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Tell your story, help others 7 January 2003
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Everyone was once a newbie. It doesn't matter who you are, at one time you knew nothing about FreeBSD. For that matter, the same can be said about every topic you care to mention. In fact, there was a time you didn't know much more than how to eat, sleep, and get rid of what you just ate. That was your life. Most likely you have moved on from that.

Everyone learns as they go along. Life is a process of constant learning. This process begins slowly and rapidly progresses. Much as technology prompts new technology, new knowledge allows you to learn more. One cannot learn quantum physics without learning basic mathematics. The cliche "it's like riding a bicycle" refers to once you learn something you don't forget it. Yet it is a fairly long path from being a new-born to riding a bicycle. There are many tasks to be mastered before you can accomplish that amazing feat. Some of you will sneer and say that anyone can ride a bike. Sure. But that anyone must first learn balance, motor skills, and the complex coordination required to ride a bike. Just because you and everyone you know can change a shell and reboot into single user mode does not make it a simple task. These examples are relatively simple and mundane tasks when compared to others, yet they require specific unintuitive and non-instinctual knowledge.

I recall a discussion I had with someone who claimed it was easy to tap a phone. I claimed it was not easy and required specialized knowledge. Yes, it's easy ONCE you know how, but getting there is not. Claims to the contrary ignore the premise that you once knew nothing.


One of the biggest hurdles along the path to increased education is the confidence and base education factor. Once a newbie gains confidence and learns new skills, they build upon that foundation to move to bigger things.

Here is a common example. You probably use portupgrade. You know it's a great tool and easy to use. However, before using portupgrade, a newbie needs to first learn the the ports tree basics and how to use cvsup to get the latest ports. They need to know that the ports tree consists of just skeletons which allow the system to download, patch, compile, and install the application, including any dependencies. Even more important, they need to learn how to obtain the ports tree in the first place, either from a CD or from the Internet. In addition, they need to learn how to obtain and install cvsup. These are all prerequisites to learning how to use portupgrade. Once they have that skill under their belt, they can move on to more complex tasks such as using portupgrade to get the latest mod_php4 and ensure that the dependencies are also upgraded. Perhaps to some of you, installing and configuring Apache is pretty easy, but it wasn't the first time you did it.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm in the midst of yet-another-article-on-advocacy. The main reason this website exists is to provide practical examples that allow both newbies and non-newbies to easily accomplish a complex task. If you disagree that some tasks are complex, you are forgetting what was said in the previous paragraph and are denying that complex is a relative term.

If you like FreeBSD and would like to see others using it, then there are many very simple things you can do to help others. I have spoken of this before, but it's good to repeat this stuff from time to time.

Simple things you can do to help

Be polite. When someone asks you a question about FreeBSD, don't ridicule them. This type of response seems to be innate with some people. If you hang around any IRC channel long enough, you'll see the type of person I mean. They are able to provide help but prefer to score points with their buddies rather than actually help the person asking the question.

Remember your roots. You were a newbie. You didn't know as much as you know now. Don't forget that. Many do. They often make poor teachers. Your goal is to be a good teacher.

Analyze the problem. If someone asks a question, be postive you know what the problem actually is. Always seek out the base problem they are trying to solve instead of taking their question at face value. People often have a hard time phrasing a good question. There is a reference about that which makes for good reading, but I don't have it to hand just now. No doubt someone will post it in the article comments.

The man pages are not for novices. Contrary to popular advice, man pages are not always a good resource for learning about something new. They are good references when you already know what you are doing. There are notable exceptions to this rule. For example, ppp has a good man page when it comes to setting up your modem.

Help others. Not everyone can code. But anyone can help. You may not think you can help, but you can. Start by reading a previous article on advocacy.

Share your experiences. I urge you to write about your experiences in the Success Stories section of this website. For example, you can talk about your first install, how it went, how it failed, and how far you have come since then. Perhaps talk about your skill level then compared to now. How long did it take for certain tasks? Such stories can demonstrate to newbies that others with similar skill levels have gone before them.

Helpers wanted!

If you live in the Ottawa area, I want you. Your help is needed. Even if you live in Kingston, Montreal, Toronto, New York, or anywhere within a few hours drive, come. I need your help.

Please come to the Open Source Weekend and help spread the word. I need people to hand out CDs, help answer questions at the booth, give talks, help others install software.. If you can bring hardware to show, so much the better. See also my master plan for a demonstration network.

The skills needed are:

  • you must be alive
  • ability to talk
  • ability to read
That's it. Oh, and if you know something about FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, or any other BSD, that's a bonus. And yes, those of you that use Linux, I know you're reading this. You are especially encouraged to come along.

Please email me now at "dan at langille in the org domain". You'll have a fun time. Thanks.

It's a cliche but...

You learned to walk before you learned to run. Remember that. Many teachers forget what it was like to be a pupil. Learn how to learn. Remember what it was like to learn new things. That's part of the key to becoming a good teacher.

Contribute what you can. It does not take much time and it is easier than you think. And never forget that you were a newbie.

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