It’s been a while, so here’s something more social and less technical again. And I get to join the lodge writing about Linus Torvalds! Let me first write this: any dispute on style or approach to problem solving must be second priority if your main product – Linux – remains one of the most stable and secure software ever produced. This is not just any software. We’re talking about millions of lines of code changed between every point release, provided by tens of thousands of developers worldwide. Software working with a broad number of hardware architectures, “talking to” unnumbered amount of peripherial devices. Finally, a piece of software causing discussions like “If Linus is gone, what will happen to the kernel?”.
I believe it was worthwile summarizing in these few sentences what is the true achievement there. I had to start with that brief summary, otherwise I felt I’d be joining the group that might have been well described by Linus in the following words some time in 2014:
“And there’s a classic term for it in the BSD camps: “bikeshed painting”, which is very much about how random people can feel like they have the ability to discuss superficial issues, because everybody feels that they can give an opinion on the color choice. So issues that are superficial get a lot more noise. Then when it comes to actual hard and deep technical decisions, people (sometimes) realise that they just don’t know enough, and they won’t give that the same kind of mouth-time.”
You can say a lot about Linus and his approach to people or dispute. Dispute will always happen if you work with people of strong character, who have devoted parts of their lives to master an area they then have to prove in production. But not everyone you get to work with will be following this principle. And yet, understanding the root cause of some debates and efficiently not wasting any energy on them is a decent treat of a leader – one that doesn’t often appear in the popular coaching memes. Probably because it is also painful and not entirely neutral.
But can you make big achievements and remain neutral?