Clued people wanted November 24, 2006 | 03:56 pm

I’m away from my email today, so you get a short post. But this article was too humorous (and too right) to pass up:

There is a fundamental problem with GNU/Linux—it requires clueful people to exist in the IT food chain. Anywhere in the food chain. It doesn’t take an experienced kernel hacker to install GNU/Linux, run a web server, or teach people how to log on to the network. It just requires a user with an interest in the subject, the ability to solve problems, and the desire to achieve results.

At no point is GNU/Linux experience a prerequisite for learning GNU/Linux. You can learn it the way you learnt Windows, through experimentation, Self-study, user groups, and so on. If you can apply knowledge you can solve problems. Knowledge is easy to come by, clueful people that can apply it, are not.

So, if someone is unable to roll-out a few GNU/Linux boxes in this day of Ubuntu, Debian, Novell, Red Hat, manual pages, web sites, and Internet forums it’s not due to lack of experience, or lack of knowledge. It’s due to clueless people without any ability to solve problems. Or read.

And the clueless outnumber the clueful, at all levels of the IT food chain.

Actually, this isn’t just a problem with open source- it’s a problem with technology in general.

I heard a wonderfull definition of technology once: technology, it said, was whatever you didn’t have around as a kid. Is a #2 pencil “technology”? Thomas Jefferson would have no doubt thought it a wonder of technology- but as we all had #2 pencils as kids, we don’t think of them as technology. So implicit in the nature of technology is change- technology is, almost by definition, “new”.

But this newness that is a core attribute of technology implies a learning requirement. Actually, it shows up another fundamental assumption: that learning is something kids do, not adults.

Because that’s what asking questions (in the nature of the original article) is- learning. And this is the common trait of the “clueless”- they won’t learn. Not can’t- many of them have some demonstrated ability to learn. They can read (even if they don’t), write, and maybe do simple arithmetic. But that was learning they did as children- and they aren’t children anymore. So they don’t.

Another example of learning-impaired (aka clueless) people is that they associate learning with the specific, highly structured environment of school and the class room. Notice that the various ways the original author mentioned to learn about open source. Read. Google. Experiment. Talk to smart colleagues (who have read and/or googled). Things he’d probably have added if he thought about it include IM’ing, mail lists, news groups, etc. All of these have in common a distinct lack of desks and chairs and blackboards (or the more modern version, whiteboards) and class rooms and droning teachers that are associated with school and “learning”.

The common attribute of all the “cluefull” people I know is that they will learning in non-school-like settings. Some of them did well in school, some poorly (I once joked to my mom that I always did love learning, I just never associated school with learning). But all of them are willing to read, ask, search, and experiment.

Another common attribute that “cluefull” people have is a willingness to be childish. This oftentimes manifests in less productive manners (nerf gun battles between thirty-something engineers do not help the productivity- directly, that is). But important aspects of being a child are asking questions and not knowing things (and being willing to admit to not knowing things)- a willingness to be childish is a willingness to learn, and a willingness to be cluefull. Many of the least cluefull people are the most concerned about not appearing to be “childish”- an attitude which retards learning and increases cluelessness.

The problem is that technology not only is continuing, it’s getting faster. It’s getting faster on the scale of decades, which makes it somewhat harder to see. But even if the speed of change isn’t increasing, it sure as heck isn’t decreasing. As time goes on, more and more technology was introduced post-school, post-childhood. Even someone who wasn’t clueless a decade ago, if they haven’t continued to learn, is pretty clueless today. Like entropy, cluelessness always increases in a closed mind. This is why cluelessness dominates.

The only good news I have to offer here is that as technology change continues to accelerate, the competitive advantage of cluefullness vr.s cluelessness will continue to increase. And that, while cluelessness dominates on the large scale (and, like gravity, cluelessness just sucks), there is enough cluefullness to allow open source to exist.