Try Xubuntu with XFCE - a good balance of simplicity, usability and configurability for the GUI while exactly the same back end as with Ubuntu.
I fully agree with "Learn a UNIX" advice. Here in MA there seem to be a shortage of qualified UNIX admins even nowadays.
I've been trying to hire 3 Senior UNIX/Linux admins (long term contract) for last 2 months and I had to go through 72 (yes, 72) candidates that I phone screened before locating qualified individuals - and that's only the ones who passed simpler phone pre-screening. We needed someone who knows Solaris/Veritas/Linux well so that made it more difficult - but still, good experienced UNIX admins are definitely in demand.
If you have RHCE certification - that is always a big plus, 5 hours of hands on test do tend to identify who can make things work quickly and who can't. Solaris certs are also a plus, though not as valuable as RHCE IMO. And of course experience is above all important for everything.
So if UNIX is something you like to work on - it is easy to start on your own and work your way up step by step.