It finally happened. Linus Torvalds, the intrepid creator and leader of Linux kernel development, realized that in today's world his attitude and behavior doesn't fly in the face of an enlightened, progressive global population. Further, locker room talk and the sometimes cruel treatment of others simply cannot and will not be tolerated anymore.
At least, that's the hope with the Linux Code of Conduct, which was released to foster a global community of passionate developers who want to work and build something good together.
The code is based on the Contributor Covenant and aims to be a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of age, body size, disability, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, level of experience, education, socio-economic status, nationality, personal appearance, race, religion, or sexual identity and orientation.
How important this is cannot be repeated enough.
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How this came about
Torvalds realized his antiquated behaviors damaged not only the Linux kernel development process, but those who worked tirelessly on the project and even projects related and unrelated to the Linux kernel. Torvalds decided to step away from development to work on his behavior and approve a new Code of Conduct.
He even went so far as to issue the following apology:
This is my reality. I am not an emotionally empathetic kind of person and that probably doesn't come as a big surprise to anybody. Least of all me. The fact that I then misread people and don't realize (for years) how badly I've judged a situation and contributed to an unprofessional environment is not good.
This week people in our community confronted me about my lifetime of not understanding emotions. My flippant attacks in emails have been both unprofessional and uncalled for. Especially at times when I made it personal. In my quest for a better patch, this made sense to me. I know now this was not OK and I am truly sorry.
In the above statement, it's clear that people within the kernel development community confronted Torvalds about his inability for empathy. Torvalds recognized that his behavior wasn't conducive to a positive and nurturing environment. That's important to know and impressive to admit.
A lesson for IT
It's also a lesson that many people in the IT world could learn. This environment, which has been ill-tempered, uncivil, and charged with sexualized language and trolls must change. I've spoken with a number of people within IT and programming circles who experienced the aforementioned venomous behaviors first-hand. Men and women alike have left the field for fear they couldn't tolerate the egos and tempers found in such toxic environments, or worse that they'd either been or would become the victims of such personalities. It's 2018, and it's time to end this.
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Torvald's rectified a situation that has grown more vitriolic and dangerous over the years. It had to be done, otherwise he'd wind up seeing that very special something he created back in the '90s die a bitter death. Without Linux kernel development, the world of IT would take a massive step backward. Even more important, without setting a positive example, the ethos of IT would remain stagnant, unable to progress in the ways the modern world requires.
But it should be noted that Torvalds took this whole issue one step further, beyond the creation of a Code of Conduct, and realized that in order to make such a change he needed to retool himself. And so, in stepping away from Linux kernel development, Torvalds has allowed himself some much-needed room to breathe and change.
Will the Linux kernel development community will follow Linus' lead? Only time will tell. However, should they fail to learn from his example, the Linux kernel community will suffer a massive social blow. Not having Torvalds back in the fold would be the least of the Linux kernel development community's worries as attrition and a lack of new developers becomes the norm.
What this speaks to
In taking this step, Torvalds doesn't just speak to himself, but to the whole of IT and development. In a new world order that tends toward inclusivity, everyone involved must take stock in how they deal with others. No longer will old-school, misogynist attitudes and behaviors be tolerated. The time has come for everyone in the field to understand that empathy, sensitivity, and tolerance must become the norm.
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If you are an IT pro or a developer, now is the perfect time to take stock in your ability to empathize with others. If you find yourself incapable of doing so, consider following Torvald's example and take a step back to re-compile and re-configure your way of thinking.
Now is the ideal time for everyone in this industry to adopt a creed of "always do better." And that doesn't just apply to your admin or coding skills—but your people skills as well.
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- Linux adds a code of conduct for programmers (ZDNet)
- Linus Torvalds is doing a good and brave thing (ZDNet)
- Linux kernel development suffering from the "internet of hate" (TechRepublic)
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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.