Linus Torvalds Apologizes for Being a Jerk

Posted on September 17, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Mobile with 88 Comments

Linux inventor and maintainer Linus Torvalds has apologized for his abusive behavior towards others in the community and will take time off to become a better person.

“This week people in our community confronted me about my lifetime of not understanding emotions,” Mr. Torvalds writes in an open letter. “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 … I am going to take time off and get some assistance on how to understand people’s emotions and respond appropriately.”

I was originally of two minds on this one, given my disdain for the overly-PC nature of our world today. But the truth is that bad behavior is bad behavior. And while what he’s done isn’t exactly in #MeToo territory, it’s thematically similar: Someone in a position of power has abused those with less or no power and with no sense of personal responsibility. This is, of course, unacceptable.

Anyway, Greg Kroah-Hartman will assume Torvalds’ Linux responsibilities in the interim. And Torvalds has created a new Code of Conduct to replace a previous Code of Conflict for dealing with the goal of “fostering civility and the spirit of ‘be excellent to each other’ in the Linux kernel development community.”

“In the interest of fostering an open and welcoming environment, we as contributors and maintainers pledge to making participation in our project and our community a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of age, body size, disability, ethnicity, sex characteristics, gender identity and expression, level of experience, education, socio-economic status, nationality, personal appearance, race, religion, or sexual identity and orientation,” the new Code of Conduct begins.

 

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Comments (112)

112 responses to “Linus Torvalds Apologizes for Being a Jerk”

  1. William Armstrong

    I am definitely of two minds about this. I don't think anyone has accused Linus of being sexist or other things that are involved in PC culture. He calls people out on not being up to the standards he tries to keep for the kernel. He calls companies out for being anti open source and anti competitive.


    He even calls people out for being jerks. This is something that companies like Microsoft could use more of, instead of the junk that gets out in Windows currently. By enforcing high quality, Windows could be so much better. Now, can he be a jerk? Sure, as can we all. And he has to herd large groups of people to keep a high quality, which you can't really do if you are always nice to everyone. You can't train successors if you can't correct them, and PC culture encourages no correction.

    • skane2600

      In reply to william_armstrong:

      "He calls people out on not being up to the standards he tries to keep for the kernel."


      Linux is his baby and he gets to call the shots. But if you're a developer you know that "standards" are often just a personal opinion rather than a technical truth.


      When he was asked about using C++ in Linux, he could have just said something like: "I have a lot of experience in C and it's very commonly used in operating systems and I don't see much advantage in C++. It's my project and I've made my decision that Linux will remain a C-based OS".


      instead he went on an absurd rant about C++ and denigrated developers who use it. That's simply not professional behavior.

  2. MikeGalos

    Anyone have a link for the weather forecast for Hell? I'd like to grab a screen shot of the blizzard that must be going on.

  3. jbinaz

    I wonder if Steve Jobs ever apologized for some of his nastiness over the years before he passed?

  4. locust infested orchard inc

    This is the Linus that we all love, doing what he does best, because he seeks perfection.


    Had it been anybody else overseeing Linux, it would have become an utter catastrophe – case in point, Android, courtesy of the biggest privacy-invasive, data-harvesting, ad-thrusting entity.




    • waethorn

      In reply to locust infested orchard inc:

      I believe that was him expressing his disgust at NVIDIA for not doing much for the open source community so that drivers could be easily integrated into the Linux kernel.

    • skane2600

      In reply to locust infested orchard inc:

      I don't know if Linus has been "seeking perfection" or not but abusing people is neither necessary nor sufficient to achieve it. Android, of course, is entirely irrelevant to the discussion.

      • locust infested orchard inc

        In reply to skane2600:

        All forms of abuse is wrong, and am in no way condoning abuse in any shape or form – unless that abuse is directed at karma77police for his comment given in this article, and I quote him verbatim, "#MeToo is the biggest bullshit and disgrace to Western Society".


        Surely such a comment is deserving of some severe backlash ?

        • skane2600

          In reply to locust infested orchard inc:

          Maybe you posted your comment in the wrong sub-thread? You were making excuses for Linus, not criticizing Karma in the post I was responding to.

          • locust infested orchard inc

            In reply to skane2600:

            I certainly replied to your comment, and did so correctly.


            Let me clarify; I make no excuses for anyone, but merely stated abuse in any form should never be tolerated, regardless of the liberal line of the freedom to express oneself in the way that one chooses.


            I later condemned karma77police for his staggeringly devious comment, which is deserved of abuse from all sectors of society as the comment made is unashamedly evil, and it must be dealt with in the harshest possible way.

            • skane2600

              In reply to locust infested orchard inc:

              "I certainly replied to your comment, and did so correctly."


              Since you said nothing about Karma in the post I was responding to and I said nothing about Karma in my post, I can't imagine why you think you were responding to my comment.


              Here is what you said:

              "This is the Linus that we all love, doing what he does best, because he seeks perfection.


              Had it been anybody else overseeing Linux, it would have become an utter catastrophe – case in point, Android, courtesy of the biggest privacy-invasive, data-harvesting, ad-thrusting entity."


              Please point out the part where you mention Karma.


  5. ndwilder

    It's funny and sad to me that we have to put so many qualifiers on things, whereas: don't be an a$$hole really should suffice. ;)

  6. lwetzel

    "I know now this was not OK and I am truly sorry" is far better than the typical "apology" one hears now days.....


    "I am sorry IF what I <did/said> offended anyone."

  7. waethorn

    In contrast, Steve Jobs never apologized for being a jerk.


    And he died a horrible, painful death.

    • skane2600

      In reply to Waethorn:

      While I imagine you're just being sarcastic, one can make an argument that his belief in his own infallibility, did, in fact, lead to his death. He waited for a year before allowing the surgery that probably would have saved his life.

  8. Jeffery Commaroto

    Most people become jerks when they have any kind of power. This is on display pretty much everywhere 24/7 from Kings and thieves to supervisor of the local pet store. Has been true throughout every moment of history. Doesn’t even matter if that power has any meaning.


    Take that and add it to someone who is already socially awkward and struggles with empathy, well, you can figure it out. I don’t think it has much to do with political correctness. PC has become as much of a shield to hide behind lately as it has a sword to slay with.


    It’s like when someone says, “I am not sexist or anything but...” Buckle up you are about to hear something pretty darn sexist. “Can you believe how PC the world has become? I mean just because I...” you know what’s coming.


    Good on Linus for trying to make a change in his behavior. That is a hard task that is very difficult to sustain and few people can. So we will see how it goes.

  9. Maktaba

    Linus is the reason I hate Linux.

  10. FalseAgent

    Linus is pretty much the reason why so many Linux communities have the same elitist, holier-than-thou, toxic nerdfest. It truly does start from the top. God forbid you ask a Linux fanboy on how to set up a dual-boot with Windows, because they will actually get mad at you lol.

  11. dhr2018

    I read some of the links in this Ars Technica article:

    https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2018/09/linus-torvalds-apologizes-for-years-of-being-a-jerk-takes-time-off-to-learn-empathy/


    Well, I live in a country which is very, very far from being PC. Nevertheless if a boss displayed this behavior it would be considered totally unacceptable in most environments, let alone a white-collar professional one.

    Torvalds' behavior is absurd and it doesn't matter how big genius he is.


    This has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with PC. This is a thing of human vs. animal.


    Sometimes it can be argued that PC has gone too far in the English speaking world at least. But when you see behavior what would be considered absurd even in a markedly non-PC country like mine, you see that in this case it is Torvalds who ran amok, not PC.

  12. markbyrn

    You should have included the picture of Torvalds flipping the bird. 

  13. shawnwat

    Motivation=== HR lawsuit settlement


  14. mrdrwest

    "Ugliness is a form of genius"- cEvin Key

  15. illuminated

    Maybe it is just a nerd thing. After all software developers like software more than they like people. Some may lack social skills. For example StackOverflow website used by many developers is famous for chewing newbies who do not know how to ask question perfectly.

  16. Chris_Kez

    Lol, it wasn't until my second read-through, and after I'd read through the comments that I realized Paul meant "politically correct" when referred to the "overly-PC nature of our world today."

    I thought it was just a bit of odd phrasing-- in an article about the creator of Linux-- to talk about how big personal computing had become.

  17. rmlounsbury

    This is all too common in IT/Tech spaces in general. Whether it be a bro-dude attitude or people that act like a-hole's towards people that don't know as much as they do but are inquisitive it is like a cancer in our field. It certainly doesn't help when some of the leaders in the industry are the worst offenders.


    It is good that Torvalds is seeking to better himself and be a better human. Though his own words in addressing this make it sound like he is just trying to appease people. We will see if any real change comes of this. The way he words his lack of understanding of emotions is about as robotic as one can get.

  18. Stooks

    The World is too PC right now, especially in the US. Everyone is riding the victim train and spewing all kinds of what I would consider very personal/private stuff into the public, usually via social media.


    Linus has been snarky for sure. That said just spend 5 min reading comments on YouTube or Fox News and both will make Linus seem like a saint.

  19. innitrichie

    Let's face it, he's represented the Linux userbase quite well.

    • mmcpher

      In reply to innitrichie:

      Did you miss the part where he says, "I know now this was not OK and I am truly sorry"? I think he is accounting for the success and still arriving at his conclusion, and he should know. I certainly share the impulse to forgive someone being contright but have learned the hard way, to listen and respect someone when they are sincere and not looking for immediate absolution.

  20. maethorechannen

    "age, body size, disability, ethnicity, sex characteristics, gender identity and expression, level of experience, education, socio-economic status, nationality, personal appearance, race, religion, or sexual identity and orientation,"


    Ever notice how political affiliation is never, ever included on inclusion lists? You can be anything you like, as long as it's not a <insert poltical party here>


    Also, F. you, Nvidia.

    • prettyconfusd

      In reply to maethorechannen:


      That would be because political affiliation is an explicit choice, everything else on that list you're either born that way or they are not things you necessarily have a meaningful choice in (education, level of experience) as the opportunities you've had are usually determined by most of the other things in that list.


      Anyone can choose to be any political affiliation - no one can choose their ethnicity and so to conflate the two is an odd choice.

      • maethorechannen

        In reply to prettyconfusd:


        No one is born with a particular religious belief either. Even if you're born into an ethnicity with a strong tie to a particular religion you won't necessarily believe in that religion.


        Upbringing might play a part ("I was raised an X"), but then the same could be said of many people's political beliefs ("we're a family of Ys"). Ultimately, religion, like politics, is a matter of personal choice,


        Also (and I say this as someone who is morbidly obese), body size is something you have at least some control over. And people have some control over personal appearance.

        • jbinaz

          In reply to maethorechannen:

          I'd add socio-economic status: you can be born into one socio-economic status and move up or down. Sometimes it's harder to move up, but it certainly is possible.

        • prettyconfusd

          In reply to maethorechannen:


          See that's quite interesting, over the past few years I'm noticed a lot of people have started expressing their political views with such religious fervour that perhaps it may need to start to be included almost as synonymous with religion.


          You're correct of course that political views shouldn't be discriminated against (within reason, I'm definitely anti-nazi/alt-right etc).


          Of course I was including religion in the the "not born this way" category, but from my experience and in studies I've read over the years people are far more likely to change political allegiance than religion.


          Though I suppose if socio-economic factors can influence people's likelihood to stick with a particular religion it's equally possible for it to be the same with politics.


          Frankly, I don't care one way or another about the things in that list so long as people are excellent to one another, but it's good to have protections in place to safeguard against those who don't see things that way! :)


          Out of interest, are you concerned your political views would be discriminated against? I'm not asking what your views are - it's none of my business - but it just intrigues me to know if that's the reasoning for your initial comment or if it was just a general observation on these kinds of things. If you'd rather not say that's fine too, obviously, I just find these types of conversations interesting!

          • maethorechannen

            In reply to prettyconfusd:


            but from my experience and in studies I've read over the years people are far more likely to change political allegiance than religion.


            This might be a US vs UK thing, but in my experience it's been political allegiance that's unchanging (possibly due to the stronger link between party and class) while religion has mostly disappeared (to the point where having an established church makes no sense).


            are you concerned your political views would be discriminated against?


            Not particularly. I think what bothers me when you add religion but not politics is that you end up in a situation where someone who is AOK with other people being who they are but don't want to pay for their healthcare can be excluded, but someone who fully subscribes to one of several world religions and therefore believes that most of the people on the inclusivity list will suffer eternal damnation and that at least some of them should be hastened on their way to that damnation can not be excluded.

        • evox81

          In reply to maethorechannen:

          I disagree... While religion is technically a choice, indoctrination, particularly on young minds, is a hell of a thing to combat.

          • karlinhigh

            In reply to evox81: I disagree... While religion is technically a choice, indoctrination...


            So, North Korea's Juche... is that politics or religion?

          • maethorechannen

            In reply to evox81:


            The exact same can be said for many people's politics (and sports teams).


            Here's a real world example - in the UK there are Labour supporters don't actually agree with the Labour party's policies and are actually closer in political beliefs to current Conservative policy. But there's no way in hell that they would ever in a million years vote Conservative, because it goes against their upbringing (unfortunately for the PM, she forgot that when she called for an election).

      • paulwp187

        In reply to prettyconfusd:

        Diversity is good, except when it's people we disagree with

  21. jglathe

    Tried to read the Code of Conduct... gave up in te third paragraph. Meaningless bullshit, to be wielded against anyone at will. Read the Code of Conflict again... clear enough. Rules I could cope with, sort of boot camp. You get results this way, and who really cares about the swearing.

  22. Saxwulf

    " given my disdain for the overly-PC nature of our world today", I decided to write this:-


    “In the interest of fostering an open and welcoming environment, we as contributors and maintainers pledge to making participation in our project and our community a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of age, body size, disability, ethnicity, sex characteristics, gender identity and expression, level of experience, education, socio-economic status, nationality, personal appearance, race, religion, or sexual identity and orientation,”


    What an idiot.



  23. MacLiam

    So a guy pushing 50 takes stock, recognizes that abrasiveness and anger are not necessarily the sharpest tools in a manager's toolkit, and -- as a good manager should -- decides immediate corrective action is in order. Good for him. There are plenty of successful industry leaders who are demanding and courteous at the same time. When correction of others is needed, it is always better to make a point than to try to score one. Maybe he'll get far enough into that frame of mind to make effective use of a more encouraging approach with others. Hope so. Churls may prosper, but I have never seen one who would not have prospered more by dialing back on the qualities that their colleagues and juniors considered abusive.

  24. HellcatM

    The world is getting to PC, but that's because the people who go over the top also hurt the people who are just giving constructive criticism. This has been ramping up for a long time. You have people of authority who verbally beat people down to bluster their ego or just to make someone else feel like crap and that's wrong. The thing that is happening is now even the little things are being taken out of proportion. Now everyone gets an award for participating even if their team lost. If you see a woman you think is attractive at a bar and tell her so, she may think you're just one of those assholes who want to have sex with her. Now in certain states they're trying to pass laws that won't allow you to swear in public. Its getting to the point that the really bullies are ruing it for people who just want to express themselves, so they have to either stay quiet or water down what they're going to say so as not to hurt the other persons feelings.


    There is a line between constructive criticism and being as ass and that line is getting thinner and thinner. Maybe because I swore a little in this post it may be deleted. Its not right to scream at someone and call them names until they cry or get pissed off enough to hit you, but at the same time when just giving constructive criticism hurts someone enough they cry and or want to hit you, that's not good either. There has to be a line, but if that line goes away then we're in trouble.


    Now I haven't heard much of the things Travis has said so I don't really have an opinion in his circumstance, so that's why I didn't mention him. It seems like he's trying to self police himself (or people have told him he's going off the rails). I've had bosses who I've wanted to knock out because what they said to me was totally uncalled for and pissed me off. I had to chill, take it, then usually go in my car and scream until I mellowed out. I'm not sure if he's been that bad or not.

  25. jpr75

    Sounds like someone finally got through to Torvalds and made him realize his behavior was unacceptable. Although, perhaps too little too late for those who have been the object of his vitriolic scorn and ridicule over the years. Perhaps for people like Linus Torvalds, they are better staying behind the scenes and letting people who are more socially capable do the communicating.

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