In an interview with TED Curator Chris Anderson,Linus Torvalds discussed the foundations of his personal ethics of openness of advancements in technology and software development. His own personal traits prompted his work, engineering, and life philosophies that lead to his famous creations.
The Finnish-American software engineer who created Linux admits that he’s “not a visionary.” Instead, he credits his pursuits and legacy due to his commitment to being a computer engineer and focusing on what’s in front of him. “I’m perfectly happy with all the people who are walking around and just staring at the clouds,” says Torvalds in his interview. “But I’m looking at the ground, and I want to fix the pothole that’s right in front of me before I fall in.”
While you may know it or not, Torvalds single-handedly transformed the technology world twice. The first time was with the Linux kernel, which became the operating base for many computers. The second time was with Git, a code management system used by developers from around the world.
Both of these systems explore the power of a community to solve complex problems together. In the late 80s, Torvalds became fascinated by Minix, which was used primarily in research universities. Technically, this program is called the kernel, the foundation of an operating system. Starting in 1991, Torvalds begin working on his own operating systems and sharing it with independent and hobby programmers. Then in 1994, he was able to share it with the public.
In the beginning, he didn’t even start asking for code. Rather, he saw the value in people from around the globe contributing their own ideas. “And just the fact that somebody else takes a look at your project,” says Torvalds. “And I’m sure it’s true of other things, too, but it’s definitely true in code — is that somebody else takes an interest in your code,looks at it enough to actually give you feedback and give you ideas.”
Torvalds’ open source software was great not only for its utility and efficiency but also for the collaboration. More than 20 years later, the operating system continues to enjoy respect from web development companies and industry leaders, including multi-billion dollar companies. Amazon, Google, and more all run Linux on their servers. If you are reading this on your phone or just opened your email, you are benefiting from Torvalds’ work.
As the sole controller of Linux Foundation, the organization that maintains the integrity of Linux, Torvalds continues to generate the ethic of openness on technical projects across the globe.
“What I love about open source is that it really allows different people to work together,” says Torvalds. “We don’t have to like each other. And sometimes, we really don’t like each other. Code either works or it doesn’t. There’s less room for argument, and yet we have arguments despite this.”
If you are interested in learning more about Torvalds and his efforts in open source software, check out his interview released in April.