Linux Namesake Argues In Favor Of Being A Jerk

Earnest Cavalli

New member
Jun 19, 2008
Linux Namesake Argues In Favor Of Being A Jerk

Linus Torvalds views so-called "professional" behavior as a hindrance to progress, and his argument for more a freewheeling, less polite work environment is as convincing as it is brazen.

Though you may not know Linus Torvalds by name, you've likely heard of his most important contribution to home computing: The Linux operating system. Yes, it's named for the man, and he's spent the past 22 years as the chief driving force behind the OS' gradually-increasing popularity. As a result, he ranks alongside Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in the minds of many hardcore computer geeks, and as a result of this, when Torvalds has something to say the Internet tends to listen. Even (or perhaps especially) when Torvalds is endorsing antisocial behavior.

A discussion on the topic of office etiquette broke out on a developer's mailing list recently, due in no small part to Torvalds' seemingly suggesting that a colleague "may need to learn to shout at people." Intel developer Sarah Sharp took this as an endorsement of vocal abuse in the workplace and called Torvalds out for his infamously outspoken nature. "Linus, you're one of the worst offenders when it comes to verbally abusing people and publicly tearing their emotions apart," Sharp wrote.

This set Torvalds off, and the developer's response is a lengthy screed on why he acts the way he does. It's vitriolic (and entertaining), so while we've had to alter Torvalds' response for legibility and brevity, we're leaving the crucial text as intact as possible. Have a look:

The thing is, different people act and react differently. On both sides. And I think we should recognize that and also *allow* for that. And sometimes it means, for example, that people interact primarily with certain people that they like more - because they are a better "fit".


People are different. I'm not polite, and I get upset easily but generally don't hold a grudge - I have these explosive emails. And that works well for some people. And it probably doesn't work well with you.

And you know what? That's fine. Not everybody had to get along or work
well with each other. But the fact that it doesn't work with you
doesn't make it "wrong".


You think people need to act "nicer". While I think it's *natural* that people have different behavior - and different expectations. We all have issues somewhere and don't all like each other. There are certain people I refuse to work with, for example. They may be good engineers, but they just aren't people I can work with.

And hey, I don't actually think we've personally even had any problems. And I realize that you may react very strongly and get nervous about us having problems, but realistically, do you actually expect to like all the other kernel engineers?

And equally importantly, not everybody has to like you, or necessarily think they have to be liked by you. OK?

So as far as I'm concerned, the discussion is about "how to work together DESPITE people being different". Not about trying to make everybody please each other. Because I can pretty much guarantee that I'll continue cursing. To me, the discussion would be about how to work together despite these kinds of cultural differences, not about "how do we make everybody nice and sing songs sound the campfire"

Do you think you might be interested in *that* kind of discussion instead of the "you are abusing me" kind of discussion?

Because if you want me to "act professional", I can tell you that I'm not interested. I'm sitting in my home office wearign [sic] a bathrobe. The same way I'm not going to start wearing ties, I'm *also* not going to buy into the fake politeness, the lying, the office politics and backstabbing, the passive aggressiveness, and the buzzwords. Because THAT is what "acting professionally" results in: people resort to all kinds of really nasty things because they are forced to act out their normal urges in unnatural ways.

That's certainly an interesting take on how best to survive in the working world, isn't it?

It seems impossible to report on Torvalds' rant without pointing out that Torvalds is something of a minor celebrity in the world of computer programming. As we stated above, the Linux kernel is named after him. Because of this he likely gets away with a lot of behavior that wouldn't fly were he some college intern or lowly codemonkey. Like he said, this is what works for him - a wealthy white guy whose professional achievements guarantee him a spot in the history books.

That's not say I don't agree with Torvalds - faux politeness and passive aggressive behavior is so tiresome - but before you all decide to swear at your bosses or show up to work with a mohawk, it's probably best that you check your credentials. Are you a world-renowned figure in the tech industry? No? Then keep your tie on.

Source: Wired []



Needs more Dakka
Apr 13, 2010
I agree with him on this, but I will also say that it's something that doesn't work for everyone. The whole "professional" attitude where everyone is nice to each other, not because they are, but because they have to be makes it really hard for me to trust people in most cases since they're not being honest. At the same time though, unless I have a good relationship with a superior, I'm not going to flat out tell him/her he's/she's a ****.

Say what you want about Torvalds though, he gets things done regardless. A while back he said "Fuck you Nvidia" for refusing to share Optimus technology, the discreet graphics switching tech, for linux bases OS's. After the Q/A he attended where he flat out said that, Nvidia got off their ass and started working on it. Optimus is currently in beta for Linux OS's.


New member
May 20, 2009
I haven't heard much news about old Linus, or any in fact.

Could have done without the commentary Earnest. Your bias is obvious.


Thread killer
Nov 20, 2009

If only we could exist in a world of such design. Devoid of insincerity, placating, worrying about irrelevant hurt feelings and how you are perceived to suffer because you are not liked. No more wasteful childish petty behavior, No more overtly cautious "diplomatic" speak to tap dance around what needs to be said but gets lost in translation from overly soft and tempered language.

To have to accept you did something incredibly stupid when you did something incredibly stupid but knowing we all do such things sometimes and to be allowed to learn from such and improve oneself because of blunt and truthful criticism.

No wasted time and effort. We would say what we mean and mean what we say. The world would truly be a better place. Granted a far less pleasant place, but a FAR better place.


New member
Apr 20, 2013
So am I right in thinking that he just wants to justify coming to work in a bathrobe

Something Amyss

Aswyng and Amyss
Dec 3, 2008
I didn't know asking people to be professional was asking them to like you.

But then, I'm a slob who dresses like a slob for work.


New member
Oct 14, 2010
Oh look the escapist suddenly decided they are interested in linux just so they can do a moralistic piece yelling at a rich white dude. I'm only surprised it wasn't Grey Carter.

Linus gets to do this because he dictates what goes into his freely available software*. If you don't want his attitude you can fork it and make your own.

*This doesn't make him poor however I understand he gets plenty of funding from various places.


New member
Dec 25, 2008
I think that it's for every organization to decide for itself whether it wants a polite work environment, an honest one, or something in between.

Regardless, this guy earned his right to work from home in a bathrobe and curse at people.

omega 616

Elite Member
May 1, 2009
I find it kind of insufferable, the fake smiles and the fake politeness.

All this kind of acting respectfully does is breed websites like notalwaysright, which I am on page 331 of ... the amount of customers kicking off (for lack of a better phrase) with things like "you fucking *****" is insane. I think you should be able to tell a very abusive customer to fuck off but from what I have read, people who work retail have to smile, nod and say "thank you, come again sir/mam".

I've read cases where a call centre worker can't hang up for any reason, so if a customer does kick off you have to say "please sir, can I have some more"?

Even outside of work, people calling other people all kinds of names behind there back but face to face? Best friend ever! It's like the old joke, "in every group of friends there is one that nobody wants to be friends with ... if you don't, you're that guy" but instead of just being straight you force yourself to endure this person with pleasantries and social niceties.

I applaud this guy! Never heard of him till this story or ever used linux.

Lovely Mixture

New member
Jul 12, 2011
Whilst I hate faux-politeness, I don't know if I hate it more than people walking over other people (I hate it just as much)

This guy reminds me of my brother (who works in a similar field) and my brother was willing to excuse his hypocritical and assholish behavior by just saying "that's how I am."

The main problem I have is this:

So as far as I'm concerned, the discussion is about "how to work together DESPITE people being different". Not about trying to make everybody please each other. Because I can pretty much guarantee that I'll continue cursing. To me, the discussion would be about how to work together despite these kinds of cultural differences, not about "how do we make everybody nice and sing songs sound the campfire"
The thing is that those are the same thing just said with different words.

So yes, working together doesn't mean you have to bake them cookies, but it it doesn't mean you can be a jerk. Especially if that's interfering with another person's job.

"Working together DESPITE people being different" means making compromises, you are going to work with
people you hate, just because you could act like a jerk to them doesn't mean you should.

So yeah, don't lie to your co-workers but don't tell them to go to hell unless the circumstances warrant it.


New member
Dec 25, 2008
I presently work as a network admin in an building that includes many a union laborer, also known as a place where coworkers tell each other to go fuck themselves routinely; I've previously worked at Red Robin, a place where constant smiling & happy shouting of "Red Robin" in unison was quite literally a job requirement. I can tell you with no uncertainty which job made me wish I were dead on a more frequent basis.

Even within my office, there is a divergence of cultural opinion on this subject. The field guys yell & curse at each other, even with their bosses, but the feud is over the second the conversation has concluded. Meanwhile, many of the admins take the polite approach, and just as Linus surmised, they all hate & backstab one another as soon as they get the chance.

My professional experience leads me to agree with Linus on this one


New member
Jun 30, 2009
Sorry, but no.

Yes, people are different, but acting like an ass to someone, is, well, BEING an ass.

If you need to blow off steam. Fine.

If you're uncomfortable being polite. Fine.

But the second you make someone else deal with your problems, you become an Asshole.

WAY too often I hear the excuse, "That's just the way I am and people have to deal with it."

No. No they do not. That is being self-centered and self-entitled.

"Acting Professional" in essence means leaving your shit at the door. You are here to do a job and your hang ups should not get in the way. If they do, you're making everyone else deal with YOU rather than dealing with the task at hand. The worst part of it is, most people who share this guy's views are the ones in a position of power. So "Working together DESPITE people being different" turns into "Subordinates having to constantly deal with people they can't talk back to."

It is not ok to mistreat someone. It is not ok to act like an ass. If you think it is, society isn't the problem, YOU are.


Cynical bastard
Dec 9, 2008
John Cleese did a wonderful speech on creativity, and being creative in groups, but you don't do it by being a jerk.

That point is at 27:20



Hat Man
Jul 8, 2011
San Diego, CA
Being a jerk doesn't make you honest.

Professionalism doesn't make you dishonest.

Being honest doesn't make you a jerk, although that is easier sometimes.

Being dishonest doesn't make you professional.

Basically, he's just being lazy about it.
Sep 14, 2009
Earnest Cavalli said:
That's not say I don't agree with Torvalds - faux politeness and passive aggressive behavior is so tiresome

TheSniperFan said:
Red X said:
The reason politeness is enforced is because someone a boss, employee or co-worker will take things too far and when that happens hell breaks lose and people lose money.
You know, just like when a stupid idea makes it into the final product because nobody opened his/her mouth and said it was a stupid idea.
The thing is that this false friendliness is a cause for yes-men.
amen to these, i'd much rather work at a place with constant "fuck your idea is stupid, do this" than with people gritting their teeth and letting stupid/inefficient shit happen, not to mention you have no idea where you stand on many things, especially with people, as they are more likely to do backstab tactics to get around the whole "lets be nice to everyone!" workplace attitude.

sidenote: I've worked at 6 jobs now, and the 2 jobs that pushed super hard for constant happiness/"fake" employee synergy, i fucking hated it and everyone there was just a big cauldron of anger and rage ready to explode. the jobs i'm in now i sweat 80 pounds a day at in the heat and work my ass off in, but holy hell is it 10x less stressful and gratifying to work with people who will tell you how it is and don't hide behind politically correct horseshit.