Updated on October 2, 2016
Of Fun, Money & Responsibility
Disclaimer: Following post is completely my opinion and I am happy to have a civil discussion around it if you wish. The folks at It’s FOSS are friends of the community I am involved in and this is rather directed at Linus Torvald’s words, rather than anyone else.
The other day I was going through my Facebook feed and stumbled upon a meme from It’s FOSS, a blog all about, well, FOSS (or FLOSS). It was a captioned image of Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel.
“Good programmers do programming not because they expect to get paid or get adulation by the public, but because it is fun.” – Linus Torvalds
I’m speechless. Seriously. Do you realize the implications words like this might have? I am grateful for Linus giving us the Linux kernel, but this is inacceptable. If it isn’t obvious for you, let me explain why and offer you some background to articulate where I’m coming from.
While Linus might have publicly declared that he doesn’t care about people, rather than computers, it’s not an excuse to pardon him from bullshit like this. His words have a certain weight, and being that careless about what words escape his mouth, his followers blindly following him like fanboys, this depicts a rather large problem in the tech scene. In the age of surveillance, patent trolls, a shrinking middle class and censorship, there need to be efforts to contribute back to the community and society. If you want to live a quiet life, regardless of what is happening around you, that’s totally fine. But don’t drag other people into the same mindset.
Advocating the idea that programming for fun is the nirvana for programmers is just simply wrong. We need programmers to help shape ideas important for the efforts various communities are doing. Convincing them that living a life like a child who does things for fun is simply wrong and immature. It’s the equivalent of telling construction engineers to simply work for the fun they have, forgetting how many people are dependent on their work.
It lacks empathy
Linus suggests that programming well has nothing to do with getting paid well. It’s funny to hear that from someone who comes from a privileged environment. Yes, chances are that if you grow up in any 1st world country you are better off with social welfare, health care and housing and hence money taking a less important role spot in your life. But what about all those who never got an opportunity to get out of that shithole they live in apart from finding a career in tech? What about that underpaid junior programmer who is unable to improve their skills due to mostly working in tech support as only that is able to pay their bills? Would a programmer from Venezuela say the same thing? I doubt that.
Money is important, in any kind of job you do. It gives you the chance to concentrate on the important things in life, rather than the basic needs. This enforces the notion of Open Source and Free Software being free as in free beer even more. Not a smart thing to say.
Shooting yourself in the knee
While I’m not judging whether someone’s life is privileged or not, it’s troubling to support this mindset in communities like ours, when there is enough external pressure from proprietary players to diminish any efforts of Free & Open Source software. Having the creator of the Linux kernel saying that truly good programmers do it for the fun, suggests that it’s fine to stay on the sideline and continue playing in their little sandbox.
And in my book, that’s not fine.