This weekend a few of us from Puget Systems made the trip to Bellingham, WA for LinuxFest 2014
. Two days of total immersion into the world of Linux and open source. Having recently made the plunge by setting up a native install of Ubuntu on my primary work machine, I thought this would be a great event to soak in the culture and goings-on of the free and open-source software (FOSS) community.
Here are 4 things you need to do the next time you go to a Linux event:
1. Lose all expectations.
I expected about 300 people at LinuxFest NW
, 500 would have been a smashing success in my mind. It's in Bellingham, and it's about Linux, how many people can turn out for this event? About 1800, that's how many. Every session I was in was packed. I also expected to be an outsider and understand next to nothing – I am totally new to all of this. But, the all-volunteer presenters did an excellent job of making their talks worthwhile for every level of audience member. About the only expectation you can keep: beards. So. Many. Beards.
2. Get uncomfortable.
See a topic that feels totally intimidating? Go to that one. You should be challenging yourself to learn new things, to be exposed to new concepts. This is essential to personal growth, and without it the value of your overall skill set will diminish. Weight lifters are always adding a little more weight to all of their lifts, pushing their known abilities. They call this approach progressive overload, it helps the lifter achieve muscle strength and growth. You should apply this concept to the muscle between your ears.
3. Party like Tux.
You need to meet people. I know that many of you reading this would rather put your headphones on, sink down in your chair and hide away in the basement office your company gave you. Please realize that Linux – heck, all of FOSS – depends on people being in community. Open source collaboration requires more than a GitHub account. The FOSS community thrives because of relationships. Meet people, go outside. See that? It's called the sun.
Doing new things with friends is powerful and makes for a way better experience. Friends can also make you forget something is hard or uncomfortable. So say hello to someone. Don't worry, everyone else is geeky and awkward too! You are with your people!
4. Think about how you can help, then get involved.
Sure, it's a great idea to get involved in online communities; even better to get involved in a local FOSS community group.
The broader developer community may be generally characterized as a young person's game, but the Linux community is about longevity. The free and open source software community represents a lifetime of work for some. At this point, Linux Torvalds – the namesake of Linux – has only written about 2% of the Linux kernel, many other people have pitched in. If you expand the sample size to include all the various flavors, desktop environments and programs you begin to realize how much work has been done by others, for your benefit.
Time to return the favor.
When you attend a Linux event look around for opportunities to pitch in. You don't have to be a coder, or even technical. The FOSS community is looking for writers, designers, artists, promoters, coordinators and many other non-technical contributors.
My head is spinning. The only reason this post is even being written is through the power of caffeine. Let me give you an easy action item for the day: find your local Linux User Group. You can find several lists of LUGs and here is a link to a list of LUG lists at The Linux Documentation Project. You can also use the power of The Google with a simple web search. I typed in "seattle linux user group" and gslug.org came right to the top of the list.
LUGs may not be for everyone, but they are a good starting point to introduce you to the wide and varied world of the open source community right in your own backyard. Check out a group, attend a meeting, chat with people and get involved somewhere.