RE: 10 characteristics of a Linux Guru?

Updated: April 21, 2010

This article is a response to an article posted on, by Ken Hess. What prompted Ken to write his original piece was an article somewhere, written supposedly by a Linux guru, but falling short of Ken's expectations. With probably a good deal of scorn and anger, Ken set out to vent his frustration and list down the ten characteristics of a Linux guru, as he sees them.

In my article, I'd like to respond to Ken's view, in a humorous, light-hearted way. Not so much as agree or disagree with Ken, more like complement his own work. I have my own views, and they do align somewhat with the proposed qualities of the open-source knighthood, but I think it takes a little more than what the original suggests.

So, if you're in a mood for a rant, do take a read. First, I'll address Ken's points. Second, let's have it the geek way, the ten characteristics of a champion Linux swordsman. Lastly, we'll try to rationalize the Guru status a little differently, in an idealized form.

Ken's points

1. Knowledgeable in all major Linux distributions.

I would disagree. Real Gurus are paid professionals. They work in large companies that usually run one single Linux distribution, most likely RedHat and then SLES. The rest is just for fun. However, knowing the kernel is a different issue, altogether.


2. Configures Samba, DNS, Sendmail and Apache with no Googling.

Nah, this is 1st and barely 2nd level system administration. Boring. Gurus fix problems that crop with these services, identify ways of making them safer and faster, finding bugs, and even suggesting improvements. Interesting topics are NIS, NFS, LDAP, if at all.


3. Helps others solve their problems with Linux.

Definitely. Sharing is one of the most important aspects of technical stardom. Only cowards do not share. The more you share the stronger you are.

4. Blogs or writes about personal experiences with Linux.

Could be. Some Gurus suffer from too much OCD, ADD and other geek ailments to be exposed to the general public. Too much time spent using kdb can do that to you.

5. Donates time and resources to at least one Linux project.

Definitely. But not necessarily because they want. Simply because being good at something will get you sucked into it, no matter what. Specialist professionals will usually focus on one or two major projects and invest most of their time and effort there, excelling at what they know, and getting even better because of what they do.


6. Uses Linux on a variety of computing hardware.

Purely home stuff. Unless your company's computer farm has 10,000 hosts, running on some fifteen different platforms.

7. Hacks Linux-based devices for fun and/or profit.

Could be, but most likely for profit.


8. Finds innovative ways to use Linux at work.

Oh, definitely. Curiosity, innovation, ingenuity, all a must of a flourishing, productive mind. Without a creative spark, even the brightest minds are only greasy cogwheels in the grinder of mediocrity.

9. Is a Linux Evangelist.

Does this mean they go from house to house like Jehovah's Witnesses or something? Or does this mean they practice a certain branch of Christianity? Or does this mean they are fanatics who frighten ordinary people with their zeal?


10. Has a collection of very early (Kernel 1.x or older) Linux CDs.

Only applicable for blokes age 35 and above. It's no one's fault if they got born sooner or later. You could argue the same thing about floppies, punch cards and even more obscure media. COBOL programmers are probably having one mighty laugh now.

Actually, the song In The Year 2525, it's about a cryogenically frozen COBOL admin, who is defrosted to help the local guys with a misbehaving machine. But they dropped that first verse, cause 2525 seemed too early.


All right. That's my response. Now, let's have some fun and spice it up a little! Don't take this too seriously. We're just having a little fun, after all.

Linux Guru, Geek style

This is how it is, more or less ...

1. Has to be passive-aggressive and rude.

You cannot be really smart and geeky if you don't show your total scorn for the plebes. You spurn their petty desires and you condescend, as much as you can, even though, deep down you might be a little envious of their simple existence. Being a Guru means being elite, and it's lonely at the top of the pyramid.

Noobs warning

2. Uses Arch or Gentoo.

Popular distributions are for noobs. There's nothing like spending six days configuring your Linux, including trivial tasks like mounting your USB drive. Your custom-compiled kernel will be blazing fast on Pentium II, but it's definitely worth it.

3. Uses only command line.

GUI is for weaklings. Command line only! If really, really forced, then the Guru will be using fvwm, jwm and other 1993-era monstrosities.


4. Does not use Windows or Windows-related products.

Windows is Devil's work. True Linux Guru could never stoop so low to use commercial software created by capitalists. Everything has to be GPL-ed, at least.


5. Communicates with the world via mailing lists and Gopher.

Real Gurus would never use mass media of communication like forums, Twitter or Skype. Browsers are too conservative. To be a genuine master of Linux, one must be capable of not only using, but also configuring Majordomo, Usenet, InterNetUse (innd). Preferred protocols include Hesiod and Gopher. In special cases, IRC is permitted. The use of the Lynx browser is allowed on holidays.

6. Has at least 5 computers, none younger than 7 years.

This is a must. A real Guru is the junkyard master of his neighborhood. Perish the neighbor who throws away an old machine without consulting the Guru first. If it has no use anymore for Windows 95, it will be running Linux.

7. Has visited Cambodia or Peru.

Linux Guru has no merit if he/she has not preached in a village somewhere. The more remote the location is the better. If you get them to run Linux on a car battery, it's a big bonus.

8. Is a vehement protagonist of the Editor War, vi vs. emacs.

Not only that, the Guru scorns anyone using any other text editor, including choice picks like mc, nano, pico, and other wondrous delights. He/she will engage in ferocious verbal warfare against anyone who dares speak against Guru's editor of choice.


9. Uses the term noob to describe anyone using Ubuntu.

Furthermore, the Guru refers to Ubuntu as oonoobtu. The idea to humiliate anyone who does not wish to work too hard configuring his/her printer from the command line and takes the easy way out by running a distro that can actually function properly after about only 30 minutes. While many distributions offer that, Ubuntu is singled out for being just too sugary.

Ubuntu icon

10. Has a decent potential of becoming a spouse killer.

Working on complex algorithms, developing filesystems and whatnot tolls its price. One day you snap and segfault your significant other with a hatchet. Being the one and only developer perpetuates the single-point-of-failure state of mind.


Linux Guru, how it really ought to be

Now, let's see what Linux Guru is in an idealized world, where people do not get lynched for preferring apt over slapt.

1. Linux Guru is courteous, polite and generous.

The Guru is humble and does not flail his/her expertise about. The Guru is willing to help anyone who may ask so, explaining the same topics numerous times if needed.

2. Linux Guru is highly versed in the Linux kernel.

Various flavors of distros and windows managers are just a means to an end, just a means to an end. The Guru will use whatever needed to get the job done, be it KDE 3.2 or Openbox. But the real power lies under /proc and deeper.


3. Linux Guru will probably specialize in a certain field.

That said, he/she will also be quite familiar with other subjects, but not necessarily be the masters. But they will have the right experience, intuition and tools to address problems across the board.

4. Will try to preach Linux to the masses.

But in a soft sort of a way. It is well known that only people who want to learn can be taught. There's no shoving the open-source down anyone's gullet. The audience has to be willing to receive the knowledge. The Guru knows this. And instead of selling Linux, he/she will try to find the pleasure points and pressure points that make the audience tick and sway them by using their own passions in his/her own favor.

5. Will most likely be submitting bugs to developers, anonymously or not.

This will probably include quite a few fixes in the major releases. And he/she will sleep soundly knowing that the world of Linux is safer because of that.


6. Linux Guru will not use the cliche ...

I've been running Linux for 329 years, but I'm still learning. Yes, that's true. No matter how minute the subject, you can keep on learning more about it until the day you die and possibly longer. A part of being an expert is knowing you're an expert. There's such thing as being very knowledgeable in something.

7. Has the ability to separate mundane issues from core problems.

Knowing when to give up is a part of the magic. Do you think Linus Torvalds compiles his own kernel? Do you think Mark Shuttleworth wastes time hacking his Wireless card?

8. Works mainly on serious stuff.

Does not waste time with trifles. The Guru does not try to install machines or configure them. He does not administer hardware problems or perform server configurations. Anyone can do that. What the Guru does is make sure the techs have automated tools and scripts to make their work faster, smarter and foolproof.

9. Has no grudge toward Steve ... either one.

Microsoft and Apple are just companies, just like Axon and Krupp are. It's the way of the world. Taking competition personally, but in the bad kind of way, is bad for business.

10. Is good looking and charming and does not make the camera lenses corrode.

Speaking at conferences is an example of leadership. Doing it the right way can hold sway. Frothing at the mouth makes people balk. By being nice and handsome and charismatic, a wise Guru can do more good than ten years of code development.

Smart guy


There we go, a perfect reply, plus two mighty alternatives. What can you ask more?

Now, we know what a Linux guru is and what it ought to be like. Maybe this article is some food for thought, or maybe some thought for food, depending how you look at it.

I hope you enjoyed it. Again, don't take it too seriously. And while you're at it, you may also be interested in a few more articles debating the spirit of Linuxhood. There's my Linux market article, there's piece about using Linux for all the wrong reasons and there's the pretty rant about the relation between distro size and user ego.

That would be all.


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