Jeremy, or Jay, is a Linux Administrator with over 12 years of experience and nine certifications. As a technologist, Jay enjoys all aspects of technology, and when not buried under a plethora of computer books, he enjoys music, photography, and writing. As well as tech books, Jay is also a published fiction author, having written his very own Sci-Fi novel, Escape to Planet 55. Jay’s passion for open source software and its long term adoption led him to write Linux Mint Essentials for Packt. We asked Jay to discuss his experience of authoring a technology book with Packt and his insights on the future for open source technology. You can see his answers below and find more information about his books at LINKS.
What initially drew you to write your book for Packt Publishing?
When Packt approached me to write a book for Linux Mint, I was absolutely thrilled. I have always thought about how cool it would be to write a computer book, but never thought to actually attempt to do it. The thought of having a published book excited me. In addition, I also like very much how Packt donates proceeds back to the project being written about, so it felt good that I would help the Mint community in addition.
When you began writing what were your main aims? What did you want your book to teach your readers?
We’ve all been beginners at one point or another. For me, I started using Linux around 2002 when it was very difficult to get used to, and I didn’t have much in the way of guidance or insight on how to use it. I stuck with it, and eventually became good at it. For my book, I wanted to make the process of getting accustomed to Linux as easy as possible, and for it to be the reference book I could have used at the time when I started.
What did you enjoy most about the writing process and what was most rewarding about the experience of writing?
The entire process was very rewarding, and fun. The experience I liked the most about writing was the fact that I was empowered to do it. For me, I like to teach others so I think the most rewarding part for me was the prospect of guiding others to enjoy using Linux as much as I have. If my book has this impact on others, then that will be the most rewarding part.
What parts of the writing process were the most challenging and how did you overcome these challenges?
The most challenging part of writing about open source software is how frequently it changes. During the writing process, two versions of Mint were released. This required going back to previous chapters and correcting things that were no longer true or had changed in some way. This was overcome by the rewrite phase of the project, where I had a chance to go back through the steps, provide new screenshots, and ensure the content was still compatible.
Why, in your opinion, is Linux, or open source software, exciting to discover, read, and write about?
Open source software, especially Linux, is extremely fun to learn and write about. I spend hours each day reading blogs, articles, and books, trying to keep up to date. Never does it feel tiring or laborious in any way. During my day job, I manage primarily Linux servers and workstations. When I get home, I read about open source and what’s happening. While commuting, I listen to Linux-related podcasts (such as the Linux Action Show, Linux Unplugged, and so on) to keep current on upcoming trends. As I learn, I watch as my workflow changes and improves. While I initially found Linux difficult to learn back in 2002, nowadays I can’t imagine my life without it!
Why do you think interest in Linux, specifically Mint, is on the rise?
I personally feel that Canonical (the makers of Ubuntu) are severely out of touch with what their users, or any user in general, wants and expects from a computing environment. I’m not saying that Ubuntu is a bad distribution, I actually like it. But the fact of the matter is that users have expectations of their computing environment. If these expectations are not meant (regardless of whether the expectations are logical or not) adoption will suffer.
Linux Mint takes Ubuntu’s base, improves on its weaknesses, and makes it much more convenient for the beginner user. In addition, Mint is scalable – it’s perfect for a beginner, and is still very useful for when that beginner becomes an expert. People that care about how the internals of the distribution work will seek to learn about it, while those that don’t care just want something that works. Whether you’re a general user that just wants to check your Facebook account, or a developer writing the next big application – Mint fits just about every use case.
What do you see on the horizon for Linux Mint, and Linux in general?
In the short term, I think we’ll continue to see Mint grow and expend its user base. Desktop environments, such as Cinnamon and MATE (featured heavily in Mint) will see quite a bit of expansion in the coming years, due to renewed developer focus. In the long term, I can see Mint splitting off into its own complete distribution, away from Ubuntu as its base. While there are no signs of that now, I can see Mint outgrowing its current base and moving off on its own in five years or so.
Any tips/stories to share for aspiring/new technical authors?
I think the best piece of advice is “yes, you can!” For me, I was very worried about whether or not I would even be good at this. When I sent my first chapter over, I thought the reaction would be that I was horrible and I would be excused from writing. I was really surprised to find out that Packt really liked what I was doing – even assuming that I had done this before! You never know what you’re capable of until you give it a shot. I’m glad I did! Even if you’re not the best writer in the world (I know I’m not) this is a valuable experience and you’ll harness your writing skills as you go. Packt was there for me to work through the process, and it was very rewarding.
Another piece of advice I can give is “just start writing.” Don’t spend time worrying about how to write, what to say, or any of those bad things that can lead to writers block. Open up a word processor, or even a text editor, and just start writing something. You can always go back and correct/revise your sentences. The trick is to get your brain working, even if you don’t plan on using what you’re writing at that very minute. Just keep your mind busy and the rest will follow.
Another important tip, which may seem like common knowledge to some, is to use some sort of versioning backup for your directory which includes your book files. A simple periodic copy to a flash drive or removable media isn’t going to cut it, you want something that not only backs up your files but also allows you to go back to previous versions of a document in case you blow away content you didn’t mean to. Examples of this include Dropbox, or Crashplan, though I’d recommend SpiderOak a bit more for its focus on security, a higher feature set, and the ability to sync between machines. All three are multi-platform.