Getting hired as a sysadmin is trickier than it’s ever been, but the right sysadmin certifications will keep you agile in a shifting marketplace.
With cloud and hybrid services disrupting the traditional model (in-house servers maintained by an in-house sysadmin), it’s vital that current and future sysadmins never stop learning. And while most sysadmin jobs don’t require more than a bachelor’s degree, it’s going to be your certs and your skills that put you in demand.
We’re going to guide you through the certifications for Windows, Linux, and cloud services that can bolster your resume, expand your skillset, and ensure that you’re positioned to look as attractive as possible in any job interview.
Choose wisely and choose early: Linux or Windows
Before we go into sysadmin certifications recommendations, we have to address the biggest, most important choice up front: which operating system are you going to focus on?
Of course, in the long run, you can learn Windows and Linux, but starting with the idea of mastering both may be overly ambitious. If you’re here for a cheat sheet of sysadmin certifications to improve your chances in the job market, you could likely benefit from a laser-like focus, at least at first.
Get Linux sysadmin certifications if you want to be in demand. According to the most recent Open Source Jobs Report, 80% of hiring managers are recruiting open-source (specifically, Linux-based) talent. For a fascinating personal story about being a Linux admin, check out Ken Hess’ blog post on the subject.
Many government and military systems use Linux as well, so you’ll always have a wide range of potential, well-paying jobs.
Get Windows sysadmin certifications if you want a wider job pool. While Windows is not as popular for on-site server maintenance, Windows systems and cloud services are extremely popular around the world. Windows’ worldwide market share still hovers around the high 70% range, and sysadmins who can manage those networks are always going to be in demand.
Getting certs in cloud services is absolutely necessary no matter what OS you may be dealing with, so we’ll include those sysadmin certification suggestions at the end of this article.
1. Linux Professional Institute Certifications (LPIC)
This section covers multiple certifications from the Linux Professional Institute, all of which every sysadmin should check out.
The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) is a nonprofit training organization that tests and certifies tech professionals in distribution-neutral Linux programming, maintenance, and general use.
LPIC Sysadmin Certifications and What They Mean
LPIC offers a few sysadmin certifications you should probably check out. Each higher certification requires passing the certification that comes before: you can’t get the LPIC-2 cert until you’ve landed the LPIC-1 cert, etc.
Linux Essentials: This is a very basic certification, covering a holistic knowledge base of Linux structure, components, and major applications. If you’re already fluent in Linux, it may not be a bad idea to take the test quickly and grab the cert. If you’re new to Linux, it’s an excellent starting place to begin your journey.
LPIC-1: The first certification you would get on the professional path. LPIC-1 is designed to test and confirm your knowledge of the Linux/GNU/Unix command lines, system architecture, security permissions, basic maintenance, and, of course, installation of Linux. Getting this sysadmin certification involves passing two tests: a 101 exam and a 102 exam.
LPIC-2: The next level of certification, the LPIC-2 cert and exams prove your knowledge of network configuration, system administration, purchasing and consulting, file systems and storage, and VPNs. Like most of the LPI certs, there are two exams.
LPIC-3: This advanced tier of certification is split into three specialties, with their own exams and individual certifications:
- LPIC-3 Enterprise Mixed Environment is a highly recommended certification because it covers hybrid server/cloud administration for Linux systems.
- LPIC-3 Enterprise Virtualization and High Availability is obviously for testing skills on operating/maintaining virtual Linux machines and for managing high-availability systems that require little to no downtime.
- LPIC-3 Enterprise Security provides a certification on skills related to network security, cryptography, and permissions/access control at a high level.
All LPIC sysadmin certifications last five years and then need to be renewed.
2. Red Hat Certifications (RHCE)
Red Hat Enterprise Linux is one of the most popular Linux distributions in the world. There are many Red Hat certifications, and we invite you to take a look at the list. However, we’ll cover a few sysadmin certifications that Linux-focused system administrators will want to strongly consider.
Red Hat Certified System Administrator: This certification will demonstrate your knowledge of command-line environments, basic shell scripts, user administration, configuring file systems, security and access control, firewalls, and SELinux.
Red Hat Certified System Administrator in Red Hat OpenStack: Red Hat OpenStack is a Linux-based cloud computing solution, which this certification (and exam) covers. This certification is practically a must for sysadmins looking to work in Linux virtualization and cloud computing.
Red Hat Certified Specialist in Enterprise Application Server Administration: This certification will help you land a position in any organization that uses the Red Hat JBoss Enterprise Application Platform to deploy apps in a cloud-based environment.
3. CompTIA Sysadmin Certifications
CompTIA is an organization, not unlike the LPI, that specializes in testing and certifying IT professionals. CompTIA certifications are well-respected and are often seen on tech resumes. You can take CompTIA’s classes if you need the education, though they can be pricey. If you can already set up a network switch in your sleep, we’d recommend just taking the exams.
CompTIA A+: An A+ certificate will prove to almost any hiring manager that you’ve at least taken your basic education seriously. The exams will cover your knowledge of the fundamentals of networking, security, operating system configuration (Windows, Linux, and mobile platforms), troubleshooting, and Internet of Things setup.
CompTIA Server+: Sysadmins should seriously consider getting their Server+ certification. Servers are going to be your bread and butter, after all, and this certificate will prove to hiring managers that you’re an expert in server setup, maintenance, administration, architecture, and security.
CompTIA Network+: The Network+ certification is highly recommended for sysadmins looking to find a position. The certification will mark your knowledge of cloud computing, traditional networks, best security practices, common service models, and virtualization.
CompTIA Security+: If you have any intentions to ever work sysadmin in a government organization (or even in sensitive fields that operate alongside government agencies), you’ll absolutely need a Security+ certification. Many organizations and all government jobs won’t touch a sysadmin who doesn’t have their Security+.
CompTIA Linux+: If you’re looking to round out your Linux certifications (or education) but don’t want to specialize with the LPI or Red Hat certifications, Linux+ is a solid middle ground.
If you’d like to read a firsthand account of a professional getting their Linux+ certificate, all the way through the exam and beyond, we’d recommend checking out Bagel’s blog post.
4. Microsoft Certified Solutions Certifications
Though the MCSA, MCSE, and MCSD certifications have long been some of the go-to certifications for sysadmin and other IT pros, Microsoft is retiring them as of January 2021. Though, if you get any of these certs before that date, they will be considered active and applicable for another two years.
If you still want to get in under the wire, these certifications have a solid, respected pedigree. Though, it may be smarter to spend your time elsewhere.
MCSA: While not directly related to sysadmin job responsibilities, the basic Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate certification is required to get the next tier of certification.
MCSE: The Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert is a far more relevant and useful certification for sysadmin professionals, and it requires only a single exam once you’ve passed the MCSA. If you’ve got the skills, it won’t take much time or energy to pass this exam, which may make it worthwhile for expanding your resume.
MCSD: This stands for Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer, which, obviously, is focused more on the development side of things. But if you’re interested in developing apps or solutions for Azure’s cloud service, this is a good place to start.
Speaking of Microsoft Azure . . .
5. Microsoft Azure Certifications
Microsoft Azure is Microsoft’s cloud business solution, and is the second most popular enterprise cloud platform after AWS. Here are just a few possible sysadmin certifications you can get that relate to Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.
Azure Fundamental: This is the most basic Azure cert. The exam for this certification tests your knowledge of Azure use cases, simple security, pricing, support, and networking. It’s a good jumping off point for all sysadmins looking to learn more about the Azure platform.
Azure Administrator: The Azure Administrator Certification is going to be necessary for any sysadmin working with Azure-based enterprises. This certificate will prove to potential employers that you know how to deploy and manage Azure infrastructure, complete with user management, security, resource management, virtual networks, and PowerShell.
Azure Solutions Architect: This certification moves beyond pure technical knowledge and prepares sysadmin and higher positions for advising, purchasing, and designing cloud infrastructure solutions for large enterprises. This is a prime cert choice for sysadmins looking to climb the ladder toward management and even C-suite positions.
Obviously we’re not recommending that a sysadmin using Azure get every single one of these certificates. While it’s usually a good idea to get extra education, it shouldn’t interfere with your time improving the skills you need for the position you want.
6. Amazon Web Services (AWS)
Amazon Web Services is still the number one cloud solution for enterprises, with a staggering 76% of marketshare according to Flexera’s 2020 State of the Cloud Report. Sysadmins looking to manage cloud server setup, maintenance, and overall architecture would be wise to grab at least a few of the AWS certifications.
AWS Cloud Practitioner: The AWS Cloud Practitioner certificate is the first and most fundamental certification AWS recommends. This exam and certificate prove high-level knowledge of AWS basic structure, its primary and ideal use, conceptual principles, architecture, and security.
AWS Certified Sysops Administrator: The SysOps Administrator certification is more specific and role-based, as you would imagine, and covers the most relevant information and tools you’ll need to be an AWS sysadmin. This certifies that you can install/deploy AWS and manage all day-to-day tasks of system administration in its cloud environment. Handling migration, security, backups, and fault control and ensuring that your AWS system is highly available are all a part of this exam and cert.
AWS Certified Solutions Architect: The Solutions Architect certification may not be necessary for all sysadmins; it will largely depend on how many hats an organization will make you wear (or your own methods).
Amazon has put together an operations training path for sysadmins looking to get educated and/or certified in AWS, which is well worth checking out.
7. Google Cloud
Google Cloud is still the third most-used cloud solution for enterprises (according to Flexera’s report), but betting against Google isn’t usually a great idea. For sysadmins in the educational field, especially, Google Cloud certifications could plow the road for future positions.
Associate Cloud Engineer: This certification is the first professional certification, right after the user/workspace cert. If you’re looking to prove you can successfully deploy, configure, and secure a Google Cloud solution.
Professional Cloud Architect: The Cloud Architect certification will let employers know that you can actually design and customize a reliable Google Cloud solution to specific educational or business processes.
Professional Collaboration Engineer: This is another certification designed for sysadmins who are either in charge of large organizational processes or sysadmins looking to move into a position of leadership. This certificate also deals with people skills to some extent: can you advise higher-ups, train end-users, and manage a team of other IT pros?
Sysadmin certifications are only as good as you are
Sysadmin certifications are great for getting you the job you want, but remember: they’re just a piece of paper (or, more likely, a PDF in your Dropbox).
Unless you develop, practice, and use the skills you’ve learned and tested on, you won’t be able to back up that certification with real, useful knowledge on the job (or in the job interview).
Being a sysadmin in an ever-changing digital environment means that school never ends for you. Stay abreast of new methodologies (and their corresponding training/certification programs), keep in contact with fellow sysadmins, and remember the Pirate’s Code: anyone who falls behind stays behind.