Tag Archives: Open-source

Linus Torvalds’ 7 leadership lessons

This video of the founder of the Linux kernel is fascinating. I am pretty sure that the world will stumble upon the one shocking phrase that Linus said during this conference at the Aalto University, in Finland : “F*** you Nvidia”.

Linus is obviously an opinionated person and this sentence was tweeted, re-tweeted and shared all around the world. But it misses all the other points Linus made during this presentation; to me, this presentation was an excellent leadership lesson in 7 points:

1) You don’t have to plan something to be successful at it

When Linus started his operating system, he was “looking at a new project to use [his] computer”. Today, according to Google, 900 000 Linux-based Android devices are activated. How more successful could an “accidental” project be ?

However, I think that even though Linus had no exact plan about what his OS would become, several factors helped him along the way. He stated, for instance that “when [he] started Linux, [he] had been programming half of his life”. He was not a complete beginner. He had time to create and shape something entirely new, as he was a student. Linus mentioned that the “development of Linux was very natural.”. I think that this development was natural because the external factors were positive at that time. You don’t have to make big plans for something to be successful, but watch your environment if, even without planning, you want to be successful.

2) Focus on your strength

According to Linus, the strength of open-source is that people can do what they are best at. It helped him focus and not have to bother about minor tasks. He  put his passion, interest and energy where they were the most effective: the development of an operating system kernel.

3) Trust is limited, put it in people who deserve it

Although people might have thousands of LinkedIn contacts, for instance, they really trust only a handful of them. In Linus’ case, it is between 5 and 15 people and only 3 to 4 can really take his job over. It is not that many, they have to be the right ones.

4) You have the right to be opinionated

Linus is honest in his statements, he uses strong language and if people are offended “it’s their problem”. The story with Nvidia is, again, a blatant example of it. However, if the media only remembers this three-words sentence, it might forget the five-minutes explanation that preceded it. Torvalds explained in a lot of detail what went wrong with this company and why he was displeased. His wording might be offensive, he has very valid reasons to be angry, though.

Moreover, these opinions are important as a leader. As Linus said “people take him seriously […] and in an open-source community, other developers need to know how he feels”. He explains very well in this interview how, in the past, not to have taken a decision early enough leaded to trouble subsequently. As a leader, people should not misread you and you should take decisions as early as possible to show where the way is going.

5) Give credit to others

I found remarkable that Linus gave credit to others. He did it in particular to Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan, two of the inventors in the 70s of Unix, which leaded the way to Linux in the 90s. Leadership, to me, is about showing to the world what you have done, if it makes an impact, but also recognizing when you sit on the shoulders of giants.

6) Work hard and execute

For Linus, “execution is more important than vision”. He  believes in hard work and attention to detail and in Edison’s definition of genius : 90% of perspiration – 10% of inspiration. This is what made him successful.

I found his sentence very inspiring “If you look at the stars all the time, you’ll stumble upon the pothole in the garden”.

7) Do it with passion

During the last minutes of the conference, Linus said “I believe that having passion, caring about what you do is more important  than having this mental vision of a golden future you want to reach”. As a leader, people should do everything they do with passion. In my opinion, it is a trait of leaders that they really care about the things they are doing and that passion is a driving force for their efforts.

Open-source software and Linux at HP

As an open-source supporter, I am glad to have the possibility, at my workplace, to work with software such as GNU/Linux, Firefox and many others…

The usage of Linux is fostered within the company : each employee has access to LinuxCOE (which is a HP product and licensed under the General Public License) and can install his favorite distribution pretty easily on his personal computer. Ubuntu, openSUSE, Gentoo and others are at disposal and HP even provides licenses for SUSE and Red Hat.
Since MS Office is the most widespread office suite and most of my colleagues have Windows XP, it is unfortunately hard to work without it. With Crossover, which is a product based on Wine, allows me to use the MS Office suite as well as Internet Explorer 6 in some cases (*sigh*…).
The officially supported instant messaging protocol was Jabber, which is ideal to use in a GNU/Linux environment (for instance with Pidgin) but has been changed for Microsoft Communicator that I use via its web-based interface.
Due to the massive demand of employees, Firefox is officially supported by the internal IT service, in addition to IE.
On the customer side, HP is committed to Linux : the ProLiant servers are the most sold servers running GNU/Linux on the world and the Integrity servers shipped with the Itanium processors also run RHEL 5 and SLES 10 SP1. Moreover, there are lots of people at the company working as developers for open-source projects or kernel developers.

Nevertheless, the situation is not perfect for GNU/Linux or alternative software desktop users.
Linux is not officially supported by HP’s IT and there is an evident lack of communication around LinuxCOE. I even personally made senior technical consultants aware of it.
Not all internal web-based applications run correctly with Firefox and some multimedia streamed videos are encoded with codecs Linux cannot play.
I cannot share my calendar with my colleagues because Evolution does not work perfectly with Exchange 2007 (even if my e-mails and meetings invitations work fine) and there is no native application to take part to Netmeeting conferences (did someone try this solution ?). The move to Vista and MS Office 2007 is also planned but, so far, Crossover does not support this version so I hope there will be a workaround until here.

So far, using GNU/Linux as a primarily desktop operating system as an HP employee was not hard and I have been pleasantly surprised by the LinuxCOE offering, among other things. Even though I experience a little loss of productivity, I prefer to stay a little longer at work than use an other OS than GNU/Linux. If things need to do something which is really urgent and only doable under Windows, I have a VMware virtual machine ready to boot, however, this happens really rarely. So if you are hesitating to apply for a job or an internship at HP, thinking that you will not have the right/possibility/authorization tu run GNU/Linux, I hope this article will help to change your mind.

Of course, HP is a huge company and from an IT perspective, support multiple operating systems is a big effort. One the other hand, this is the best example of the advantages of respecting standards (real ones…) in order every user to have access to the information, independently of his OS.