How to become an OpenStack engineer - tips from the community on how and why to get started with the cloud platform

openstack summit barcelona 2016

OpenStack has hit the mainstream. Is it time you learned your way around the open source cloud platform? The community offers some advice to Computerworld UK.

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Open source cloud platform OpenStack just finished up its biannual summit in Barcelona, Spain last week. There was a consensus that the community has reached a point where it is now not only enterprise-ready but in use for a wide variety of reasons and all over the world.

Regardless, there are still some preconceptions about OpenStack: that it is overly complex, or that there is so much noise from so many vendors it's hard to know where to begin. Another challenge, tied intrinsically to these, is that it can be difficult to find the right people – so it's arguably a shrewd move to get acquainted with the technology as a career move.

Suse's Alan Clark, director for industry initiatives, emerging standards and open source, is also chairman of the board of directors at the OpenStack Foundation. And according to Clark, becoming an OpenStack engineer is a "great career move" for a couple of reasons.

"Centring your career on open source is a smart career move because most employers today are scrambling to embrace open source in research and product development," Clark says. "With open source adoption comes the need for skilled engineers, so open source experience on a resume is a great asset in today's market."

Clark adds that it doesn't take much more than a cursory glance of job boards to see the demand for not only open source, but OpenStack talent.

"The OpenStack ecosystem continues to grow and expand – demand will continue to grow for several more years," he says.

See also: 451 cloud pricing report suggests OpenStack breakthrough

"OpenStack engineering opportunities will continue to grow and evolve with the advent of additional innovation and technologies," Clark says. "That spells opportunity for OpenStack engineers to tailor and grow their knowledge, experience and job focus."

One that OpenStack Foundation executive director Jonathan Bryce concedes is tough can be finding qualified engineers in the first place.

"Many organisations are already using OpenStack to automate their infrastructure but finding qualified engineers can be a challenge," Bryce tells Computerworld UK. "For someone who has built a career administering servers and networks, there's a huge opportunity right now to extend their skills into the cloud world. OpenStack is available directly from all the major Linux distributions, as well as other commercial and free versions – the barrier to entry to start learning is very low."

Anyone with knowledge of administering Linux servers or virtualised environments will already have a decent baseline of knowledge for moving over to OpenStack, Bryce said. Once that interest is piqued, there are resources online and in person where you can better acquaint yourself with the ins and outs.

Bryce suggests finding local user groups to attend meetups - there are regular meetings in many of the world's major cities. The Foundation has made books and documentation available for free online too, such as the Operations Guide, available here

Bryce goes on to recommend more in-depth training, such as the Academy workshops running during the OpenStack Summit – and outside of the Summit there are in-person bootcamps available or courses from other official OpenStack training providers, listed here

See also: Yes, OpenStack is enterprise ready but it will need to keep up the momentum

Practically speaking, like Bryce, Suse's Alan Clark points to the community itself for engineers starting out.

"There is a large array of detailed technical information and roadmaps available through the community web interfaces," Clark says. "This is a great place to start learning – but also there is open access to the mailing lists and community events, like the Summit we just had in Barcelona."

"Once an engineer has a basis of information, I recommend they reach out to projects of interest and begin to involve themselves," adds Clark. "It can be quite educational, and career enhancing, to contribute to a project – there's a wide range of opportunities available."

"And I'd also strongly recommend demonstrating gained knowledge and expertise through a successful completion of the Certified OpenStack Administrator programme," he says. "This provides real evidence of proficiency to a future employer – tying this with a history of contribution conveys a unique skill set and experience that will be a huge differentiator in today's market."

"You can build your own OpenStack cloud using packages from free community distributions like Ubuntu, Debian, OpenSUSE, or Fedora," Jonathan Bryce adds. "Or commercial versions of the most widely deployed projects, Keystone, Nova, Cinder, Glance, Neutron, Swift, and Horizon, and improve your knowledge of running OpenStack services in a more real-world configuration."

Bronsilav Kantor is a solution architect at Finnish IT services business Tieto, and he had real experience of getting to grips with OpenStack through a practical deployment with professional training, and his own initiative, running parallel to this.

Tieto began working on a cloud project a few years ago, including a portal for users to deploy and manage applications – Tieto deployed OpenStack internally and then began building an OpenStack cloud in its lab too.

"I was looking for some information, some skilled people, but there weren't so many," Kantor says. "So I tried to find some good training and found Mirantis – it was good, although it didn't cover all of my expectations – but I found very skilled people and participants. It was interesting to share the experience between us."

Kantor does warn that the OpenStack landscape can be a little daunting at first. "There are so many services in OpenStack that it's hard to find the services you should select," he says. "Fragmentation of OpenStack is too big – I don't have enough time to follow all the news."

But his experience of the training was overall positive. "There were some nice lectures about debugging OpenStack, which is needed," he says. "If you have any problems it can be a stressful situation, so we learned a lot about how to solve your problems quickly on this training."

"I think practising is important," he says. "You should have courage, just install it and use it. I think some engineers don't have enough patience, and motivation is important. If you really want to achieve something, you can learn it from OpenStack documentation – I did it like that. The training was more to confirm that I understand it well enough."

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