Linus Torvalds views so-called “professional” behavior as a hindrance to progress, and his argument for more a freewheeling, less polite work environment is as convincing as it is brazen.
Though you may not know Linus Torvalds by name, you’ve likely heard of his most important contribution to home computing: The Linux operating system. Yes, it’s named for the man, and he’s spent the past 22 years as the chief driving force behind the OS’ gradually-increasing popularity. As a result, he ranks alongside Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in the minds of many hardcore computer geeks, and as a result of this, when Torvalds has something to say the Internet tends to listen. Even (or perhaps especially) when Torvalds is endorsing antisocial behavior.
A discussion on the topic of office etiquette broke out on a developer’s mailing list recently, due in no small part to Torvalds’ seemingly suggesting that a colleague “may need to learn to shout at people.” Intel developer Sarah Sharp took this as an endorsement of vocal abuse in the workplace and called Torvalds out for his infamously outspoken nature. “Linus, you’re one of the worst offenders when it comes to verbally abusing people and publicly tearing their emotions apart,” Sharp wrote.
This set Torvalds off, and the developer’s response is a lengthy screed on why he acts the way he does. It’s vitriolic (and entertaining), so while we’ve had to alter Torvalds’ response for legibility and brevity, we’re leaving the crucial text as intact as possible. Have a look:
The thing is, different people act and react differently. On both sides. And I think we should recognize that and also *allow* for that. And sometimes it means, for example, that people interact primarily with certain people that they like more – because they are a better “fit”.
People are different. I’m not polite, and I get upset easily but generally don’t hold a grudge – I have these explosive emails. And that works well for some people. And it probably doesn’t work well with you.
And you know what? That’s fine. Not everybody had to get along or work
well with each other. But the fact that it doesn’t work with you
doesn’t make it “wrong”.
You think people need to act “nicer”. While I think it’s *natural* that people have different behavior – and different expectations. We all have issues somewhere and don’t all like each other. There are certain people I refuse to work with, for example. They may be good engineers, but they just aren’t people I can work with.
And hey, I don’t actually think we’ve personally even had any problems. And I realize that you may react very strongly and get nervous about us having problems, but realistically, do you actually expect to like all the other kernel engineers?
And equally importantly, not everybody has to like you, or necessarily think they have to be liked by you. OK?
So as far as I’m concerned, the discussion is about “how to work together DESPITE people being different”. Not about trying to make everybody please each other. Because I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll continue cursing. To me, the discussion would be about how to work together despite these kinds of cultural differences, not about “how do we make everybody nice and sing songs sound the campfire”
Do you think you might be interested in *that* kind of discussion instead of the “you are abusing me” kind of discussion?
Because if you want me to “act professional”, I can tell you that I’m not interested. I’m sitting in my home office wearign [sic] a bathrobe. The same way I’m not going to start wearing ties, I’m *also* not going to buy into the fake politeness, the lying, the office politics and backstabbing, the passive aggressiveness, and the buzzwords. Because THAT is what “acting professionally” results in: people resort to all kinds of really nasty things because they are forced to act out their normal urges in unnatural ways.
That’s certainly an interesting take on how best to survive in the working world, isn’t it?
It seems impossible to report on Torvalds’ rant without pointing out that Torvalds is something of a minor celebrity in the world of computer programming. As we stated above, the Linux kernel is named after him. Because of this he likely gets away with a lot of behavior that wouldn’t fly were he some college intern or lowly codemonkey. Like he said, this is what works for him – a wealthy white guy whose professional achievements guarantee him a spot in the history books.
That’s not say I don’t agree with Torvalds – faux politeness and passive aggressive behavior is so tiresome – but before you all decide to swear at your bosses or show up to work with a mohawk, it’s probably best that you check your credentials. Are you a world-renowned figure in the tech industry? No? Then keep your tie on.