Developing the Next Generation of Linux Engineers at UKFast

By / December 27, 2017 / / 0 Comments

We live in an increasingly open-source world. Look around, and you’ll find Linux in everything from cars to space ships. But what you won’t find are many unemployed Linux professionals. The rapid adoption of Linux in these and thousands of other applications has led to a growing Linux skills gap. Today, 65% of hiring managers are looking for Linux talent, and 89% say they have a hard time finding qualified open-source talent (Open Source Jobs Report, 2017).

The Linux skills gap is a growing problem for many businesses. But for UKFast, a UK-based hosting provider, it presents a great opportunity to develop new capabilities and meaningfully contribute to its community.

A Business Built on Solving Tough Challenges

In 1999, Lawrence and Gail Jones started UKFast to fill a gap in the UK hosting industry and help small- and medium-sized companies get their businesses online. Like many of their customers, they bootstrapped their business, so expensive proprietary hardware and software licenses were not an option. Instead, they took an open-source approach, setting up customers on Linux-based operating systems and boxes.

Over the years, UKFast developed numerous open-source innovations to enable it to compete against bigger competitors. Linux-based load balancing, protection against DDoS attacks, caching, and more. The company excelled at solving customer problems with open-source software. This approach gave UKFast’s customers significant cost and performance advantages—and it helped fuel the company’s growth.

Today, UKFast is the largest privately-owned hosting provider in the United Kingdom. Yet, this success brought its own set of challenges: Namely, how to find the top-notch Linux professionals the company needs to sustain its rapid growth.

An Innovative Approach to the Skills Gap

Accustomed to solving tough problems for its customers, UKFast applied its entrepreneurial energy and vision to addressing its own talent shortage.

In 2007 the company teamed up with Aaron Saxton (now UKFast Director of Training and Education) to build an IT training program for apprentices. “There’s a huge skills gap globally,” explains Saxton. “So how do you find the right talent? Well, we said, ‘Why don’t we grow it? Let’s build our own education and training program here. Let’s look at how we can develop our team and inspire young people in the community to be the next generation of Linux engineers.’”

What initially began as an apprenticeship program and qualifications for the UKFast team has since expanded into a much broader effort to bring digital literacy to Greater Manchester. Today, UKFast hosts a Code Club and free Linux training for young people; it offers teacher training for teachers across Manchester; it has partnered with LPI to develop qualifications with exam boards; and it is even working with the Dean Trust to start a new secondary school focused on digital literacy.

UKFast and LPI: A Powerful Partnership

From the start, UKFast recognized the importance of having Linux-certified engineers. The company sought out a vendor-neutral qualification to ensure that its team could work with any configuration or distribution of Linux.

“The first thing we did,” Saxton explains, “was look for a vendor-neutral qualification that would provide the basics for our Linux curriculum. That’s where I met Bill Quinn at the Linux Professional Institute (LPI), and Bill has been instrumental in providing us with the means, the resources, the energy, and the vision to create something quite special.”

UKFast and LPI have built a great partnership over the years. UKFast designed its curriculum around LPI’s proven, vendor-neutral certifications, and it now delivers that training to hundreds of apprentices, employees, customers, students and teachers every year. At a time when many businesses grapple with the skills gap, UKFast has ready access to a large pool of qualified Linux engineers.

Meanwhile, LPI has benefited from working with an industry partner at the forefront of both technical and educational innovation. In addition to preparing individuals for LPI certifications, UKFast serves as a testing center and beta exam development partner.

Linux Training with NDG and Cisco NetAcad

As UKFast’s training program grew, the company realized that it needed a cost-effective and scalable way to deliver curriculum, labs and assessments to a wide range of learners. That’s when Saxton discovered NDG’s Linux courses in the Cisco Networking Academy (NetAcad).

“It was a no-brainer to incorporate NDG’s Linux courses as a core part of our curriculum,” explains Saxton. “One of the challenges any training organization has is ultimately the labs. They take time to set up, maintain and keep up-to-date. Having the labs in the NDG courses makes our task a lot easier.”

NDG offers three Linux courses aligned to LPI certifications. With NDG’s Linux courses, learners don’t need to navigate the confusing world of distributions or know how to set up their own Linux machine. All they need to do is launch the module in a web browser. The Linux courses include a live Linux virtual machine alongside the course materials, so learners can immediately start entering commands and learn by doing.

Read the case study to learn how NDG is helping UKFast train the next generation of Linux Professionals.

A Bright Future for UKFast and Manchester

“It’s our aim to put Manchester on the map as the digital capital of Europe,” notes Jonathan Bowers, Managing Director at UKFast, “and we believe our relationship with LPI fits very much at the heart of that.”

Bowers notes, “One of our dreams is to inspire other businesses to also consider the routes we’re taking in education. We certainly can’t create the digital future on our own, and it’s amazing how much support we have in the community in Manchester. We hear all kinds of companies saying, ‘It’s brilliant what you’re doing, and we’d love to get involved. Tell us how we can help.’ Right now, they can help by contributing to curriculum, by providing afterschool clubs, and by inspiring young children to come to our school. Further down the line, they can help by setting up their own schools, their own educational trusts, and using their expertise to help grow the digital toolkit for the future.”