Open Source and IT Certifications
by Dru Lavigne
Related link: http://www.bsdcertification.org
Wow, I can't believe it's been over three months since the last time I had a few moments to blog. Where did the last quarter of 2005 go?
As some of you may already know, a fair chunk of my time is being spent as the acting chair of BSD Certification Group Inc., a registered non-profit creating the standard for assessing the skills of BSD system administrators. We've accomplished a lot in 2005, but still have a very busy 2006 ahead of us.
As our first year draws to a close, I'd like to take a light-hearted and slightly tongue in cheek look at what it is like to be involved in such a massive undertaking. If you're involved in an Open Source project or sell/advocate Open Source solutions, you'll recognize where I'm coming from.
#1 Where'd everybody go?
Have you ever tried to pin down a few dozen people to discuss an important topic or vote on a decision? Oops, forgot to mention these are all volunteers with at least one day job, scattered throughout the globe and several timezones. Don't bother--it's impossible. You can create mailing lists and instant messaging channels, arrange conference calls and agree to meet at conferences. Without fail someone will be called to pull a triple-shift at work due to a flood in the server closet, another will end up in the hospital, another will have a family emergency to attend to, someone else will miss a plane. In short, life has a full bag of tricks to draw from and there appears to be some Universal Law preventing more than a few people at a time from concentrating on the same thing simultaneously.
However if you can resist the urge to repeatedly bang your head against your monitor while chanting "why me", you'll find that stuff still gets done. It sometimes takes an inordinate amount of time, but it still gets done. There appears to be another Universal Law at work here: the smaller the job or decision, the longer it takes to happen. The truly big stuff almost happens by itself.
#2 Ignorance is not bliss.
Admit it, it sometimes sucks to be into Open Source, especially when your favourite project just isn't on other people's radar. Even more so if you'd like to make some of your living from said Open Source project. Sometimes I wonder if I'm stuck in a Twilight Zone episode or I've been transported back to High School and find myself outside of the "in" crowd.
Admittedly, I have heard some good one-liners over the years. "If it's so good, how come it's free?" or "if it's so good, how come I've never heard of it?" still jockey for top position. And this one is always a treat from someone who has just spent 2 hours listening to musak in order to talk to a representative who knew less about the product than he did: "but it offers paid support".
#3 Where's the beef?
If I've learned anything over the past few years it is that geeks make terrible marketers. Sad, yes, but true. Geeks thrive on technical details. However, in the world of marketing, as in the world of cocktail parties, exuding the technical details of a product will only win you glazed stares and bored "uhuhs" while the target scans for the nearest exit.
In the marketplace, sex sells. Glitz sells. And the occasional surprise, such as a pair of little old ladies peering into a hamburger bun, sells. Free doesn't. The downside to selling Open Source is figuring out how to market something that could have been had for free. The upside is that Open Source is a huge, mostly untapped market. If you're a marketer and know how to use sex, glitz, hamburger buns, or anything else to sell BSD Certification, drop me a line.
#4 Show me the money.
Did I mention that geeks are terrible marketers? I suspect they are even worse at raising money. I've also heard rumours that it is hard to get people to give cash when they are used to getting something for free. I hope this is not the case, as I need to raise a fair bit of money.
My experience with Open Source has been that people are very generous with their time and their skills. I'll let you know how they are with their pocketbooks.
#5 When in Rome...
I sometimes wonder how much of this adage applies to Open Source. In my mind, Open Source can be used to redefine existing models. The example I'm pondering as the year draws to an end is this: IT certifications are currently delivered using proprietary solutions on the Microsoft platform. Not surprisingly, many of the delivery agencies I've spoken to don't see the sense in spending money on creating an alternative solution based on Open Source. What did surprise me is the number of people in the Open Source community who don't see the sense in spending money to create a new model for Open Source certifications.
Am I being too anal? My editor didn't think so when I wanted to use vi instead of Microsoft Office when I wrote BSD Hacks. Or is certification one battle that isn't quite ready for Open Source? I'd be interested in hearing your opinion on the subject.
Making Money with open source!
My self am a full time Nurse and IT manger and programmer I have always had a hard time trying to make money with Microsoft. Mainly I attribute this to the fact that most people will purchase some of my services for personalized programming, a new system or whatever. But a lot of times they insist on WinDa's. and almost everybody with WinDa’s will try to fix their own systems and add their own hardware down to the board if they think they can get away with it. Most will even try to repair their own systems after they have let the viral WinDa's world tear it apart. Most of the businesses I have seen will load WinDa's even XP. Then sit back and watch their machine get devoured by Viruses. On the Up beat since XP and all the driver/hardware conflicts a lot of people have had such trouble with. Just give them a little rope (XP) (Maybe this is what Bill meant? Xtra Rope?) After one or 2 of these close calls with their business online and figuring out that Bill wont return your calls even if you pay the 200 bucks or so to talk to someone that has talked to someone that has talked to someone that actually knows someone that knows what VB means and works for Microsoft, that they have finally given up. Now when they take a good look at my nice fully functioning Linux systems and programs that do not crash for days or in days they ask how much. I simply say it is all freeware if you like download it and install it yourself, or for my price usually around 65 to 300 per machine depending on specifics I usually do end up getting their business one these 2 little points.
1). I actually know my systems and they can actually talk to me
2). My personal guarantees that they will not be infected by any viruses and do not need to run any virus scanners or other such virus task simply surf, play and work.
"Freeware" -- in reaction to spaceinvader
That's one of the words that the Free Software Foundation would like us to avoid when we talk about Free Software. See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/words-to-avoid.html#Freeware