Linux sysadmin -> DevOps
June 13, 2011 10:27 PM   Subscribe

CareerFilter: Early thirties, 10+ years of Linux admin experience, how do I break into something different?

My previous job titles have included systems administrator, systems management engineer, systems analyst. I have a ton of Linux-fu but my development skills are pretty weak. It seems like most of the positions I've been interested in have been more on the developer side of the spectrum than strictly sysadmin type stuff. This seems to be something of an industry trend. I really like startups and small companies. I ran a VC-backed machine-learning startup for a while and I really enjoyed it, but I'm nowhere near a professional developer in terms of my skill-set. I'd like to move into DevOps, but I can't really get professional experience with that where I live. I'm considering moving to the Bay area- seems to be the best fit for the kind of companies I'd like to work for. So, what next? Which job boards should I be looking at? What kind of job titles should I be looking out for?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Take some statistics courses and look for bioinformaticist positions, which will take advantage of your ability to get around a UNIX command-line.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:13 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm guessing your ideal scenario would be a job that's 90% ops and 10% dev with opportunities to ramp up as a dev. But like you I can't think of a job title that would signify that--maybe just some job listed as a sysadmin position that incidentally includes mention of development technologies.

To qualify for jobs that are more development-oriented, do you have the luxury of spare time to beef up the developer side of things by writing some kind of app? Or can you put that Linux-fu / DevOps interest to work for other people in a way that makes you sound a bit more like a developer? As an example, maybe distribute Puppet patterns / Chef recipes related to the technology stack(s) you'd like to develop in, so you have those technologies more legitimately on your resume. Or write a howto on a very specific, very current issue for some application layer technology as a way of demonstrating you not only know how to use it but have some sense for the ferment of the technology--how to use some new feature, how to make it work with some other really recent thing, etc.--and then link it on DZone.

Moving and applying both sound premature. Maybe you're open to any development idiom or application domain, but when people look at resumes, they want some "fit" to leap off the page, and you're saying you probably don't have that on the development side. I guess you could attend developer conferences and talk to folks who might be hiring until you find one that could use a Linux admin angling to grow. I don't think that's an easy path, but I've seen it work.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:42 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know a guy much like you, who went and got a BSc and then a MSc in computer science. He moonlighted using his haxor skills and breezed through the basics classes in Comp.Sci, and spent time on the interesting stuff in the later years of the studies. Now he's doing lots of fun stuff.
posted by krilli at 2:43 AM on June 14, 2011

memail me with a resume! I know several that could use you!

Some of this is going to have to be on you as well....

1. Start learning to dev!
2. get involved in your local [language of choice, such as Python, Ruby, Javascript, PHP, C# or tech: iOS (super hot right now!)] meetup.
3. get a github, bitbucket, stackoverflow account, and start answering questions / forking and contributing to projects!
4. Use your new skills to work on Project Euler problems, build a simple web app or the like!

Companies who can use newish devs that know the CLI are *all over the place*, and it's back to boom time in the industry!
posted by gregglind at 5:21 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine with the same background recently made the kind of move you're talking about, except he moved into a position that was more like 80/20, dev/admin. He went through a lot of Rails screencasts and started an open source project and built it up into usable state. The project wasn't popular, but when it was time to interview, employers liked looking at the code, even though he had apprehensions about it.

This took a couple of years. Maybe about a year learning Ruby on Rails and another building the open source app. You could possibly go faster (he has a wife and kid), but like the eponysterical Monsieur Caution says, it's not worth looking at moving right now. Make sure your skills are strong and figure out exactly how much you like development before committing to picking up and relocating.
posted by ignignokt at 6:37 AM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have you thought about software QA? A lot of testing jobs are a combination of admin and developer. I work in QA for a software development startup and knowing Linux/Unix admin is a big prerequisite in our group, but we do also do a fair amount of scripting and coding in various languages: TCL, Python, Perl, C++.
posted by octothorpe at 6:48 AM on June 14, 2011

Monsieur Caution's suggestion regarding learning systems like Chef and Puppet is a good one. I was just at an AWS conference the other day and there's a large (and increasing) demand for this kind of automation skill-set. You could spend ages mastering the AWS infrastructure alone.
posted by mkultra at 8:31 AM on June 14, 2011

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