Taking the first step on the journey

This column is from The MagPi issue 58. You can download a PDF of the full issue for free, or subscribe to receive the print edition in your mailbox or the digital edition on your tablet. All proceeds from the print and digital editions help the Raspberry Pi Foundation achieve its charitable goals.

About five years ago was the first time I unboxed a Raspberry Pi. I hooked it up to our living room television and made space on the TV stand for an old USB keyboard and mouse. Watching the $35 computer boot up for the first time impressed me, and I had a feeling it was a big deal, but I’ll admit that I had no idea how much of a phenomenon Raspberry Pi would become. I had no idea how large the community would grow. I had no idea how much my life would be changed from that moment on. And it all started with a simple first step: booting it up.

The key to the success of Raspberry Pi as a computer – and, in turn, a community and a charitable foundation – is that there’s a low barrier to the first step you take with it. The low price is a big reason for that. Whether or not to try Raspberry Pi is not a difficult decision. Since it’s so affordable, you can just give it a go, and see how you get along.

The pressure is off

Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system kernel, talked about this in a BBC News interview in 2012. He explained that a lot of people might take the first step with Raspberry Pi, but not everyone will carry on with it. But getting more people to take that first step of turning it on means there are more people who potentially will be impacted by the technology. Torvalds said:

I find things like Raspberry Pi to be an important thing: trying to make it possible for a wider group of people to tinker with computers. And making the computers cheap enough that you really can not only afford the hardware at a big scale, but perhaps more important, also afford failure.

In other words, if things don’t work out with you and your Raspberry Pi, it’s not a big deal, since it’s such an affordable computer.

In this together

Of course, we hope that more and more people who boot up a Raspberry Pi for the first time will decide to continue experimenting, creating, and learning with it. Thanks to improvements to the hardware, the Raspbian operating system, and free software packages, it’s constantly becoming easier to do many amazing things with this little computer. And our continually growing community means you’re not alone on this journey. These improvements and growth over the past few years hopefully encourage more people who boot up Raspberry Pis to keep exploring.
raspberry pi first step

The first step

However, the important thing is that people are given the opportunity to take that first step, especially young people. Young learners are at a critical age, and something like the Raspberry Pi can have an enormously positive impact on the rest of their lives. It’s a major reason why our free resources are aimed at young learners. It’s also why we train educators all over the world for free. And encouraging youngsters to take their first step with Raspberry Pi could not only make a positive difference in their lives, but also in society at large.

With the affordable computational power, excellent software, supportive community, and free resources, you’re given everything you need to make a big impact in the world when you boot up a Raspberry Pi for the first time. That moment could be step one of ten, or one of ten thousand, but it’s up to you to take that first step.

Now you!

Learning and making things with the Pi is incredibly easy, and we’ve created numerous resources and tutorials to help you along. First of all, check out our hardware guide to make sure you’re all set up. Next, you can try out Scratch and Python, our favourite programming languages. Feeling creative? Learn to code music with Sonic Pi, or make visual art with Processing. Ready to control the real world with your Pi? Create a reaction game, or an LED adornment for your clothing. Maybe you’d like to do some science with the help of our Sense HAT, or become a film maker with our camera?

You can do all this with the Raspberry Pi, and so much more. The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination. So where do you want to start?


James avatar

I’ve been poking and prodding at the Pi + Sense HAT for the last six months in anticipation of the solar eclipse here in America. Along the way, I’ve also been grabbed by the Google AIY kit, building an emulator an NES cart, and a few other small things.

Like yesterday when I was trying to get the Sense HAT to display the number of people manning the ISS. My son wasn’t terribly impressed that I got it to display the number “3” until I explained how it all worked.

Then he was almost impressed.

I like the Sense HAT as an introduction because it involved physical results and that makes me happy.

W, H. Heydt avatar

It may be because I spend a moderate amount of time reading forum posts, and that proceeds from selection bias of mostly seeing people with problems, but that leads to the following two classes of people who have problems working with Pis…

The first is those that stumble at that first hurdle and can’t–for a variety of reasons–get the Pi to boot.

The other group is more complex. These are the people who expect the Pi to be something it isn’t. Whether they expect to run Windows programs, or even expect the Pi to run MS Windows, or just fail to understand that it lacks the sheer computational power of a modern PC.

In both cases, about all we can do is patiently explain where and how things have gone wrong and help them overcome obstacles or misconceptions.

Harry Hardjono avatar

I think good community support trumps all. I still remember trying to work on my first Pi. It took hours to do the simplest things such as printing, networking, and even changing desktop wallpaper. It was just too hard to use.

Nowadays, you can search and find the answer relatively quickly. That’s the key. Still, I want more. Most How to Raspi deals with the same beginner’s issues. I think we need more in depth tutorials for the next step. For example, the magpi in depth issue about raspicam us excellent resource for doing things with camera. I want more of that with various projects such as processing, mathatica, and various hats. We already have minecraft and sonic pi. So, keep up the good work!

Software is just as important as hardware. Raspi has the opportunity to have several killer apps just because the community is so vibrant. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Silviu avatar

Can an upgrade be made to omxplayer to send sound through bluetooth and/or usb sound card ? Ever ? That would be so cool. I think it can be done… Maybe snd-bcm2835 could allow sound out to be picked up by something else like Blueman.

Elfen avatar

When I first heard of the Raspberry Pi in late ’12, I could not believe it. But then I had to search for it, it was not available in the USA until at least mid ’13. Got a couple from eBay, and a couple more from a store in NYC. Since it was low in price, I bought one a month for a year. New models I got as soon as it was available in the USA.

I still play with my older units as I do with my newer ones. People do not believe that one can get a computer for $35. But here it is. Some say it is junk, others say it is a toy. But I’m doing things on them that they can not do on their PCs.

It’s been an interesting run of it, and I will continue to run with the Raspberry Pies, and a couple Pies as well.

PiVirgin avatar

Elfen, that all sounds great but I would be interested to know what you are doing with Raspberry Pi that can’t be done, rather than just isn’t being done, with their PCs

Elfen avatar

Teaching. Teeaching Robotics, Linux, Automation, System Administration, baically I can do with a Widows or Mac desktop or laptop, I can do with a Raspberry Pi. It is about the software. And with the hardware, I can teach robotics cheaply. For the price of 5 R-Pis, some wiring, sensors and modified servos I can teach a classroom of 20 (4 per R-Pi Team) and not spend $200 on that set up. With Lego Mindstorms, I would have too spend well over a grand (or Kilo in Europe?) to get a similar kit set up to teach the same 20 as each Mindstorm kit if over $300 (Seen it as high as $475 on Amazon!)

You can’t rip open your generic Windows PC and start adding servos and sensors into it.

Marcelo Rovai avatar

Great article! II really love the Pi! I am very excited with the last version of a Scratch 2 included on the latest Raspibian package. I just wrote a tutorial to help beginners with that: https://www.hackster.io/mjrobot/physical-computing-scratch-2-0-for-raspberry-pi-2d8c0a
Saludos from the south of the world! ;-)

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