From the gopher hole: My name is dave. I am 54 years old and I’ve been using linux and only linux on all my personal computers for 25 years. Before linux I used dos, windows, and os/2. Before windows, I played a lot of DnD. Before DnD, I wore out a trs-80 entering programs in BASIC from magazines and before that I played a lot of games on an atari 2600.

I graduated Clemson University with a degree in Food Science in the late 80s. I took one FORTRAN class in college, and didn’t even know that I had an email address the entire time I was in college.

Shortly after getting my first full time job after getting my degree, I bought a computer. I spent a lot of time on BBS’s before I got my first dial-up account with an ISP (netcom). It was 1991 when I was first exposed to telnet, ftp, gopher, archie, news groups and the WWW. I puttered around on my dial-up connection on dos, then windows, then OS/2, and finally a beta version of windows NT playing shareware games, and hanging around on BBS’s. One day in 1995 I installed linux on a spare old computer. It was a spare computer, not my main computer because the “win” modem wouldn’t work. After re-compiling the kernel and getting the modem to work, everything changed; I put linux on my main computer, wiping windows. I’ve run nothing but linux (and very briefly freebsd), on all my computers ever since.

On dial-up, linux didn’t really feel like a community. BBS’s felt like a community on dial-up because everyone was using the same computer. But linux on dial-up only sort of felt like a community. I learned all I could by downloading daily digest of the the redhat and kernel mailing lists and perusing related newsgroups and reading books. Downloading distros and updates was painfully slow, but dial-up was all I knew. I existed like this on my dial-up connection, learning all I could in what felt like isolation. No one I knew in real life used linux. I had no one to talk to about linux. I wanted to talk to people about linux because it was exciting to me.

In 1998 I went to the Atlanta Linux Showcase and saw for the first time that there were people in real life like me that used linux and that there was actually a community of linux users. I knew there were people who used linux and knew that they were probably passionate about it like I was, but I had never met any of them. I wanted to be part of this community. I saw “famous” people I “knew” (knew of) there. There was swag, and books, and t-shirts. I was shy, for lack of a better term. I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I didn’t study computer science in college. I wasn’t a developer, or a sys admin. I was an outsider, or so I thought. I remember that at the COMPAQ booth they had a stack of LINUX 1999 license plates that they were giving away. When I asked if I could have one, they asked me if I was developer.I said no, and they told me that they were just for developers. I don’t remember how, but I talked them in to giving me one anyway, and I still have it today on the front of my car.

On my drive home from the Atlanta Linux Showcase I was excited about what I had experienced, and the free swag I had gotten, but I was also a little more convinced that I was an outsider. I sort of felt like I belonged, but I sort of knew that I didn’t.

I went back to the Atlanta Linux Showcase each year until they stopped having them. At some point I upgraded my dial-up to DSL and also joined my local LUG. I was more connected, and felt more like I should be a part of the linux community. In the early 2000s I drove 10 hours one way, in the first of many trips to the Ohio LinuxFest. On my drive home I told myself I could be a part of this community. I felt empowered to be part of this. I was already in a LUG, I had already submitted bug reports for some open source programs I had used, I had a self-hosted linux web page on a sparc box, there was really nothing stopping me from becoming part of the linux community except my own self-inflicted case of impostor’s syndrome.

So, one day in December 2005 I recorded my first linux podcast. I did 137 episodes. I became a co-host on The Linux Links Tech Show, I did live mumble call in shows from my car during my daily commute. I did an interview with stankdog announcing the start of Hacker Public Radio, I contributed to Hacker Public Radio, I got to go to Google as a member of the “press” for a KDE launch event, I talked to my LUG about having a linuxfest in the SouthEast US, and I became the President of the SouthEast LinuxFest Foundation for the first two years of it’s now 11 year existence.

After all of that in 2011, just after the 2nd SouthEast LinuxFest,I was exhausted, and resigned my post as President of the SouthEast LinuxFest, and dropped out of the linux community. I was still passionate about linux, but I needed to be just a user, not a contributing member of the community. The reason for my leaving was that my participating in the community was preventing me from being able to spend the quantity of time that my wife and two daughters needed from me. I did miss it, being part of the community, the friends I made, but I could still enjoy and use linux without participating at the expense of my family.

In 2019 I was asked to do one of the keynotes at the 10th SouthEast LinuxFest. I agreed and gave a talk. It was surreal, re-introducing myself to a community that I loved, actively participated in, and then willingly left. In some ways it was like my first exposure to the community, in that a lot of the people there didn’t know who I was. What was different though, was that I knew something that I didn’t know before; this community doesn’t care if you think you are an impostor, and they welcome your participation. The talk I gave was directed to the one person who may have been in attendance there for the first time, feeling like they didn’t belong but wanted to belong anyway. The message I wanted to communicate to that person was this: if I have learned anything from my experience with the linux community, it is that it is filled with people who are passionate about the same thing that you are, and that if you are passionate about something people will listen to you when you talk about it, and they will encourage you to participate with them.

I am still a back seat, dropped out former community member who is just a linux user now, but I feel pretty good about that.