Taz Brown writes about the challenges of a career in IT and her goals
of helping to increase diversity in the field and bring Linux to urban
The year is now 2018, and the world has changed tremendously in so many
ways. One thing that’s changed significantly is the way we
learn and the way we demonstrate that knowledge. No longer is a
college degree enough, particularly in the area of Information
Technology (IT). Speak to two technologists about how they paved their way in
the field, and you will get, oftentimes, completely
It’s one of the things I like most about IT. You
often can work with many different people with varying experiences,
stories about how they came to enter the field, and one of the most common paths
to IT is through certifications.
My path to IT could and would not have happened without
certifications. First, my college degree was not in any tech or computer
science concentration or track. I did not begin my career in IT, and
therefore, gaining the knowledge I needed to enter the field began and
continues with certifications. Now, this is not to say that I did not
need to gain practical experience in order to be able to do the job, but
had I only had practical experience and no certifications, I likely
wouldn’t have attracted the recruiters that I did.
I started with some CompTIA certifications like A+ and Network+, and
Microsoft certs like the MCSA, focusing on Windows 7 and Windows Server.
So after putting in 25–30 hours a week studying and
was all with just a laptop, mind you—I obtained those
certifications. But after
getting those certifications, I wanted more—more knowledge and
that is. I was able to obtain a job in IT on the HelpDesk, and after a
few years, and a few more certifications, I became a Systems
So fast-forward ten years, and I am now a Sr. Linux Systems Engineer. I
moved into the field of Linux about five years ago, because I saw a trend
that I could not resist—a niche market. And, it has paid off, but with
advancing my career came the need yet again to prove myself, and so I have
been focused on the Red Hat track of certification for the last few
I have some Linux certifications, but the ones that have
been the most important to me at this stage in my career are those from
Red Hat. I currently possess the RHCSA (Red Hat
Certified Systems Administrator), and for the last few
months, I’ve been preparing to take and pass the RHCE (Red Hat Certified
Engineer). My ultimate goal is to obtain
the RHCA (Red Hat Certified Architect).
These exams are arguably some of the hardest certifications to
achieve because they are “performance-based”. You will not find
“a, b, c or d” on these exams. The exams are so challenging because you have
to show your work. You have to execute a variety of tasks, such
as password recovery, configuring YUM, setting SELinux properly,
configuring ACL/permissions and so on.
I purchased a copy of Workstation
Pro and installed virtual servers running RHEL 7, although I could have
gone with a free open-source option: VirtualBox. I set up a base image
with all the necessary networking configurations, and then I cloned it to
create three other servers, one being an IPA server and the other two
being a server and a client with three network interface cards each. I knew
that I planned to grow my environment as I continued to study and
practice for the multiple Red Hat exams I’d be taking.
In my journey to Sr. Linux Systems Administrator, I’ve met more and more
women and African Americans who either have entered the field or have
obtained their RHCSAs, or maybe the RHCE, but often that’s as far as I
have seen them go.
So, I want to start a series of articles where I discuss my
road to the RHCA. I plan to discuss my challenges (right now, sometimes
saying on target and focused can be difficult with all the other stuff
life brings, but I have set my goals, which I plan to cover in my next
article), and I also hopefully will highlight others who are particularly
unrepresented but who have taken the plunge to become Red Hat-certified
Basically, I want anyone who reads this to know that there is no rule book
for how to get there. You just need to have a plan, a razor-sharp focus and
dedication, and there is nothing you can’t achieve.
At the time of
article, I am a week out from taking my RHCE. I’ll let you know what
happens and more as soon as I can. Right now, I am focused on network
teaming, http/https, dns, nfs, smb, smtp, ssh, ntp and database services.
I also want to see more people of color and
women learn Linux and make it a career.
The numbers are minimal at this point, but I know that this can change,
and I hope I can somehow make a difference. For me, I believe it starts
with learning and education and having the option to learn about Linux in urban
schools—not just typing and the use of Windows. I think the use of
Raspberry Pis and learning Python can spark creativity, ingenuity and
zeal for something not thought of as having a place. There is a place;
every supercomputer in the world runs on Linux.
I have started mentoring others and helping them begin their journey
of learning and understanding Linux and going even further, preparing for
certifications, because it is something that I know I must do if I want to
see the change and increase the representation. The opportunities are
endless, and the rewards are even greater. I look forward to furthering my
career in Linux and open source and bringing more along with me.