How World of Warcraft introduced me to Linux |

How World of Warcraft introduced me to Linux

One Linux sysadmin traces his journey from video-gaming car mechanic to a new career in IT.

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The story behind my career with Linux is a bit unusual. It starts back in 2005; I was working as an auto mechanic at a Nissan dealership in Toledo, Ohio. I had never used a computer for anything other than checking email, browsing the web, and playing World of Warcraft.

I had never heard of Linux, I didn't know the term "open source," I probably couldn't even have walked you through how to copy a file from one place to another, and I certainly never thought that I would eventually find myself working in IT or running a website.

The "Blue Screen of Death" that changed my life

I mentioned that I liked to play World of Warcraft (I still do, you can find me on my Mage "Elodinn—Twisting Nether" most of the time). This game was a huge hit in the early 2000s, and it consumed an enormous amount of my time (truth be told, probably a little too much of my time).

You can imagine my horror one evening when I boot up my PC to be greeted by a blue screen with lots of cryptic messages, including "A problem has been detected…" Hmm weird, maybe I'll just unplug it and plug it back in—that works around the shop sometimes. No such luck, the same message comes up. Over and over, to no avail.

How do you fix this?

So I called a friend and explained the problem. Big blue screen. Lots of little white letters. I'm going to miss the raid!

He wasn't sure but said something about drivers, or maybe a hardware problem. I ended up calling around to a few computer repair shops to see if they could fix it. They all said the same thing after I read the message on the screen, and explained the problem to them. "I really can't be sure over the phone, but it sounds like the motherboard is bad. It's going to be $95 for diagnostics and I should be able to get it back to you in about a week."

There was no way I was going to pay $95 for a diagnostic on an old crappy computer just to be told that either I needed a new one, or that the repair was going to be even more money on top of the diagnostic fee. So I thought to myself, if I can fix a car, then I can definitely fix this little computer. It was broken anyway; what was the worst that could happen? I end up breaking it more and need a new one? I was already in that situation.

So I spent the next couple of days at work doing some research on computer parts, in between cars. I found out that replacing the motherboard meant that I was probably going to need a new processor. I found a motherboard/processor combo on Newegg for a decent price that I was fairly confident would work on my computer. Great!

I ordered the parts, and a few days later, after printing out a few instructions, I had swapped out the motherboard and replaced it with my new hardware from Newegg. I was incredibly proud of my new found skills and naturally assumed that I was some kind of elite hacker. That is, until I started the computer up.

I don't know if you know this, but Windows XP didn't like it when you replaced a lot of parts in your computer. I didn't know it at the time either, but now I had spent probably $150 because I didn't want to pay $95 for a diagnostic, and my computer was still broken.

The deep dark web has all the answers

The next day, once again, I'm using all my breaks to research what went wrong. Pretty quickly I realized that my problem was tied to the fact that I needed a new Windows license. I also realized that there was no way I was going to purchase the software. I'd get a new computer before I purchased a new Windows license. But I wasn't quite ready to give up yet.

One click leads to another, and I end up on a computer repair forum with someone complaining about a similar problem. All the replies are basically the same—buy a Windows license or buy a new PC—but one. Near the bottom of the forum, some unknown hero of the internet says, "You can always give Ubuntu a try." and leaves it at that.

"What's Ubuntu?" I said to myself, "and how on earth do you even pronounce that word?"

Anyway, after some more intensive searching, I found out that Ubuntu is a free operating system that is widely considered to be one of the most user-friendly Linux distributions (whatever that is) that you can get. What's more, I found a book that included an installation CD available at the Barnes and Noble bookstore that I passed on my way home from work. Why not give Ubuntu a try? After all, the computer was already broken, and the book was only $18.99.

This story is already too long

I wish I still had that book. I think I sold it with a box full of old books at a garage sale when we moved a few years ago. I wanted to share my Linux story because it's different than many of the other stories I read about. I was not a college graduate at the time, I didn't learn to code as a child, and I am not an exceptionally intelligent person. I was, at best, an average student, a recently separated Marine, and I assumed that fixing computers couldn't be much different from fixing cars. At the end of the day, you're still just swapping out different parts, right? Different tools, different parts, same job—no problem.

Along the way I ran into a lot of problems, the first one was the discovery that after all that work, I still couldn't play World of Warcraft. Eventually, I discovered WineHQ and Open Office, and all the incredible things that have come out of the open-source world. That mysterious blue screen and my World of Warcraft obsession redirected the course of my entire working life, for the better. That's an odd thing to admit, but it's probably true.

How does the story end?

Well, it's not over, and I still have a lot to learn. After some frustrating trial and error, I did eventually learn how to install World of Warcraft using Wine. I missed a few weeks in the game, but I didn't lose my raid spot in the guild, and all things considered, I was no worse for the wear. At the time, I was playing a Druid, and everyone always had room for a healer when it came time to battle Ragnaros, the Fire Lord!

Up to this point, however, my little computer repair project has turned into a wonderful career as a Linux systems administrator, a bachelor's degree, a whole bunch of IT certifications, including the Red Hat Certified Engineer certification, and a blog that I use as my way of giving back to the community that has given me so much.

So, if you are like me, a person who is at best moderately intelligent, persistent, incredibly cheap, and not afraid to break a few things, go ahead and try out Linux the next time your computer breaks.

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About the author

Luke Rawlins - Linux Systems Administrator, specializing in Red Hat Linux, Ansible, and automation technologies. Check out my blog