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If you’re thinking about working with Embedded Linux, you should know about the Embedded Apprentice Linux Engineer program, aka E-ALE. E-ALE is a new effort to provide an in-person introduction to Linux for Embedded Applications at major Linux-related conferences. These hands-on seminars let you play with Linux-supported hardware devices and ask whatever questions you like about how to get up and running with Embedded Linux.

The idea behind E-ALE has been circulating among industry veterans for about a decade. While most Embedded Linux conferences feature a ton of great content for people who already know what they’re doing, we’ve typically offered nothing for those hoping to get oriented in the field.

Earlier this year, a group of Embedded veterans, including Behan Webster, Tom King and myself decided to do something about it at last. We created a series of short seminars that take you through the basics of getting Embedded Linux up and running. They address topics like:

  • How you boot up a device without frying it
  • How you get the operating system (OS) onto the device
  • How you compile an OS for it
  • How you write a device driver to get a Linux board talking with the sensors you need it to

These are all things the Embedded community veterans figured out a decade and a half ago and by now seem obvious to most longtime contributors. But we realized that little of it is common knowledge to just anyone wanting to join us and that it needed to be disseminated to everyone.

We offered our first program at the Southern California Linux Expo back in March. Everyone who registered received a small kit consisting of a BeagleBoard and a customized add-on board holding a variety of sensors (the BaconBits cape done by Michael Welling of Qwerty Embedded Design and our build partner GHI). We opened with a roughly 45-minute presentation taking attendees through a model set of actions and then gave them another 45 minutes or so to try it out for themselves. We had experienced users available to help out one-on-one where needed.

All the classes were free, but we did charge a hardware fee to recoup our financial outlays for the hardware we were instructing with, which folks got to keep. This acted as an incentive for people to only sign up if they were serious about attending. Overall, it was a resounding success. We had space for about 50 people and ended up with over 70 in the room with standing room only.

That level of interest has inspired us to keep going and to branch out into some other areas. At the recent OSS North America, we did a cloud version (dubbed c-ale) offering an introduction to working with cloud servers like AWS. It, too, was completely packed.

We’ll be running E-ALE again at the Embedded Linux Conference in Edinburgh this month. In addition, I’ll be offering what we’re calling I-ALE, focusing on smaller IoT / micro-controllers there as well. This will give folks some hands-on experience getting down to the scale of controlling small edge IoT devices and sensors, exploring how you deal with them, for example. We’ve also committed to offering E-ALE at the Linux of Things mini-conference run by Linux.conf.au in Christchurch, New Zealand early next year.

E-ALE teaching materials are all available on GitHub and we are recording sessions as they happen, with the intention of eventually sharing the content online in some way. We haven’t done that yet, however, mostly because we’re still figuring out the best way to link the videos with an opportunity to tinker with the physical hardware.

If you have Embedded experience and would like to help us out, we’re always looking for people who can teach at our in-person seminars. It definitely helps to have contributors from a variety of backgrounds sharing what they know. If you are interested, just ping us at info@e-ale.org.

Stay tuned to the Open Source Blog for more on E-ALE and follow us on Twitter (@vmwopensource).