Wednesday, July 16th 2008

The Tech of Personality
posted @ 9:51 am in [ Tech ]

I’m a Reddit fan. I also like Digg, but my circa-1996 Internet brain likes a clean, uncluttered interface. Today on Reddit, I found this gem. Any tech news day is a good one when one highly respected member of the community calls an entire group a bunch of “masturbating monkeys.”

Ok, maybe my circa-1996 Internet brain is also 12 years old for being amused by the slur, but aside from the amusement I’m getting from the imagery, there’s also the shock that’s emanating throughout the Internet from this.

Linux makes everyone get a little bit of a warm fuzzy inside. It’s free, and thousands of independent tinkerers and hackers around the world have put their minds to it, tearing it apart and putting it back together. It’s just so…hippie and happy! So of course the man behind it all, the one who still works tirelessly to make sure the kernel is as perfect as can be, he must be a nice guy, right?

Wrong. Linus Torvalds is a brilliant man. I definitely admire him, as he should be, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a nice person. The man himself has expressed befuddlement when people expect him to be a nice person. Anyone who has followed the kernel lists for any amount of time has seen Torvalds lose his cool any number of times.

So what? Let he without flame cast the first snark.

Open source figures are routinely getting in the news for bad behavior. Last year, Ulrich Drepper decided he needed to get paid to fix a bug in an open source project. Or explain himself. Then there’s Dan Bernstein, who while never being one to win the chipper award, is a brilliant member of the community. He pointed out a BIND vulnerability back in 2001 which was handily ignored until Dan Kaminsky recently brought it back up along with a proof of concept.

Then there’s Hans Reiser. ‘Nuff said.

If you put anyone on a pedestal, they just have further to fall when they do. These are people who don’t always have a legion of PR and legal staff to shield the world from their day to day realities (read: Jobs and Gates). Their reputations as smart, competent programmers has already been established, and fuck you if you can’t handle it.

There is another side to that coin, of course. It can make developing within that sphere difficult. When you’re working in a paid team, you either work together and make the project happen or you’ll get canned. However, if you’re working on an open source project and it has to play nice with other open source programs, dealing with prima donnas can present a challenge that can be disheartening when focusing on writing good code is the ideal. Dealing with multiple personalities is part of working in the open source community. Thankfully, there are helpful people in the community, and I gather that is a big part of why it works so well.

I still don’t understand the shock. It’s like we’ve elevated certain people who code to celebrity status, and that’s just odd to me. It’s like walking into the local grocery store one day and seeing a picture of Paul Graham in a compromising position with Lindsey Lohan on the cover of the Enquirer. To me, the “ZOMG” nature of these stories is more shocking than the statements themselves.

It is possible to admire Linux and other open source projects along with their creators and not expect them to be the sort of person you’d want to share a beer with (although I’d still want to have a beer with Linus). Just sit back and enjoy the product.

One Response to “The Tech of Personality”

  1. 0xCRIME Says:

    Reminds me of one of my favorite comics:

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