How I Got Started with Linux

Album Cover: The Downward Spiral

"Everything's blue in this world...the deepest shade of mushroom blue."
NIN / The Downward Spiral

Posted on May 13, 2007 12:48 AM in Computers
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

The summer of 2002 was an interesting part of my life. I had just graduated from college, and I was desperately seeking a job at a time when it seemed like there were no jobs to be found. One of the few opportunities that arose was a meeting I had with a man named Stephan. At the time, I was still living at home in Puyallup and focusing most of my efforts on finding work in the Seattle area. Stephan offered to meet me at his "office" on Capitol Hill in Seattle.

When I arrived at Stephan's "office," it became clear that he was working out of his home. He was very nice, though, and proceeded to tell me about his business venture, and what he would expect of me should I agree to go into business with him. His idea was to sell a turnkey server solution to small businesses, much like those you might find while cruising down Broadway on Capitol Hill. He envisioned small store owners being able to plug the server in to their Internet connection and basically be up-and-running with an online presence. What that meant for me, of course, was that I'd have to do a whole lot of web development/CMS-related work to help turn his turnkey server idea into a reality.

Stephan was very pro-Linux, and while I had had some exposure to Unix (in the form of Solaris) in college, I hadn't ever really dabbled in it on my own time. Stephan felt that this was an unavoidable prerequisite to me taking on the job, so he quickly shuffled through a stack of unorganized CDs before handing me an official installation disc for Linux-Mandrake 7.2. He then recommended I find a low-end computer on which to install the OS, and sent me on my way.

The very next day, I was scoring the classified ads (I didn't know about Craigslist at that time) for cheap computers, and before long I found a number to call. One phone call and about 250 miles later (turns out the guy with the computer to sell lived way down toward Portland), I owned a spare computer on which I could start my Linux journey.

The great thing about having a spare computer to work on was that I could simply start over (i.e. reinstall the OS) if something went wrong. It wasn't long before I was up-and-running, playing around on the command line and relentlessly trying to install MySQL and Apache. The more I played around with Linux, the more I learned and the more I enjoyed it. There's a strong sense of freedom when you're a geek and you first realize you're in control of your computer. Up until my experience with that spare computer and the Linux operating system, I had always felt like computers were a fragile thing that required kid gloves. That summer, I learned that computers are what we make them, and that went a long way in my evolution as a computer user and as a software developer (to be, at that point).

Less than a month after my first encounter with Stephan and my first encounter with Linux, I was hired by my current employer, where my Linux experience led me to responsibilities ranging from porting Windows-specific C++ code to POSIX-compliant Linux-friendly code, to maintaining cross-platform build scripts and build machines.

So Stephan, if you're out there, thanks for the push. The inertia has yet to wane.

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