Linus Torvalds: ‘I Do No Coding Any More’
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The Linux Foundation recently uploaded its video from the Open Source Summit and Embedded Linux Conference: Europe. And there was a poignant moment when Linus Torvalds did his traditional keynote conversation with Dirk Hohndel, VMware’s vice president and chief open source officer.
Honndel had asked Linus — his hair now uncharacteristically long — what he spends his time on as a kernel maintainer. What’s his workflow? “What do you do?”
Linus Torvalds: Um, I read email. [Hohndel laughs] I read email, I write email, I do no coding at all any more.
Most of the code I write, I actually write inside my mail reader. So somebody sends me a patch, or more commonly they send me a pull request or there’s a discussion about the next pull request, and there’s something I react to and say, ‘No, this is fine, but…’ And I send out pseudocode, or — I’m so used to sending out patches that I sometimes edit patches and send out the patch without having ever compiled it, ever tested it, because I literally wrote it in the mail reader, and saying ‘I think this is how it should be done.’ But this is what I do. I’m not a programmer any more.
I read a lot more email than I write, because what my job really is — in the end, my job is to say no. Somebody has to be able to say no to people. Because other developers know that if they do something bad, I will say no. They hopefully, in turn, are more careful. But in order to be able to say no, I have to know the background. Because otherwise I can’t do my job. So I spend all my time, basically, reading email about what people are working on… It is an interesting job, but you do end up spending most of your time reading email.
On the developer side, what I hope people are doing is trying to make, not just good code, but these days we’ve been very good about having explanations for the code. So commit messages to me are almost as important as the code change itself. Sometimes the code change is so obvious that no message is really required, but that is very very rare. And so one of the things I hope developers are thinking about, the people who are actually writing code, is not just the code itself, but explaining why the code does something, and why some change was needed. Because that then in turn helps the managerial side of the equation, where if you can explain your code to me, I will trust the code…
A lot of open source in general is about communication. And part of it is the commit messages, part of it is just the email going back and forth. Communicating what you’re trying to do or communicating why something doesn’t work for you is really important.
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