Originally Published: Thursday, 16 September 1999 Author: Tori Wildstar
Published to: corp_features/General Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Staffing Your Linux Solution

So...you are considering trying Linux in your office. You know it could benefit your IT department from a technical standpoint. The price is right. What is left to consider? One important consideration is how this will affect your IT staff. This piece addresses that issue and the options available to you.

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So...you are considering trying Linux in your office. You know it could benefit your IT department from a technical standpoint. The price is right. What is left to consider?

How will this affect your current IT staff?

If you currently use UNIX in your network, the staff currently assigned to your UNIX machines should have no problem installing, configuring and using Linux. This statement, of course, encompasses those members of your staff who have experience with any SYSV or BSD systems. How can you be assured that this is true? If you have a machine currently not being utilized (perhaps an older desktop), allow your staff to install Linux on it to test it. This could be beneficial to your staff and it could be useful to you because it will give you the opportunity to see how the OS at work.

Of course, many of you may have IT staff members who know only MacOS, Windows9*, WindowsNT, DOS, etc. In this case, the same advice applies with regard to setting up a test box for Linux. Linux has a different look and feel than these operating systems. That does not necessarily make Linux more or less difficult to learn. In fact, in the Halloween Documents of 1998, Microsoft employees mentioned that "A SUN desktop user would be perfectly at home here. An advanced Win32 GUI user would have a short learning cycle to become productive [under Linux]." So, in this case, your staff may need some additional training. Before enrolling your staff in any training courses, perhaps you should give the staff a bit of time with the "new" OS. If time is available, your staff can explore the various Internet help avenues available and, if you purchased a commercial copy of Linux, to utilize any support package(s) that came with your distribution. In my opinion, this would be the best way to measure their various levels of knowledge and to ensure that, if training is required, you enroll your staff into a session that suits each individual's needs.

Other Options

The options I have mentioned thus far seem easy, but as we all know, things sometimes require a little help from outside. There are other options you may wish to explore.

  • Hiring a consultant
  • Contracting a private "Linux Tutor"
  • Hiring additional staff members

All of these options have a bit of an additional price, but it will be well worth the cost if these solutions can help you to reap all of the benefits that come with adding Linux to your current IT infrastructure.

Hiring a Consultant

There are many consulting firms available to assist companies with determining which Linux solutions are right for you. Consultants can help you to to efficiently integrate Linux or to replace your current operating system(s) with Linux. With a Linux consultant, you can be assured of detailed planning sessions to help you to make the best decisions for your company based on your specific needs. This is extremely helpful if you are not familiar with Linux at all and wish to explore your options with someone familiar with the OS. You can get this from volunteer consultants on the Internet at no cost, but you can also find several commercial consulting firms who deal (sometimes strictly) with Linux if you feel more comfortable paying for these services. The only drawback I can see to this option is that it does not provide you with a permanent solution unless your staff learns from the consultant and feels confident that they can pick up where the consulting contract ends.

Contracting a Private "Linux Tutor"

This option is very similar to the consulting option. The difference is that a tutor teaches your staff hands-on about Linux administration. The drawback here is that these "tutors" may not be as easy to locate as consulting firms. This may not necessarily be a problem, depending on the number of Linux users available for work in your area. An employment classified ad or a phone call, fax, or email to a representative of your local LUG (Linux User Group) may help you to find a very capable person to teach your staff about Linux. Again, there are people who volunteer this service at no cost, but you may feel more comfortable contracting this person -- especially if you intend to allow this person to do his or her teaching on your servers. Please keep in mind that you may already have a staff member working in your company who is willing to fulfill this job request. Try advertising internally first.

Hiring Additional Staff Members

This is the most time-consuming and costly option available, but it can also be the best option for you. If no one on your current staff is familiar with Linux at all, this could also be the most difficult. Many companies rely on recruiters to staff technical positions. Unfortunately, based on my past experiences, I have found that there are a large number of technical recruiters who do not even know what Linux is. This does not mean that Linux is not yet a viable solution, it simply reflects the need for people, like you, who are willing to try other options and for people, like me, to try to educate people about exploring their options. I am certain that the technical recruiters who do not yet know about Linux will become very familiar with it but, for now, you may need to search for a recruiter who is already well aware of its existence.

Another complication of hiring a Linux tech is the fact that many Linux "gurus" have little or no professional experience with the OS. This is understandable, since Linux has not been readily accepted into many corporations until recently. Generally, if someone includes Linux volunteer or personal experience on his or her resume, it might be difficult to measure the applicant's experience by normal means (e.g. reference checks). Many Linux users have been employed as UNIX or NT administrators. Furthermore, there have not been many Linux certification programs and/or Linux courses available to people who have been using Linux for several years. How can you be sure that you are getting the most for your budget? I believe this is the question that may be keeping many corporations from deploying Linux solutions and employing Linux techs. This is considered a great risk. My advice is to think back to a time when computers were new to people...when other currently mainstream operating systems were new to people. IT departments are relatively new to many companies. What would your company be like today without your IT staff? Without Email? Whether you or a manager before you took the risk...has it been worth it? I assume that most managers would answer that particular question with a resounding "YES!" My advice to you is to advertise your job opening(s) on Linux-related web sites and/or magazines that offer job posting services. Consult local Linux groups. Do not place a great deal of weight on computer science degrees. (I know that many people might vehemently disagree with this piece of advice but I can honestly say that most of the brilliant technical people I know do not have computer science degrees). Finally, you should try to find recruiters who are familiar with or specialize in hiring people to fill Linux-related positions.

Contrary to the way some media representatives have portrayed us, Linux techs are generally not ill-spoken, unkept individuals. We come from various backgrounds. Due to the nature of Linux and open-source software in general, we tend to learn well on our own and work well in groups. Due to the rarity of finding Linux in the IT departments of some of our previous employers, we tend to know several different operating systems and have experience with software written for many platforms.

Now...are you willing to take that risk?

Comments? Email the author of this piece.

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