Guidance

By Jon "maddog" Hall

Recently one of the members of my Linux user's group sent me email and said that they had found a prodigy. A young person was installing the GNU/Linux system on everything in sight, and was very interested in learning more. Not only was this young person technically gifted, but they showed the ability to communicate and give presentations. They were even giving “support” to some of the people who were willing to try GNU/Linux.

The people that contacted me told me that they did not know how to help this young person progress, and asked my advice on this.

First I needed to know in what direction the young person was headed. Did they want to be a programmer, a systems administrator, a business person? What did they seem to be leaning toward? My contacts seemed to think that the person was interested more in systems administration and computer hardware at the moment. The subject enjoyed taking apart a computer, re-configuring it and then installing GNU/Linux on it. They also seemed to like setting up networks, but all of these things seemed to be more or less “trial and error” without an underlying knowledge of exactly what they were doing. This was the concern of the young person's mentors.

I suggested several things (not necessarily in this order):

  • Have them join a LUG mailing list and council them in how to search the archives for answers to problems, and how to ask a reasonable question if they still can not find the answer.
  • Meet with their school principal and explain that the student would be doing all of the work required and submitting it in a format that the teacher can use, but may be using their own Free Software tools to do the work. Explain to the principal what Free Software is and why you feel the student should be able to use the tools they wish.
  • Start their own computer club at school, in the community library or youth center. With a little investigation there should be some place that a small group of young people could meet to talk about their passion for computers.
  • Finally I mentioned LPI and their set of exam objectives which would assist him in preparing for a career as a systems administrator.

The person who contacted me had heard of LPI, but was not really familiar with the program, so I described it to him. I then guided him through the LPI site to the objectives page. I pointed out that once an objective was chosen, the young person could find books, web articles and other documentation to help them learn the objective. They could also ask questions via the online forums and mailing lists.

“This is just what I was looking for”, my contact person declared.

Tonight I will be going to a meeting where I will meet the young person face to face. Afterwards we will probably all go out for pizza. Normally I would go out for “pizza and beer”, but in this case I will limit myself to just “pizza and soda”, for my young prodigy is only twelve years old.