Even before school, my future interests were clear: I tied-up the house with wires and made “electrical gadgets” out of old electrical junk. I remember being given my first battery, light bulbs, and wires. From there it was downhill.
My first computer was a HP 9816. It was a year older than me, had a 6800 Processor, 128k RAM, and an (external) pair of single sided 3.5” floppy drives.
It had a ROM BASIC board, and a set of VisiCalc floppies (with manual shutters), so I spent my time reading it’s comprehensive manuals, making mazes in Visicalc (out of #s), writing games in BASIC, and otherwise abusing the poor machine. It had really fun, easy graphics, which drew slowly enough that you could learn a lot. On the whole, a nice machine — I wish I knew what has happened to it and it’s pile of manuals…
From there, I migrated to a 386 with hercules graphics and DOS (that I shared with a friend). And eventually, Windows. I toyed with programming in BASIC, Visual Basic and Pascal. But mostly used my computers for gaming (and messing around with things). Most of the software I wrote around this time was in Psion OPL, on my inherited Series 3a.
I was getting just a little peeved with my MS Windows desktop. When one has a 500MiB HDD, fitting Windows 98, Office, and Visual Studio on it and still having a productive machine is difficult. It was obvious that there were big problems with Windows (and Microsoft software in general). I became very Anti-Microsoft, although I knew of no alternatives and hypocritically stuck with the Microsoft way of life.
At the local computer trade show, my friends and I would paste “Microsoft Sucks!” stickers (provided by a nearby labelling store’s demonstration printers ;-) all over the Microsoft stand. We’d also torment the Microsoft demonstrators and shout support when they asked “Who uses Lotus 1-2-3?” — basically, we where their worst nightmare…
Quite soon after my family capitulated to Internet access, I heard about Linux, and started to read about it online. I avidly read anything I could get my hands on, and tried a few shell accounts (BSD presumably), but never got anywhere near installing it myself.
One day, a computer technician was working on the school office PCs (which I considered to be my domain) and we chatted. He asked me if I used Linux, and offered to get me a CD. I’ve still got it — RedHat 5.1.
I installed it, played around with it for a while, and then abandoned it. For the next couple years after, I would try it again every now and again, especially when I could get my hands on a newer version, but never too seriously, because I didn’t have a decent internet connection, know how to program C, or have any real Linux-using friends. And of course, playing XBill only keeps you entertained for so long…
Later, I got involved in building my school’s Computer Room (from a pile of spare parts and dead PCs, plus the insurance payout for 2 stolen [dead] PCs). I knew that this would be a good place to use Linux, because I could share the dial-up internet connection more reliably, and run a local mail server. It would make much better use of our very limited resources.
So, in the holidays I took the fastest machine home, scavenged some more RAM, and taught myself how to configure everything from scratch.
When I came across the sendmail.cf file, I got really frightened and switched to qmail. The same happened when I looked into BIND, and I used djbdns.
After about 6 months of administering this machine (still RH), I hit my first “dependency hell.” At about this point I was getting involved in our LUG, and Tom gave me a copy of Debian woody — I have never looked back!
Of course the next step was to network my home — this taught me almost everything else that I needed to know to be a Linux admin… I still have the same server that I started with (well same Debian install, case, and motherboard - everything else has died along the way).
With the release of Ubuntu Breezy, I decided that it was worth a look at, and installed it on my mother’s LTSP server and my laptop.
This wasn’t all bliss, Ubuntu is still a little rough on the edges (although less so than Debian, and in different places). However, I was pretty happy with it. That doesn’t mean that I run it on my main desktop, but I do on my laptops, and I install it on other people’s machines where possible.
To get a project I’m involved in, ibid, into Debian and Ubuntu, I got started on Debian Development. I am a Debian Developer, maintaining a handful of packages, and do some Universe gardening in Ubuntu.
Now I only use Linux (and only Debian +derivatives). I maintain several networks under the guise of Hybrid, and co-maintain our LUGs servers (mailing lists, ftp/rsync mirror, and a freedom toaster).
I’m very happy with my software choices, and look forward to a Linuxy future :-)
Stefano Rivera (tumbleweed) is a thoroughbred Debian-developing Linux geek.
He was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa as an almost-only-child (don’t ask, complicated family). He went to Michael Oak Waldorf School, and matriculated with distinction at Constantia Waldorf in 2003.
After a year out, teaching B&W photography to girls in America, curbing virus outbreaks, and writing code for GetReel Digital Services in London, he returned to Cape Town to study at UCT. After 4 years of study he has attained a BSc in IT (Computer Engineering) in 2007, a 1st class BSc Hons in 2008, and is currently hacking away at an MSc.