Linus Torvalds is a man of many emotions. At times, he's got a great sense of humor - he did just name the 3.11 Linux kernel 'Linux for Workgroups', after all. Other times, and especially if you're a developer making his life harder, he can be less-than-pleasant, as has been evidenced time and time again. As much as I respect Linus, I've long believed that it wouldn't hurt to tone down his aggressiveness just a wee bit, and now, it's become clear that I'm not alone.
On the official Linux kernel mailing list yesterday, Linus (perhaps jokingly) suggested that another developer should learn to become a "real threat", and "sometimes swear a bit". He continues, "That will cut your mailqueue in half, promise!" Intel kernel contributor Sarah Sharp was having none of that, exploding:
Seriously, guys? Is this what we need in order to get improve -stable? Linus Torvalds is advocating for physical intimidation and violence. Ingo Molnar and Linus are advocating for verbal abuse.
Not ... cool. Violence, whether it be physical intimidation, verbal threats or verbal abuse is not acceptable. Keep it professional on the mailing lists.
I'm not a developer, but I couldn't agree more with Sarah's sentiments. At the end of the day, kernel developers are still people, and no one likes being yelled at or ridiculed in public. Would you work better if you were in Linus' crosshair?
Anyone who's followed Linux in even a limited capacity likely knows that comments like these are not atypical of Linus. On her official blog, Sarah links to two more mailing list entries, one where Linus bluntly states, "Mauro, SHUT THE F*** UP!" In any kind of setting, this kind of outburst during a debate is without question, highly unprofessional.
At some point, the discussion moved off of the mailing list, with Linus emailing Sarah directly. These conversations apparently didn't go down too well with Sarah, who brought the discussion public again. By her wording, it seems Linus accused her of playing the "victim card", though admittedly, it hardly seemed like that in her original response. She goes on to state, "I am serious about this. Linus, you're one of the worst offenders when it comes to verbally abusing people and publicly tearing their emotions apart."
For his defense, Linus states that he has to be blunt because that's how things get done; "On the internet, nobody can hear you being subtle." - in many ways, that's very true. Potential side-effects of being polite? "And I definitely am not willing to string people along, either. I've had that happen too—not telling people clearly enough that I don't like their approach, they go on to re-architect something, and get really upset when I am then not willing to take their work."
The average dev after facing Linus
It's clear that Linus lacks a bit of professionalism when it comes to conversation, but that's fine with him. He wants no part of being professional, in fact:
Because if you want me to "act professional," I can tell you that I'm not interested. I'm sitting in my home office wearing a bathrobe. The same way I'm not going to start wearing ties, I'm *also* not going to buy into the fake politeness, the lying, the office politics and backstabbing, the passive aggressiveness, and the buzzwords. Because THAT is what "acting professionally" results in: people resort to all kinds of really nasty things because they are forced to act out their normal urges in unnatural ways.
Tu shay, Linus, tu shay. In another quip, Linus claims that this sort of behavior is just part of the Finn culture. Looking towards two F1 drivers I admire, Kimi Räikkönen and Mika Häkkinen, you sure wouldn't know it. They're about as passive as they come - the total opposite to Linus.
In the end, it seems little is going to change with regards to Linus' management methods. Some might not like it, but it's hard to argue that he does get things done. There's little doubt that his attitude also caused many a developer to not take shortcuts, else the wrath of Linus could be faced.