"am i being fashionably late or am i just being an asshole": my life dilemmas
I acknowledge that Linus is a great programmer and makes good design choices. He could do without delivering merciless public brow-beatings from that position of power.
I agree, and I especially agree that he isn’t always right and doesn’t seem like he’s cognizant of the social implications of some of his ourbursts. he is not the ideal hacker, nor the ideal face of linux, but the vast majority of his tirades are to people who should know better and are not out of the blue. if you submit a bad patch to linux, laughably bad, yes, you will quite likely get laughed at rather than encouraged. if you’re in charge of a module or subsystem and you make a critically poor judgement call on accepting a patch, you will get flamed rather than given help to do your job. it’s harsh and it isn’t how you build an inviting ethos, and it definitely has a major role* in why the number of kernel hackers is dwindling and why their demographic is almost exclusively the privilegedest males.
but at the same time, I am an apologist for this kind of culture, because my *fundamental* goal in writing software is not social justice or even helping the free software culture, even though I think both of those things are very important. but the driving reason behind why I type lines of code to make a program run is technical excellence, and I don’t have the time and patience to mentor all of the well-meaning users on IRC or mailing lists who have ideas for features or even bug reports that I don’t consider high-priority, if they don’t already seem to have a minimal amount of technical competence. I’m not *happy* about this. I’m completely certain that there are people who could really have benefited from software I’ve worked on and who I blew off because I wasn’t feeling up to treating them as equals at the time, due to language barriers, just being tired or depressed, or whatever other bullshit reasons. but I haven’t mastered myself to that extent yet, and I can’t put that onus on the lkml either. I wholly believe that ignorance is blameless and I think that many of these users could grow into being very accomplished hackers who would pay back the investment in helping them contribute manyfold, but I don’t have the maturity to do that yet. it would be great if the lkml as a culture were to make a concerted effort to be welcoming, but for the many hackers who are paid wages to work on Linux, progressive morality simply doesn’t enter into the equation, and there is already a lack of manpower in simply handling the number of patches that come in from corporate code-drops, long-term maintenance, and so on. in the meantime, enforcing a minimal level of competence with flames and verbal abuse serves to let the hackers focus on hacking rather than building a healthy community.
basically, what I’m saying is that these hackers have to make a decision between dedicating themselves to making as much code work as possible at all costs, or taking the time to consider how the people involved feel. and like so many resource-allocation decisions in the presence of scarcity, underprivileged groups get screwed again and again. yes, it’s bad. but it’s a decision the developers have made, especially Linus, and the political status of Linux (i.e., within the free software and corporate community) is precarious enough that I think his development model is the best feasible option. forks of Linux to merely change the development model, or even a freeze to let Linus do so, would be a complete debacle, because the people who, right now, make the kernel possible, are not in agreement on many basic political or social issues. the code is the only thing holding them together, and convincing everyone that what’s better for the community is better for the code would not be a clean sweep. hackers, sadly, are not the most socially inclined, and love to argue. I *would* love to see something better, but I don’t know how we can get there from here.
these are good & interesting thoughts and i wish to have them on my blog. *reblog*
i guess my only addition to the discussion would be: while attempting to fix the culture will likely be a debacle in many ways for the reasons you mention, i think the costs of not fixing the culture may indeed be high enough that ignoring the problem and focusing on the code only seems to be the best feasible option
and i say this just because i don’t think the problem is necessarily just “some n00b did a very dumb thing, and thus n00bs no longer want to join & someday get better”
i say this because i’m really, really surprised by how a lot of the best hackers & programmers i know—folks who are leagues and leagues beyond me (i am not a good programmer and not a kernel hacker! i just lurk aggressively haha), folks who would need little to no hand-holding—find the very idea of trying to contribute to linux reprehensible, just because the community has such a reputation for being difficult, hostile, and so on. or there’s the folks i know who used to be really involved in kernel hacking, merged a lot of solid stuff, but left when it seemed like their work would be better appreciated elsewhere (burnout, basically, which is a really hard problem pretty much any labor-of-love-ish project has to confront, and is really difficult!).
a small, extraordinarily dedicated group of hackers can get a lot done, it’s true. but i’m worried about their scalability over time, and i guess i’m worried that if their numbers continue to dwindle, we’re going to see a slow & very ugly downslide, when maybe there’s a chance to eat a very painful cost now and perhaps avoid that slow & very ugly downslide
hard to tell which route would ultimately be more costly, though. neither option is easy :/