Crossing the Threshold

Last week while attending the CloudStack Collaboration Conference in my home city of Denver, I had a bit of a realization. I wanted to share it here in the hopes that it might serve as an encouragement for others out there.

Long-time readers know that one of my projects over the last couple of years has been to become more fluent in Linux (refer back to my 2012 project list and my 2013 project list). I gave myself a B+ for my efforts last year, feeling that I had made good progress over the course of the year. Even so, I still felt like there was still so much that I needed to learn. As so many of us are inclined to do, I was more focused on what I still hadn’t learned instead of taking a look at what I had learned.

This is where last week comes in. Before the conference started, I participated in a couple of “mini boot camps” focused on CloudStack and related tools/clients/libraries. (You may have seen some of my tweets about tools like cloudmonkey, Apache libcloud, and awscli/ec2stack.) As I worked through the boot camps, I could hear the questions that other attendees were asking as well as the tasks with which others were struggling. Folks were wrestling with what I thought were pretty simple tasks; these were not, after all, very complex exercises. So the lab guide wasn’t complete or correct; you should be able to figure it out, right?

Then it hit me. I’m a Linux guy now.

That’s right—I had crossed the threshold between “working on being a Linux guy” and “being a Linux guy.” It’s not that I know everything there is to know (far from it!), but that the base level of knowledge had finally accrued to a level where—upon closer inspection—I realized that I was fluent enough that I could perform most common tasks without a great deal of effort. I knew enough to know what to do when something didn’t work, or wasn’t configured properly, and the general direction in which to look when trying to determine exactly what was going on.

At this point you might be wondering, “What does that have to do with encouraging me?” That’s a fair question.

As IT professionals—especially those on the individual contributor (IC) track instead of the management track—we are tasked with having to constantly learn new products, new technologies, and new methodologies. Because the learning never stops (and that isn’t a bad thing, in my humble opinion), we tend to focus on what we haven’t mastered. We forget to look at what we have learned, at the progress that we have made. Maybe, like me, you’re on a journey of learning and education to move from being a specialist in one type of technology to a practitioner of another type. If that’s the case, perhaps it’s time you stop saying “I will be a <new technology> person” and say “I am a <new technology> person.” Perhaps it’s time for you to cross the threshold.

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  1. Jay Livens’s avatar

    Funny, I recently had the same experience. I used to run 3 Linux servers as part of my home infrastructure. (Don’t ask, it is a long story.) Eventually, I shut them all down and I thought that my Linux skills had atrophied.

    A couple of weeks ago, I added a Raspberry Pi to my home network which runs a version of Debian. Amazingly, the knowledge rapidly returned and I was playing with many system files and troubleshooting technical issues. It was refreshing and made me realize how I much I missed playing with Linux. Yep, the inner geek returned! :-)

  2. Howard Marks’s avatar

    Scott,

    First of all congratulations on not only acquiring new skills in Linux but in absorbing them completely enough that you’re no longer translating and analogizing in your head but thinking in the new dialect.

    I call that point “Critical Knowledge”. Just as in a nuclear reaction once you reach critical knowledge the process starts to snowball and adding additional knowledge in that field is easy by comparison to the early days when you’re climbing the mountain.

    Becoming a Linux guy has been on my list as well. Once again you’ve beaten me to the goal and made my path easier by blazing the trail.

    – Howard

  3. slowe’s avatar

    Jay, no need to apologize for running Linux servers on your home network. I run OpenBSD, Ubuntu, and OS X servers on my home network. It’s just part of being a geek. :-)

    Howard, thanks! I like the term “critical knowledge”, I might use that in the future. It’s a good way to describe it. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you achieve critical knowledge in Linux—I’ll certainly do what I can.

  4. Ariel’s avatar

    it will always depend on time invested – and you have done so much work with the open source cloud. I bet you will remember the 14.04 LTS release as “the first big distro where I’m pretty sure of what I’m doing”. Congrats!

  5. Anthony Chow’s avatar

    Scott, this is exactly my problem. There are so many things to learn and to catch up everyday.

    I am trying to cross the threshold for the cloud technology.

    I have study hard and got industry recognized certification in different areas. I can engage on any talks about the cloud in the social or meetup settings. What I have found is that when it comes to looking for a job in the cloud, I don’t have the depth/skill. I want to get deeper but there are so many areas and I don’t know what to pick. Should I go VMware, OpenStack or CloudStack? Each requires different in depth skill set. There are so much time in a day and I have my day job which is not cloud related.

  6. vmwarun’s avatar

    I have switched from a famous OS to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. I am loving it and I ain’t gonna go back to W@#dows.

  7. Frank Hinek’s avatar

    I know exactly what you mean and have had that feeling in previous years when it finally clicks. I’m working on getting to the “I’m a Linux guy!” point in the next year or two. It’s going on my 2014 list…

  8. slowe’s avatar

    Frank, thanks for your comment. Out of curiosity, what sort of content could I generate that would be helpful?

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