Originally Published: Monday, 6 September 1999 Author: Matt Michie
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Awakening

Today I learned from the master. Yet unskilled, I was only able to drink a few tasty drops of the knowledge. The rest poured onward beyond my grasp. Even so, I did not mourn the lost knowledge. With some hard work, perhaps it would not be beyond me....

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Today I learned from the master. Yet unskilled, I was only able to drink a few tasty drops of the knowledge. The rest poured onward beyond my grasp. Even so, I did not mourn the lost knowledge. With some hard work, perhaps it would not be beyond me.

I am almost afraid to fall asleep. Will I remember what I have gained tonight? Unfortunately, I have to give in to the body's need. It is 3:37am. My eyes are starting to blur and my hands are beginning to cramp up. I stagger away from my computer and collapse in my bed. Moments after finding some rest, my brain continues to ponder on what it has seen today.

Alarm blaring, I roll out of my bed and somehow make it into the shower. The scalding water puts my brain into first gear and I'm right back into the problem from last night. Instinctively, I know I must have been working at it through my sleep. Indomitable, my imagination is bursting new questions and ideas. The compulsion to find out more is never greater.

The rest of the day is a blur of work interspersed with brief moments of thought.

The moment I am home, I race to the computer and log onto the 'net. Without hesitation, I load Netscape and head back to browse the archives of the Linux Kernel Mailing List. Home of such Coding marvels as Linus Torvalds, Alan Cox, Steven Tweedie, Ted Tso, and countless others. Reading through their patches, the arguments and the technical discussions never fails to ignite my imagination. There is so much I can't understand. It's a worthy challenge though.

This is what it is all really about. Reading through mailing lists, trying desperately to understand the latest patch, improving your coding skills, simply learning above all else.

To me freedom always comes with responsibilities. Without people to contribute, the dream will begin to crumble. At the moment, I can barely understand half of what goes on in the Linux Kernel Mailing List. Instead of contributing to the kernel, I help people get Linux installed, and work with Linux.com. Eventually, I hope I will be able to understand the workings of the kernel.

What could be a better way of learning it all? What other field would one have such access to the great minds? I feel like an aspiring Mechanical Engineer walking through the halls of General Motors; eavesdropping on the multitude of conversations, browsing through blueprints, and taking prototypes on test drives.

And even so, the kernel is only but one piece of a bigger puzzle. With a bit of curiosity, I can see how a world class compiler is built, or how a new programming language was designed. I can rip apart my C library and find out how that algorithm really works. Textbooks can't and never will be able to teach knowledge like this. I can't quite imagine how programmers learned their craft before open source software. I'd hate to think it was through trial and error, but after using some pretty shoddy programs, I really have to wonder.

Daily I struggle to gain a piece of new knowledge. Every so often I can look back with a bit of satisfaction on how far I've come. More often I look ahead and see how far I've yet to go. I can't wait to see where it will take me next.

Matt Michie is a student of Computer Science in New Mexico. He maintains a small Web site at http://web.nmsu.edu/~mmichie.




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