Friday, 28 September 2018 06:35

Torvalds offers his take on code of conduct and past outbursts Featured


Linux creator Linus Torvalds has offered his take on a code of conduct in the wake of his stepping down from leadership of the kernel project, pointing out that he has never been a "people person, not even as a child".

In a long email to the BBC, which the corporation published in its entirety, Torvalds made no bones about the fact the he could have been more polite in his dealings with other developers, but added that there was nastiness among the others too.

On 16 September, Torvalds said he was taking a break from leading the kernel project in order to get professional help over his temper snaps. The project adopted a code of conduct, a modified version of its earlier code of conflict.

In the email, he said the advantage of concentrating on technology was that one could have some objective measures to agree on what was better, even if different people had different takes on an issue.

"And even when there are disagreements, people in the end often have fairly clear and objective measures of what is better. Code that is faster, simpler, or handles more cases naturally is just objectively 'better', without people really having to argue too much about it," Torvalds said.

But he said when people argued about behaviour, there was no way it would end with a common goal – apart from the argument itself.

"Have you read the Twitter feeds and other things by the people who seem to care more about the non-technical side? I think your 'hyped stories' is about as polite as you can put it," he wrote. "It's a morass of nastiness. Instead of a 'common goal', you end up with horrible fighting between different 'in-groups'.

"It's very polarising, and both sides love egging the other side on. It's not even a 'discussion', it's just people shouting at each other."

Torvalds said this was the reason why he did not want to become involved in a discussion about a code of conduct, adding that a lot of the people who pushed for such a code were not exactly blameless when it came to cursing and swearing at others.

"I could easily point you to various tweet storms by people who criticise my 'white cis male' behaviour, while at the same time cursing more than I ever do," he wrote.

While he had his own reservations about political correctness, he said he did not want be seen "in the same camp as the low-life scum on the Internet that think it's OK to be a white nationalist Nazi, and have some truly nasty misogynistic, homophobic or transphobic behaviour. And those people were complaining about too much political correctness too, and in the process just making my public stance look bad".

Torvalds said he was not trying to make excuses for his own outbursts, but said it was not the kind of nastiness he had referred to. "I got upset with bad code, and people who made excuses for it, and used some pretty strong language in the process. Not good behaviour, but not the racist/etc claptrap some people spout."

He admitted that until he could change his approach, he would have to "fake it", adding, "I'm trying to get rid of my outbursts, and be more polite about things, but technically wrong is still technically wrong, and I won't start accepting bad code just to make people feel better about themselves."

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Sam Varghese

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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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