What to do first

December 23, 2020

Arguably the first thing you can do, to begin learning right away, is to install an operating system. This is going to be needed anyway, since its not a great idea to keep around an operating system used by someone else, which in this case, would be the previous owner of the computer.

When looking at other articles like this one, describing how to get started learning, 9 out of 10 will most likely recommend you start out by installing Linux. Linux is an operating system that, for the sake of this conversation, you can think of as an opposite form of Windows. It has a graphical interface like Windows, but that is where most of the similarities stop. Linux is popular because you can do anything with it, take that fact along with the associated cost (free), it will bubble up to the top of just about anyone’s recommendation. However, I’m of a different opinion for a few reasons, but first my recommendation:

I would suggest downloading a copy of Windows 10 and installing it on your newly acquired computer, or virtual machine. You can obtain a copy directly from Microsoft, either in a free upgrade form or a trial edition. For the purposes of education, it does not matter if the OS will expire in 90 days or not, because most likely, you will have reinstalled it many times, in a 3 month period. Which by the way, will reset the counter each time you do so. Now the reasons for my suggested choice:

  1. Windows lends itself more toward the beginner, allowing all this new knowledge to be consumed more gently.
  2. Windows is still more popular. Very few places use Linux as a Desktop operating system, most are using either Windows or Mac. One can argue that Linux is more popular with Servers, which in many cases is correct (depends on setting), but we are not focused on a specific usage type, we are trying to learn the beginnings of technology, which Windows lends itself better to.
  3. In terms of starting to learn right away what would be used in your first technical job - Windows is going to be it 99 percent of the time.

The system requirements for Windows 10 64-bit are pretty low, so it will install on just about anything you have. Where you will be doing much of the initial learning, is during the install process and general system configuration afterwards, neither of which require significant processing power.

Now, before going any further, there is a problem with the approach just outlined: An existing computer is required. In order to download Windows 10, you will obviously need an internet connected computer and to burn it to either a DVD or use to make a bootable USB drive, will require access to either a DVD burner or USB port. In my opinion, there are a couple of practical approaches to accomplish this:

  1. If the computer already has an operating system on it and is operational, you can connect it to your existing network to download the image and prepare the media used to re-install the OS. If the DVD option is used, a DVD burner will need to be attached to the computer, which has been pretty common over the past several years. If the USB option is selected, then all you need is a thumb drive and access to a USB port, which all computers should have at least one.
  2. Perform the steps on a friend or families computer. Download the image from the loaner machine and either burn the DVD or insert a thumb drive to prepare a bootable USB stick.

Both of the options presented above are going to require much more explanation, if you haven’t done either before. Consider these steps as the beginning of your learning path. In order to keep this article at a high level, I won’t go into detail on how to do either one, but trust that by presenting the options, you can do the research and find information on how to do each. Don’t get discouraged if you have to look through multiple sources. Try to concentrate on finding a reputable source (YouTube channel that seems to have a larger following, large number of views on the video, high ‘like’ count). Once you have found a trusted source on either option, then dig into the details that are being presented.

Learning how to search out and find high quality content and guidance will become one of the most important skills you will use for the rest of your career.