My title might seem oddly out of place on a tech blog, but a slashdot post today led me to an email thread for linux kernel developers, and the thread and its fallout leave me troubled.
Apparently, a veteran contributor is leaving the kernel dev community because she feels like the communication style there is too harsh. This is unfortunate, but what seems even more lamentable to me is the lack of sympathy in Linus Torvalds’ reaction. It seems to me that his attitude is: “That’s just the way us kernel devs are, and we aren’t going to change to accommodate anybody. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
This feels sad to me. Kind words can be such a joy.
[Image credit: Glen J. Photography (Flickr)]
Linus is a brilliant guy, and I’m grateful to him. I use linux and git every day; the tools he’s built do a lot of good in the world, and they replace earlier approaches that are clearly inferior. I also agree with his complaint that an explicit standard of “professionalism” in communication can, in some cases, lead to opacity, disingenuousness, and inefficiency. Sometimes we need to say things that are difficult for others to hear, and we need to say them quickly–and that may not jibe with the communication style of a slick politician.
However, I find it ironic that a profession so passionate about message passing and interfaces and producer/consumer contracts could lightly dismiss communication concerns when they involve humans. Do the messes created by DDoS, attackers probing vulnerabilities, and poorly behaved clients teach us nothing?
We certainly need clarity in our careers, and we may occasionally need bluntness as well, but we don’t need ridicule, sarcasm, or disdain. I applaud the sentiments of Marvin J. Ashton:
Recently I’ve run across several uses of the phrase “rockstar developer” or “rockstar programmer” (“code ninja” is another hip variant). The term shows up on slashdot, for example. I’ve also seen it in job postings and in blogs.,, A rockstar hacker archetype is standard fare in TV shows, where his or her computing feats are practically a superpower (Agents of Shield, Person of Interest, Leverage, Scorpion, …) Of course Hollywood loves the notion, too; I thought The Imitation Game was fascinating, but besides taking liberties with history, it portrays Alan Turing in a distorted way that feeds such mystique. (Turing was absolutely brilliant, and certainly one of the most important pioneers in computing. But he didn’t invent his codebreaking machine alone.)
from The Imitation Game: Alan Turing and team members at Bletchley Park, with a forerunner of the modern computer — technology invented by brilliant people to break the Nazi Enigma encryption. Screenshot from official trailer, under fair use.
It’s even in my inbox. After I began writing this post, I got an email from a recruiter on LinkedIn, looking for “superstars”:
The buzz about these mythical supercoders has begun to raise my hackles.
Technorati code: FMUS579NQBM8
Saturday I went to a high school half an hour north of our home, to watch my 16-year-old daughter compete in a cheerleading competition. And I learned something about software.
Photo credit: neys (Flickr)
I’m not sure how many teams were there–maybe a hundred. The competition started at 9 am and was scheduled to run through 5. Every team consisted of dozens of girls, all dressed in spangles and glitter, with identical ribbons in their hair. They’d march out onto the floor, drop their heads and arms to their sides, and wait for the first blast of music to initiate the routine. Then they’d tumble and dance their hearts out, finishing out of breath with a flourish.
Every hour or so, the performances suspended so judges could announce winners in a particular division that had just fielded its last competitor.
I noticed a pattern. Even though I have no knowledge of competitive cheer scoring, I could tell who had won. Continue reading
Here’s a simple little test that teaches an important lesson. Take a moment to work through all 3 questions. I promise it won’t take long. :-)
Question 1. A flood is coming. George can only swim for a little while. What should George do?
Question 2. A flood is coming. George can only swim for a little while. What should George do?
Question 3. A flood is coming. George can only swim for a little while. What should George do?
Ready to grade your answers?
The Yellow Belt Answer
Most people say “go right, toward higher ground” if picture 1 is the only input to their analysis. The logic is pretty indisputable. But…
I’m glad newly minted software engineers are exposed to data structures, compilers, concurrency, graph theory, assembly language, and the other goodies that constitute a computer science curriculum. All that stuff is important.
But it’s not enough.
Not all classroom material for CS folks should be technical. Photo credit: uniinnsbruck (Flickr).
Since I’m half way to curmudgeon-hood, I frequently find myself lamenting educational blindspots in the young. I’ve even toyed with the idea of teaching at the nearest university, some day when I Have More Time™. If academia would take me, my lesson plans might cover some of the following topics: