Linus Torvalds, the internationally famous creator of the Linux operating system (which powers your Android phone and most of the internet), does not in way, shape or form suffer from Imposter’s Syndrome.
But he regularly inflicts it on others.
Imposter Syndrome is the nagging fear that everyone is really better than you, and it drives many a programmer crazy.
The combination of his offbeat sense of humour, his confrontational style, and his major potty mouth has made a lot of people angry at him.
He’ll tell you he doesn’t care. In fact, an “I don’t care about you” statement actually started the latest brouhaha.
On Thursday, Torvalds was speaking at a Linux conference in New Zealand when people asked him about his infamous rants on the Linux mailing list, and about diversity in the Linux world (where women and minorities are appallingly scarce).
His answers were flip, as reported by Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech:
“Some people think I’m nice and are shocked when they find out different,” Torvalds said in response (quoted via multiple Twitter accounts of the event). “I’m not a nice person, and I don’t care about you. I care about the technology and the kernel — that’s what’s important to me.”
… and on diversity, he said:
“the most important part of open source is that people are allowed to do what they are good at” and “all that [diversity] stuff is just details and not really important.”
So rants against Torvalds burst out on Twitter, like this one from coder Bodil Stokke:
Torvald’s conniption fits on the Linux mailing list are so epic, and so filled with f-bombs and other salty words, they have become a Linux meme. He even did a video last year that made fun of the whole situation, reading and responding to some of the mean tweets he gets (see the end of this post).
But there is a serious side. His trash-talking style has permeated the whole open source world, even at for-profit companies like Red Hat.
In 2013, Intel coder Sarah Sharp launched a public campaign to get Torvalds to stop what she called “verbal abuse.” It obviously didn’t work, but she did elevate the conversation and the Linux Foundation, Torvalds’ employer, responded by stepping up its efforts to encourage more people to become Linux coders.
As for not caring, that’s probably not completely true.
People who know Torvalds say he’s a decent guy, not a total jerk. He just doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
After the Ars story got hot, he even wrote a letter to the publication explaining his comments.
What I wanted to say [at the keynote] — and clearly must have done very badly — is that one of the great things about open source is exactly the fact that different people are so different …
I think we can have some developers who are used to — and prefer — a more confrontational style, and still also have people who don’t …
I’d rather be really confrontational, and bad ideas should be [taken] down aggressively. Even good ideas need to be vigorously defended. …
Maybe it’s just because I like arguing.
Torvalds is never going to completely stop his four-letter-word rants. But he’s willing and ready to be challenged over it.
“I also understand that other people are driven away by cursing and crass language when it all gets a bit too carried away,” he told Ars.