In 1998, the movie Titanic was released, mobile phones were just a luxury, and pagers were still in use. This was also the year I got my first computer. I can remember the details as if it were yesterday: Pentium 133MHz and just 16MB of memory. Back in that time (while running nothing less than Windows 95), this was a good machine. I can still hear in my mind the old spinning hard drive noise when I powered that computer on, and see the Windows 95 flag. It never crossed my mind, though (especially as an 8-year-old kid), that I would dedicate every minute of my life to Linux and open source.
Being just a kid, I always asked my mom to buy me every issue of PC Magazine instead of candies. I never skipped a single issue, and all of those dusty old magazines are still there in Costa Rica. It was in these magazines that I discovered the essential technology that changed my life. An issue in the year 2000 talked extensively about Linux and the advantages of free and open-source software. That issue also included a review of one of the most popular Linux distributions back then: Corel Linux. Unfortunately, the disc was not included. Without internet at home, I was out of luck, but that issue still lit a spark within me.
In 2003, I asked my mom to take me to a Richard Stallman talk. I couldn’t believe he was in the country. I was the only kid in that room, and I was laser-focused on everything he was saying, though I didn’t understand anything about patents, licenses, or the jokes about him with an old hard drive over his head.
Despite my attempts, I couldn’t make Linux work on my computer. One rainy afternoon in the year 2003, with the heavy smell of recently brewed coffee, my best friend and I were able to get a local magazine with a two-disk bundle: Mandrake Linux 7.1 (if my memory doesn’t fail) on one and StarOffice on the other. My friend poured more coffee into our mugs while I inserted the Mandrake disk into the computer with my shaking, excited hands. Linux was finally running—the same Linux I had been obsessed with since I read about it 3 years earlier.
We were lucky enough to get broadband internet in 2006 (at the lightning speed of 128/64Kbps), so I was able to use an old Pentium II computer under my bed and run it 24x7 with Debian, Apache, and my own mail server (my personal server, I told myself). This old machine was my playground to experiment on and put into practice all of the knowledge and reading I had been doing (and also to make the electricity bill more expensive).
As soon as I discovered there were open source communities in the country, I started attending their meetings. Eventually, I was helping in their events, and not long after I was organizing and giving talks. We used to host two annual events for many years: Festival Latinoamericano de Software Libre (Latin American Free Software Installation Fest) and Software Freedom Day.
Thanks to what I learned from my reading, but more importantly from the people in these local communities that guided and mentored me, I was able to land my first Linux job in 2011, even without college. I kept growing from there, working for many companies and learning more about open source and Linux at each one. Eventually, I felt that I had an obligation (or a social debt) to give back to the community so that other people like the younger me could also learn. Not long after, I started teaching classes and meeting wonderful and passionate people, many of whom are now as devoted to Linux and open source as I am. I can definitely say: Mission accomplished!
Eventually, what I learned about open source, Linux, OpenStack, Docker, and every other technology I played with sent me overseas, allowing me to work (doesn’t feel like it) for the most amazing company I’ve ever worked for, doing what I love. Because of open source and Linux, I became a part of something bigger than me. I was a member of a community, and I experienced what I consider the most significant impact on my life: Meeting and learning from so many masterminds and amazing people that today I can call friends. Without them and these communities, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
How could I know when I was 10 years old and reading a magazine that Linux and open source would connect me to the greatest people, and change my life forever?