Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

22 Apr 2015, 12:14 p.m.

How Knowledge Workers Can Learn More About Open Source Tools They Use

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2015 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Yesterday I spent an hour teaching a woman whose nonprofit wants improvements to their current Drupal setup, especially around content approval workflow and localization. She wanted to understand more about how Drupal works so that she can understand the potential problems and solutions better, and be a better partner to her technical colleagues.

I talked with her a little about those specific questions, but most of what I taught her would be appropriate to any knowledge worker who wants to learn more about an open source web application. I pointed her to some resources and figured they were worth mentioning here as well.

Since she may end up with a test server so she can play with Drupal modules and configuration, I also talked with her a bit about what it means to ssh into a server, the fact that she will probably have to install new software (a console or terminal application) on her Windows computer in order to do that, and the basics of how public key infrastructure and SSH keypairs work, and why they're more secure than just using a username and password. I did this without notes or links, so I don't have any to offer here; perhaps you have a favorite explanation you'll share in the comments?

Overall in these kinds of conversations I refrain from saying "do this" or "do that", but I did share these two bits of wisdom:

  1. When you generate a keypair, the .pub file is the one to give other people, and the other one you keep to yourself.
  2. Make an effort to remember that passphrase. Otherwise you will be unable to use your key, and you have to have a slightly embarrassing conversation where you say "here's the new .pub because I forgot my passphrase for the old one," and it delays whatever you were going to do. But I showed her my ~/.ssh directory with all those old keys I can no longer access, and told her that if she does end up needing to make a new keypair, she is in good company, and basically everyone with an SSH key has gone through this at least once.

We talked about getting her a community of practice so she could have more people to learn from. She now knows of the local Drupal group and of some get-togethers of technologists in her professional community. And she has some starting points so she can ask more productive questions of the technologists within her org.

And this stuff is frustrating, and if you feel that way, that's okay; lots of other people feel that way too, and maybe it just means you need to try a new approach.