ROSE Blog Interviews: Ohio LinuxFest's Beth Lynn Eicher

Rikki Endsley

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

Aug 19, 2009 GMT
Rikki Kite

You'll meet a lot of friendly folks in Linux and open source, but you'll probably never meet a nicer person than Ohio LinuxFest's Beth Lynn Eicher. And if you're looking for a mentor, she's got you covered.

Q: Who are you?

A: I am Beth Lynn Eicher, co-chair of the Ohio LinuxFest 2009: 40 Years of UNIX Celebration. For six years I have been involved with running this show. We build community out of people who love the software. Year after year, folks come back to the same friendly faces. That's why last year's theme was The Linux Neighborhood. The Ohio LinuxFest isn't just an event – it is a place where people live, work, play, develop, and network.

Q: What do you currently do in open source? What do you love about it?

A: While I do not participate in a software project, I see The Ohio LinuxFest as an open source project that markets the way of the free software lifestyle. For that reason, I try not to pick favorites of things like distros, window managers, etc. As far as editors, I break that rule. Vi forever. In general, I enjoy using a large variety of software and trying out new things. I came for the software. I stayed for the community.

Q: You're speaking to a group of women from other fields who are considering switching careers. Why should they consider moving into an open source-related career? What should they know about the open source environment to prepare them for the transition from a different field?

A: I first came to open source for the software. The year was 1999 and I was still in college. I tried Linux once I heard that it was free. It had all of the UNIX tools that I had become accustomed to while interning at Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center with Moose. The Windows ports of these programs were, at best, high-cost proprietary bloatware with poor user interfaces. Other times they were non-existent. After installing, I really liked it and I liked the people in Western PA Linux User Group who gave me the confidence to buy my first Linux computer.

What should a woman learn from this story:

  1. Linux is free. This too-good-to-be-true fact kept me out of Linux for about one year. You have lost nothing but your time if you decide it's not for you. Today, with Live CDs, the investment is 15 minutes. Everyone can do that.
  2. YOU can do it. And don't let them take the keyboard away. Those who fear Linux will say it's too difficult for you to use. Well-meaning people within the community will say, "I'll just do it for you" and you get cheated out of a learning experience. You need to find friends who support you in your career path toward open source. If you do not know where to look, many young women are more comfortable talking to a female professional. Working with Moose was comforting to me. Even though she wasn't my boss, she was a role model who directed me toward this profession. These people will invest in you because you, one day, will give back to some other person who is just starting out.
  3. Linux was the best software environment for me back in 1999 and it still is today. With Open Source adoption expanding exponentially, proprietary software will become the minority. I blog about this computing paradigm shift at

Q: You're speaking to a group of high school students (male and female). Why should they consider exploring career options in open source?

A: Not many careers can you start collaborating with industry leaders as peers when you are 14 years old. Find what is interesting to you and start doing it. A good project will give you opportunities to shine in ways that do not exist in the classroom setting where you are today. There is an abundance to be done so you will be matched with the talents you already have. In Open Source, you will meet people who are eager to invest in you because they understand the abundance that needs to be done. These mentors stand on the shoulders of the giants who believed in them.

Jon "maddog" Hall is who believed in me and the Ohio LinuxFest when we were just getting started. For this reason, I invite anyone considering a career in open source community work to contact me at bethlynn AT ohiolinux DOT org, and I will mentor you.

If you are a woman in open source, I'd love it if you'd take a moment to answer these interview questions and send your responses to me at rkite AT linuxpromagazine DOT com. (Otherwise, I'll try to track you down at an event or online!) If you'd like me to interview a particular woman in open source, drop me a line and let me know who she is and where to find her.

Additional reading:

Interview with Carla Schroder

Interview with Kelaine Vargas

Interview with Moose (Ohio LinuxFest)


  • Faith Justified


    Thank you for the kind words.

    I have never, even for a single minute, regretted my faith in you, the Ohio Linux Fest and the work that all the volunteers have done for FOSS.

    Even though I can not be there this year because of prior commitments, I wish you all the best, and hope to see you again in 2010.

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