March 5, 2017

How 'Learning Red Hat Linux' Changed My Life

Can you point to a book that changed your outlook on life and had a profound impact on the kind of person you are? For me, that book would be Learning Red Hat Linux.

Learning Red Hat Linux Cover

In 1997, I was 14 and I decided that I wanted to be hacker. In order to look the part, I wanted to install Linux on my computer. This was early in Linux’s life and the distributions of the time didn’t have easy-to-use installers—we had to create root and boot floppies with a tool called rawrite.exe. And since I couldn’t read English very well back then and knew little about computers, I understood almost nothing that the Slackware 3.4 installation program asked. I failed to install Linux. Not a great start for a would-be hacker.

Fast-forward a couple of years, my English had improved and the installation program of Mandrake 6.1 was easy—no questions about the size of inodes—and I managed to get my first Linux desktop up and running! But now what? The CD sleeve gave instructions for the installation, but not for going online or manipulating files.

Somehow, I got my hands on a copy of O’Reilly’s Learning Red Hat Linux and the most amazing thing happened to me: as I read, I learned! During a visit at my grand-parents’, I read the chapter that explained how to use ls, cp, mv, and others to manipulate files and directories. When I got home, I ran to my PC and I was able to use the terminal and the commands I had learned to do meaningful work! After that, I was hooked: I learned about dozens of classic Unix commands, about the directory layout of Linux, and how to install new software with rpm. I even routinely reconfigured and recompiled my own kernel. At 16 years old, Learning Red Hat Linux made me realize that reading was the path to understanding, that I could learn any subject by myself if I just took the time to read about it.

I am 33 years old now, and I still read a lot. Whenever I want to learn something new, I head over to Amazon. I learned to play chess, poker, and backgammon from books; the original Programming Ruby AKA Pickaxe by Thomas and Hunt got me started in programming; these days I read books that give me tips to improve my writing (hopefully they make these articles less painful for you to read); when I got my first girlfriend, I even read A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amazing Sex!

Learning Red Hat Linux is not a classic like Catcher in the Rye or How to Make Friends and Influence People, but its impact on my life has been immediate and lasting and I will be forever grateful for it.