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What Does It Take to Be a Linux Guru?

It’s a well-known fact that humans love lists, and the media are generally all too happy to oblige.

Recently, however, mixed in among the many “Top 10” lists and “10 Ways to …” articles out there (Linux Girl’s second favorite: “Top 10 ways to spend a Goldman Sachs bonus”) was one that seemed worthy of attention.

“10 Characteristics of a Linux Guru?” was the title of the post, which came from DaniWeb’s Ken Hess.

‘A Collection of Very Early Linux CDs’

“I’ve known many knowledgeable people over the years but never have I met an actual guru,” Hess began.

“I’ve worked with Linux since 1995 and still wouldn’t call myself a guru,” he added. “It seems that there’s always someone out there who’s found some obscure thingy to tell me about — making me feel as if I don’t scour the Internet’s neutral zone enough for these things.”

What, then, makes a Linux guru?

“Knowledgeable in all major Linux distributions,” “donates time and resources to at least one Linux project” and “has a collection of very early (Kernel 1.x or older) Linux CDs” are all among Hess’s suggestions.

‘Most of Us Prefer to Stay Humble’

DaniWeb readers appeared to find little fault with Hess’s list.

“Very nice post,” wrote ralemi, for example. “I agree that pride is in contrast with the spirit of open source, so most of us would prefer to stay humble and not to consider ourselves special in the context of Linux community.”

Bloggers on LXer, however, were considerably less impressed.

“Seriously, even if just taken as opinions they don’t hold up to logic; as guidelines, this list would be better if approached as tongue in cheek humor,” wrote azerthoth, for instance, adding that the article had been “annoying me since I first read it.”

Taking it even further: “I would postulate that the majority of LXers think that Ken’s writing is more ‘foot in mouth’ than ‘tongue in cheek,'” softwarejanitor added.

‘I Am a Guru’

Questions of the Hess article’s merit aside, however, the question nonetheless appeared to capture bloggers’ interest.

“According to a man who emigrated to the USA from India, I am a guru,” began gus3. “Then again, he did describe the Internet connectivity problem to me, and I did tell him how to fix it, sight unseen.

“To thank me, he invited me to a monthly dinner at a local Indian restaurant,” gus3 added. “There, [he] described me to his friends as his ‘Internet guru.’ And that’s good enough for me.”

When is a geek good enough to be called a guru? Linux Girl felt compelled to find out.

‘You Do Not Talk About Being a Guru’

“The first rule about being a guru — in anything — is that you do not talk about being a guru,” began Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site. “It is a moniker that other people use to refer to you.”

That said, “a linux ‘guru’ is someone who, upon hearing your problem, can give you a one-line shell command to diagnose it, and another one-line shell command to do the job you were trying to do,” Hudson told LinuxInsider. “Everything else is icing on the cake, because if you can’t quickly and efficiently help people solve their problems, what’s the point?”

Hess’s third point, then — “helps others solve their problems with Linux”– is the only one that counts, Hudson opined.

Indeed, “the dictionary defines a guru as a teacher or mentor, and I think that more than anything else is the point,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed. “If people come to you to learn how to do something, then you’re a guru; otherwise, you’re just a person who knows a bunch of things.”

Guru vs. Zealot

Similarly: “It’s not a title you can give yourself — it’s a title other people give you, and if you want them to use it non-ironically, you have to be able to teach them something, which means being able to communicate,” Slashdot blogger David Masover concurred.

“It is a lot harder to define a guru than a zealot, and they are not the same thing,” Masover told LinuxInsider. “Some Linux gurus use Macbooks, running OS X — they save Linux for the server. Some Linux zealots think Linux is better because it’s faster or more secure — not always true — while remaining unaware of its real strengths,” he pointed out.

“I think a more accurate definition of a Linux guru is someone who knows enough to get around on the command line and has a firm grasp of the fundamentals and is well-practiced at using a search engine and documentation,” Masover added.

‘chmod a+drink’

Regarding Hess’s fourth point — “blogs or writes about personal experiences with Linux” — “there’s a medical term for that: ‘does-not-have-a-life-itis,'” Hudson asserted.

Help is close at hand, however: “Medication is sold in 26oz, 40oz and 64oz bottles at your nearest purveyor of fine booze — just remember to ‘chmod a+drink’ and share it with your friends,” she quipped. “Don’t have friends? Time to step away from the keyboard.”

On having the CD collection of early Linux versions, meanwhile, “POSEUR!” was Hudson’s response. “Real gurus downloaded them onto floppies! At 2400 baud! Using telix and zmodem! In the snow! Uphill! Both ways!”

Ultimately, the real definition of “guru” depends on the environment, she concluded — “you just have to know a bit more than those around you for them to think you’re a guru.”

‘Why Shouldn’t They Specialize?’

It’s not realistic to expect that a guru be familiar with ALL major Linux distros, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet told LinuxInsider.

After all, “would you expect someone who has spent all their career supporting WinNT servers to know how to fix a Win9X desktop?” he asked. “I know a few gurus and they always are based around a SINGLE distro, and that makes sense. Linux can be quite complex, so why shouldn’t they specialize?”

As for the rest of Hess’s article, “much of it sounds like it was written for Ubuntu,” he opined.

An Alternate List

“TFA is way off,” agreed blogger Robert Pogson. “One can be a guru of GNU/Linux with quite a different set of characteristics.”

Pogson’s suggested list:

  • “Able to install GNU/Linux on anything made in the last 10 years;
  • able to solve problems of installation in seconds;
  • able to integrate GNU/Linux into a system smoothly OR able to design a system that uses GNU/Linux to its full potential;
  • having been there and done things, is able to help newbies, lesser gurus and peers with many of their problems;
  • as an advocate, is literate/conversant on a wide range of issues from tiny details to long-range influences.”

A Guru ‘Baby Boom’

As for Pogson himself, “I do not know whether I qualify as ‘guru,’ but I do know that a few years of broad experience really improves performance in this list,” he told LinuxInsider.

GNU/Linux has entered the IT mainstream so widely in the past few years that “I believe the number of gurus must be like the ‘baby boom,'” Pogson opined. “There should be many coming on-stream about now.”

That, in turn, “is another key to the tipping point in IT,” he added. “Not only has GNU/Linux reached mainstream, but one of the last few impediments — not enough gurus — has probably been overcome.”

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