Training Digital Divide Warriors
As we approach Geekcorps' one year anniversary of incorporation, it seems impossible that two waves of Geekcorps volunteers have already been sent to Ghana. Conceived as a Peace Corps for techies, this nonprofit organization has flung itself head over heels into the mire of conquering the international digital divide. Volunteers from the high-tech industry in the US and Europe spend four months helping businesses in developing countries—Ghana at the moment—to utilize ICT (information/communication technology) to improve their core operations.
So who wants to do this, and what kind of person does Geekcorps look for? When I interviewed Peter Beardsley last October for a volunteer position in Ghana, I thought “this guy would be great.” Peter grew up in Connecticut and went to college in New Hampshire where he studied programming. After discovering Linux through a friend, he worked on web scripting and applications for his college as an independent study project. Aside from his technical skills, what made Peter a great potential volunteer was his demonstrated interest in helping people out (fixing up old machines and turning them into servers and NATs for churches and community groups through his local Linux users' group) and his belief that technology can truly bring about social and economic change. Peter has both a love of technology and a willingness to make it accessible to everyone.
How does one train a guy like Peter to go in to an unfamiliar country and culture and transfer his skills (database development) to people whose knowledge of IT is often spotty? From the inception of Geekcorps, training has been an important component of the program. We had seen many projects where people were sent out unprepared and uninformed. Unlike the Peace Corps, our volunteers are only at their assignments for a relatively brief time. We do not have the luxury of providing weeks of cultural immersion and seminars on the politics and history of their host country. But because their stay is so short, we can't have them spend the bulk of their time in a state of disorientation. Our first two training programs have taken place at our offices in the US and have lasted about a week and a half. An additional in-country orientation focuses more on the practicalities of living and working and lasts about five days.
The Geekcorps training program is still (and will probably always be) a work in progress. We start from the premise that volunteers do not need subject-matter training (i.e., we don't go over programming or web design topics). What they do need is a hefty dose of cross-cultural training, discussions centering on technology and development, and training of teaching exercises and expectation management.
We have discovered that this last item is key. The training of our second wave of volunteers centered on our expectations of them, their expectations of themselves and their counterpart businesses' expectations. In most instances, volunteers have unrealistic expectations: “my counterpart company will be listed on the NASDAQ when I finish”, “having people approach me on a daily basis asking for money will not bother me”, or “I have a stomach of steel”.
Training skills have also turned out to be critical. At Geekcorps headquarters in North Adams, Massachusetts volunteers review adult learning cycles and learning styles and follow up with a hands-on training that involves teaching basic computer skills. Hands-on training gives volunteers the opportunity to re-examine their approach to training and learning, especially at the basic skill level. While their counterparts in Ghana are beyond the basics, their understanding of technology is often piecemeal or weighted in one specific topic. Volunteers need to transfer their skills thoroughly enough so as to be sustainable, and dynamically enough to keep people excited about the practical applications that will improve their businesses.
After they arrive in Ghana, training is taken up by our country director, Stophe Landis. Volunteers are no longer in their comfort zone and begin to understand what they have gotten into. This portion of the training focuses on concrete work and culture issues. An example is the scavenger hunt volunteers play on their second or third day in-country. Volunteers are instructed to find a place in Accra (the capital of Ghana) such as a landmark, restaurant or company, with incomplete information and little guidance.
To a great extent, Geekcorps volunteers are self-selected risk takers (“sure, I'll entrust you with my life!”), jacks-of-all-trades (“sure, I can make this laser pointer into a scanner that runs on biogas!”) and theory-oriented. Thus the training has to address the needs of this particular subset of traits. I realized this one afternoon when I was facilitating a culture exercise titled “Universal-Cultural-Personal”. The exercise is used to clarify what behaviors can be categorized under the above headings. I found myself entering into an argument that threatened to escalate into a screaming match because several volunteers claimed that eating on a regular basis can be construed as a cultural, not a universal trait. I realized that while this obfuscation of the exercise frustrated me, the volunteers really liked turning the construct around and looking at it from all angles. Why? Just because it seemed interesting from a theoretical standpoint.
What hopefully emerges out of the Geekcorps training is a volunteer who is more self-aware, more tolerant of ambiguity in every realm of his or her own life, better able to cope with things like no running water, able to live without T1 connectivity, able to help businesses achieve a solution that is appropriate to that environment and not afraid to engage with the people around them, no matter how unfamiliar.
You can read more about the training program, the work projects and sundry extracurricular activities from the volunteer's point of view at their web site (http://www.geekhalla.org/). You can also visit Geekcorps' web site (http://www.geekcorps.org/).
Practical Task Scheduling Deployment
July 20, 2016 12:00 pm CDT
One of the best things about the UNIX environment (aside from being stable and efficient) is the vast array of software tools available to help you do your job. Traditionally, a UNIX tool does only one thing, but does that one thing very well. For example, grep is very easy to use and can search vast amounts of data quickly. The find tool can find a particular file or files based on all kinds of criteria. It's pretty easy to string these tools together to build even more powerful tools, such as a tool that finds all of the .log files in the /home directory and searches each one for a particular entry. This erector-set mentality allows UNIX system administrators to seem to always have the right tool for the job.
Cron traditionally has been considered another such a tool for job scheduling, but is it enough? This webinar considers that very question. The first part builds on a previous Geek Guide, Beyond Cron, and briefly describes how to know when it might be time to consider upgrading your job scheduling infrastructure. The second part presents an actual planning and implementation framework.
Join Linux Journal's Mike Diehl and Pat Cameron of Help Systems.
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With all the industry talk about the benefits of Linux on Power and all the performance advantages offered by its open architecture, you may be considering a move in that direction. If you are thinking about analytics, big data and cloud computing, you would be right to evaluate Power. The idea of using commodity x86 hardware and replacing it every three years is an outdated cost model. It doesn’t consider the total cost of ownership, and it doesn’t consider the advantage of real processing power, high-availability and multithreading like a demon.
This ebook takes a look at some of the practical applications of the Linux on Power platform and ways you might bring all the performance power of this open architecture to bear for your organization. There are no smoke and mirrors here—just hard, cold, empirical evidence provided by independent sources. I also consider some innovative ways Linux on Power will be used in the future.Get the Guide