Originally Published: Thursday, 24 May 2001 Author: Mark Miller
Published to: interact_articles_jobs_skills/Linux Job Skills Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Defining What a "Linux Job" Is

Linux.com Jobs writer Mark Miller takes a look at what a Linux job means now, and in the future. Broaden your reach and check this out.

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An unspoken assumption in the Linux job market implies that it is only for programmers. Most job seekers ask questions like "what programming language must I know?" or "what network skills must I have?" to find that elusive goal of a Linux career.

I have just had an epiphany: Linux isn't about being a programmer at all.

Linux is about creating tools for people to do the work they need to do. "Scratching your own itch" is a primary motivator for many luminaries in the Open Source / Free Software world. The to be done need not be solely programming. That is why we have such applications as Gnumeric and Star Office and Gimp. Most of the people who find Linux useful are not going to be programmers (if they are even now). Most will be teachers, businessmen, artists, writers, and homemakers first, and hackers second, if at all.

What is a Linux Job?

Given these insights, it seems that we need to open up our perception of just what a Linux job might be. Could it be any job that Linux and the ability to use free tools can improve? For example, it is a common thing for scientists to dabble in programming in order to create tools for their particular niche. Similarly, an office worker might be able to create an insanely great (yet very specialized) application that makes an employer more productive. This view makes Linux a very valuable arrow in a worker's quiver. As Linux invades mainstream areas the value of knowing something about Linux increases.

There are many other skills associated with Linux besides programming. Technical writing comes to mind immediately. Linux needs documentation badly. Sure, we have man pages for most applications and other technical tidbits throughout the source code. We have How-To documents and FAQs galore. What we are missing are user manuals like the ones that come with the SuSE distribution, for example. Manuals that are well written and clearly explain in English (and sometimes German) just how to use the applications. If you speak a language other than English your horizon in the documentation field may be limitless. Training modules and the people to present them is a yawning chasm in the job market as well.

Linux can also use people who have the ability to recreate and improve upon the infinite amount of custom script code that exists in word processing applications, spreadsheets and databases in the corporate world. It will take no small effort to move that code base over. Ever wonder why companies still have COBOL applications? The conversion costs are enormous and the new application might not work as well as the present one does I know of a company that still delivers millions of lines of COBOL to new clients. Think they will ever port it to C++? Don't hold your breath. One of the obstacles to wider acceptance of Linux in the workplace (even a smaller one) is this "data inertia". If you can deliver Star Office word processing templates, Gnumeric spreadsheets, and Perl data conversion utilities you may have a lucrative future as Linux grows.

Of course, anyone with any database skills will always be in demand. Database design is sometimes marvelously esoteric, and someone has to create all those perl/awk/sed/python scripts for converting data from proprietary formats to open ones. New database applications using MySQL or Postgres will need to be built, as well. Knowing about databases is a core part of any good developer's education. Being good at database administration is a skill to be prized.

A New View

This short note only scratches the surface of alternatives to Linux programming jobs. The reality, of course, is that employers are concentrating on programming skills too as the current qualification for most Linux related employment .As Linux becomes mainstream, expect this to shift. The time to prepare is now. Create technical and non-technical documentation for your technical writer portfolio. [And send them to Linux.com - ed.] Write that killer custom application for your job using Gnumeric. Create a way-cool database on your home server and show it to your boss via his Web browser. Add that bullet about being able to use Linux tools to your office worker resume. You never know, you just might get picked up for a project to test Linux in the office and create your own niche. Don't laugh, in college I dropped in to a computer store and asked if they needed a repair tech., and was hired on the spot because they had been "thinking about hiring one". Luck is a matter of being prepared to seize a new opportunity when it presents itself.

Look at the Linux job market from an alternate plane of reality and be prepared for opportunities!

Mark Miller has been the training manager for a large aerospace repair facility and has a deep interest in workforce development and in Linux.

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