Linus Torvalds: Passion vs Vision

July 12, 2012

A recent interview with Linus Torvalds made headlines for his colorful comments about the relationship between NVidia and the Linux Kernel community.

The interview is full of great material that is well worth listening to:

Here we capture some of the memorable quotes, particularly on what relates to the recipe that made the Linux Kernel community grow and mature to what it is today:

  • People gravitate towards they are good at
  • It was all very organic
  • Most of what happened in Linux development was very natural
  • The hierarchy we used for doing development, the fact that I worked with ten maintainers, roughly,… and they have their submaintainer …ten … that they trust…
  • How many people do you trust ?  … 10.

On why the Linux Kernel community grew to it current scale:

“One of the reasons it works really well is because it grew,
we didn’t try to enforce a certain hierarchy on it,
we used the hierarchy that just work on its own,
and that turned out to be the right hierarchy.”

This illustrates the counter-intuitive notion that in order to let a self-organizing system to evolve, one has to refrain from attempting to control it.

When asked about the prospective longevity of the Kernel and whether it could survive without Linus Torvalds, he asked for a show of hands:

  • How many of you are involved in an Open Source project that is not the Kernel ?
  • How many of you have a core team that is more than 10 people ?
  • The normal size for most open source projects is three people, roughly
  • In the Kernel we have 50 people that are really involved, and at every release we have a thousand people who are really involved, who send us patches.

Why didn’t you continued at the university ?

“I love being at the university, but I hate writing papers.”

Commenting on Social Effects of the Open Source Movement:

The openess of the Linux model have had some people stand up and think,
how we can use this in our area.”

“I love the discussion a lot of scientists have about open publications.”

When asked about having a Vision:

“I believe more in having passion,
I think really caring about what you do is way more important
than having this vision about the golden future that you want to reach”

 Overall, a great interview that shows the human, pragmatic and unassuming character of Linus Torvalds.

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