On Sept. 16, 2018, after being questioned by The New Yorker about his abusive behavior, Linus Torvalds apologized for his conduct and announced he was stepping back from kernel development to get help understanding people’s emotions and how to respond properly.
A prominent Linux kernel developer announced today in a blog post that she would step down from her direct work in the kernel community, saying that the community values blunt honesty, often containing profane and personal attacks above “basic human decency.”
Sarah Sharp, an Intel employee who until recently was the maintainer of the USB 3.0 host controller driver, wrote that she could no longer work within a developer culture that required overworked maintainers to be rude and brusque in order to get the job done. She continues to work on other open-source software projects, but says that she has begun to dread even minor interaction with the kernel community.
“My current work on userspace graphics enabling may require me to send an occasional quirks kernel patch, but I know I will spend at least a day dreading the potential toxic background radiation of interacting with the kernel community before I send anything,” Sharp wrote.
Although Sharp was careful not to name any names, Linux creator Linus Torvalds has undeniably been the most visible example of the sort of behavior she cites in the blog post. As the chief maintainer of the Linux kernel, Torvalds has frequently been profane, personal and unpleasant in his criticism of what he deems poor code or bad decisions, and his is the lead that many developers follow.
Sharp has publicly locked horns with senior Linux kernel developers, including Torvalds in the past over issues of civility and professionalism, and has, arguably, been more responsible than anyone else for pressing the community to consider those issues more critically in recent years.
But even relatively minor moves to curb bad behavior have met with angry resistance from some kernel devs – a meekly worded “please be respectful” policy adopted as a kernel patch earlier this year provoked furious commentary on mailing lists and Reddit discussions, even if Torvalds himself lent the policy some cursory support. (Torvalds could not be reached for comment at the time this article was published.)
Sharp said that she’s tired of trying to push this particular rock uphill.
“Sadly, the behavioral changes I would like to see in the Linux kernel community are unlikely to happen any time soon,” she wrote. “Many senior Linux kernel developers stand by the right of maintainers to be technically and personally brutal. Even if they are very nice people in person, they do not want to see the Linux kernel communication style change.”
SUSE employee and Network World contributor Bryan Lunduke said Sharp’s loss is “a bummer” but argued that her departure doesn’t necessarily reflect badly on the kernel community.
“[N]ot everyone likes a politically correct work environment,” he said. “Not everyone will enjoy working in every environment, but my perception is that most working on the kernel enjoy doing so.”
Lunduke admitted, however, that Sharp’s departure isn’t going to help the image of Linux developers.
“It’s definitely not the greatest publicity in the world,” he said.
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