Linus Torvalds, inventor of the open-source Linux operating system and father of the modern open-source movement, never meant to start a revolution. In fact, he wanted the OS all to himself. That’s just one of the revelations that came out of a rare and revealing interview Torvalds gave at TED2016. The famously reticent engineer went in depth on the origins of the open-source operating system that took off in the 1980s when Torvalds released the Linux kernel for free to the world, and on Torvalds’ working style.
“I often work in my bathrobe,” he explained to a TED audience used to hearing about watershed moments in grandiose soundbites, “and I have to have complete silence.”
The honesty did not stop there. If you expected the man probably most responsible for one of the largest collaborative projects in human history to be a people person, think again.
“I did not start Linux as a collaborative project — I started it for myself. I needed the end result but I also enjoyed programming,” he said, later adding: “I don’t really love other people.”
Torvalds did, however, go out of his way to acknowledge the people who helped him grow Linux and grudgingly acknowledge the validity and usefulness of other skill sets. “You need to have the people people, the communicators, the warm people,” he said rather unconvincingly. He pointed out that one of the good things about open-source work is that it allows you to work with people that you don’t like. It facilitates collaboration without excessive communication.
Asked to look ahead at his plans for the future, Torvald gave the least TED-friendly answer possible.
“I do not have a five-year plan,” he said. “I do not have a moonshot. I’m looking at the ground, and I want to fix the pothole that’s right in front of me.”