The 2018 conference season — which, let’s admit, lasts from January 1 to December 31 these days — is already in full swing. And, the various conferences and summits held around the world provide meeting grounds for people who create, maintain, govern, and promote open source.
However, as the conference scene has become much larger and more varied, one thing that is often missing is simple educational instruction in a specific technology. Conferences are wonderful places if you already know what’s going on and want to find out the latest, but learning at the apprentice level about esoteric or deep subjects like embedded Linux, for example, is often a much less glamorous affair, and training has been limited to classrooms or professional corporate training, or DIY with a good book.
E-ALE, which is short for Embedded Apprentice Linux Engineer, is a new initiative that aims to challenge this state of affairs. This undertaking is the brainchild of a group of embedded Linux professionals who met, logically enough, at a conference — SCaLE in 2017 — and discussed this lack of apprenticeship level training. Afterwards, Behan Webster and Tom King, both Linux consultants and professional trainers with The Linux Foundation, and Jeff Osier-Mixon, open source community strategist at Intel, took the reins to organize a portable educational track consisting of nine 2-hour courses over 3 days.
In this track, which debuts at SCaLE 16x in Pasadena on March 8 and will also be presented at the Embedded Linux Conference in Portland starting March 12, professional trainers each contribute one course and their time in exchange for exposure and the pleasure of mentoring new users in the not-so-dark arts of embedded Linux. The collection of courses is available to up to 50 apprentices. Each can choose to attend only the courses that interested them, so that they can also attend presentations at the rest of the conference. Each individual class hosts approximately 30 students.
The only cost — beyond that of the conference itself — is a small hardware kit, consisting of a Pocket BeagleBoard (ARM Cortex-based development board) along with a BaconBits add-on board provided by QWERTY Embedded Design, GHI, and OSHPark. The kit costs $75 and is required to attend any of the hands-on courses. A laptop is also required (see the E-ALE page for other requirements).
Apprentice level instruction
Note that while these are apprentice-level courses, they are not “beginner” courses in how to use Linux. Students are expected to understand the basics of the Linux operating system, and to have familiarity with command line interfaces and the C programming language as well as some facility with electronics. Classes run for about 2 hours, and typically consist of about 45 to 60 minutes of instruction, to get a solid high level grounding in a subject, followed by an hour or more of hands-on time with the hardware, exploring the subject matter. Students can then continue their practice at home and stay in touch with each other and ask further questions through an alumni mailing list and participate on the E-ALE wiki. See the course descriptions for details on the scope and depth of each course.
And the best part? All of the training materials for the courses are available as Creative Commons documents, free to download after each conference, along with recordings where possible.
With 18 hour of corporate training for the cost of a bit of hardware, students win big with the E-ALE track. Trainers also win, with two hours of high-profile exposure to students who can then take business cards back to their companies and provide personal recommendations for corporate training and consulting. The conferences themselves win by providing venues for high quality instruction, making them places of learning. And with documentation and real training now provided at events around the world, the entire Linux community wins. How often do you run across a win-win-win-win scenario?
If you would like to attend, support, or sponsor E-ALE, visit the website for details and upcoming conferences. The E-ALE track is currently planned in 2018 for SCaLE 16x, Embedded Linux Conference + OpenIoT Summit North America, and Embedded Linux Conference Europe, October 22 in Edinburgh, UK. E-ALE is also exploring the possibility of providing courses on other Linux-based technologies, so stay tuned for more.
Jeff “Jefro” Osier-Mixon has been a fixture in the open source landscape since long before the term “open source” was invented. He is currently a strategist and community manager in Intel’s Open Source Technology Center and a community manager and advisor for a number of Linux Foundation projects.