Open-source leaders' reputations as jerks is undeserved

In fact, most of them are great people


Opinion You might be excused if you think most Linux and open-source leaders are, ah, rude.

If you follow open-source at all, you know the stories about Linux's founder, Linus Torvalds, giving Nvidia the finger for its lack of Linux support and his stomping all over developers on the Linux Kernel Mailing List when they blunder.

And let's not forget former director of The Perl Foundation Curtis "Ovid" Poe's pronouncement on certain folks' behavior at TPF: "It's the online version of road rage. I know people who, at conferences, are absolutely lovely people ... face-to-face. But they're raging assholes online."

Nor is this phenomenon limited to gray-haired developers. Recently, an argument over the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) dropping a requirement to wear Covid-19 masks at KubeCon Europe 2022 saw Kat Cosgrove, a Pulumi Developer Advocate and CNCF Ambassador, lashing out at the CNCF executive director on Twitter.

She wrote at the time: "This fucking sucks, Priyanka. It's dangerous and shitty and does not at all speak to the CNCF caring about its community."

In the end, Cosgrove won her point. You will need to wear a mask at KubeCon. As someone who takes Covid-19 seriously, I approve. But, some hard feelings have been left in its wake.

There's nothing extraordinary about any of these interactions. But, if you think this phenomenon is unique to open-source communities, you're wrong. Arrogance and rude behavior are rampant in technology circles.

Thanks to my work, I've known some of the biggest technology leaders of all time including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Larry Ellison. Compared to them – and far too many other tech CEOs and managers of companies large and small – even the most venomous open-source leaders are pussy cats. I've heard tech bosses abuse employees to the point of them breaking into tears and having panic attacks all too often.

Heck, I had my first panic attack after a boss threw a fit at me for leaving my job for another position that came with a 50 percent raise. All too often tech businesses are harsh.

Besides, you don't work under open-source community leaders, you work with them. And, besides, the proprietary ones can, and did, fire you and make sure you never worked in the industry again. All-in-all, I'd rather just have Linus yell at me in an email.

But, people do change. While no one will ever mistake Torvalds for a meek, mild-mattered developer, in 2018 he realized he had to change his ways. He was chasing good developers away and getting on the nerves of even the best programmers who were still there. So, Torvalds actually stepped away from the Linux developer community to change his personal behavior. 

Do you know how rare this is? Just think about your own co-workers. How often do you admit to mistakes, apologize, and try to change? Next to never, right? You know what's even rarer? Anyone in the technology industry apologizing.

And, what's even more amazing? Torvalds came back and he changed. Oh, he can still get salty at times, but he's much better than he was and the community is better for it.

Indeed, the open-source community as a whole has been getting politer. Part of this was the rise of Code of Conducts. These have been based on Coraline Ada Ehmke, a software developer and open-source advocate, Contributor Covenant. It's used by such projects as Eclipse, Kubernetes, and Rails

Some people hate this. The use of her Contributor Covenant has caused a bad-tempered outbreak on Twitter and Reddit.

There are also claims the Linux community is becoming politicized and is being taken over by so-called Social Justice Warriors (SJWs). Some examples concerning the new Code of Conduct include: "In practice [will be] abused tools to hunt people SJWs don't like. And they don't like a lot of people."

And, "Yes as long as you are authoritarian left wing minded, and/or censor yourself you can participate."

Despite all the whining, the Codes have been more successful than not.  They're fostering civility and encouraging people to "be excellent to each other."

In addition, we're seeing more and more open-source leaders who don't make headlines for being rude. These leaders are bringing us a kinder, gentler open-source community.

That said, I think there will also be more rudeness in tech circles than other businesses. Many tech leaders are on the autism spectrum. While ASD can sometimes give people the superpower of being able to concentrate on code beyond the ability of most people, it may hinder them from working well in society. But, just as you can learn to be a great programmer, so people on the spectrum can learn to be great leaders. 

Slowly but shortly, the open-source community is becoming a kinder, gentler, and better one. ®

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