Back in 1997 or 1998, a friend of mine tore down his BBS and put up a Linux box for people to log in and mess around with. I think he gave accounts to 5 of us, and maybe 2 of us actually tried it out. A few weeks later, I ended up heading to a store and picking up a book about RedHat that came with a free install CD. Not RHEL mind you, that wasn’t around yet. Linux in those days was still very raw and unpolished. Search engines were still pretty early in their infancy at the time, so you had to rely on the man(ual) pages and trial and error. Still, it was fun, and a departure from messing with QNX on a 1.44 MB floppy.
As I look back on that time, my curiosity and persistence gave me a very useful skill set that I use almost every day in my personal and professional life. I learned how to figure out things for myself, I learned how to properly troubleshoot issues, I learned how to read technical documentation, and I learned my way around a Linux (and many *NIX systems such BSD, Solaris, IRIX, etc.) system.
As time went on and open source software became more popular, I started seeing Linux everywhere. I found it running medical devices in hospitals, car stereos, cell phones (okay, Android but close enough), wireless access points, routers, switches, all kinds of embedded devices and appliances, ATMs, handhelds, bar scanners, and even game consoles. This was fascinating and exciting to me as I always appreciated how “transparent” the system was when you had an issue, and how powerful and flexible it was.
When you get immersed into Linux you will find yourself often brushing up against other projects that spawned from it or on it. In 2017, those might be things like Cumulus Networks software stack, python, docker, git / github, apache, nginx, samba, the bootstrap framework, grafana, librenms, ansible, free-range routing project (a quagga fork), and many other things used by individuals, enterprises, and governments on a daily basis.
It doesn’t matter if you are a SysAdmin, Network Engineer, Database Administrator, Developer, Storage Engineer, Security Researcher, tinkerer, or even a non-IT “normie”, there is high probability that something you use or come in contact with is running Linux and one or more of the open source projects that were developed on it.
Pick up some of the free tutorials and classes on the web if you want to get your feet wet. If you don’t have a spare computer, download a copy of VMware workstation or Oracle’s VirtualBox and a Debian (my choice) or CentOS (free version of RHEL) image. This is a safe way to learn, and you can even test webservers, routing designs, load balancers, firewalls, file servers, and many other things this way.
Once you get past all that and are looking to add some credentials to your resume, organizations like RedHat and the Linux Foundation offer training and certification courses that are in demand in the industry.
If you’re not familiar with Linux, there is no better time to expand your skills and career than today – it’s largely driving the world.