Dear Linus Torvalds,

Dear Linus Torvalds, be humbler, be friendlier.

Dear Linus Torvalds,

You don’t know me but I’ve known who you are for years now. I’ve used the operating system kernel you’ve shepherded for nigh on twenty years now and I am in your debt.

And if I can give you anything in recompense, let me give you this advice: Be humbler, be friendlier.

Over the years I’ve seen how you deal with people and it’s not pretty. Please understand me. People respect your intelligence and wisdom in your areas. I assume your family and friends like you as a person, so I’m sure there’s something there you can work with.

The problem is, people respect you, they will even sacrifice of themselves for you, but they don’t like you. You can say “they don’t have to like me” all you like. This isn’t a popularity contest. It’s about your well-being and the well-being of those you deal with.

I’ve read your kernel debates with Andy Tanenbaum. I saw your google talk on git and, to be honest, I was a little embarrassed for you. Those you insulted took the high ground when you took the low ground. I know how you’ve acted on the linux kernel mailing list over the years. I know there are two sides to the story of Alax Cox quitting as tty maintainer.

And, I also know that you wouldn’t have accomplished nearly so much if you weren’t that stubborn, arrogant, brutally honest, usually right prick we’ve all come to know and trust when it comes to the linux kernel.

For all the positive outcomes of such a harsh personality, you can not overlook where your dealings with people will leave you when all is said and done.

Linus, when you’re an old, lonely man without anyone to call a true friend, remember how you lived your life, how you dealt with those around you, and how many people tried to help you avoid becoming what you are.



3 thoughts on “Dear Linus Torvalds,”

  1. The way Linus communicates is a product of usenet, and it is the secret of good communication. It is counterintuitive, but it is Linus who is taking the high ground, by speaking honestly and bluntly, and not trying to win social points. You had better learn to cuss like him, and be an asshole, because this is the only ethical way to communicate online. It is contrary to previous social organizations, it was previously practiced only in the culture of physics, and it is the most successful way to overcome human organizationa limitations.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. I have heard that side of Linus’ approach to leadership but I don’t buy it for the long-term wellness of those involved. I don’t mind the benevolent dictator approach, either, but I won’t sacrifice human relationships for material gains. That’s not to say I would make different decisions than Linus but that I would make the same decisions in a healthier way. There are ways you can approach these things that save people face. The principles from the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People comes to mind:

      1. Linus’s way IS the healthiest way. The book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” should also be called “How to Stop Technical Discussions Dead In Their Tracks”.

        To make technical projects work, you need complete honestly, and complete rudeness. There is no other way, and the people you “sacrifice” are incompetent, and should go away.

        If there is a person who is interestied in saving face, or even THINKING about saving face, that person is a nontechnical social schmoozer, and has ZERO to contribute to your technical project.

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