by Swapnil Bhartiya

Linus Torvalds needs to fix the communication bug that is hurting his project

Oct 08, 2015
LinuxOpen Source

He created Linux and Git. Now we need Torvalds to create a best-of-breed communication style

One of the prominent Linux kernel developers Sarah Sharp recently announced that she was quitting the Linux kernel community, citing the communication style used by certain kernel developers on the LKML (Linux Kernel Mailing List). You can read all about it hereand here and here.

Is the LKML environment toxic? I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Is Linus setting a bad example? I’ll let you decide that for yourself too.

Is the communication style hurting the kernel community? Here, the answer is clearly yes.

The latest release had over 1,539 contributors, which is much more than what even giants like Apple and Microsoft can commit to their own kernel. But while new people are joining some people are leaving too and mostly because of the communication style. The community has lost brilliant people like Sarah Sharp and Matthew Garrett, among many others, solely because of the communication.

So, yes, the kernel is suffering by losing talented people.

Torvalds understandably gets upset when top maintainers commit grave mistakes that could affect users. He gets upset because he is passionate about the excellence of Linux, his baby.

But no matter how sporadic or rare the crude outbursts, he is making the biggest compromise; he is creating a vulnerability, a bug in his community. Torvalds’ communication style is taking brilliant minds away from his project.

The excellence of Linux comes from the excellent people working on it; they are Torvalds’ greatest assets. He should not make any compromise whatsoever when it comes to retaining and inspiring these excellent people.

A high-quality environment like Linux can most assuredly work without rants and personal attacks. You don’t have to look far for people who exemplify that. Torvalds himself has been lauded for his ability to work with people he doesn’t get along with. As Alan Cox, a well-respected and now retired kernel developer, noted, “Even in the early days he did things like get Alexey to work through Davem.”

It is in the best interest of Linux for Torvalds to foster a communication style that will become a standard for software development and beyond; A communication style that will make LKML a place where the smartest people can work together without having to worry about personal insults.

So here is a pull request for Linus from those who are as passionate about Linux as is he. Will he merge these changes with his communication style and make LKML a welcoming environment? We will see.