Today, Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, which powers everything from smartwatches to electrical grids posted a pretty remarkable note on the kernel mailing list.
As a little bit of backstory, Linus has sometimes come under fire for the ways in which he has expressed feedback, provided criticism, and reacted to various scenarios on the kernel mailing list. This criticism has been fair in many cases: he has been overly aggressive at times, and while the kernel maintainers are a tight-knit group, the optics (not just of what it looks like, but what is actually happening), particularly for those new to kernel development has often been pretty bad.
Like many conflict scenarios, this feedback has been communicated back to him in both constructive and non-constructive ways. Historically he has been seemingly reluctant to really internalize this feedback, I suspect partially because (a) the Linux kernel is a very successful project, and (b) some of the critics have at times gone nuclear at him (which often doesn’t work as a strategy towards defensive people). Well, things changed today.
In his post today he shared some self-reflection on this feedback:
This week people in our community confronted me about my lifetime of not understanding emotions. My flippant attacks in emails have been both unprofessional and uncalled for. Especially at times when I made it personal. In my quest for a better patch, this made sense to me. I know now this was not OK and I am truly sorry.
He went on to not just share an admission that this has been a problem, but to also share a very personal acceptance that he struggles to understand and engage with people’s emotions:
The above is basically a long-winded way to get to the somewhat painful personal admission that hey, I need to change some of my behavior, and I want to apologize to the people that my personal behavior hurt and possibly drove away from kernel development entirely. I am going to take time off and get some assistance on how to understand people’s emotions and respond appropriately.
His post is sure to light up the open source, Linux, and tech world for the next few weeks. For some it will be celebrated as a step in the right direction. For some it will be too little too late, and their animus will remain. For some they will be cautiously supportive, but defer judgement until they have seen his future behavior demonstrate substantive changes.
I wouldn’t say I know Linus very closely; we have a casual relationship. I see him at conferences from time to time, and we often bump into each other and catch up. I interviewed him for my book and for the Global Learning XPRIZE. From my experience he is a funny, genuine, friendly guy. Interestingly, and not unusually at all for open source, his online persona is rather different to his in-person persona. I am not going to deny that when I would see these dust-ups on LKML, it didn’t reflect the Linus I know. I chalked it down to a mixture of his struggles with social skills, dogmatic pragmatism, and ego.
His post today is a pretty remarkable change of posture for him, and I encourage that we as a community support him in making these changes.
Accepting these personal challenges is tough, particularly for someone in his position. Linux is a global phenomenon. It has resulted in billions of dollars of technology creation, powering thousands of companies, and changing the norms around of how software is consumed and created. It is easy to forget that Linux was started by a quiet Finnish kid in his university dorm room. It is important to remember that just because Linux has scaled elegantly, it doesn’t mean that Linus has been able to. He isn’t a codebase, he is a human being, and bugs are harder to spot and fix in humans. You can’t just deploy a fix immediately. It takes time to identify the problem and foster and grow a change. The starting point for this is to support people in that desire for change, not re-litigate the ills of the past: that will get us nowhere quickly.
I am also mindful of ego. None of us like to admit we have an ago, but we all do. You don’t get to build one of the most fundamental technologies in the last thirty years and not have an ego. He built it…they came…and a revolution was energized because of what he created. While Linus’s ego is more subtle, and certainly not overstated and extending to faddish self-promotion, overly expensive suits, and forays into Hollywood (quite the opposite), his ego has naturally resulted in abrupt and fixed opinions on how his project should run. This sometimes results in him plugging fingers in his ears to particularly challenging viewpoints from others (he is not the only person guilty of this, many people in similar positions do too). His post today is a clear example of him putting Linux as a project ahead of his own personal ego.
This is important for a few reasons. Firstly, being in such a public position and accepting your personal flaws isn’t a problem many people face, and isn’t a situation many people handle well. I work with a lot of CEOs, and they often say it is the loneliest job on the planet. I have heard American presidents say the same in interviews. This is because they are the top of the tree with all the responsibility and expectations on their shoulders. Put yourself in Linus’s position: his little project has blown up into a global phenomenon, and he didn’t necessarily have the social tools to be able to handle this change. Ego forces these internal struggles under the surface and to push them down and avoid them. So, to accept them as publicly and openly as he did today is a very firm step in the right direction. Now, the true test will be results, but we need to all provide the breathing space for him to accomplish them.
So, I would encourage everyone to give Linus a shot. This doesn’t mean the frustrations of the past are erased, and he has acknowledged and apologized for these mistakes as a first step. He has accepted he struggles with understanding other’s emotions, and a desire to help improve this for the betterment of the project and himself. He is a human, and the best tonic for humans to resolve their own internal struggles is the support and encouragement of other humans. This is not unique to Linus, but to anyone who faces similar struggles.
All the best, Linus.
Designers! We need your help! We want to produce a fun family crest for the Bacon family, something that really reflects us and who we are. This will go on a flag poll at our house and on napkins/coasters for parties.
Hello, Designers! The Bacon family needs a Family Crest designing. We have a flag poll in our new house, and we thought it could be fun to have a family crest that reflects us, our personalities, and background. This will also go on some napkins and coasters for parties. We want it to be amusing and fun, but also professional and classy. Please make it: * Modern and classy. We don't want this to look medieval or old-school. We want it to look classy, but contemporary. * Amusing, but not cheesy. * Either a single-color design, or max of 2 - 3 colors (that contrast really well). * This should be hi-res so it can be printed on material with a solid background color. As you design it, please try to incorporate the following (in priority order): * Include the text "The Bacon Family" near the top. * Add the latin "Sicut delectamentum cibum prandium." near the bottom (which is latin for "Like the delicious breakfast meat" - we say this when we say our name and check in hotels, because people always assume our name isn't as ridiculous as "Bacon") * The USA, British, and Italian flags in some form. * Incorporate key symbols that reflect us: - Food/Cooking. - Music/Heavy Metal (e.g. a Rhandy Rhoads guitar.) - Technology. - People/Community (people getting together to do cool things.) As food for thought, I like these: * https://www.teepublic.com/phone-case/597879-rahoxah-family-crest * https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/42573158947630583/
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A little while ago I worked with a client called ZBiotics. They are producing an engineered probiotic which that can be a hangover cure, but the technology has a wealth of other potential applications outside of making your morning-after a little less brutal.
They were interested in running a crowdfunding campaign. I have run a few campaigns before (the $12.7 million Ubuntu Edge, and the $1million Global Learning XPRIZE) and I provided strategic guidance for the Mycroft Mark II (which raised $395k of it’s $50k goal).
I like Zack and Stephen. They seem like good guys who want to build a company the right way. I sat down and provided some training around how to structure and deliver their campaign. This was a complex one because they are not only delivering a practical consumer product (hangover cure) but their technology is also the secret sauce. Both of these are important parts of the message.
They launched it yesterday with a goal of $25,000 and already smashed past that in Day 1. Here is their overview video:
Can’t see it? See it here.
Go and check it out.
Every organization, community, and family has difficult people in them. Some get overly agitated, some are not constructive in their criticism, some rub other people up the wrong way, some always commit but never deliver, and other traits.
In my new video I share some details for how to manage these types of personalities. I share some golden rules for handling them, how to analyze the situation well, and a method for building a resolution and solving problems.
Here it is:
Can’t see it? Watch it here.
A few weeks ago I ran the ninth annual Community Leadership Summit in Portland, Oregon. As usual, O’Reilly provided the venue space and AV for us (as it happens the weekend before OSCON), and we had a fantastic line-up of sponsors, including:
Many thanks to all our fantastic sponsors!
The event was fantastic. We had over 200 great attendees (from all manner of backgrounds, disciplines, and experience), 8 keynotes, 40+ discussion sessions, and a raft of fantastic hallway discussions, social events, and more. Thanks also to Todd Lewis, Aaron Griswold, Van Riper, Catharine Lipton, and others who helped make this a success.
While CLS is in it’s ninth year, this year felt even more energized than usual. There were some deep, complex discussions getting to the heart of how people collaborate, and these conversations covered a wide range of topics.
Here are some photos from the event (thanks to Jim Grizanzio for taking these, and see the full album):
See you next year, everyone!
Last week I ran the Community Leadership Summit in Portland, Oregon, and also attended the OSCON summit there. It was a fantastic week and I will be following up with more details about CLS soon.
While there, my old friend (and editor of The Art of Community), Andy Oram, asked if he could interview me about how community leadership has evolved over the years. We had an interesting discussion, touching on how this work has changed, how the job descriptions and roles have adjusted, how companies fit it into their organizations, and more.
You can watch it here:
Can’t see the video? See it here.
Recently I gave a keynote at DevXCon in San Francisco. So, what better place to deliver a presentation that is entirely non-technical and non-specific to developer relations?
“You are bonkers, Bacon”, I hear you say.
Well, hold your horses. Effective leadership, how we identify quality leaders, and how we foster great leadership at scale is critical to all communities. As such, I took a crack at this topic in my keynote. Fortunately, it seemed well-received by the folks there.
Now it is your turn to decide. Here is the video:
Can’t see the video? Click here.
I would love to hear your ideas about what great leadership consists of and how you have approached this. Share your thoughts in the comments!
One thing I see clients reach for the Pepto about over and over again is how to manage work effectively. They often struggle to (a) gather and communicate requirements (and not a Christmas list), (b) understand these needs and set expectations, and (c) manage how this work is actually delivered. When this isn’t smooth, it is a royal pain in the behind.
As part of my Open Org series, here is my new video covers precisely this:
Can’t see it? See it here.
Don’t forget to see my first part of the series too, which covered how to communicate effectively across different parts of an organization. This is really important, particularly if you are working with executive teams. Check it out:
Can’t see it? See it here.
Feedback is always welcome!
Recently the news broke that Microsoft are acquiring GitHub. Effusive opinions flowed from all directions: some saw the acquisition as a sensible fit for Microsoft to better support developers, and some saw it as a tyrant getting their grubby fingers on open source’s ecosystem.
I am thrilled for Microsoft and GitHub for many reasons, and there will be a bright future ahead because of it, but I have been thinking more about the reaction some of the critics have had to this, and why.
I find it fascinating that there still seems to be a deep-seated discomfort in some about Microsoft and their involvement in open source. I understand that this is for historical reasons, and many moons ago Microsoft were definitely on the offensive against open source. I too was critical of Microsoft and their approach back in those days. I may have even said ‘M$’ instead of ‘MS’ (ugh.)
Things have changed though. Satya Nadella, their CEO, has had a profound impact on the company: they are a significant investor and participant in open source across a multitude of open source projects, they hire many open source developers, run their own open source projects (e.g. VSCode), and actively sponsor and support many open source conferences, events, and initiatives. I know many people who work at Microsoft and they love the company and their work there. These are not microserfs: they are people like you and me.
Things have changed, and I have literally never drunk Kool-aid; this or any other type. Are they perfect? No, but they don’t claim to be. But is the Microsoft of today a radically different company to the Microsoft of the late nineties. No doubt.
Still though, this cynicism exists in some. Some see them as a trojan horse and ask if we can really trust them?
A little while ago I had a discussion with someone who was grumbling about Microsoft. After poking around his opinion, what shook out was that his real issue was not with Microsoft’s open source work (he was supportive of this), but it was with the fact that they still produce proprietary software and use software patents in departments such as Windows and Office.
Put bluntly, he believed Microsoft are ethically unfit as a company because of these reasons, and these reasons were significant enough to diminish their open source work almost entirely.
Now, I am always fascinated when people use the word “ethics” in a debate. Often it smacks of holier-than-thou hyperbole as opposed to an objective assessment of what is actually right and wrong. Also, it seems that when some bring up “ethics” the discussion takes a nosedive and those involved become increasingly uninterested in other opinions (as I am sure we will see beautifully illustrated in the comments on this post 😉 )
In this case though, I think ethics explains a lot about the variance of views on this and why we should seek to understand those who differ with us. Let me explain why.
Many of the critics of proprietary software are people who believe that it is ethically unsound. They believe that the production and release of proprietary software is a fundamentally pernicious act; that it is harmful to society and the individuals within it.
I have spent my entire career, the last 20 years, working in the open source world. I have run a number of open source communities, some large, some small. I am a live and let live kind of guy and I have financially supported organizations I don’t 100% agree with but who I think do interesting work. This includes the Free Software Foundation, Software Freedom Conservancy, and EFF, I have a close relationship with the Linux Foundation, and have worked with a number of companies on all sides of the field. Without wishing to sound like an egotistical clod, I believe I have earned my open source stripes.
Here’s the thing though, and some of you won’t like this: I don’t believe proprietary software is unethical. Far from it.
Clearly murder, rape, human trafficking, child abuse, and other despicable acts are unethical, but I also consider dishonesty, knowingly lying, taking advantage of people, and other similar indiscretions are unethical. I am not an expert in ethics and I don’t claim to be a perfectly ethical person, but by my reasoning unethical acts are a power imbalance that is forced on people without their consent.
Within my ethical code, software doesn’t get a look in. Not even close.
I don’t see proprietary software as a power imbalance. Sure, there are very dominant companies with proprietary platforms that people need to use (such as at your employer), and there are companies who have monopolies and tremendous power imbalances in the market. My ethical objection there though is with the market, not with the production of closed source software.
Now, before some of you combust. Let me be clear on this: I am deeply passionate about open source and free software and I do believe that proprietary software is sub-optimal in many situations. Heck, at least 60% of my clients are companies Ia m working with to build and deliver open source workflow.
In many situations, open source provides a much better model for collaboration, growth, security, community development, and other elements. Open source provides an incredible environment for people to shine: our broader open source ecosystem is littered with examples of under-represented groups doing great work and building fantastic careers and reputations. Open source and free software is one of the most profound technological revolutions, and it will generate great value and goodwill for many years to come.
Here lies the rub though: when I look at a company that ships proprietary products, I don’t see an unethical company, I see a company that has chosen a different model. I don’t believe the people working there are evil, that they are doing harm, and that they have mendacious intent. Is their model of building software sub-optimal? Probably, but it needs further judgement: open source clearly works in some areas (e.g. infrastructure software), but has struggled to catch on commercially in other areas (e.g. consumer software).
Put simply, open source does not guarantee success and proprietary software does not guarantee evil.
Throughout the course of my career I have always tried to understand other people’s views and build relationships even if we see things differently.
As an example, earlier I mentioned I have financially supported the Free Software Foundation and Software Freedom Conservancy. Over the years I have had my disagreements with both RMS and Bradley Kuhn, largely based on this different perspective to the ethics of software, but I respect that they come from a different position. I don’t believe they are “wrong” in their views. I believe the position they come from is different to mine. Let a thousand roses bloom: produce an ecosystem in which everyone can play a role and the best ideas will generally play out.
What is critical to me is taking a decent approach to this.
We don’t get anywhere by labelling those who work at or run companies with proprietary products as evil and as part of a shadowy cabal. We also don’t get anywhere by labelling those who do consider free software to be a part of their ethical code as “libtards” or something similarly derogatory. We need to learn more about other people’s views rather than purely focusing on out-arguing people. Sure, have fun with other people’s views, poke fun at them, but it should all be within the spirit of productive discourse.
Either way, no matter where you draw your line, or whatever your view is on the politique du jour, open source, community development, and open innovation is changing the world. We are succeeding, but we can do even greater work if we build bridges, not firebomb them. Be nice, people.
I realized I haven’t been putting many videos online recently. As such, I have started recording some instructional and coaching videos that I am putting online that I hope are useful to you folks.
To get started, I wanted to touch on the topic of handling failure and poor decisions in a way that helps to identify pragmatic outcomes and lead towards better outcomes. This video introduces the issue, delves into how to unpick and understand the components of failure, and some practical recommendations for concrete next steps after this assessment.
Here is the video:
Can’t see it? Click here.