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Steven Goodwin [opinions]

Clueful vs clueless - a never ending battle [advocacy] [switching]

There is a fundamental problem with GNU/Linux—it requires clueful people to exist in the IT food chain. Anywhere in the food chain. It doesn’t take an experienced kernel hacker to install GNU/Linux, run a web server, or teach people how to log on to the network. It just requires a user with an interest in the subject, the ability to solve problems, and the desire to achieve results.

At no point is GNU/Linux experience a prerequisite for learning GNU/Linux. You can learn it the way you learnt Windows, through experimentation, Self-study, user groups, and so on. If you can apply knowledge you can solve problems. Knowledge is easy to come by, clueful people that can apply it, are not.

So, if someone is unable to roll-out a few GNU/Linux boxes in this day of Ubuntu, Debian, Novell, Red Hat, manual pages, web sites, and Internet forums it’s not due to lack of experience, or lack of knowledge. It’s due to clueless people without any ability to solve problems. Or read.

And the clueless outnumber the clueful, at all levels of the IT food chain.

So what separates the two?

Well, if I don’t understand something, I ask someone. That’s what all the smartest people I know do. Sometimes that someone is Google, and sometimes it’s a friend, colleague, or paid consultant. But I ask someone. If I don’t ask, I don’t get. And if I don’t get, I blunderabout on my own and don’t succeed.

Unfortunately, the clueless outnumber the clueful

The clueless members of the community don’t have the ability to realize that asking is a smart move, and therefore keep quiet; they fail, and blame it on the technology, their boss, or some other external force.

Also, smart people know that increasing their skill set is a good thing. The dolts are either incapable of learning something new (and refuse it) or think it will replace the knowledge they already have in their brain, rather than supplement and enhance it.

It’s unfortunate for them that the same part of the brain that controls the ability to self-edit and monitor one’s own performance is the same part that controls intelligence. That is, dumb people don’t realize they’re being dumb—and will never be able to do so.

Dumb people don’t realize they’re being dumb

Consequently, with every report written about a failed project, it’s generally due to clueless people not understanding the problem in the first place.

And they outnumber the clueful.

Some might say this is an absurd rant, and stupidity on this scale couldn’t triumph in the real world. Alas, it already has! Frequently. So much so that failed IT projects don’t make the news anymore unless free software is mentioned somewhere, or there’s some Microsoft bashing to be had.

A recent case in Birmingham, England (mentioned here) showed that an IT department wouldn’t (or couldn’t) interact with anyone (including the free software community) to help with its GNU/Linux migration. It showed they didn’t ask for help, didn’t Google for help, didn’t look at increasing their skill set, and didn’t listen to any clueful people that might have told them it doesn’t take £535,000 to setup 200 desktop PC’s. (I’d do it personally for half that. :) ) Surely someone must have said, “give me a breakdown of the costs for free software”. Someone must have said “what is our annual running costs under Windows”.

Alas, if the Birmingham City Council’s IT staff are as clueless as is implied, they wouldn’t have known that they should be asking questions. Let alone what questions to ask, and of whom to ask them.

And don’t ask—don’t get.


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