Linux: Not all users are developers

Jack Wallen takes on a stereotype of Linux users that does more harm than you might think.

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Image: Jack Wallen

"Not all Linux users are developers." It's a statement I've been having to make quite a lot lately. This comes from prospective clients, who find out I've been using and writing about Linux since the late 1990s, and then approach me to ask if I'd be willing to either take on a development project or to write about development through the eyes of an actual developer. 

When I tell these possible clients that I'm not a developer, without fail, their response is shock. "You use Linux. Doesn't that, by design, make you a developer?" My response to that is (at least internally), "Why would you assume I'm a developer?" Or maybe "You're a Windows user. Does that make you a gamer?" Or "You're a macOS user. Does that make you a musician?"

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Maybe a client hires me to take on a project that is, at best, dev-adjacent, and then, in the middle of the project pivots to dev-centric and is shocked when I balk at the shift.

Stereotypes--they play out in every single sector of the business and consumer world. We all fall prey to them, but the "Linux as developer" stereotype has a bit of a backlash that some might not ever consider.

Let me explain my madness. 

Developers and users alike utilize Linux

First off, a lot of Linux users are developers. I know quite a few of them--some develop specifically for Linux, some for the web, some for mobile, etc. I also know a lot of Linux users who aren't developers, who are writers like myself, gamers, professionals, hobbyists, or just casual users.

Regular users tend to be brushed aside, because of the stereotype that all Linux users must be developers. The domino effect of that is all about perception. When the public at large is given the impression that all Linux users are developers, they automatically assume the platform is too difficult for them. 

Of all the negative press Linux gets, that's one of the worst because Linux isn't designed for developers. In fact, contrary to popular opinion, the Linux desktop operating system is designed for the masses. It just so happens that it also makes for a good developer platform. Even though the operating system is good for any type of user, the idea that it's dev-centric puts a hamper on adoption. The average user isn't too keen on experiencing something that's going to try their patience and their ability.

The Linux desktop operating system isn't going to do that. In fact, some distributions and desktops are quite the opposite--they work with a level of user-friendliness unmatched by the competition. Ubuntu. Linux Mint. Pop!_OS. Elementary OS. These distributions belong in the hands of average, everyday users. Sure, developers could get a lot out of the platforms, but the focus is on the user.

Not the developer, not the admin, not the hardcore, the user.

There should be no shame in that. When someone finds out you use Linux, and they immediately ask if you're a developer, you shouldn't have to wonder if, by answering in the negative, you're either slighting yourself or Linux. Be loud and be proud.

Be the user you want to be

I probably should have prefaced this by saying I'm not the average user Linux should be targeting. Because of my various jobs, I wind up doing much more with Linux than what an everyday user would, which clearly defines me as a Linux admin and not just a user. However, I wear multiple hats, and one of those hats is user. Sometimes I don the admin hat and sometimes I doff the admin hat in favor of the user hat.

However, a developer hat never sits atop my head--no matter how many times people assume it of me because of the platform I use.

I'm good with that. What I'm not so good with is the assumption that every Linux user is a developer. Not only is it bad marketing, it almost always ends with me having to remind clients that I'm not a developer and they knew that going into our agreement.

To every Linux user out there, I say to you: Be the user you want to be, not the user everyone assumes you are. To those who are interested in Linux, rest assured, it's not a developer-specific platform. 

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