Linus Torvalds On Fun, The Linux Kernel, And The Future

Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel, took to the stage at Open Source Summit in Los Angeles. In this keynote presentation, Torvalds joined The Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin in conversation about Linux kernel development and how to get young open source developers involved. Here are some highlights of their talk.

On the importance of the Linux kernel and being listed as by Time magazine as #17 on the list of Most Important People of the Century:

I am happy about the fact that I do something meaningful. Everyone wants to do something that matters, that has an impact. I feel like the work is meaningful. At the same time, I work in my home office, in my bathrobe.

On his book  Just for Fun

The premise of the book was that you kind of move on to fun. You have to start with survival. … Once you’re guaranteed survival, and once you’re guaranteed that you have a social connection to the world around you, then you want to get to the point where the most motivating thing in your life is fun.

For me, that fun is a technical challenge. That’s not fun for everybody, but hopefully it is fun for most people in this audience.

On open source adoption in the industry:

It’s very important to have companies involved in open source. … You should not hate those companies that can actually help make your project better. They can bring you all those users, because users to any project are what really matter.

In the kernel community, we’ve come to the realization that it’s not about the small guy against the companies; it’s about collaboration.

On laying the groundwork for participation:

We’re having an easier time working with companies who are not necessarily part of the community. It used to be a huge problem with a lot of tech companies where we had educated technical people who really wanted to collaborate with us, but their companies wouldn’t allow them to work on open source projects.

Companies were worried about their employees being associated with a project that was not their project. And I think the last couple of decades, The Linux Foundation and others have been teaching companies that it ok to participate in the process.

On getting the next generation of developers interested in development:

In order to get into the kernel, you have to be interested in the kind of low-level programming that most people are not interested in. I don’t think the kernel will ever be something that you would want to teach in a high school class. It’s fairly esoteric, and you need a certain type of dedication to really even bother to care. … But we get a large percentage of people who are interested in these kinds of low-level problems.

We have thousands of new people every single release. A lot people will only do something small. But from a health perspective, the kernel has more developers than just about any other project out there. So, I’m not worried about that.