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Big Scary Daemons

Selling BSD

10/18/2001

So, the BSD family provides professional-grade operating systems?

Prove it.

You might be lucky enough to be sole lord and master of your domain; the only techie at a small office, or a sovereign network manager at a company where technology is not understood. Most of us have to work to sell our solutions internally, however. You can argue about reliability and ease-of-use, but the commercial solutions spend a lot of money creating that exact image. The burden of proof is on you. You must decide which times to prove it, and when to not try.

Think for a moment about an average medium-sized business owner or manager. We're not talking about one of these cool, technically-savvy guys here. The average good manager cares about providing a good work environment, the mounds of paperwork that the government has dumped on him this month, and how his family will react when he comes home late again. He cares about "freedom." But "software freedom" is beyond his experience. He couldn't care less. You cannot make him care. And if this software is so good, why has nobody heard about it?

Even if you're a systems diva, by proposing a BSD solution you're asking your manager to risk his career on your skills. Meanwhile, he knows that a vendor would be there even if your entire department is simultaneously trampled by a herd of runaway llamas. This is a serious uphill battle. Here's some things that can help you.

First, let's look at you. To make this work, you must be respectable. Many BSD and Linux users want to be rebels. (At times it seems even worse in the BSD crowd; there's a certain section of the movement that sees BSD as "more alternative" than Linux, and therefore more cool.) This most often comes out as vendor bias. I know excellent network engineers who cannot relate to their coworkers long enough to hold a civil conversation without a reference to a personal software prejudice. Others are calm most of the time, but when set off, rant at great length about the evils of Microsoft. This appears obsessive and irrational. There's a word for this: demagogue. Demagogues are not respected in the workplace. Without respect, you cannot sell your ideas. Other people are less obviously rebels. If you act like a rebel, people will believe that you're a rebel. Put yourself in your manager's shoes for a moment. Better yet, put yourself in the shoes of the company owner. Are you going to trust your multi-million-dollar company to a rebel? Didn't think so.

Look at the people around you. Check out their pants, their shirts, how their hair is styled. Do you look like them? If you don't, you already have a certain stigma of rebel. Maybe you don't need a tie, but try on a shirt. One with those little round things. They're called "buttons." Your manager has a much easier time supporting someone who understands the proper use of the button API than she would some cocky know-it-all.

Comment on this articleWould you wear a shirt with buttons in the cause of promoting BSD?
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Should people judge solely by appearance and attitude? No, of course not. Do they? Absolutely. We all do, in the absence of other data. You already are fighting one battle to change hearts and minds. Do you want to fight a two-front war over such diverse subjects as software and respectability? Especially when respectability is your major weapon in the software argument?

You can, of course, go the other route. Greg Lehey looks like a quintessential hacker. He can get away with it because he's very, very good and has the experience to prove it. Most readers of this column aren't in his position. This method is better, but requires years of experience and a great deal of work. By "years of experience" I mean more than five, and preferably more than ten. (The years you endured as a tech support flunky don't count.)

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