Why many MCSEs won't learn Linux

Why many MCSEs won't learn Linux

Summary: The Windows worldview cultivates the expectation that learning to use an OS means memorizing specific command sequences and fill-ins - and when that attitude meets the Unix expectation that sysadmins should understand basic principles first and then apply them, chaos and frustration usually follow.

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TOPICS: Linux, Open Source
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Here's the entirety of a note by discussion contributor nhudd responding to my e-mail exchange with "MCSE Mike":

On behalf of MCSE Mike's everywhere...

Paul, I think that the vast majority of techs/geeks out there can relate to MCSE Mike's question at the top of this article. His question and your "attempted" response reveal three potential roadblocks to the wider adoption of Linux that I would appreciate your further commentary upon.

First, is there any hope in an open source Linux world for the development of a "standard" that holds long enough for newcomers to adapt to it?

Secondly, if not, and with the myriad of distro variations out there, how can accurate "how to" and "help" documentation ever be developed to assist and welcome newcomers?

Thirdly, despite all of the hype about the wonderful help available on Linux discussion groups, your tart yet honest response is exactly the attitude I have encountered time and again. So, why do the existing Linux experts and elite (like yourself) persist in ridiculing those who shun Linux, while at the same time you give well meaning newcomers an elitist cold shoulder snubbing when they do make an effort to make the switch? Do you want people to switch or not?

I do not mean to be too pointed in using the "elitist label", but an elitist is someone who both pokes fun at people for not being like they are, and pokes fun at those who strive to be like they are. Like old English nobility. It's a loose-loose game for everyone but the elitist. So people are treated like idiots for not using Linux, and yet treated like idiots if they try to learn and use Linux and don't know everything already.

Somewhere along the line someone is going to realize that if you spend so much time trying to convince people that Linux is better, you're going to have to deal with people actually trying to use/learn Linux.

I sometimes wonder if many Linux experts like yourself might not be more honest by saying, "While I continue to use my intellectual superiority to convince you that Linux is better, I really do NOT want any more newbies trying to join our camp right now. Even though the heart of open source is that anyone can come in and learn and contribute, we really HATE slowing down our brains and wasting our precious time teaching you what you could learn yourself if you'd just take the next 5 years to read every Linux forum entry posted since 1980! So lets just save us both a lot of time and pain: choose Linux and hire an existing Linux expert."

I'm sure that from your side of the isle it must not look this way. Dose your lordship have the time of day to enlighten us aspiring serfs a little?

Nathan

PS: There's not too much evidence of Linux experts having a very strong sense of humor either. But I hope you will not take this too personally and consider a well thought (non flippant) response. I actually DO respect your knowledge and experience. I just see things from the other side over here a bit clearer than I see yours.

The serious question here is, I think, hidden a bit behind two emotional red herrings: I dealt with one in my immediate response by quibbing that elitism is characteristic of rich left wingers who want to keep their inferiors inferior, whereas I'm sometimes arrogant but always right - and frequent contributor bportlock promptly called him on the other by pointing out the obvious hypocrisy involved when a Microsoft devotee attacks Unix for structural diversity and instability over time.

Nathan's basic question, however, can be paraphrased as something that's both serious and interesting: why do so many MCSEs have such a hard time learning to use Linux? and, as a corollary, why do they think there's no effetcive help available to them?

I think the answer is that there's a great divide between the Windows and Unix camps: a divide one side doesn't recognize and the other doesn't want to cross. It's the divide between training and education: the difference between rote learning and the application of theory to practice.

Basically, to learn Unix you learn to understand and apply a small set of key ideas and achieve expertise by expanding both the set of ideas and your ability to apply them - but you learn Windows by working with the functionality available in a specific release.

Put a Solaris guy who's never used Linux in front of SuSe 10 with a list of complex tasks and he'll complain bitterly about missing pieces, primitive storage management tools, idiosyncratic pathing, misplaced or missing command syntax, and a host of other annoyances - but he won't be either intimidated or deterred; and the job will get done because he knows how the tools he needs should work, and trusts that SuSe's versions do in fact work.

In contrast, if you take a guy who's grown up entirely on Windows 2003/XP and put him in front of a rack of NT 4.0 machines with a similar task list, the chances are good that he'll feel comfortable with the product but won't get the job done - because NT 4.0 isn't 2003/XP Server and he'll end up rationalizing that it simply doesn't do the things he doesn't know how to do.

When serious people ask me for help learning Unix I usually refer them to Kernighan and Pike's The Unix Programming Environment as a good starting point. The book was published in 1984 but applies perfectly to Solaris, Linux, and the BSDs today - because the scripts it uses (almost all of which still work) aren't the point of the book: they're used to illustrate the Unix principles and key ideas that are the point because it's those principles that unite Unix across time and implementations.

But now look again at Mike's plea for help: he doesn't want enduring principles, he wants enduring scripts - click sequences he can memorize:

First, is there any hope in an open source Linux world for the development of a "standard" that holds long enough for newcomers to adapt to it?

Secondly, if not, and with the myriad of distro variations out there, how can accurate "how to" and "help" documentation ever be developed to assist and welcome newcomers?

What these questions reflect is a fundamental difference in perception - the difference between a world view in which theory dominates practice versus one in which only practice counts.

In his world there are no enduring principles and so the notion that unifying principles can be expressed in different ways is simply foreign to him. No Unix techie, for example, would see anything very odd about the assertion that the list segment command has been standardized since System III, but takes different parameters and produces different tabulations on Solaris, HP-UX, and SuSe Linux - but how do you think MCSE Nathan would see it?

In his world the focus is always on the "how" to the exclusion of the "why", and so I'm pretty sure he'd focus on the surface contradiction here; refuse to accept the argument that all the variants reflect the same ideas and fundamentally do the same things; and finally impute some emotional motivation for your obvious lie - he will, in other words, express his deepest fears about his own skills by accusing you of making the claim that "ls" means "ls" regardless of how it's expressed only so you can prove your own superiority to yourself by sniggering up your sleeve at his confusion:

Thirdly, despite all of the hype about the wonderful help available on Linux discussion groups, your tart yet honest response is exactly the attitude I have encountered time and again. So, why do the existing Linux experts and elite (like yourself) persist in ridiculing those who shun Linux, while at the same time you give well meaning newcomers an elitist cold shoulder snubbing when they do make an effort to make the switch? Do you want people to switch or not?

What he's doing here is striking out as a way of expressing the frustration he feels at being unable to understand what we're all talking about - and while that's fully understandable because he's the victim of a social community confusing training with education, I think it's also completely illustrative of the great divide blocking widespread Linux acceptance within the MCSE community.

Topics: Linux, Open Source

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309 comments
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  • Linux doesn't help the cause

    One problem many "MCSEs" have is that most Linux distros spend too much effort trying to be like Windows. This serves to delay the MCSE's development, as they end up treating Linux as if it new version of Windows.

    Even though it is probably one of the better distros to learn UNIX on, Slackware just isn't very sexy compared to n00butu, or Mandriva.

    I struggled mightily with UNIX, repeatedly losing interest with various Linux distros, until I tried FreeBSD.

    Now, when I log onto a Linux machine, I spend half my time bitching about the ridiculous locations of the config files and the restarted info system, and the other half getting things done.

    Good post Murph.
    toadlife
    • Ridiculous? Liberate yourself!

      That was my ignorant initial view but I persevered and found that everything has a sensible purpose in UNIX.

      If you come to terms with the differences between Windows and Unix and why you grow.

      One of the hurdles to cross is understanding the [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filesystem_Hierarchy_Standard]Filesystem Hierarchy Standard[/url].

      Now, I feel confined for the most part by Windows.

      Liberate yourself! ;)
      D T Schmitz
      • Whaaat?

        I am very comfortable with UNIX. I thought my post made that clear.
        toadlife
        • Odd to myself.

          This seems very odd to me. First off I started in the world with my first certification being a CNA, then move up to a CNE, after that I had gotten my MCP for Windows NT3.5.1, then after NT4.0 was out for a bit more than a year, or so I had gotten my MCSE. U first had gotten my taste of Linux with Debian, (Now Ubuntu) and RedHat. I don't know it feels like a natural progression. I guess I could think like everyone else here, but that would mean I would still be punching cards for a keypunch machine.
          mikeholli
        • Odd to myself.

          This seems very odd to me. First off I started in the world with my first certification being a CNA, then move up to a CNE, after that I had gotten my MCP for Windows NT3.5.1, then after NT4.0 was out for a bit more than a year, or so I had gotten my MCSE. I first had gotten my taste of Linux with Debian, (Now Ubuntu) and RedHat. I don't know it feels like a natural progression. I guess I could think like everyone else here, but that would mean I would still be punching cards for a keypunch machine.
          mikeholli
    • MCSE's are too lazy

      They want an easy route, and think that getting a noddy certificate makes them able.

      As with any industry, it eventually gets saturated with me-too's.
      Now we have the age of protectionism, where they would rather put time into arguing that they are right than to learn more.

      They will be of no use in the future. If it doesn't have a button to click they don't know what to do.

      The knowledge economy will put paid to these idiots. They're in no danger of inventing anything. They need instructions and press releases to function.
      fr0thy2
      • Rhine maidens are calling you

        [i]They will be of no use in the future. If it doesn't have a button to click they don't know what to do.[/i]

        Wake up fr0thy, the future belongs to such buttons, and other assorted blinkies. Their proliferation into all things possible is guaranteed. Dumbing down the GUI and AIO consolidation IS the future. If you've noticed contemporary trends, you'd see that the meek and ignorant are inheriting the earth as it is. Rest assured, the state of computing is right on track in its coupled form.

        As for all this manifest Torvalds elitism, the Windows world bests Elit*ix by wisely adding slicker grease to the rails. Squeaky wheels crave grease! What's the matter fr0thy, do the Rhine maidens intimidate you, reminiscent of Redmond's hypnotizing call? Listen closely, I believe they're calling you to the shores. Stop gyrating and fussing on your row boat, you know resistance is futile.

        Manipulating source code and xyz configs and fumbling through libraries is so ... well, medieval a la the new millennium.
        klumper
        • I will tell you why.

          The problem is I don't spend my time messing with just an Operating System all day. The reason a good MCSE does not want to learn linux is time on our hands. If you know how to administer Windows and Active Directory properly it is very powerful and requires very little effort to use it in its basic form, but under the covers it has very powerful tools and is easy to accomplish alot and to many linux users this concept sucks because making things easy is not in the linux mind set. I enjoy the GUI because I don't have time to learn commands and all that, I understand all of the standard protocals and what not, so hate me for not wanting to learn your way. Microsoft makes it easier for me to take care of other things like our routers, switches, backups, email, archiving, wireless network, rf guns, new server setup, and so on... Do you see the point I am making I don't spend my whole day working on Microsoft Windows and when I do I can fix most anything, but I have alot of other expertises that I offer my company to where they do not have to have multiple people for certain areas and that saves time and money and makes my paycheck even nicer. I do like to work for money and sorry for that too, open source just doesn't make since to me in some ways. All these companies that sell linux sell the support that comes with it, so in the end you still have to pay for something. Capitalism is not a bad thing and in many ways linux supporters in most cases find it offensive.
          OhTheHumanity
          • Time on your hands?

            Most anything in Linux is easy, it depends where you spend your time/are familiar with.

            I make a nice living without ever touching MS stuff.

            Windows is still binary blob nonsense that, if the button doesn't work, you have no hope of fixing it.
            fr0thy2
          • All the buttons work here

            Yeah like I said I am not a hater and thats good that you do well with linux, but I do not have the time to rip out a network that does what we need it to do for something that can do the same thing. It would be alot of work and its not something I have time on my hands to do. If it weren't for MS licensing it would be even more popular, so you have that going for you in the linux camp. But if you have ever worked with windows 2003 server you would know that it is a rock solid server that rarely needs any attention. Maybe I just know how prevent issues I don't know, but my servers are usually up for very long periods and don't require me to check up on them unless I am patching something and from the article I read last week those vulnerabilities in Linux need to be patched as well, so don't even go there.
            OhTheHumanity
          • Up until patch Tuesday

            So you say that it "rarely needs any attention" but at least once a month you run the patches, right?
            You see, the problem with the most stable Windows Server 2003 out there is that once a month, it will have to be rebooted because it lacks the modularity that *nix has. So, yes, there are patches that have to be applied to Linux, but unless you are patching the kernel-which needs patching far less than the Windows equivalent, you generally do not have to reboot-you simply stop the service or module that you are patching, patch it, and reload it.
            markdean
          • daMan25 hits it pretty square

            While I've occasionally made brief casual forays into the linux distro of the day over the years, nothing has compelled me to take it seriously professionally. Obviously that's not the case for many thousands of folks making a living off of linux, but daMan25's comments really hit home for me. I spend my time creating software to address business needs using functionality provided by the OS. I think the author's comments are off the mark when generalizing that linux users learn "why" and windows users learn "how". This may be closer to the mark for administration of said systems, but not for development. Even for administration, this seems a gross oversimplification. In the end, we all want to know "how". From a business perspective, however, does a company want to pay for you to learn all of the "why" behind the "how". If so, great. However, I have yet to see a driver for a product that states "only highly trained individuals should be able to use this product". The trend is just the opposite & is driven by pure economics. It applies to all OSs and products. Maybe Linux users understand why certain things work better than windows users. If they HAVE to, then that's a knock against linux, not windows.
            m_d_blake
        • Message has been deleted.

          fr0thy2
          • We'll all be buttons soon

            Or are we already? Tick, tick, tick ;)
            klumper
          • how judgemental

            you assume that everyone who is worth their salt uses just CLI?

            I am a visual oriented person. I think by looking at it. A GUI display where i can sort things out how i want to cluster thing for the purpose of management/troubleshooting is the best method i use. Trying to do everything via terminal and lines and lines of text is my LEAST efficient way of doing it.

            Just becuase some of us think visually instead of text-based, does not make us any less competent a technician
            ivanotter
          • wouldn't that put us out of business?

            But ivanotter, wouldn't that put us out of business if we were to work visually? Since more people would be able to do our job? We just wouldn't have the monopoly on IQ that we had before.

            If you aren't paying one monopoly, you're paying another. Although I am glad both exist, as then they are not truly monopolies.
            bearlyworking
          • No I think he assumes the following:

            - Linux is the end all of computer OSes. If you don't like then he is totally against any thoughts ideas or opinions that either show the true view of the OS or peoples opinions that do not exactly match his. And that's it. He's very black and white, not sure how old he is, but it's a very young persons view of the world, almost childish.
            ItsTheBottomLine
          • ...and why he gets deleted - a lot...nt

            ;-)
            ItsTheBottomLine
      • Gee, you just proved the guy was right

        Linux, known by the company it keeps...
        No_Ax_to_Grind
      • MCSE short for memorization expert

        I have encountered several MCSEs and a few CNEs - although the latter are fading in numbers or at least those admitting to be CNEs. In several cases most of them are experts at memorizing and being able to take tests; however, when it comes to actually being able to solve a "real world" problem that does not have a MMC "snap-in" or script they are totally lost. I actually had a CNE ask me how to reinstall Novell after a hard-drive failure (amazing!!). I know there are at least a few MCSEs who know their stuff; and they actually have some creative solutions to some every-day problems; even coming up with their own scripts or solutions to problems not covered in the MCSE prep exams but existing in the real world none-the-less.

        As to the "elitism" mentioned in the article, I have found numerous sites that offer help from Linux "gurus" that are more than happy to help those interested in learning and converting to Linux - everything from how to do something simple to providing a full "how to" installation guide for your desired installation (server or client).

        I don't know how these people would have survived back in the days of MS-DOS, there was NO GUI (perish the thought) and the only scripts provided you wrote yourself.
        rmerts@...