by Sean Millichamp (Secure-24)
Being chosen as the worldwide Red Hat Certified Professional of the Year has been a bit surreal. It has been an incredible honor and fantastic experience, especially being at the Summit this year. One of the questions I have been asked over the past few weeks is, “Sean, how did you do it? How were YOU the one chosen as the RHCP of the year?” The easy answer is that I wrote an essay and they chose me. But I believe that the real answer at the heart of things is open source, the community and many years of experience.
My first introduction to Linux in 1993 with Yggdrasil LGX was a spectacular failure. I’d found Yggdrasil for $10 at a local computer expo and bought it because I thought it would be neat to learn something about Unix. It lasted maybe a week and then it was off my system and forgotten. I couldn’t get networking to work. I couldn’t get X-Windows to work. I barely knew how to list files in a directory. What went wrong? I could point to a lot of things but my main trouble was the lack of hardware support and my complete lack of Unix skills. In retrospect, the biggest failure was that I had no idea about the Linux community out there (and without an Internet connection, I had no way to access it).
In 1996, at the suggestion of a good friend, a coworker and I gave Slackware a try at work on a spare system. We learned a lot but made a lot of mistakes along the way. One of the more memorable ones was when we recompiled our kernel for the first time. After having chosen to include the “extended filesystem” we saw no need to have another one, so we left the “second extended filesystem” checked off and, after a whole day waiting for the recompile, ended up with a non-bootable system. The key this time though is that we had access to a community - in this case a community of one, my friend who had convinced us to try Slackware - but he had a community of people he knew who were using Linux.
The turning point really occurred when we accessed a much larger community ourselves. We realized that on the other side of the 64k Internet circuit we had installed the prior year was an entire open source community ready and willing to help out with documentation, how-tos, FAQs, mailing lists, and patches. We started lurking on mailing lists, occasionally asking questions, playing around with different tools, and began learning the Linux and open source way.
In 1997 we switched from Slackware to Red Hat Linux 4.1. This time we finally felt we had a platform that we could consider providing to clients as an alternative to platforms like Netware and Windows NT. The summer of ‘97 we had a prospective customer that wanted to do a lot on a tight budget for a new start-up company. We decided to propose Red Hat Linux 4.2. Our prospective customer was intrigued, but a little hesitant. At this point we had enough experience with running Linux internally and with the open source community to boldly propose to him that if Linux didn’t work as promised we’d cover 100% of all the costs necessary to convert him to a more traditional solution. The stability of Red Hat Linux gave us confidence, but even more than that was the comfort level we had with the resources and help of the open source community. We knew we could work through any issues encountered and deliver a better solution at a better price for our customer. He agreed and it was a great success. We went on to deploy many more systems in a similar fashion with even greater success and our first Linux client was a strong reference for us for years after.
Over the years I have continued my involvement with the open source community. I started with asking questions on the mailing lists, then to answering them, moving on to submitting bug reports and eventually even providing patches to a variety of projects. When I first started with Linux I had no idea I’d ever be doing that. I used to say to myself, “Wow, those guys who submit patches are amazing - I wish I had the skills to do that.” The mailing lists provided access to a great confluence of examples and discussions on code and techniques that I eventually learned enough about “how things worked” that I was able to actually contribute back.
Open source and the open source community acts as a force multiplier to what I could do on my own. I attribute a lot of the success I have enjoyed over my career to having focused on a successful product. Linux, in particular Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and Red Hat Linux before it, has been a tremendously stable and successful platform for me in delivering consistent, stable, and repeatable successes to my customers (be they internal users or actual end-customers). If you take a stable and successful platform and multiply it by the resources of the open source community you end up with nothing short of a phenomenal solution.
I love the work that I do with open source. It is my passion. Over the years I’ve had my struggles and it was a long road to get me where I am today. I’ve learned so much since I started with Slackware in 1996. I really couldn’t have been as successful as I am without the resources of the open source community. I encourage everyone to be a part of this amazing group. You have something to contribute regardless of who you are or what level of skills you think you have. Participate on a mailing list, submit documentation fixes, visit a local LUG, share your abilities in open source software with your coworkers - your options are virtually limitless.
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