Linux

Linux Guru Exchange

Jack Wallen has proposed to the powers that be a new idea that could really kick the open source community up a notch or two. The proposal? A Guru Exchange program. Read on and let us know what you think.

Recently I received an e-mail from a reader asking for helping finding a guru. This reader brought up the idea of a "Mentor Exchange" program and it got me thinking. Why couldn't we do this here at Techrepublic? It makes perfect sense. And it is something that has been needed for a long, long time. Why? Let me tell you a little story about a newbie named Jack.

Back in '96 I was new to Linux - very new. I managed to get Red Hat installed but there was little I could do with it. I had issues with my modem staying connected and the desktop, fvwm98, was less than appealing to me. During my searching of mailing lists I came across someone who had sucessfully done what I was trying to do. I contacted him and he gladly helped me figure out the problem. From that point on he and I exchanged daily (almost hourly) e-mails on setting up various aspects of Linux. I can safely say that without Marc's help, I wouldn't be writing this blog today. In fact, I might very well still be suffering through Windows without his steady guidance.

Since then I have tried to pay back the karma by trying to help new users. But it takes its toll when you're only one person trying to help numerous new users. So for years I have thought some sort of Guru Exchange was neccesary.

My thought on this is simple: Create an evironment where those who would consider themselves of guru-level, could post themselves as available for those in need. A guru would then be taken by a new user and marked as "busy." It's a simple exchange. But here's what has always been the catch - cost. The Linux guru idea has always been such that a guru helps a new user because, at one point, a guru helped them. It's karmic payback, paying it forward - whatever you want to call it.

And as you read this, I am hoping the powers at be here at Techrepublic are discussing this very idea. I sent the idea on up the food chain, and it caught on instantly.

Now, here's where you come in. In the spirit of open source, let's kick around some ideas that could make this not only happen, but help to bring Linux to the forefront of forefronts. Let us know what you think, if you think the idea is sound, if you have any ways to improve the fundamental idea...just discuss what a Guru Exchange program could be.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

41 comments
john@theFeistFamily.net
john@theFeistFamily.net

Count me as one of the new users who would benefit from the guru idea. I have been learning Linux on my own with the help of a book or two and the patience of some friends. One benefit of learning the subject this way is that needing to find the solutions myself has let me learn more than I probably would if I could just go running to someone anytime things didn't go the way I think they should. A few other things that might help... in the traditional sense, a guru is not so much a tutor as a guide who will point you in the right direction so that you the student can learn. That model should carry forward. I agree with many of the posts that having an archive/FAQ would be a terrific resource. If this idea proves successful, why not expand it to cover other open source software? Finally as a starting model, you might consider something similar to the way "the evil empire" has set up communities to provide support. As one who is becoming a straddler after many years in MSFT land, I have gotten a lot of good input from these communities and tried whenever possible to repay the kindness. Perhaps the other big plus to the communities is the MVP idea where the community decides who should get the designation so that those who are really living up to the ideal of the guru program can be recognized by and within their community.

kmilind
kmilind

i migrated to Fedora 10 in January. Avinash Joshi - avinashjoshi.co.in - helped me configure Reliance ZTE MG 880 usb netconnector. he has not only posted guidelines, but also helped me get over problems i had. i also follow your articles here in TechRepublic. Guru Exchange is great idea. its already taking place here in India. with best regards, -milind

zclayton2
zclayton2

I have been helped by the blogs and other posts here on techrepublic and cNet. There have been questions I didn't find answers to that would probably be a FAQ answer. I think the Guru or an Expert fuction would help along with a repository. Even someone with the patience to tell me "Look for the answer for a "gaffer flavel valve" instead of a "pooferdorf". Its the way most of us refer to that particular problem. It is in the FAQ."

tinyang73
tinyang73

I think this discussion is highlighting the need for both 'Mentors' and a repository of info. Why not offer both?

TechRepublic
TechRepublic

I have wanted to get into Linux for years but, like learning Chinese, can't translate my two decades of Windows experience. If I can do a lot of work with it out of the box or easily switch from a Windows screen to Linux I'd be there. I look for hard answers not a bunch of blaa blaa blaa. Few formats have satisfied me, especially in the Blogosphere. I'd like to see an exchange area that allows problem presentation, discussion and solution, which can then be summed up and posted to the web for indexing with a drill down link to view the discussion. A category of Linux flavor "up and running" scenarios and a category of "once you make it past start up...". Also categories of programs and utilities with Windows equivalents (or the reverse) and the popularity or download ratings and/or voter ratings with pros and cons. As long as the advertising stays "out of my face" and NOT in the middle of my work it would be very acceptable and a highly visible medium to support the group.

gusstapp
gusstapp

A central repository of ideas is a damned good idea. There are basic problems with wireless, keyring, brasero and the extract command for the uninitiated. They got me frustrated and wild, especially when I searched and found a zillion blogs with the same problem and no satifactory answer. I am still hardwired and unlock keyring is still minimised to sit and rot down the bottom. Take the average windows user experience:- try linux,bang,it's up, cool/ download music,bang,done, cool/ insert disk, "open with brasero?" OK/ click burn:- "no can do, you have 0 bytes on brand new CD"/ what the ##!;get help, nothing works/ go back to windows. This is where a guru spot with solutions that actually work is essential. In my case I spent over an hour trying blogs that didn't work, then messed around myself for an hour until I figured out:- open brasero & computer, go computer> folder> file> drag files to brasero> bingo burn-E finds 702Mb free. Similarly with F-spot, ignore the prompts on inserting SD card and treat media as folder/file.(this was from Kodak) The crucial problems will be filtering to ensure that 'solutions' work and that terminal scares most folks. Gus.

ccschenk
ccschenk

Love the concept and think it would be great, but I do agree that you need a middle user group who isn't a newbie but that don't consider themselves Guru's. This middle group I am sure would help ease some of the burdens that would otherwise be on the shoulders of the Guru's by being able to help in their areas of knowledge but leaving other things they don't know about to the Guru's to answer.

tinyang73
tinyang73

I also must admit that I would love to see the scope of this broadened to include technologies that support linux like scripting languages, programming languages, server packages, etc. At the very least if mentors don't step up for things like that right away, don't count those supporting technologies out!

tinyang73
tinyang73

Great idea! I would also like to see a forum or something, just a place we could post links to help newbs self-educate about linux. One of the things I've learned about learning linux is that one needs to either have or develop a certain amount of resourcefulness. That is a powerful skill to have in one's repetiour and one should not learn linux on spoon feeding alone.

andygraybetterlife
andygraybetterlife

Joining a Linux User Group is one way of finding guru help that already exists (find UK LUGs at: http://lug.org.uk/), but how about a wiki of linux howtos that members of the linux community could write / edit / direct newbies to? Add the IRC channels and the amount of information already freely available and there should be enough for everyone to learn from

Ken Wolf
Ken Wolf

I think it is a great idea! One I would try to participate in as much as possible. Availability is a problem as I am sure it is for a lot of others. I have been using Debian based distros for over 2 years. While I certainly would not consider myself anywhere close to guru or expert, I have managed to solve most of my own problems either on my own or with the kind help of others. I agree that separating the forums by distribution would be a good idea and probably would make it easier to find help. People needing assistance would look for a forum that was specific to their distro. Most (all) distributions do have their own forums. Problem is some are more new user friendly than others. Being new user friendly would need to be a major focus for your proposed Exchange site or forum. New users can be timid and a bit shy to ask questions they feel may be considered by more experienced users as dumb or silly. In other words there could be no "RTFM" responses to questions. Just my 2 cents..... Ken

pgit
pgit

I participate frequently in a few Linux forums (LQ dot org, Mandriva, KDE etc) so technically this is already being done. I frequently end up with the user contacting me via personal message, and we go in to their configurations in greater detail. I was humbled to find a cell of folks in south east Asia that due to low bandwidth had downloaded the bulk of my posts in one forum, as numerous basic questions were answered in them, a manual of sorts... I answered "maybe" because who the heck knows what will happen with my schedule. I have been getting busier lately, it appears people are tending to keep older stuff going versus just plunking down on new equipment/software whenever there's a problem. But a great idea, Jack. Maybe you could talk Jeremy into having a Tech Republic sub-group over at Linux Questions... folks would know there's more chance of one-on-one help in such a forum. It could be restricted by an extra registration, maybe even viewable only by members. Something like that I'd do in a heartbeat. Like I said I already answer a few Qs over there, and have been planning on getting more active. (recently laid off another forum I posted in 10 times a day on average...)

vmanacheryil
vmanacheryil

Hi Jack, Nice to learn you are a guru ,any way i have just stated learning Linux its really nice i will be glad if you can give me good tips on the ssme ' Thank

Randy.earl
Randy.earl

An excellent idea who's time has come, as evidenced by the fact my local Linux community is discussing how to do the same thing locally. Some quick thoughts: - need to set categories for expertise, by areas such as distro, subject area (e.g. networking, security, media, etc.), to address the earlier post about nobody being an absolute guru about everything. - as you mentioned, need to be able to establish availability somehow. - define types of interface(s) to use, e.g. forum-type posts, live calls, live chat, remote access tools, etc. - is it to be private-user only support, or is commercial support intended as well? - how to capture and index as much support info as possible (e.g. forum and chat, but probably not call) for lookup and re-use? I look forward to seeing more posts with more suggestions!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"...without Marc's help, I wouldn't be writing this blog today." Now we know who to blame :D

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Jack, I think if you look for mentor programs, you will have more success. There are similar situations on just about every field.

noel.brannigan
noel.brannigan

Its a good idea, as long as we get the right balance of people. I did have great knowledge, but lost some due climbing the ladder. However, i have engineers with me who are Guru's Noel

Jaqui
Jaqui

is the time needed. I don't have a lot of extra time to offer help, so the "hourly" type responses wouldn't be possible. It would have to be on an as available to respond basis for me to help people. My questions: 1) nubes won't know the common tools, only the distro centric tools at best. How to ensure the person they are asking actually knows the distro tools they have? [ me no know anything about *buntu's options, it's not a good distro for me to be trying to help people with. ] 2) How would it be integrated with TR to enable others to benefit from the working solutions? [ specially with the broken search on the site, it's not worked for last few revisions of the site script, about 3 years. ]

techrepubliclist
techrepubliclist

Jack, The concept is great, and well overdue ... but _please_ drop the 'guru' tag. Make it 'helper', or 'assistant', or some such - anything but _guru_. Guru is a Sanskrit word which translates to _trainer_ or _teacher_ (mostly in a religious sense), but it has been so abused on the internet and in the corporate world that it is beginning to have a smarmy connotation. Part of the concept of a guru is a total mastery of the subject being taught. I don't know anyone even approaching that. Do you? A Shaolin priest training novitiates at a temple might be properly called _guru_, but 'tis doubtful that there are many in the software/internet arena that could be so termed. Sorry, Jack, but while you are a pretty smart cookie, and well versed in things Web & software, you're not a guru in the way that the word is currently perceived. Mind you, this is a _perceptual_ difference, not a real one, yet still one to be considered. Sometimes the name is the difference between acceptance and rejection, ya know?

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Not everything applies to all distributions but much of it is portable and it helped clarify my own learning even years after getting called "expert" on the platform.

chris
chris

Are you hoping to be a linux expert or just someone who can use linux? It's easy to get installed, up and running. It's all the advanced stuff that is Chinese :-)

Jaqui
Jaqui

there are a number of those already, the problem they all face is the search ability. while they have search, the results frequently fail to be what was desired. This is because people don't use the same terms for the problem that the searcher did. That flaw is why having someone you can ask directly is still the most effective way to get the answer you need.

chris
chris

I guess that's the difference of support. Having some "noob" ask "how do I install a new program" is a very different question than "how can I get extended desktop to work on my lappy" So many forums just throw out "try this, no? Sorry" kinds of answers. You almost need to be able to sit down with your "guru/mentor" and work through it together.

usragman
usragman

If someone takes a question and realizes they can not help once they get into it they need to be able to return the question to the queue/forum.

SysAdminII
SysAdminII

I am with Ken on this one. I too have used Debian for some time and do not consider myself a 'guru' by any fashion. My biggest help has been my gmail account and debian mailing list along with forums and debian tips. I would be willing to assist when I could.

rob mekel
rob mekel

last few revisions ... about 3 years ... :D That's an understatement ... don't you mean it doesn't work [b]anymoreatall[/b] ]:)

lewinskys
lewinskys

This is a great concept and in fact it has already been done. http://www.allexperts.com/ Many different topics or expertise, and LINUX included. Check it out. I have used the service a number of times. Great users providing great answers, and spending thier own valuable time, free of charge.

Larry.Barnhill
Larry.Barnhill

True words well spoken. I checked "Guru" because that was the nearest choice, but I would never consider myself such, even though I have three flavors of Linux on three different machines. I use those installations as study foundations, to learn what i can. There are others that know tons more than I, and fortunately they write "man" pages and articles. There are different grades of students. A Senior will hopefully know more than a Sophomore. That is a better approximation. I doubt that I will ever "graduate" in that sense, because I am always learning.

rbees
rbees

like half-half. There are some things I could help others with but I still need a lot of help my own self. I did the maybe for that reason.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Galls me in the arts of healing or death as well. Looked, but have not yet found, that word or term that commands you to your knees, reminding that you are not up to, neverminding superior; yet must do.

john3347
john3347

I think the goal of many, myself included, is somewhere between the basic user and a Linux expert. "Comfortable with Linux" might be a good definition for "get into Linux". Granted, installation is simple but it starts getting "Chinese" immediately after first boot. Once a new-to-Linux user (who more often than not has to un-learn another OS) gets to a certain point in the learning curve, the Linux User Groups and forums begin to make sense and become useful. It is that period between "first boot" and "comfortable" that is discouraging to a new user.

john3347
john3347

That is, in my view, the one HUGE point that a direct one-on-one mentorship program would address. A Wiki/blog bulletin board to supplement the mentorship program would make the learning process more effective, but cannot replace the one-on-one benefits.

john3347
john3347

Good info, lewinskys, this is connected with About.com in some way. Good source of information.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

[i]that word or term that commands you to your knees, reminding that you are not up to, neverminding superior; yet must do.[/i]

Jaqui
Jaqui

is in being afraid their "problem" is so simple it makes them look really stupid. ~wondering if this is why the top 100 list here on TR gets emails from peers for help fairly often.~ I think that the problems might need to be resolved in private, then the exchange cleaned up for clarity, and put up in a publicly readable form. we could offer anonymity by not using any names for those seeking help that way also.

john3347
john3347

Perhaps there would be no "private" exchanges, but something is needed in instances that require several exchanges between mentor and student to solve a particular item of trouble that is a yield sign for the guru and a brick wall road block for the student. Present LUGs and Linux forums just do not serve this need well. All so often, the student does not know how to ask a question so the "guru" members of the forum know exactly what the student is trying to ask.

Jaqui
Jaqui

participation means accepting that the "gurus" will be submitting each thread of assistance to TR for posting in a read-only form.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Nothing clicked. Second time, still nothing. Only now, the third, did it click. Even when I try not to equivocate, I equivocate. Purrfect fit.

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