I have permission to use an excerpt from an e-mail I got, which I’ve abbreviated only slightly.
I am kind of a newb at this Linux stuff but do realize the potential for the Linux platform and the Ubuntu Distro. I enjoy learning new things and want to make a mark on this old but up in coming world of linux. I really don’t know where to start, or who to start talking with. I fell in love with Linux the moment I started to tinker with it. … I don’t know where to start. I’ve had about 10 Live CD’s sent to me so that I could install and spread the message of Ubuntu to those that know and trust me. I’ve been the tech support for all of these people (getting my knowledge from the vast database of “man”, wiki’s and how-to’s), most of which could care less what the logo on their screen was as long as it does what they want.
I’ve been doing all that I can to learn more and apply what I know, but I do understand that I’m behind in many aspects of computer knowledge in general (compared to the multitude of techies out there). I want to make Ubuntu a very productive part of my life, it’s more than an operating system to me, it is a stepping stone to my life’s goals. I’ve read your blog and completely understand your passion for this thing we call Linux (as my wife puts it this is my mistress, I spend so much time with it).
I’m basically wondering if there is some way to get my foot into the door, and since you are a moderator on the Ubuntu forums, that you could at least point me into the right direction. I’ve looked at the “How to get involved” sections of the Ubuntu home page, but am not sure if I currently have the development skills to jump into a team. I’m behind on my schooling and really need to start back up.
I have high goals and Linux plays a huge part in them all, be it my home network, or a computer store selling pre-installed Linux Distros, or even a full fledged ISP. If there’s anything that you could do to help me make that next step it would be greatly appreciated. …
So what is next? How do you get involved if you’re not a CS major or a sysadmin? I’m in the same boat here. My best work as a coder was 24 years ago, when I finished the “Hello World” program on my Commodore 64. (I also wrote a Wheel of Fortune game for Apple II machines. It even had a drunk Pat Sajak and a guffawing Vanna White in it. But pretty much everything after that was downhill. ) And aside from running my home network and harassing the IT staff at work, I don’t have the administrator skills or experience to make much of a difference.
But to be honest, the question isn’t “what is next” … it’s “what isn’t next?”
Translate! If you’re multilingual, you’re a huge asset. Even if you don’t count yourself as fluent, you can help with translations for the document team, on your favorite application or with wikis and howtos. (For one, I’d be overjoyed if the Feisty howto appeared in another language.) You can jump in with translations on Launchpad or via the Ubuntu-translators mailing list. Take a look at this page for a bewildering array of projects that need your talent.
Join a LoCo team. I can think of few places on the planet where there isn’t a LoCo team within striking distance. They’re like bad weeds, cropping up everywhere. Take a look at the list here, or introduce yourself and try one on for size. There are some areas of larger countries (like the Northeastern U.S.) where teams overlap, so you could stake a presence in more than one. And if you don’t see one near your spot on the globe, start one.
Visit the forums. Even just a word of encouragement or a brief explanation from time to time can help out someone else who’s having a problem. You can learn a lot, and you’re part of a larger community that shares similar ideas — and ideals — to you. And the more you contribute and the more you interact, the more people will look to you for help. And when you’ve proven your value, you could stand for one of the forum teams, or as an ambassador, or perhaps even as staff. Contributing in any one of those areas might also be a step toward membership, if you’re interested in that.
Chat. I’m not a huge fan of IRC (I find it distracting), but for some people, chatting is as natural as talking on the phone. And #ubuntu is generally mobbed with support requests. It’s sometimes so busy you can barely keep track of who’s talking to who. If you prove trustworthy and knowledgeable, you’ll generally be accepted as a valuable resource and an esteemed member of the community.
Subscribe to a mailing list … or two or three. As I understand it, the history and development of Unix-based systems relied heavily on mailing lists; forums and chat rooms are johnny-come-latelys in a relative sense (and sometimes underappreciated for that reason). If you follow the mailing lists at all, you’ll know that there are regular and intense conversations that develop via e-mail, and it’s not unheard of to troubleshoot or offer tips in the same way as a forum thread. It’s not the same visually, but a healthy presence on any mailing list is just as rewarding and appreciated as any other venue. (A word of warning: If you subscribe to ubuntu-users, you better make sure you have plenty of space in your mailbox. … )
Blog about it. This blog started out as (and generally still is) notes to myself about installations I had done or tweaks I had used, so if I came back to them at a later date, I’d have some idea what the heck I had been thinking. (I sometimes wonder what the heck I had been thinking, or how the heck I got something working.) Of course, it has since evolved in its own directions, but for a word person like me, this is as helpful as any forum post. And finding a helpful blog post is always fun.
Paint us a picture. Icons. Wallpaper. Themes. Web designs. Video howtos. Flash animations. Graphics. Sounds. Walkthroughs. Kids’ versions. Spoken explanations. Audio tutorials. And don’t think that just because your artwork isn’t featured in Gutsy+1 it doesn’t count for anything. That’s rubbish. Put it on art.ubuntu.com and get people looking for your material. No matter what’s picked for a theme or a background or a default startup sound, someone wants a different one. And if yours are good and popular, that can be a contribution in its own right.
Throw an idea out there. You don’t have to be a developer to have a good idea. In fact, most developers aren’t the source of the really good ideas — it’s the users who come up with the winners. If you use Ubuntu regularly and you think something should be changed, twisted, moved, contorted, redesigned or even just made a different color, your opinion is valuable. Because there’s probably a coder out there somewhere, wondering what to do next, and when she sees your idea — pow! Now it’s the newest Ubuntu feature. And if you just want to toss an idea out there and get some feedback, try it here.
File bug reports. And then file bug reports. And maybe file a bug report, and then when you’re done with that, don’t forget to file a bug report. I’m guilty of sometimes neglecting to mention if something breaks, simply because I know how to work around it. That’s wrong really: Just because I know how to fix it on my end doesn’t mean there isn’t someone else on the planet who doesn’t know how. And unless I mention it and explain what I did to fix it, we all just waddle along with a huge lipstick stain on our collective lapel, when we could easily keep from looking foolish. So pretty please. With sugar on top. File the %$@! bug report.
Burn Ubuntu CDs and give them away. Or better yet, order a box of Shipit CDs and start handing them out with a smile and a promise of freedom. Nine out of 10 will probably become coasters or dangle from rear-view mirrors, but that last one might be the winner. It’s called “spreading the word.” And while proselytizing is illegal in some countries, but handing out CDs is hardly converting someone to a new religion. That’s what you can tell the judge, anyway.
Rehab old machines and give them away with Ubuntu on them. Poke around in thrift shops and recycling centers. Surf PublicSurplus.com. Put an ad in the local newspaper offering to haul away secondhand computers. Take what you get, clean it up, troubleshoot it, install once or twice, then give it away as a full-fledged and perfectly functional machine. It’s cheap, it’s educational and it’s philanthropic. You score big points locally and gain a serious knowledge base as a result. And occasionally you run into something that turns a profit. …
Sell computers with Ubuntu on them. I once found an Athlon XP machine in the garbage with most of its guts. I took it home, washed it up, cleaned the connections, reassembled it, added some leftover parts, installed 6.10 and troubleshot the thing. Then I sold it for a few hundred bucks. If you can undercut your local Windows reseller with secondhand or cheap parts, you might be able to make a go of it as a small-scale retailer. And if you have the right connections and an acute business sense, you might get to be big. Really big.
Become a member. It’s not for everyone, but it is a badge of your dedication to the organization, the overall principle and the structure underneath it. And regardless of your contributions, your presence and participation are a boon to the entire movement, and that’s the core idea.
Finally, and perhaps most challenging, is to get certified. If you’re really, really serious about the stuff and you want to make the leap from amateur to professional, that’s probably the shortest distance between the two points. Expect it to take a serious amount of time, a serious amount of money and a serious amount of devotion. But if you’re equally serious, it won’t be hard. (P.S.: It looks like there will be an Ubuntu user certification too. … Hmmm.)
I’m tapped for ideas now, which is probably just as well. In short, you don’t have to be a candidate for the title of Das Ubergeek to be part of the phenomenon. There’s a phrase in English — “in for a penny, in for a pound” — that suggests you’re involved fully if you’re involved at all. That’s both true and false for Ubuntu: You’re involved only as much as you want to be, but your contributions are no greater or lesser than any others, so long as everyone benefits.