I was at the end of my third year at the university. I’ve been using Microsoft technology a lot: a huge Windows fan for more than a decade by then, I tried to get into .NET, C# and ASP as much as I could. I still didn’t understand much, but the power that behind these tools seemed enormous to me. I remember making an assignment for my databases course using MSSQL and generating the reports using ASP.NET. It felt so powerful — what real programmers would use on their job.
A few years prior to that, probably around when I was fifteen, I was an avid reader of a few computer magazines and some geeky websites. It seemed like people were talking about Linux everywhere. It was just better than Windows in every way, they said. So I decided I want to give it a try. I remember going to a book market one day to buy a CD with a Linux distro. I still used dial-up and didn’t have a high-speed internet at home. It was so confusing to find out that there are not one, not two, but a plethora of Linux distributions. One of the guys at the market sold me four or five CDs with an outdated version of Redhat that he had at the back of his stand.
I went home and spend a tireless evening trying to install that thing. I had no idea what I’m doing, I was super confused when an article mentioned running “sudo make” — where do I even run it? It was very frustrating so I gave up. No Linux for me just yet.
Now back to my third year of university. That Linux curiosity bug I caught around fifteen years of age started to become more and more loud in the back of my head. “Maybe I’m doing it all wrong with this Windows thing?” “Maybe I’m missing out?” “Maybe one can develop software without a visually rich IDE?” “Maybe real programmers use only terminals for real work?” “Why do all of these people run Linux on their servers?” etc etc etc.
So I decided I wanted to switch to Linux as my main operating system for a few months just as an experiment. But I was very afraid: what if I can’t do my assignments for the university? What if my WiFi card doesn’t work? And the worst, do I throw away all of these years of my Microsoft experience for the sake of seeing this damn penguin while booting my computer?
It was a difficult choice. Unfortunately I didn’t know anyone who could help me to make the decision. Except a friend of a friend, who was very experienced, and I knew they charged 50 dollars per hour at that time (I was very impressed by that number). So I decided I would ask them for an advice. I wrote a lengthy email explaining the situation and asking for guidance. Then I re-read it probably four times, correcting typos and removing ambiguity from my writing so that I don’t make an impression of a complete newbie. When it was ready, I wanted to hit the “Send” button, but… I just couldn’t do it. I decided to sleep over it and send it out next morning.
In the morning I read that email one more time. And then deleted it. I was so ashamed to come across as a total newbie to that person that I didn’t even dare to ask for an advice.
Luckily enough I still gave Linux a try. I started with Ubuntu, then at some point up-(down?)-graded to Debian, and stuck with it for a year or two. Best learning experience, I tell you. Tireless nights of recompiling font rendering libraries because I couldn’t stand the default text anti-aliasing, and the good one was patented (Debian is GNU). Making my programming assignments using C/C++ and GTK/+ (what a piece of, ergh-ehmm, “something” that thing was back then!) — and that was a computer graphics course! I had to argue really hard why QT is worse because one of my peers used it for their coursework. Then writing AT codes configurations for a Bluetooth modem so that my computer could connect to the internet through a Nokia dumbphone. I think I even worked on a few freelance webdesign projects running Photoshop on Wine.
Some people say personal computing is getting worse these days. Not in my book, I tell you.
That fear of asking for advice is exactly why I started offering mentorship and advice to others. I can’t offer much, but now at least I can suggest somebody trying Linux. No question from a newcomer should be received as stupid.