December 22, 2004

Bulk view

On the cult of personality

Following a link from plug-org, I came across Linus Torvalds’ answers
to the following questions in

– What Linux myths or misconceptions do you find particularly galling?

I don’t get upset that easily, so I can’t say that there is any in particular that I find galling. One myth
that I find interesting, but which has nothing to do with Linux or even the IT sector in particular, is the
myth of how a single person or even a single company makes a huge difference in the market. It’s the belief
that things happen because somebody was visionary and “planned” it that way. Sometimes the people themselves
seem to believe it, and then the myth becomes hubris.

I have to continually try to explain to people that no, I don’t “control” what happens in Linux. It’s about
having an environment that is conducive to development, not so much about any particular leader. And I think
that is true in most cases, be it the “great sport coach” or the “great spiritual leader.”

– I’ve always been skeptical of the great man theory of history,

though it’s had its moments. On the flip side, you clearly have had a
pretty big influence over Linux, and Linux has a big influence over
the computing industry. Has Linux made you more humble or has it
boosted your ego?

Hey, it’s not like my ego was that small to begin with, but Linux sure as hell hasn’t made me more humble.
What it has done is to make me realize just how much the movers and shakers really do depend on the
environment they are in, or have been able to build up around them. And while that still doesn’t make me
humble, it hopefully keeps me at least a bit more grounded.

And I’m not trying to say that individuals don’t matter. Individuals do matter, and I’m a huge believer in
the theory that a motivated and smart person can do more than a thousand people who aren’t. But what matters
more than any individual is the kind of environment that brings in the people who shine. One of the things I
think Linux has succeeded really well at is to let people shine.

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The Graphing Calculator Story

The power of skunkworks – how an unofficial team of developers got a
really cool application together.

My skunkworks project was beginning to look real with help from these professionals as well as others in graphic design, documentation, programming, mathematics, and user interface. The secret to programming is not intelligence, though of course that helps. It is not hard work or experience, though they help, too. The secret to programming is having smart friends.

I view the events as an experiment in subverting power structures. I had none of the traditional power over others that is inherent to the structure of corporations and bureaucracies. I had neither budget nor headcount. I answered to no one, and no one had to do anything I asked. Dozens of people collaborated spontaneously, motivated by loyalty, friendship, or the love of craftsmanship. We were hackers, creating something for the sheer joy of making it work.