The Linux/Unix Systems Administration certificate series is consistently one of the most popular O’Reilly School of Technology offerings. When we initially presented the series, along with it we introduced a revolutionary new way for students to learn how to administer Linux and Unix machines. Our innovations meant that students were no longer tasked with installing a Linux system on their own computers; they were able to begin learning right away. It was the best learning system available at that time.
As is the case with all technologies though, software becomes outdated. Linux has been no exception. The infrastructure that powers it is over ten years old now and all of the software we used to deliver the original O’Reilly School of Technology Linux/Unix Systems Administration courses is no longer supported.
In anticipation of this evolution in software, we’ve been working diligently to replace the older courses with a new, improved, and completely overhauled series of courses. The new Linux/Unix certificate series utilizes the most current technologies available and maintains the high standards that our students expect from all O’Reilly School of Technology courses.
As the author of this new series of courses, as well as the chief architect of its supporting infrastructure, I occupy a unique position. Generally, O’Reilly School of Technology course authors do not also create and maintain the infrastructure required for their courses. My situation is unusual because in addition to writing the course, I’m currently employed as a Systems Administrator for OST. It makes sense for me to fulfill both of those roles because I have seen the course from every perspective, and now I’ve been able to share that with students in the course.
My primary goal for course infrastructure improvements was to provide students with an authentic systems administration experience. In the new system, students have the ability to maintain their own DNS zones, send and receive email messages from their virtual servers, and even host websites that are available on the internet at large (not just the local area network). That last improvement may be the most important new feature in this series: after completing the series, students can direct prospective employers to their own server and say, “I did this!” In a sea of job seekers and candidates who look great on paper, the ability to demonstrate real work during an interview sets our students apart in a positive and meaningful way.
Additionally, we made improvements that will allow the infrastructure to scale more easily, while reducing administrative overhead. We did that using SLURM, the Simple Linux Utility for Resource Management. SLURM gives us the ability to add compute power to our virtual server cluster, without causing downtime for our students. Along with the massive overhaul of the course infrastructure, I also rewrote the course content to include more current tools and techniques. Initially, my plan was to make minor updates to the existing course content to make it work with the new infrastructure, but as I began making changes to those lessons, I realized that making only minor updates would not be sufficient to produce the best possible series of courses. I recognized that if I reorganized the series so that students encountered elements in an organic progression, they would also be able to build projects in a more intuitive way, and ultimately achieve greater success. So, I reorganized it to allow for a more natural progression; each lesson would build upon prior lessons in sequence. This approach allowed me to create student projects that incorporate multiple topics and require the use of various tools, which reinforces concepts introduced earlier in the course.
With a new syllabus was in place, I created the course content with the goal of providing more in-depth explanations of key topics, while eliminating unnecessary and outdated topics all together. Once the initial authoring was complete, I handed the series off to our editorial team, and from there, it was made available to the masses. The end result, after many months of work, is a new O’Reilly School of Technology Systems Administration certificate series of courses, with a more capable learning environment and more relevant course content.
We believe we’ve achieved our project goals of producing a series that will engage our students, facilitate learning, and inspire growth. It’s gratifying to know that these courses will help aspiring IT professionals to earn a solid foundation of System Administration skills, and that in turn, those skills will allow them new opportunities and help them to build better careers.