host of online classes, however. In fact, you probably already carry one of the best Linux learning tools to work with you everyday. Load Linux on your laptop, or on your desktop. Set up a dual boot with Windows and try to do as much of your work as you can in Linux.

For this purpose, I wouldn't suggest using one of the easy-to-use Linux distros like I'm using now to write this article. These days, distros like Ubuntu and Linux Mint are as easy to use as desktop Windows ever was -- maybe even easier -- which means they won't push you to learn anything about the inner working of the OS. I'd suggest you try Fedora, Red Hat's community distro which is pretty much designed by developers for developers -- making it a prefect distro for an IT person to use as a Linux learning tool.

The Fedora software repositories have an abundance of admin and developer tools, so you should take some time familiarizing yourself with those and learning to use the ones that might be useful to you. Also, try to do as much work as you can from the command line instead of through a UI. This will not only help you learn Bash (doubly important now that the Bash shell is available through Windows), but will teach you plenty about the inner workings of Linux as well. (Hint: If you need information on how to use a Bash command, access its "man page" by typing "man" followed by the command name, which will supply you with information on how to use the command.)

Online courses on Linux

While you're educating yourself on your laptop or desktop, start looking at the courses that are available online. Look for classes on subjects that will enhance what you're already doing and go with that -- or classes that deal with a particular area that interests you. Maybe there's a particular aspect of Linux that frequently stumps everyone in your work group whenever there's a project involving Linux? That might be a good place to start.

The list of online courses on Linux and open source software available to you is much too long to cover here -- Google "Linux training online" and many pages of results will appear. However, I'll leave you with some comments on a couple of sources.

The Linux Foundation: The Linux Foundation is the organization that both maintains the Linux kernel and makes decisions on the direction of kernel development. It's also where Linus Torvalds, Linux's often outspoken founder, works. Unfortunately, while Linux is free, Linux Foundation courses are pricey. The good news is that the organization hosts a series of free video tutorials, with a section for developers and another for administrators.

The Linux Tutorial: This would be a great way to start your Linux education. The Linux Tutorial is akin to an online Linux textbook, or an online tutorial divided into chapters. It starts with the very basic "Introduction to Operating Systems" and ends with "Linux and Windows," which "is about getting Linux and Windows to work together."

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