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Sunday, 19 February 2017 15:57

Innovation hype: bah, humbug, says Linus Torvalds Featured


Tech industry people are prone to indulge in ceaseless talk of innovation, but Linus Torvalds has dismissed such talk as "bullshit" and stressed that the daily grind is much more important.

During a Q and A with Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin at last week's Open Source Leadership Summit in California, the Linux creator, in his inimitable forthright style, said: "The innovation this industry talks about so much is bullshit. Anybody can innovate. Screw that, it's meaningless. Ninety-nine percent of it is: Get the work done."

And he added: "I’m a huge believer in the 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration thing."

Torvalds made the comments in the context of a query by Zemlin about whether there had been a moment in the 25-plus years of working on the Linux kernel when he thought, "ah, this must be huge, this is much bigger than what you thought when you started".

Torvalds, who has been asked this question on earlier occasions too (once by iTWire), replied that there had not been any such "big" moment. "There were a couple of moments when things took me by surprise," he said. "But the actual big moment was when it went past being personal – and that was within six months of releasing it.

"I didn't even know the people sending me patches, like know them personally. Of course, now I know them through email, but there is a tonne of people I have never met."

But he said he did want to mention the "whole 25-year thing". "Any technology project, the innovation that this industry talks about so much is bullshit. Don't do this big 'think different', don't do this big innovation thing. Screw that. It's meaningless."

He said his least favourite part of the technology news cycle was "this constant innovation and new ideas. And talk of 'this will revolutionise", all that hype, that's not where the real work is.

"The real work is in the details and I'm obviously one of those people who likes to concentrate on one project, I don't like flitting from one idea to another."

Torvalds said the people who "flutter about and come up with ideas" were also needed, though they were not "the really useful ones".

"They end up being the ones who, maybe, give ideas to the people who then do the work. That's what anybody should take away from this talk. The people who actually do the work are the ones you should listen to – and these days I don't actually do the work anymore. I merge other peoples' code.

"Conferences too, I like them to be less about the visionary innovation thing and more about the day-to-day thing, like what are my problems and how to solve them."

Torvalds and Zemlin also discussed the rate of work in the kernel project where a release happens about every 2½ months, how the work processes had evolved and Torvalds' creation of the version control system git, with Zemlin mentioning that Github, a project which hosts code, now has about 50 million repositories.

Torvalds created git back in 2005 when BitKeeper, the proprietary source management software he was using had its free licence pulled by the owner Larry McVoy. He gave credit to Junio Hamano, the chief maintainer, who he said had been doing the job for more than 10 years after Torvalds did the initial creation and maintained it for six months.

At the end of the session Zemlin thanked Torvalds for being "always inspiring and depressing simultaneously".

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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