When Unix Stops Being Fun

Ted Mittelstaedt tedm at toybox.placo.com
Sat Oct 2 22:46:18 PDT 2004

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-freebsd-questions at freebsd.org
> [mailto:owner-freebsd-questions at freebsd.org]On Behalf Of Dave
> Vollenweider
> Sent: Saturday, October 02, 2004 8:50 PM
> To: FreeBSD Questions
> Subject: When Unix Stops Being Fun
> This has nothing to do with technical problems, but rather it's 
> more of a request for moral support.  This may seem disjointed, 
> so bear with me.
> I've been using FreeBSD for over six months now, but I've been 
> using Unix-like operating systems for almost two years.  I 
> started with Red Hat Linux back when Red Hat was making and 
> selling their "consumer-grade" version of Red Hat Linux, then 
> switched to Debian before going to FreeBSD last March.  I now 
> also run NetBSD on one of my machines.
> Through all this, I've developed a passion for this type of OS, 
> seeing the elegance, performance, and sheer power of Unix.  This 
> has affected me to the point of me changing my career path.  
> Before I got into these OSs, I wanted to get into radio.  Now I'd 
> rather either be a system administrator or run my own consulting 
> business for entities that use these types of OSs.  But herein 
> lies the problem I've been having lately: while searching around 
> for what I'd need to know to become a system administrator, I 
> came across this page: 
> http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2001/8/13/131727/462 

A fair overview of things to learn.  I would say though that by
the time you learned all these 'prerequisites' you would have no
need for the course of study.

Now, keep in mind this - this ISN'T a list of things that you need
to MEMORIZE.  Knowing how to do things is different than memorizing
a sequence of key clicks or mouse clicks to make something happen.

Many people are out there that could memorize exactly how to do
everything on this list - but because they don't really know
how to do them, if I came along and made one little change in
a script or a program, they would be screwed.

By contrast someone who knows how to do all these things can walk
in and sit down at a version of UNIX that they have never touched,
never heard of, never seen, and within 3-4 hours not only be able
to do all these things, they could write instructions for the
people that need to memorize how to do them.

As an analogy - there's lots of people that know how to pull into
a service station and add air to their car tires.  But out of all
those people that have learned how to do this only a tenth of them
know that tire pressure rises when the tire gets warmer, and of
those people, only another tenth WOULD ASSUME THAT THIS WOULD BE
THE CASE IF THEY THOUGHT ABOUT IT because they actually understand 
what gas pressure is.  And if one of the people in that group had
never added air in his life to a tire, and you told him to go do it,
he would not only be able to go do it, he would be able to add 
exactly the correct amount of air needed for the tire.

> and I'm 
> overwhelmed by the sheer amount of knowledge I'd have to gain.  
> It took me almost two years to get to where I am today, and it 
> looks like I've barely scratched the surface of what I'd need to 
> know.

I've been working with FreeBSD since version 1 and 386BSD before
that.  Over 10 years now.  I even wrote a book on FreeBSD that
was published in 2000 titled The FreeBSD Corporate Networker's
Guide.  (it's out of print now but you can still buy it off
Amazon)  I'm still scratching the surface.

You need to understand 2 things.  First, the UNIX field is so
vast that no one person can learn everything there is to know
about it, EVER.

Second, the amount of NEW information in the UNIX field that is
being created every year cannot possibly be absorbed by one
person in a year, even if all they did was learn new things.

This is how all of the really serious jobs/fields operate, it's
no different with a doctor, auto mechanic, lawyer, etc.  This
is why if your good in these fields you get paid the big bucks.

> But now, I feel like instead of learning things on my own 
> for fun, I have to learn other things I don't really have a need 
> to learn for myself or that I want to, just so that I can apply 
> that to oth
>  er peoples' situations. 

Well, yes.  That's why they call it "work"  Nobody is going to
pay you money to work on your own stuff.  They only pay you
to work on THEIR stuff.  If 50% of the time their stuff is in
the same universe as your stuff, your doing a damn sight better
than most people.

> The result is that lately learning 
> these OSs has become more of a chore than a fun hobby, and I'm 
> still intimidated by what I need to learn to get to where I want 
> to go.

Your never going to get where you want to go - not if your any good
at it, that is.  Take it from me.  I've
done everything that you say you want to do.  By the time that you
get to where I am, your not going to be satisfied being a mere
systems administrator or consultant, not if your worth spit.  I
certainly wasn't.

In other words, life is a series of goals - and when you get close
to one of them, the next one after that becomes more important than
the one your right next to.  At least, that is how it works for anyone
with any real ambition.

> It almost seems like it's not worth it.

Well, let me tell you this.  When I'm 85 years old - and I'm still
intending to be working with UNIX then assuming it's still
around - and looking back over my life I will have the satisfaction
of knowing that I have learned and forgotten more things in any given
year of my life than most people have learned in their entire lives.

Your only given 1 life, 1 mind, 1 brain.  It's yours to choose
what to do with.  If you want to piss it all away spending your
evenings watching reruns of "The Simpsons" that's no skin off
anyone's nose.  But, when the day comes that you say goodbye
to this old world, I think you will probably think you were a
> Now, being that I know there are some very experienced people on 
> this list, I'm betting that I'm not the only one that has 
> experienced this, that learning new things in Unix-like OSs 
> becomes more of a chore than something to do for fun.  My 
> question is, what advice would you have for dealing with this?

You have to make a choice.  Your not going to be able to make
it immediately, of course, you will end up having to feel your
way forward.  And you probably won't realize exactly the day you
make this choice.

There's a lot of people in the world that are contented to learn
only a certain number of things, and once they have learned them
all, they feel they have "arrived" and they don't want to learn
anything more.  Instead they just want to use what they have learned
to do the same job, over and over for the rest of their lives.

Of course, periodically the world changes and disrupts these
people's lives and they have to learn something new.  Usually,
they successfully do it and get back to their happy little ruts.
Occassionally they don't then spend the rest of their lives moaning
over the "good old days" but never amount to a hill of beans afterwords.

But, the world ain't run by those people.  The people that really
make the world go around are the people who get wiser and wiser
and wiser and learn more and more and more until comparing them
to an ordinary person of the first kind, is like comparing an
ordinary person to an infant.  And even among the wise, there are
the wisest of the wise who are so far in advance of the wise
that comparing them to the wise is like comparing one of the wise
to an ordinary person.  And even among the wisest of the wise there
are the ultra wise that... well I think you get the picture.

Every person who grows up eventually comes to a point in their
lives, often somewhere in their mid to late 20's, where they
figure this out and are faced with the fact that they need to
choose which world to live in.  It's just your turn to make
this choice now.

I cannot help you to make this choise or advise you how to do it.
Maybe you want to go on a quest, maybe you want to write a book,

But I can tell you that if you choose to be numbered among the
wise, that some of the work may still be a chore, but when you
do it, your going to feel satisfied, which I think is probably
in the long run better than feeling "happy".  And after a while
your going to find that your wanting to feel satisfied more than
your wanting to feel happy.

However, if you choose to be numbered among the ordinary, the one
thing I can tell you is you should give up FreeBSD.  The reason
is that you have now reached the point where you can no longer 
be an "ordinary" FreeBSD user because the door has opened a crack
and you have been able to look through this crack and seen what
it's Really Like behind the curtain.  This is something that many
ordinary FreeBSD users never do, and because they really don't
really understand what the real UNIX universe really looks like,
they can pretend that they are doing something Really Useful with
FreeBSD.  Poor, lucky people that they are, they can still be
"happy" with FreeBSD.  You, gave that up when you looked through
the crack in the door.

Ted Mittelstaedt

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