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Ask HN: How do I get a Linux admin job with no degrees?
20 points by BenjiWiebe 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 43 comments

  I live in central Kansas. I am 20+ years old. I've been playing around with Linux, networking, and virtualization at home for roughly 5 years.

  Today I had an opportunity to work along side some Linux admins from a company that provides dealerships with hardware, software, and support solutions.
  I was able to help with numerous parts of their script that they were not sure how to work with, as this system was an older unsupported system.
  I would love to get a job doing something like this, i.e. Linux server/networking admin, but I have no degrees, and no experience doing this as a job, only for a hobby.
So the question is: When I find a job listing that I would like to apply for, how do I get an interview to prove my knowledge, even if I have no degrees or experience working with this as a job?

Thank you for your insights!

Maybe I'm wrong but I would suggest you looking for a job and show them what you can do.

I've been working as a developer for a few years now and although I don't have any CS degree and I'm pretty young (low 20s) employers trust me after a couple of weeks.

Look for startups or entities that don't have too much burocracy and show them what you have done before. What usually happens is that you will get a freelance job for a couple weeks and they will hire you.

Real companies need real people doing real things, they don't care about bullshit. If you ship you are in.

First of all, most startups (and there aren't many in central KS!) probably don't want a dedicated Linux admin. Also, the jobs I've found all would be companies with bureaucracy. :)

Edit: Does it ever do any good to show up in person and ask for an interview?

I've been working on remote for a couple of years now. I would suggest you to try the same although I know not everybody might fit for remote positions.

About how to get a job, well I do move a lot and work really hard. I have never had to attend to a regular interview and I have never 'applied' for a job. What usually happens is that I meet someone that at that exact moment are looking for what I can offer, so I offer myself. They set an interview with the CTO, and after a few weeks they can't remember how old I was or what degree I had.

Talk to many people, work hard on your side-projects, attend meetups and hackathons and don't try to screw anyone when working on remote.

My situation might not be common, I feel myself a bit lucky, but I know there are more people like me and maybe my experience might encourage you to do the same.

Good luck and don't give up, you don't need a degree to prove what you are capable of. Work hard!

It's probably not a great idea to show up in person and ask for an interview. That doesn't mean that you need to go through their bureaucracy to get a job though!

For any company that you're interested in, I would recommend trying to find a person who would be your direct supervisor if you were to get the job you wanted there and sending them a nice, personal email asking what sorts of opportunities are available at their company. Finding this persons contact information can sometimes be a bit of a challenge, but for most companies, some clever googling can get you close.

The great thing about emailing a human (rather than trying to go through the corporate bureaucracy), is that you're likely to get a human response. Even if they don't have a position open right now, they might be able to refer you to someone else in the industry. And, if they do have a position open, you'll have a contact to help you navigate HR, which can be especially helpful if you're missing some of their "required" qualifications.

I've used this approach in the past, and it totally works. It does require quite a bit of research and talking to quite a few people, but it feels a lot better than sending resumes to HR departments and never hearing back from them.

Thanks! I'll see what happens with the email route!

Another important piece of advice. I see elsewhere in this thread that you've "applied for a couple jobs." Given that you don't have any professional connections right now, you're probably going to need to apply for 50+ jobs before you get your first offer.

With that in mind, you absolutely cannot apply for one job at a time. If it takes two weeks to hear back from someone, and you're only applying for one job at a time, you'll be spending two _years_ looking for a job. Once you get out of the one job at a time mindset, it's totally possible to reach out to 5-10 people a day. You should be getting in touch with so many people that you need to keep a spreadsheet (or notes file, or something) to remember who's who in your job search.

Also, Don't let any individual rejection get you down, just treat is as another possible future connection and move on. Fortunately, when you're talking to 5 new people every day during a job search, it's a lot easier to not take rejection personally.

Good luck! I'm sure there's a position out there for you.

You need to crawl before you can walk.

Get a support job. With no degree and no prior relevant work experience nobody will trust you in an admin role. Not all the skills you need to be successful as an admin are hard tech skills either.

- an ops guy without a high school diploma or greater

Why don't you get one? You are still young and your brain is still developing. Get a degree in comp sci and be on your merry way.

Partially religious reasons. Also, getting a degree takes a lot of money/time, and I don't feel (from what I've heard from academia, both students and teachers) that it would benefit me much, besides being able to say I have a degree.

> I don't feel [...] that it would benefit me much, besides being able to say I have a degree.

It would get you past the screening processes that you are having a hard time with for one. That seems like a benefit.

If I were you, I'd seriously reconsider this standpoint. Having a degree certainly isn't going to hurt you, and there are a lot of ways that it could help you. If money is the main concern, I'd like to point you at https://www.uopeople.edu/ -- they're accredited and tuition free. You only pay for exams - $100 each for a total of < $5000 for a BSc.

Nice link. I'd not heard of them.

This shows what can be done:


OK so this is hardcore, but even if a few of the modules were completed that would prove something.

I would disagree with the notion that degree wouldn't benefit you much. Well of course, you could go to a mediocre/lousy university and end up taking all very easy courses and then your degree will mean nothing. But if you look at the successful people (not entirely financially like Gates) in the computing field, every single one of them have Masters and PhD's. If you did college just for sake of getting a degree, you will end up having just a degree.

For some reason, in this country, education is looked down upon. That is very unfortunate.

The degree will give you a lot of networking opportunities and this is what you need to get a job... also you'll have to be ready to relocate, so I would start applying to any job available anywhere in the US and why not around the world...

I'd rather not relocate. There are jobs in Kansas for what I'd like to do, if not hundreds of them.

If there are so many jobs, why you can't get one? I think you should really reflect on that and be more flexible, especially at your age...

I can't get one because the automated application systems don't even accept an application if you have no degree, hence the question. I've applied for a couple of jobs, but I've gotten no response, not even email. I'm just ignored.

Again, you need to find a way to network with the people in those companies, go to meets, submit a paper and speak at conferences, etc... this is the only way...

Cold applications are probably the worst way to get a job. You need to go to some local meetups and rub elbows with people IRL.

What religion forbids a cs degree?

No, it's not the degree, it's the place, and the easily-negative influence that can be found at many institutes of higher learning. Also forbidden isn't the right word. "Recommended against" would be a better way of putting it.

Could you elaborate on this?

College, for me, was a largely positive influence. Admittedly it was expensive, but it was easily the largest catalyst for growth in my young adult life.

I'm interested in learning about what the easily-negative influences in academia are, because besides the cost I can't think of an argument against it.

Universities tend to be strongly influenced by liberal thinking and values (or are at least perceived to be). They can in fact be quite aggressively anti-conservative. If you're from a very conservative background, that isn't an environment you're going to feel at home in.

I certainly understand where you are coming from. Putting yourself in an environment where you might feel ostracized for your beliefs sounds hostile.

I do think, however, that having a conversation with someone who beliefs are fundamentally counter to yours are tremendously valuable. It might help you empathize with their position, help you better understand your own, or at the very least make it easier to work with people who's backgrounds are different from your own.

Stepping into an environment that you won't feel at home in may be an excellent place for you to step outside of your comfort zone and grow.

I can't remember who said this, but a thought that resonated the most with me about college is that it is the time and place for making your brain the most interesting place to live for the rest of your life.

Ultimately, the decision is entirely yours, and college won't make you or break you. I can say that they were likely the most valuable 4 years of my life so far.

Oh, I absolutely agree with you! I'm heading for a career in academia right now, and I love university!

But coming from a similarly conservative background, I wanted to help you understand why some are rather wary of colleges. In my experience, it's by far not as bad as they fear - but you do have to get used to hearing people in your surrounding deride and insult your beliefs and values on a more or less regular basis.

He's sacrificing his education because of some religion ffs... Logic, reality and common sense don't really apply so any answer you'll get will be just a bunch of judgmental backwards thinking bs that has no place anywhere (except maybe in Kansas).

On the contrary, the response seemed logical and genuine (I am not from nor have I ever been to Kansas.)

Please remain civil. Insulting language of that sort has no place in this discussion.

How wedded are you to central Kansas? I see from your other posts you want to stay in the area, but how about Kansas City (either side of the border)?

It's a large enough metro area to have quite a few jobs, and I know several people (non-degreed) working in software development and sysadmin work there. I'm not connected enough to offer any greater insight than that, unfortunately (I live very far from the area) but you'd probably have better luck there than your current area.

But I'll also reiterate jklein11's and others' point: If you impressed these guys they can help you out. If you're getting rejected immediately by systems due to lack of a degree, you need a network to help you. Even if they don't hire you, they can vouch for you to other employers for at least an entry level or internship/apprenticeship position.

I would talk to the Linux admins you worked with yesterday. It sounds like you have already proved to them you know what you are doing. They may be looking for a greenhorn to take in and mentor. If not, they likely have had other Linux admin jobs and know other people in the industry.

I would frame it as a way to learn about the industry and make it clear that you are looking for a new role. I would be cautious about asking them for a job straight out because if they aren't in a position to help they might just say no and be done with it.

The key to getting a job, especially if your resume isn't conventional, is to skip the automated resume submission entirely.

I actually did speak to them. They are not hiring right now. However, good idea on using them as an entry to the network.

Study the job listing. Even if it is written badly, there are usually a lot of clues about what technologies are important. Spend some time getting your hands on those technologies if possible. If it is a database, get an aws account, install it on ec2, set up a schema, and ingest some data. If there is a scripting requirement, what libraries might they be using? Roughly mimic what they have and write against it.

Then, on your resume, list that you have experience with those technologies. You don’t have to lie, but if you used a specific library and know it, then you know it.

All the points on the job listing that were recommended or even suggested I do have experience with, except I don't have experience using the company's own products (not a requirement anyways).

Just apply to some entry level jobs. I've worked with many Linux admins who didn't have a degree, or e.g. had a degree in something unrelated like film.

Given lack of formal experience, maybe start with companies where you know someone already? Or e.g. you've met these admins, talk to them and see if they can help you out.

The admins I've "met" (phone) are for a company that is not hiring, and are in Dallas TX. I'd love to work for them, and believe I would have no problem getting a job with them, if 1) they were hiring and 2) I was within commute distance of an office of theirs.

At a minimum you can use them as references.

volunteer with an open source project's tech/infrastructure teams, this site may lead you towards projects that have infrastructure demands:


What about an entry-level job at a web-hosting company?

Nobody with a degree would do a Linux sysadmin job. I never saw anyone with a degree doing this.

I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point getting a CS degree became a requirement for sysadmin jobs and it's starting to become necessary for tech support too. Gone are the days where installing a linux distro got your foot in the door.

Agreed - at most of the companies where I've worked the sysadmins / devops have all had degrees.

Not really. All of my team mate in sysadmin team have degree in computer science or informatics

Is this sysadmin or devops?

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