How Linux changed my life: Sam “Si” Wachira

I’ve been a computer tinkerer and enthusiast for free and open source software (FOSS) from a young age. When I started out, I had no idea where Linux and FOSS would take me professionally, or that it would play a major part in every day of mine. This posting explains how I got to be a Red Hat staffer, and how Linux Professional Institute (LPI) helped.

My first contact with Linux

In the mid-2000s, a friend gave me a bulky old laptop with a noisy fan and a failing battery. After an adventure with a can of compressed air and a thermal compound, it became my playground.  Another friend was talking about a new operating system with an African name meaning “humanity to others.” It was free, had a graphical user interface (GUI), and could run on old hardware.

In addition, you could order installation CDs online for yourself and your friends at no cost, including postal delivery. What’s more, you could try the operating system without replacing your existing OS. Simply boot using the live CD, and after restarting, the computer would boot into the OS you are used to. This was the beginning of a long adventure…

I was impressed to see a GUI environment loaded with free and open source software (FOSS) applications providing features and functionalities similar to expensive proprietary software. The discovery of commands for displaying CPU, memory, and disk utilization was a game changer. Typing a basic command into the terminal and making sense of the output was exciting. Navigating the file system hierarchy using commands was fascinating, as was moving, copying, and removing files.

On the other hand, I was disappointed that my experience was nothing like films of a hacker typing commands quickly on a dark screen with green rows of text.

One summer afternoon, I ran into a friend, Eddy, on the bus. He pulled out from his backpack the smallest laptop I had ever seen: an Asus Eee PC netbook with a 7-inch display and 1 GB of memory, pre-shipped with Linux. In the terminal, he was launching applications in the background and bringing them to the foreground, among other cool tricks. I was amazed that despite what I knew already, there was still much more to discover.

After my old laptop broke, my mother bought me a Toshiba-NB100 netbook with 512MB RAM, an 8.9-inch display, a tiny keyboard, and Ubuntu Netbook Remix pre-installed. I spent many hours on it learning Linux at home, at university, on the train: everywhere! In parallel, I continued trying out Linux on old desktop computers and was amazed at how it made them run like new.

Linux in the Business

My first professional IT job was in operations at a publishing company running proprietary operating systems on their backend servers. The Linux footprint was confined to critical database servers and CentOS Linux for a Squid proxy. Somewhere in a corner were stacks of decommissioned Sun Microsystems servers.

The database servers had powerful processing and storage resources, while the proxy, which rarely broke, handled external HTTP(S) traffic. After the company had invested heavily in proprietary solutions, I often wondered why they relied on FOSS for specific workloads.

After joining a different company, I found myself responsible for managing Linux server environments, predominantly for external paying customers.

Moreover, the customers had different Linux distributions, including CentOS, Ubuntu, Debian, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), each with their differences. Hands-on experience with CentOS and RHEL naturally led to using Fedora Linux for personal use, which I still do today.

Customer tickets flood in daily with topics ranging from LVM storage, Apache HTTP server, networking, clustering, and iptables to SSL certificates, DNS, mail, and databases. This experience quickly made me realize the need for formal vendor-neutral Linux training.

My LPI journey

Enter LPI, the global certification standard and career support organization for open source professionals.

My first interaction with LPI came at university, where my Linux lecturer was a passionate open source supporter. He carried out his daily work on a computer running Debian Linux and contributed one of the lab guides for LPI 102.

In 2011, CompTIA teamed up with LPI to create the ultimate entry-level Linux certification. The CompTIA Linux+ powered-by-LPI certification required passing two exams, after which candidates received the CompTIA Linux+ certification plus the LPIC-1 certification. The best part was that the training materials for LPIC-1 came in handy when preparing for the Linux+ exam. The affordability of LPI certifications did not mean the exams were effortless; in fact, the learning experience was second to none.

Thanks to the LPIC-1 certification and industry experience, I pursued a career opportunity in the finance industry, managing complex RHEL, AIX, and Solaris environments. This experience unveiled to me Linux and Unix software that I had never worked with before and solidified my focus in enterprise open source.

To advance my Linux knowledge and renew my LPIC-1 certification, I decided to pursue the LPIC-2 certification. Luckily, after passing the LPIC-201 exam, I won a free exam voucher in an LPI giveaway, paving the way for the LPIC-202 exam.

The LPIC-2 certification was more challenging than I expected, and I was equally impressed with the quality of the content. The LPIC-2 learning experience combined with hands-on expertise had a noticeable effect on my job and placed me in an excellent position to pursue career opportunities at Red Hat.

When I joined Red Hat, it was the first time a company gave me the option of a Linux operating system for work. I chose Fedora Linux, which I had used for years and still continue to use.

At Red Hat, I’ve had the pleasure of diving into various Linux topics and engaging with intelligent people, including maintainers of free software projects, the inventor of Logical Volume Manager (LVM), and many others.

A shared achievement

My experiences so far have demonstrated the power of Open source in ways beyond my imagination. Open source and Linux changed my life indeed.

Thanks to the vendor-neutral LPI program, I learned more about the powerful capabilities of Linux and tested my knowledge through certification.

I am grateful for crossing paths with people who got me interested in open source. I would not be where I am without the efforts of many individual contributors and companies making open source better, more accessible, and a powerful alternative to closed source solutions.

About Sam “Si” Wachira:

Sam “Si” Wachira is a Linux fanatic and believer in enablement through Free and Open Source Software (FLOSS). He currently works for Red Hat in Scotland, providing technical expertise for customers utilizing open source technologies in the enterprise. Sam is passionate about knowledge sharing and collaboration, and his daily driver is Fedora Linux. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking outdoors with family and following the NFL.

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