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Closing a door (thesharps.us)
357 points by clessg on Oct 5, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 190 comments



Its not just women that are being put off. I'm a man, and when I worked for an IHV, I dreaded every interaction with the Linux kernel community due to the tone of the interactions. It was by far the most hostile community we engaged with. I often submitted patches through either junior developers in our company who were Linux enthusiasts, or through friends who were established in the Linux community just to avoid dealing with the people on the subsystem list.

By contrast the *BSD communities were far more helpful, as were the closed-source MacOSX and Solaris driver/kernel mailing lists, as well as the private interactions with folks from Apple and Sun.


Ditto. I'm just done working in environments where people aren't serious about collaborating respectfully. I've tried it both ways. I do much better work when I don't have to worry about dealing with aggressive assholes all the time.


> Its not just women that are being put off. I'm a man, and when I worked for an IHV, I dreaded every interaction with the Linux kernel community due to the tone of the interactions.

It's stuff like this that also drove out Con Kolivas, who was a fairly well-known kernel hacker before he got sick of it all and quit.

One of the things that drove him out was that other kernel developers cast doubt on his loyalty the project, and in one case refused to merge his patches, because his day job isn't a tech job (he's a doctor).

He eventually started kernel hacking again, but nowadays he just makes his own patchset that he distributes himself, and he refuses to submit anything to the LKML or have anything to do with mainline.


I used to use his scheduler patches. This was many years ago. He seemed reasonable and he knew what he was doing. I only knew him through email (never met him in person), but I hated to see him go. I think others continued/improved upon his initial work.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Con_Kolivas

Also, Alan Cox left kernel development in 2009 for similar reasons.

http://linux.slashdot.org/story/09/07/29/1925224/Alan-Cox-Qu...


Its not just women that are being put off.

I find it peculiar that you start with this sentence, even though the OP says nothing about women in general. It seems that identity politics in such discussions has become so common that it is assumed be there by default.


Not true. Quote from the post: "I did not want to work professionally with people who were allowed to get away with subtle sexist or homophobic jokes."

My 2p:

I think sexism, racism, etc. is wrong. I think we all need to be more considerate.

But, I also think Linus should be allowed to be a total ass if he wants, and so can the others, if they really have the best interests of Linux in mind. You could argue that if they are being asses, then they don't, but some communities just have people with a rough way of dealing with others, e.g. drill sergeants in the Marines.

That said, you can allow people to be asses and still not allow sexist, racist, etc. remarks.


> But, I also think Linus should be allowed to be a total ass if he wants, and so can the others, if they really have the best interests of Linux in mind. You could argue that if they are being asses, then they don't, but some communities just have people with a rough way of dealing with others, e.g. drill sergeants in the Marines.

I thought the article was pretty clear: technically brutal is completely acceptable. Personally brutal is not.


Are there any concrete examples of the homophobia and sexism that could be pointed out?

I've taken part on LKML and I've been dressed down on it and even privately a couple times and part of me wanted to crawl into a cave and disappear, another part of me took it with sort of the playful teasing the LKML hacker culture has. I had some issues with my patches, they got called out and there was some joking. It wasn't personal. Now there have also been some arguments where people up and walked away, clearly some of it has been taken personally.

I'm not trying to defend LKML, it can be harsh. Also a lot of people depend on Linux, the standards for patching it have to be pretty high and there has been a lot of abandonware patches added over the years. These higher profile flames and resignations draw a lot more attention than the incredible amount of noise from the other side of the spectrum... I've also had some incredibly helpful responses from very busy people that helped out when I clearly should have known a little more than I did. Sexism, homophobia, racism, etc.. seems a bit outside of what's acceptable though. I'm not denying that it has happened but I'd love some concrete examples if anyone has some.


e.g. drill sergeants in the Marines.

The point of drill sergeants in the Marines being that "rough" is to make sure that people can cope effectively with something far rougher: War.

My ex was career military. At one point in our marriage, I was very ill and he and I were fighting about something and I was really "this close" to just losing my shit when he accidentally physically bumped into me. And what happened next made it very clear to me that military personnel get certain things drilled into them about body language and violence and so forth that most civilians will never need. He backed up and was suddenly very deferential, otherwise I likely would have hit him. Instead, I left the house to go calm down elsewhere.

If you aren't in a situation where you need to selectively dole out violence -- i.e. to the enemy and not to your comrades in arms -- while under extreme psychological duress, you don't really need someone yelling in your face from two inches away to force that kind of discipline onto you. It is done to save their lives and make them effective tools for enforcing national security, not to defer to the massive egos of drill sergeants who have some fantasy that they have "earned the right" to just go around being assholes to everyone because they are so awesome or some shit.


> but some communities just have people with a rough way of dealing with others, e.g. drill sergeants in the Marines.

This isn't an arbitrary cultural choice. Drill instructors are hard-asses because they are training people to be able to perform professionally in life-or-death situations and sacrifice their own basic self preservation instincts out of loyalty. That kind of training requires some pretty hardcore psychology.


True. But, open-source projects are in a bit of a pickle when it comes to tools. People always cry out for "professionalism" which I think is nonsense. In a "professional" environment, there are FAR more carrots and sticks, far more tools. There is training, promotions (carrot) and the risk of being fired (stick) and a lot of subtle tools in therebetween.


I personally believe being a hardass like a drill Sargeant is in a different league altogether than racism/sexism/homophobia.

You can be dead serious without being awful.

In fact I would argue that they are the exact opposite. Hardasses are someone you respect.


> You can be dead serious without being awful.

And I agree. That is why I wrote: "That said, you can allow people to be asses and still not allow sexist, racist, etc. remarks."

I live with women and girls and respect the hell out of them. We also have homosexual extended family members.

I just think that you can also allow people to have angry disagreements as long as they don't cross the weirdo, sexist, racist, homophobe line.

Some people need to escalate in order to resolve things because they have technical skills but not people skills. If every great project had to be composed completely of people with great people skills, we'd not have many of the projects we have today (Linux, Rails, etc.).


> By contrast the *BSD communities were far more helpful

I think I'd take Linux Torvald's criticism over Theo de Raadt's any day of the week…


The Linux kernel is structured in a tree-like hierarchy such that most neophytes will likely never directly encounter Linus, but be chewed off by a subsystem maintainer long before that.

In contrast, Theo is just another hacker who also happens to be project leader, compared to the more "ivory tower" approach of Linus.


I was speaking mostly of FreeBSD -- that's the only BSD we had direct support for. We did have some friendly interactions with OpenBSD, but not directly with Theo.


You are narrowing it to only Linus. It goes much deeper than that.


Indeed -- it was the subsystem maintainer (and a few people on the list) that were the problem. We never dealt with Linus himself.


I'd be happy with a bit of criticism from either.


So, it appears, would Sarah. But that's not why she has left.


There's a huge difference between criticism, and saying you wish that someone was retroactively aborted.


If Theo ever criticised my code I'd frame it and keep it at my desk!


I'd prefer a cheque by Donald Knuth ;-)


Sigh. Story time.

A long time ago (2006,7,8?) before Sarah took over USB development, I tried to start getting fixes into the un-maintained USB stack. I submitted fixes for leaks, segfaults, and general cleanup and documentation. At the time, the "maintainer" was one of the most unhelpful, and ugly people I ever dealt with over e-mail. After months of writing with the person over a simple leak he'd introduced, I gave up, deciding to fix it on a branch, and publish our code rather than deal with that developer. I vowed I'd never go back -- and I still haven't.

I'm not saying all kernel developers are jerks, but I'm not interested in working with those that are. As such, I'm just not willing to spend my time trying to help. (And maybe some developers want to keep it that way. So, I guess we're both happier for it.)


This makes me wonder if this subsystem is a particular culprit for these issues. It seems like it's pot luck as to how friendly one subsystem is in comparison to another.

That's not to say something shouldn't be done here, but does tally with what I've heard about this in the past.


Could be.

Sometimes it seems that a project or similar gets started by someone with serious technical knowhow, but then as it heads more towards maintenance it gets put up for grabs for anyone to take over.

At that point you get someone with more interest in the position than the tech stepping in, and it all descends into hell.


I have contributed some trivial commits (so far) and though I encountered some harsh comments it was nothing I felt was overly personal. But of course, my experience is pretty limited at this point.

I get the impression that the level of these issues varies wildly depending on the subsystem in question. For example, Greg Kroah-Hartman is friendly and helpful to a ridiculous degree, I literally don't understand how he gets so much done and maintains helpfulness (and he's working on the staging drivers with some of the roughest code in the entire kernel.)

I feel sorry that Sarah has had this happen, and it's sad that this could happen to anyone, but in particular it's sad that it's happened to a woman when we have such a massive under representation of women already in our industry and probably even more so in the kernel.

I don't know what the answer is, but for those areas of the kernel that are a problem a balance needs to be found between directness and talking to somebody like a human being.

As for Linus, I think he gets somewhat misrepresented in many places. His vitriol is reserved for senior kernel maintainers who should know better and do things which (in many cases) could very negatively impact users, I've seen a number of threads where he's been let's say, less than civil, which were all about kernel code breaking user code and the subsystem maintainers saying 'well they're doing it wrong so let's just break their applications'. In those kind of circumstances you're glad that Linus strongly objects.


> As for Linus, I think he gets somewhat misrepresented in many places. His vitriol is reserved for senior kernel maintainers who should know better and do things which (in many cases) could very negatively impact users

Which sure doesn't make the already thankless task of becoming a senior kernel maintainer any more appealing.

And it creates a terrible culture where people see that and perpetuate it.


Do some of those senior maintainers then only reserve their harsh words for the most senior people just below them? And then those for those just below them?

A culture in any group flows from the top down. Praise in public, criticize in private.


Does Linus ever make mistakes and does he receive the same treatment?


Better question, does Linus ever say extremely nice, encouraging, generous things and make the front page of HN for doing so?


I have seen lots of posts where he explains things patiently in a lot of detail.

I just wonder if he gets the same tough treatment he gives to others when he is wrong. And if he takes it well. I am assuming that sometimes like most of us he is totally wrong.


> encouraging, generous

FWIW he created (one of?) the worlds most used OS kernels and shared it freely sparking all kinds of projects and businesses.

As for the rudeness, I feel that is hugely overrated. Compare hime to someone like the "developer evangelist" who got two developers fired because they said something to each other that s/he didn't like and see what I mean.

Edit: comments welcome, I have enough points but I cannot learn what mistake I made if nobody tells me.


I assume you're being downvoted because you're bringing up a highly controversial issue which is, at best, tangentially related.


And doing so in a way that paints it in the most favorable possible light for one position, in addition to using technical skill as a free pass for them making personal attacks.


Making the world's most used kernels doesn't give you the right to be a bully. Ironically, I largely believe he isn't.


Your quote cut off the critical word "say".


Could have sworn i have seen him get self-depreciating when he mess up.


Yep, this is what he had to say about Git:

> Quoting Linus: "I'm an egotistical bastard, and I name all my projects after myself. First 'Linux', now 'Git'".

>('git' is British slang for "pig headed, think they are always correct, argumentative").

https://git.wiki.kernel.org/index.php/Git_FAQ#Why_the_.27Git...


"As for Linus, I think he gets somewhat misrepresented in many places."

He's told multiple people he wishes they were retroactively aborted. I don't know of many ways that can be interpreted.


That was a general exclamation after finding out that Debian had patches that read data at 1 byte (yes byte, not kilobyte, not megabyte, byte) at a time (complete with round trips through kernel/user space context switches between each read).

It was never directed at anyone by name, nor did anyone ever go look for who had put in the patches.

And it was after what seemed to have been a frustrating bug hunt related to reports of poor performance in that subsystem.


He's said it multiple times, and has pointed it at specific people.

It is absolutely not an acceptable thing to say on something as public as the Linux Kernel mailing list. Not to mention that when others see him do that, they believe it gives them free range to do the same thing.


> the level of these issues varies wildly depending on the subsystem in question

this is exactly what some kind of official minimal expectations would help: bring the worst offenders up to the level that's normal in most groups


I'm pretty sure Sarah has confronted Linus over this exact issue in the past, and he was pretty adamant that it would not change:

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/07/linus-...

So, there you go. This is what happens, and what will continue to happen, when the leader defends that kind of behavior.


Different teams have different cultures that work for them.

It's not impossible that the culture that alienates some people is the very culture that enables the phenomenal engineering of the Linux kernel.

I personally would feel privileged to be a part of a group that puts engineering excellence beyond anything, including my own hurt feelings. There would be beauty for me in that emotional austerity and sheer directness.

That being said, I empathize with the author. If a team culture that delivers doesn't work for someone, the best thing to do is to move on. Keep looking, don't settle.


> I personally would feel privileged to be a part of a group that puts engineering excellence beyond anything, including my own hurt feelings. There would be beauty for me in that emotional austerity and sheer directness.

You should tolerate being part of a group that puts engineering excellence above offering any kind of camaraderie or emotional support.

You should feel privileged to be a part of a group that achieves engineering excellence while still being a bunch of cool and friendly people.


Telling people how they should feel is not very nice either.


You shouldn't feel that way.


You can be direct without making personal attacks, and you can have require people to defend their code without making them feel unwelcome.


> I personally would feel privileged to be a part of a group that puts engineering excellence beyond anything

I wonder if other -- perhaps more minor -- achievements that displayed engineering excellence like the Apollo Program, invention of the transistor, the first compiler etc. espoused this same "enabling" culture.

> including my own hurt feelings

This is a meme that keeps coming up and shows a complete misunderstanding of this situation and others like it. This is not about hurt feelings. It is about marginalization, which is pushing (or keeping) qualified people away. Sometimes, the means of the marginalization is a hostile environment. Sometimes there are other means.

The author's feelings have not been hurt; she just couldn't stand working in an environment of assholes.

> If a team culture that delivers doesn't work for someone, the best thing to do is to move on

The best thing for whom? That person perhaps. But the best thing for our industry is that people speak up -- as Sarah Sharp has -- people listen, and people change things.


> I wonder if other -- perhaps more minor -- achievements that displayed engineering excellence like the Apollo Program, invention of the transistor, the first compiler etc. espoused this same "enabling" culture.

You might be surprised. While I don't know about those particular projects, I know that, for example, Admiral Rickover was direct and blunt with those in the U.S. Navy's nuclear propulsion programme. He didn't suffer fools kindly, or at all. But then, he had the health and safety of his men, the nation and the world to worry about.

I'd take a few hurt feelings over another Therac-25.

> It is about marginalization, which is pushing (or keeping) qualified people away.

No, mariginalisation is about pushing or keeping away people rejected by the group. When it keeps the unqualified away, it's a good thing.

In the pursuit of excellence, even someone who's excellent on an absolute scale may not be excellent enough. A team of the best dozen engineers in the world will necessarily not include the 13th-best engineer: he is incredibly good, but he's just not good enough for that team.

Is the kernel team marginalising the good enough along with the bad? I honestly don't know.


> I'd take a few hurt feelings over another Therac-25.

Therac-25 was headed by an abusive manager, and all the good developers quit because they knew they could easily get a job elsewhere.

Did I pull that out of thin air? Of course I did, but so did you.


I think personal attacks are the opposite of being direct. What is the point of attacking someone personally? If you want to be direct, you would never talk about the other person (good or bad), but would talk about the code only.


A sad post, but not an unexpected one given the tone on the kernel mailing list - I'm sure many others have left without saying anything.


I don't get it. Why are so many OK with the personal attacks, unprofessional language, and generally toxic communications within the Linux kernel development community? Is it because Linus himself is one of the worst?

While I appreciate the technical talent of the kernel devs, I have lost nearly all respect for these developers. This issue needs to be resolved before it gets worse.


Linus.

Groups, packs, tribes, mobs, will emulate the behavior of the leader. For the members it is a sign that they respect the leader and a sign of loyalty.

The problem is that Linus isn't really a dick head, among the times I've interacted with him (few) he was pleasant and respectful. Except the high 'hits' if you search for him are generally him being brutally critical, both technically and personally. And that is a challenge.

People emulate their leader, and so their leader has to project the kind of leadership they want, all the time. And worse, only the gross strokes are really picked up, the subtley it always lost. So an outburst from a leader that might have had specific triggers, is read as simply an outburst. The triggers never surface by themselves to the consciousness of the folks following.

People who want Linus' respect in the kernel community, act as they perceive he acts. The result is suboptimal for community harmony. That is my observation anyway.


IME (with groups in general) it's as much about policing as it is emulation. When people act like jerks--whether to emulate a leader, or just because--and no one says "hey, that's not cool", it becomes the norm.


Most of the hits for Linus being brutal on Google are him dressing down someone doing something arrogant and/or stupid. Generally he seems relatively pragmatic but gruff.


And that is the problem in a nutshell. Imagine you want to be part of that group, so you google the leader of the group and all the top hits are him dressing down idiots. You say to yourself, "Ok then I see how this ship is run." and you take on the same modus operandi.

It doesn't matter if 90% of the interactions are civil and supportive, those top links "set the tone".

The only way to fix it is to have Linus disavow the behavior, call it out as bad in forums, and have the top 10 links when you Google him be him dressing down kernel maintainers who treat others like children to be scolded and shamed. The behavior of his followers will change to mimic that instead.


And the only reason he can act like that without consequence is because he's Linus. Anyone else who tries to mimic him (and they do, often) will see the conversation quickly spiral into hateful comments and insults. There's never a good reason to not be civil with someone (stupid or not).

While we are on the topic of stupidity... Do people really believe there are that many "stupid" and "arrogant" people contributing to Linux? Seriously? Because, ya know, FreeBSD doesn't seem to have that issue. Odd... Maybe there's something else going on. No?


Many kernel developers are not OK with it. But what alternative do we have? No one person, or dozen people, could improve the development culture around the Linux kernel when various maintainers don't want it to change. Sarah has done more than anyone else I can think of to improve that culture, and I have more respect for her than any ten kernel developers who only know how to hack on code and not on culture. And while the kernel culture remains far from decent, it has improved somewhat, if only through the inclusion of many more people who don't find the current culture acceptable.

I'm a kernel developer. I find the current kernel development culture toxic and draining to deal with; many other communities are much more fun to work in, and I feel energized working in those communities rather than in the kernel. I put up with it because I want to affect the direction of the kernel as well as the culture of the kernel, and because the main long-term way to affect either of those is from within that culture. I also help mentor people who want to join the kernel community. I can only hope that enough people with similar feelings participate in the community and rise to prominent roles within it, which will help change the culture for the better.

I would also point out that, in addition to the people directly perpetuating this kind of toxic culture (both the massive attacks and the "background radiation"), such a culture also thrives on a large body of people who don't think it's a problem, or who chuckle at quotes of the latest nastiness. Just look at this comment page and you'll find several comments demonstrating what makes this culture hard to change.


Well I hope I am not one of the ones who've been unhelpful here :)

I am sorry to hear that you've experienced this and it's frustrating for me from my position especially. I am fascinated by the kernel and determined to become a regular contributor (I'm working on a driver atm), but also would obviously vastly prefer a positive and helpful community.

As an outsider looking at how hard it is to move from trivial patches to non-trivial it seems like even getting there is a real challenge, let alone to come in with an attitude that I'm going to stand up to cultural issues, so I wouldn't presume on the latter, but not because I think being abusive or toxic is ok.

I am enthusiastic about becoming a part of the community and always try my best to treat others with respect, so hopefully if I am successful at becoming a regular contributor I can help even in some small way to improve things :) and hopefully as you say there are others who feel the same way.


> I am enthusiastic about becoming a part of the community and always try my best to treat others with respect, so hopefully if I am successful at becoming a regular contributor I can help even in some small way to improve things :)

That is exactly my hope. If we can't eliminate the awfulness quickly, let's at least dilute it with a larger welcoming community.

For example, quite a lot of kernel development occurs on subsystem mailing lists and in separate groups; those communities can (and sometimes do) maintain higher standards than LKML.


I don't get it. Why are so many OK with the personal attacks, unprofessional language, and generally toxic communications

This is going to be off-topic but...why are so many OK with that in the workplace? I've seen far more unprofessional language and toxic environment in a workplace by executives and managers and yet people fail to report it and fail to publicly complain.

" I did not want to work professionally with people who were allowed to get away with subtle sexist or homophobic jokes. I feel powerless in a community that had a “Code of Conflict” without a specific list of behaviors to avoid and a community with no teeth to enforce it."

Welcome to the typical office environment. And yet we're more likely to complain about this in the free/open source community than we are for the workplace.

Why is that?

Back on topic: I'm in agreement with you and there are ways of getting people to behave correctly and to have technically high quality work without acting like jerks. Those avenues should be investigated and implemented. I get it, for volunteer-based efforts it can be hard to enforce some standards because sometimes you're just happy to get any contribution, but there really needs to be a higher lower-bound placed on decency.


Why is that?

Because nobody gets fired from their paying job for criticizing puerile bullying on a mailing list.


Sexist, homophobic, etc. speech or behavior is less and less tolerated in most serious office environments, not least because it opens up a company to harassment lawsuits. That being the case, I wonder what all the very big serious companies that sponsor the Linux Foundation think about the level of harassment that is apparently tolerated in the communities they sponsor.


Not sure why you are being down voted, I have often wondered this myself. Also, I just posted a link to HN about things preventing up streaming in embedded Linux, I'd say that there are some fairly bad issues preventing people from submitting patches.


I find it strange that Sarah Sharp makes accusations of sexist and homophobic jokes but provides no examples. The mailing list is public after all - should we just take her word for it?


Thats not at all off topic.

My thoughts? Its all in-group bonding and enforcement of the social norms of the group. Even if some aren't comfortable with it personally and wouldn't do it otherwise.

The older I get the more I can agree that the (software) workplace needs to get much more professional than it is.

Maybe I am off base on this one though...


I don't think people are OK with it. It's more of a case that they realize this is a problem that might not have a good solution.

Currently, Linux kernel works. The process for changing it, overall, works too.

Currently, some people are driven off by abrasive language and personal comments. You might be surprised to find out that attempts to enforce language and behavior rules will also drive people off. And not just assholes. Very often such attempts lead to replacement of open rudeness with more subtle, but equally (or more) hostile tone-policing and emotional reasoning. It creates politics. Open rudeness is often easier to ignore, because it's obvious and isn't backed up by "official" code of conduct.

I'm not saying that nothing could/should be done here. It's just that simplistic solutions like creating a strict code of conduct and kicking out the "bad" people are likely to do more harm than good.


Sure, the kernel development process "works", but wouldn't it be nice if it worked better?

The trouble is, the nastiness drives away people not based on their level of competence, but based on their willingness to put up with nastiness. So you end up with fewer good developers, and people talking about how the senior kernel maintainers are so overworked that they "have" to be nasty, because they don't have time to be nice.

Do you really think that widespread open nastiness means there are no politics now?


> Sure, the kernel development process "works", but wouldn't it be nice if it worked better?

So much agreed. I find it deeply weird that technical people suddenly be against improving something on the grounds that it appears to work now.

Look at Linux itself. Did the world really need another OS? Does it need all those features, all those patches? Thank goodness nobody worried too much about that. If they had, Linux wouldn't exist. Hell, computers wouldn't exist.


> but wouldn't it be nice if it worked better?

Yes, so simply prove that having an official code of conduct and that enforcing it wouldn't cause more harm than good.

Show me a big-corp that's more agile and effective and gets things done better than a startup and I'll totally believe in the power of a fully staffed HR slash police department in promoting effective work. I don't think that happens very often (if at all) but being able to point out that it works for dozens or hundreds of big companies would be pretty convincing. I'd love to be wrong about this actually!

The other problem is that it's a volunteer "organization" and as such there's not much you can do to kick people out. They're mostly hired by outside companies and those companies would have to choose to fire them for failing to adhere to a standard that they themselves don't set, so they'd be outsourcing the management of their own people to a certain extent. I suspect they wouldn't be keen to agree to this.

> Do you really think that widespread open nastiness means there are no politics now?

I would venture to guess that at least the nastiness now means that the politics are mostly out in the open and that it's easier to navigate.

It's possible to eke out tremendous performance gains making small changes inside hot loops with computers these days because processors don't expose their characteristics very well. The CPU is happy to execute some kind of awful loop that causes it to wait hundreds or thousands of cycles per iteration because you're column indexing instead of row indexing.

This might be in some ways analogous to what happens when everyone has to be polite; nobody can tell you what you did wrong lest they get yelled at by the be-nice-police and things slow way down as people have to hint and guess as to what the problems are.

I don't think there is anything such as a free lunch; unintended consequences are rife in the world. Suggesting that the linux kernel could work better, free of unintended consequences seems to be a bold claim. But the great thing about hackers, geeks and nerds is that solid evidence trumps politics and preference.


> I would venture to guess that at least the nastiness now means that the politics are mostly out in the open and that it's easier to navigate.

Perhaps, for people who can tolerate the nastiness. The question is, how many excellent developers leave (or never participate in the first place) without saying a word, because they don't want to deal with the nastiness?

No one's suggesting "never say anything negative". As the original article said "I need communication that is technically brutal but personally respectful." In other words, you don't need homophobic sexist insults to tell someone they're doing something wrong.

You're setting up a false dichotomy, between pointless nastiness, and some imaginary ultra-polite fairy land that no one is asking for.

What's so hackerish and geeky and nerdly about insulting people for their sexual preference or appearance or grooming, instead of discussing the actual technical issues?


> The question is, how many excellent developers leave (or never participate in the first place) without saying a word, because they don't want to deal with the nastiness?

That's a great point, and together we're actually correct.

How many new developers would you gain by implementing some kind of (largely unenforceable) code of conduct versus how many old developers would you scare away with such a thing. Now you've got an actual engineering tradeoff that you can consider.

Would the gains more than offset the losses? I certainly don't know. I don't think there is any way to know except to try it and hope it doesn't go badly. I can understand why people might not be keen to take a risk like that, though.


I'm okay with personal attacks because my first instinct is to presume that the people writing them are not really upset at me personally, just with the work. They may choose to call me stupid, mentally challenged, wish I were retroactively aborted, etc. but they don't even know me so I genuinely can't reconcile why I would assume that intelligent people are being serious about that.

If that's true, then there are three cases with regard to my code patch/submission:

a) I am wrong and they are right, I've learned something and correct my code.

b) I am right and they are wrong, I type up a reply and start an academic discussion on the issue itself. This is a good thing too.

c) It's opinionated, in which case I defer to the people who are more invested in the kernel and correct my code, since it's better that things stay consistent with their opinions.

In all three cases, after I'm done I go do something fun. Taking things personally would be a really sub-optimal use of my mortality. If I were interested in becoming friends with Linus and gang, I could see why this is a problem.


> I'm okay with personal attacks ...

    I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly 
    wounding because I think, well, if they attack one 
    personally, it means they have not a single political
    argument left.
    - Margaret Thatcher
I agree with you and her mostly but as others say, there is a limit.


This ignores the long term affects of building and maintaining such a culture. I guess it's great this doesn't affect you, but I'm sure it affects others.


> This issue needs to be resolved before it gets worse.

Is this an issue though? If the Linux Kernel project can get all the talent it needs with current attitude, then there is no good reason to change.

If the culture delivers, let it be, just not join. I don't mind rough language and hostility. And if I am greeted and cannot prove that I am meaner and more hostile, just move on.


> Is this an issue though? If the Linux Kernel project can get all the talent it needs with current attitude, then there is no good reason to change.

Before Sarah there was no USB3 support in the kernel, and no prospect of gaining any.

Alan Cox has quit twice, the first time after being personally abused by Linus.

Do Alan and Sarah seem like the kind of talent you can casually discard?

btrfs is, and I'm being kind here, spinning its wheels. Are there filesystem devs who can't be fucked contributing?

The android team periodically try, and then give up, trying to mainline chunks of their work because they can't be bothered dealing with the shit they get.


> Is this an issue though?

Yes. It's a huge fucking issue. I think I speak for plenty of people when I say that we don't want to be part of a culture that's known for bullying, harassment, sexism, etc... That crap is the whole reason I got into computers in the first place. It was a safe haven away from all the jocks and other very similar BS in highschool. Yet here we are tolerating and in some cases even celebrating similar actions within our own community.

This needs to change.


> Yes. It's a huge fucking issue. I think I speak for plenty of people when I say that we don't want to be part of a culture that's known for bullying, harassment, sexism, etc...

Participation is voluntary in open source. So no one forces you. But you are not entitled to acceptance in any community. I on the other hand there are people that like it the way it is.

You are totally free to fork the kernel into PC Linux with strictly enforced rules and see if the talent will follow you.

> That crap is the whole reason I got into computers in the first place. It was a safe haven away from all the jocks and other very similar BS in highschool.

And here I think we get to the core of the problem. In flight or fight situations some people have the flight option turned off and counterpunch on any adversity, even if it stupid. They won't see a problem with the linux kernel culture at all. But the flight only people - they will see.


> then there is no good reason to change

I can think of two:

1. The project might get even better.

2. Ethics.


While civil conversation is generally important, trying to be overly nice in some ways can make it worse. The trick is to detect the point of the message and not get offended.

The larger a project gets, the quicker it is needed to root out some things.

Good projects are not democracies. A leader isn't going to get everything right, but accepting everything is probably worse. I think in many environments people DO want to be more blunt, but because they are representing an employer, they feel they cannot. And this sometimes leads to compromise and less desirable results.

When everything is communicated in exactly the same "business professional" tone, you have effectively reduced the bit depth.

The way you deal with things is by being logical and having supporting evidence, but I don't believe communities have to be for everyone and work for everyone.

They should accept all groups of people, but if some people take energy out of the project, the project should get to decide where it wants to go.

While I like being nice, I think if you are not occasionally very blunt.

So there's a spectrum. It's a spectrum I think you can understand better if you've run a project with a couple hundred or more contributors. You have to preserve your energy.

Still, I'd prefer to see language limited and highly offensive things shouldn't be said. But it's a spectrum. Quality is most important relative to making everyone feel like they 'have a voice'.

Linus is doing extremely well for containing it.

If some maintainers are doing worse things, that needs to be addressed.

Problems come up when there are choke points where a lot of people want to contribute to the same thing, and that is naturally going to cause conflict -- or something like OpenStack, where it just says yes to everything and gets all confused :)

We've become a society that gets offended a bit too much. A nd as such, we say less offensive things, and read subtexts into small things, to the point where everything sounds offensive. It's a downward spiral to where all communication has no bit depth.


> When everything is communicated in exactly the same "business professional" tone, you have effectively reduced the bit depth.

That Linus calls any attempt at civility "bourgeois mores" or something like that doesn't make it so. No one is calling for the same "business professional" tone. Just for basic civility. You can be a little rude, just don't go overboard.

> The way you deal with things is by being logical and having supporting evidence, but I don't believe communities have to be for everyone and work for everyone.

Again, this is the response I'd expect if someone called for mandatory uniforms. Here someone is just asking them to be itsy-bitsy-slightly less dickish. To tone down their dickishness. To go from being total dicks to being normal dicks.

Ah, but who decides what is a normal, acceptable amount of dickishness? This is actually quite simple: common sense, combined with listening to what members of the community say (sprinkled with a well deserved apology here and there). And when common sense doesn't cut it any more, there is a need for rules. Namely, the exact same way every reasonably functioning society that wished to be anything less than a total asshole-heaven has done since the dawn of civilization has done it.


What a wonderful society we would have of we were all high-performers being nasty to one another.


I don't know if Linus is the worst but he sets the overall tonne for sure. Not everybody can take it - I for one have left more than 10 years ago with no regrets. A little politeness goes a long way.


It takes courage to speak at all.


There's a weird myth floating around that being honest, direct, or "real" means being an asshole.

And there's another related myth that being an asshole is acceptable.


Sure. Nice strawman.

It's not a myth, however, that shouting, cursing, and attacking your coworkers makes you an asshole.


It's not a straw man. If you have never run into people who explicitly excuse their asshole behaviour by saying they're just being "blunt" or "honest" you're either lucky or unobservant.


> people who explicitly excuse their asshole behaviour by saying they're just being "blunt" or "honest"

You can find several such excuses on this page, even.


You missed the point completely (I think).

The GP was implying that there's a myth that if you really want to be "real", you have to act like an asshole. Which is not true, and hence the "myth".


She (and everyone here) talks about it being OK to criticize code but not OK to offend people personally, which seems like a rather reasonable concept -- but does anyone have actual examples of the latter, to put everything in context? I see http://marc.info/?l=linux-kernel&m=135628421403144&w=2 and http://marc.info/?l=linux-acpi&m=136157944603147&w=2 quoted, but to me it looks like both are about code?


The content is about a bug, but the form is bad. You can effectively communicate that the patch is bad and that the approach is to never break user space without saying shut up, is crap, and without to be so verbal aggressive IMHO.


This seems the result of years of frustration telling the same thing again and again.

Even the 2009 Alan Cox rant was about the 'never break userspace' issue: https://lkml.org/lkml/2009/7/28/373

For sure being rude doesn't seem to work ;)


This article helped me understand a frustration I have with millennials.

>>I feel powerless in a community that had a “Code of Conflict” without a specific list of behaviors to avoid and a community with no teeth to enforce it.

It never would have occurred to me that I was ever entitled to procedures for handling conflict in a community. I have operated under the following rule for community bullshit:

Endure it, fix it, or abandon it.

The fashionable "sad departure" missive just reeks of entitlement. Reading these notes make me feel embarrassed for the author.

Younger people seem to be celebrating a style that whines about community. It isn't leadership.


It seems to me that she has followed your advice. She tried fixing it while enduring it; now she's abandoning it in a way that she hopes might fix the broader problem.

A great way to fix community issues is establishing codes of conduct making it clear what the norms are. This isn't just millennial; some of our oldest documents are community codes of conduct. E.g.:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi

Personally, as an old, I think it's great that people like Sarah Sharp are stepping up and pushing for better working environments. And as a Linux user, I want my kernel built by the best technical people, not the ones best able to put up with aggressive bullshit. This is one in a long string of complaints from people who have left kernel work, and it makes me worried for the kernel's future.


> It never would have occurred to me that I was ever entitled to...

No one thinks they're entitled. They're just saying what they think is right.

> procedures for handling conflict in a community

You're missing the point. If the community was well-behaved procedure wouldn't be necessary. It's not procedure she's asking for -- it's decent behavior -- and suggesting that perhaps procedure is a possible fix. If it isn't, we'll try others.

> Endure it, fix it, or abandon it.

First she endured it (for about 8 years), then she tried to fix it ([1], [2]), and now she's leaving. You've found a true successor.

> Younger people seem to be celebrating a style that whines about community

Tell that to Martin Luther.

Also, why use that word "whine"? Linus whines about a whole lot of stuff yet no one calls him a whiner.

[1]: http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/07/linus-...

[2]: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-07/22/sarah-sharp


>>No one thinks they're entitled.

Said every entitled person everywhere. This also applies to people who talk about privilege.

>>Also, why use that word "whine"?

Stylewise:

"Disappointment" demonstrates leadership. "Sad" demonstrates entitlement.

>>Linus [...]

I don't think anyone who leads people should defend Linus' behavior. He's an asshole that has provided a powerful, free & useful kernel.

Until there is a better FOSS alternative to Linux, it makes sense to endure him. But deciding to defend his behavior indicates a lack of compassion for people's feelings.


Until there is a better FOSS alternative to Linux

You mean there isn't?


> Endure it, fix it, or abandon it. [..] > that whines about community

Sarah Sharp is one of the people who has tried to fix this the most. I have great respect for her, and while I'm sad to see her go I'm not surprised -- being one of the few people pushing against such toxicity must be stressful.


> Reading these notes make me feel embarrassed for the author.

If that post made you feel this way, then her follow-up article will have you cringing and wincing:

http://sarah.thesharps.us/2015/10/06/what-makes-a-good-commu...

Aparently she knows for a fact that all those points definitely make a good community, despite never having run one the size and scale of the Linux kernel project.

Pure arrogance and entitlement.


USB in Linux is really, really good. It didn't use to be. This is a big loss.


Not sure if it was Sharp directly that produced that, or if she more acted as the representative of a larger USB team at Intel (somewhat ironic given that Intel at the corporate level didn't seem interested at all in USB3 at first).


>What that means is they are privileging the emotional needs of other Linux kernel developers (to release their frustrations on others, to be blunt, rude, or curse to blow off steam) over my own emotional needs (the need to be respected as a person, to not receive verbal or emotional abuse).

This seems to be imply that these people don't also have the need to be respected. It's a choice to privilege everybody's need to blow off steam over everybody's need to be respected. Not just hers.


Hence the sentence that you omitted:

> There’s an awful power dynamic there that favors the established maintainer over basic human decency.

In any project there will be emotional conflicts. That doesn't mean there should be an overwhelming trend toward coddling incumbents. Not only is it morally suspect, it's really bad for the health of the project.


I do wish there was some separation in the description between abrasiveness and sexism/homophobia - I've only ever really seen the former on lkml, and am far more tolerant of it than the latter.


and am far more tolerant of it than the latter

Which is why you see them addressed in the same breath so often. It brings in the political capital of the latter, to gripe about the former.


I worked in a place where I'd be scolded once in a while when I did something stupid and I enjoyed it[0] for a while as long as it was fair.

It quickly became annoying when it turned out the same people who criticised others harshly swept their own mistakes under the rug ...

[0]: "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."



That finger is for Nvidia. There is a chinese proverb that say: "When the sage points at the moon, the fool looks at the finger.".

Nvidia is the problem here, not the finger.


And does the sage read the story (which, BTW, is about Sarah Sharp) that goes with the picture of the finger or is he just on the lookout for moons? :)


> We are human. We make mistakes, and we correct them. We get frustrated with someone, we over-react, and then we apologize and try to work together towards a solution.

Wisdom.


The Linux project has been around for a couple decades now. Has this attitude been a trend from the very beginning, or is it something that formed over time?


Yes. Pretty much been that way for a long time.


What I'd like to know is if she was disrespected in any way, cause despise the Linus behavior, he only is that way with people he knows and with people he has confidence.

so, was she disrespected or not?


Its easy to say "This is the way it is, tough cookies, deal with it. Grow a thicker skin if you want to play."

It takes a bigger man (apologies for the sexism - can't think of a better term) to put their head down and become a better person.


You can't think of the word "person"?


Doesn't have the same effect/meaning.

"Term" was the wrong word - "Expression" is more of what I meant.

"Man up" doesn't have the same connotations as "person up." (For example)


I agree on "man up" versus "person up", but "bigger person" has exactly the same connotations as "bigger man".

To be clear here, I'm not offended by your statement. I think communicating using common idioms which happen to contain a gender word isn't sexist, and quibbling over gendered language like that just drives real sexism underground. I'm talking about it purely from a writing perspective. Looking at it more, I wouldn't have used either phrase, to be honest. I'd have gone with something like "It's harder to admit you screwed up and become a better person" (drop the euphemisms and draw a dichotomy between easy/hard).


I'm glad she was able to figure out that the team culture didn't fit her and leave for something more suitable to her preferences. Different people are different, and a single team cannot accommodate every style.


So abuse and public humiliation is a style now? Well, if it is, her point is that it's a bad style, a very bad style, and it would be best if it goes out of fashion. Kinda like writing spaghetti code with lots of gotos. That, too, is a style, but generally recognized as a bad one, even if some people like it.


As a web developer (as in the world of JavaScript / Python / PHP / Ruby ), I don't really know much about C or operating system stuff. So I have a total noob question.

What goes into "maintaining" USB development? I mean, the USB ports have worked for years, no? What is there to be done? To my naive ears this is like hearing that someone is actively contributing to the technology behind light switches. Can someone in the know describe what goes into this?


Andddd the only response is for someone to give me a downvote. Love it.


I don't get it.

If you don't like it, just leave, work with another team. It IS that simple.

BUT, don't simply say "xx turns women away", because not every woman is the same.


https://lwn.net/Articles/105375/ (Linus on Kernel Mangement Style, 2004) If everyone would read this before getting involved in the kernel project, hopefully those not compatible with the culture would not get involved in the first place.


Do you understand that this whole article is designed to point out the major losses from categorically excluding developers "not compatible with the culture?"


I was with her until

>I have the right to replace any comment I feel like with “fart fart fart fart”.

Right after

>I would prefer the communication style within the Linux kernel community to be more respectful.

Way to not practice what you preach.


A policy of tolerance and respect does not require being tolerant and respectful of intolerance and disrepect.


And so, the vicious circle continues.

Did you not notice how the policy of replacing messages with farts is not limited solely to intolerant and disrespectful ones? It's exactly the kind of passive aggression that is typical amongst nerds, and the kind she was seemingly railing against in the beginning of the rant.


If someone threatens to rape or kill her (which seems to happens to pretty much every woman who works in tech who speaks out against sexism) then fart noises is mild.


Do you seriously suggest this as a reasonable reaction, rather than, say, reporting it to the police?


If the police could take action to locate the one making the threats, then reporting them is a reasonable option. But here's a thought: if you saw graffiti on a wall you owned, then you could report it police AND paint over the top of it with a fresh coat of paint.

Let's say you are a Jew, and the graffiti was spewing Neo-Nazi propaganda, targeted at you. You would be justified, because the wall is your property, to mock the perpetrators on your newly repainted wall. It's your wall - and you are free to express yourself on your own property.

Sarah's "wall" is similarly her blog post. You can make offensive remarks, but she is free to remove your offensive remarks and mock you in their place. And at the same time collect evidence of threatening behaviour and report it to the police.

Not sure why this is such a difficult concept...


> Did you not notice how the policy of replacing messages with farts is not limited solely to intolerant and disrespectful ones?

Why do you presume that the author is going to take that action with any messages that aren't intolerant or disrespectful?


Because she has likely borrowed that policy from Matthew Garret [1], who specifically used it against comments he disagreed with. Seeing as they were both involved in the same community, and both used it for "parting shots" purposes, I think a coincidence is really unlikely.

[1] http://mjg59.dreamwidth.org/32778.html


一群素质低下的IT流氓


一群IT流氓!


[flagged]


Woah! What campaign?!

I don't think she is drumming up any support. Asking for polite and decent conversations without being called a 'cry baby' or being asked to 'go back to kitchen' is not political knife fight, it is basic courtesy in a public forum IMO.


The problem with "basic courtesy" is that you need to understand other people's culture/background/personal life to make it "correct". There are people who will be offended just by criticizing their code, not their personal life.


This whole post that we're commenting on is about exactly that distinction, so this is a bogus argument.


She's not complaining about people being offended for some obscure cultural reasons. She states that the community is abrasive and led by assholes. The significance of being spat on is open to cultural interpretation; the significance of being stabbed with a knife is pretty unequivocal. Let's start with that.


Ahh has probably, like me, run into the social justice worriers. There is a community so toxic and full of hatred for (white heterosexual) men that they make Ulrich Drepper sound like miss Manners.

Many of their complaints are the same complaints Sarah posted, so it does seem reasonable (to me) to assume she was one of them. Normally they complain about some project not caring about their feelings, demand change, tear apart anyone who argues against them and then force anybody who disagree with them out. Death threats and emails to peoples employers suggesting they be fired are commonly used.

I don't think Sarah is one of them, because to work for that long on a project requires sharp technical skills, which the social justice warriors don't tend to have as well as a willingness to work with people don't agree with you.

I certainly wouldn't fault anybody for suspecting knives though.


It's not in any way reasonable to assume that someone is badly behaved without any specific evidence. To lump someone into a stereotypical grouping because you just assume they live up to that stereotype is the sign of a rather weak or insecure personality!


she seems different: honest but tired.

We must be able to defend Linus without attacking anyone criticizing the Linux kernel maintainers. Not everything is perfect on that list.


Whoa. Where did Sarah ever ask you to support her political agenda and opinions?


Why do some people have to think everything is about politics?

There is a difference between demanding and expecting great code and being an asshole. You can demand good code without alienating others.


To be honest, she did at least part of her campaign in public on the LKML directly interacting with Linus among others, and there doesn't seem to be evidence of she doing any "organizing against someone's back".

That said, I agree that it's problematic to try to enforce anything not regarding code, since the enforcer (or who succeeds them) can then abuse the enforcement itself as an harassing and exclusion tool (the so-called "Nazi moderator" problem).


I kinda prefer Linus's method as you know what will happen to you if you don't verify/validate (a kind of respect to everybody's time) before submitting.


There are many more people than Linus on LKML and the other lists. Don't make this about Linus.


example? the emails I've read so far are from Linus.


I think some developers need to go out and meet more people in person. There is no need for a toxic communication style. Usually things are said much harder to people on mailing lists than is said face to face.

Get out talk to people. People working isolated being an issue


> I need communication that is technically brutal but personally respectful.

And sometimes being personally disrespectful yields better results. Which is, after all, what one wants out of a software project: results, not happy feelings.

I think we'd all like to be personally respected (I know I would). But I also think that almost all of us have done things which aren't respectable (I know I have); and I believe that at least for some people, the shame of public disrespect is part of the learning experience involved in not doing it again.

If this atmosphere of harsh personal criticism does yield better results, then it's necessary. I'm reminded of the old adage, 'if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.' Heat is necessary to cook (a kitchen in summer is miserable, particularly without air conditioning); interpersonal heat may be necessary to produce better software.

I myself don't do so well in an atmosphere of intense personal criticism, and have great difficulty giving it, but I consider those my own personality flaws.


>And sometimes being personally disrespectful yields better results. Which is, after all, what one wants out of a software project

This is just as absurd as saying "And sometimes torture yields good information. Which is, after all, what one wants out of interrogation."

Under no circumstances should we conflate being critical with being disrespectful or verbally abusive. Good criticism can always be given in a respectful manner.


I can't see a professional situation between reasonable, intelligent adults (which I assume the author is) where being disrespectful yields better results. Better results than what? Firmly but politely explaining the other person's mistakes?

You don't do well in an atmosphere of (let me paraphrase) intense personal disrespect and you consider that your personality flaw? It doesn't make sense. Having a thick skin is certainly an advantage, but being less than thrilled about having to work with disrespectful assholes is definitely not a character flaw.


> If this atmosphere of harsh personal criticism does yield better results, then it's necessary.

That's a pretty big "if."

And my personal experience is that, no, working in an "atmosphere of harsh personal criticism" does not yield better results. It makes good people go away. It causes people who don't want to be attacked to just keep their mouths shut and not say anything. It makes people wary of floating ideas that could be interesting but also risk being abusively mocked. It makes people not want to ask questions. It kills social cohesion. Etc.


The evidence in large open source projects seems to support that "if" - I mean, if an atmosphere of harsh personal criticism would significantly harm the end result, and a friendlier atmosphere would improve it without undue burden to all the participants (as in, people can leave/not join because of hostile environment but also because of being asked to change their ways), then for any competing or forked project we'd expect to see the friendliest community to win, and that's often not the case.

Since many (most?) large high-profile projects seem to have the problem of hostile atmosphere, then it suggests that when all things are taken into account, then policies that allow various contributors/maintainers to be as [un]hostile as they want have outperformed policies that would require them to be civil or leave the project.

I mean, we're seeing developers contribute to projects run by assholes instead of saying "well, I'm ready to maintain a fork and not be an asshole" and having everyone jump ship. So no matter what they're saying, in practice they're showing that yes, that they prefer that ugly "leadership" over the alternative - pushing away the person that doesn't want to change.


I think you're confusing "a demanding atmosphere" with "an atmosphere of harsh personal criticism."

But I'm happy to hear where you're getting this stat that most high-profile projects operate with "an atmosphere of harsh personal criticism." Maybe some high-profile projects are like that, but my experience is that they're the shitty exception, not the rule.


> If this atmosphere of harsh personal criticism does yield better results, then it's necessary. I'm reminded of the old adage, 'if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.' Heat is necessary to cook (a kitchen in summer is miserable, particularly without air conditioning); interpersonal heat may be necessary to produce better software.

Perhaps currently, the environment is toxic, but it also manages to produce excellent results. Wouldn't anyone agree that now, moving forward, excellent results plus a supportive environment would be a step forward? How can anyone find that a regression?


Because too many people misunderstand that change doesn't have to imply wrongness.

We are good. We can become better. Becoming better doesn't mean we're bad to begin with.

Too often, the suggestion or request to change is viewed as a personal attack, which in this context is highly amusing.


Wouldn't it be better if we didn't downvote people _only_ because their particular view doesn't click with ours?

It seems like otherwise we're just getting people to be defensive and more inclined to keep their views to themselves rather than sharing and discussing everything openly.


Yes, precisely. The voting system is supposed to suppress poor content, not poor opinions. I disagree with the parent's viewpoint, but it was articulated well and respectfully presented; no point in downvoting.


Actually, i do not understand why this comment was down voted. Does any downvoter care to explain?


The poster said he supports a culture of personal abuse to produce positive outcomes. Downvotes should be least he gets.


I did not say that I support a culture of personal abuse; I wrote that given the right conditions then personal disrespect can be appropriate.

You agree! You wrote, after all, 'downvotes should be the least he gets,' which is to say that you disrespect what I wrote and feel I should be silenced.

There's a difference between disrespect and abuse, just as there's a difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion. Some people aren't worthy of respect, but no-one should be abused.


I won't go into details of how I never said I supported "a culture of personal abuse". If anything, I meant to say that I don't perceive harsh wording related to my work performance as "personal abuse".

I was actually referring to zeveb's comments, which in my view received unfair downvotes of immense volume, despite being very well-formed and constructive. My own comments didn't even get downvoted that badly, and as of right now I'm still in net positive.


Maybe it's just feedback telling you to "[post] well enough to justify my very existence".


There's a big difference between calling someone out publicly and being a dick about it. That's what I think she's getting at here. There's always a multitude of respectful ways and disrespectful ways to go about confronting someone about something.

Do you seriously believe that being publicly disrespected should be part of the learning process?


> Do you seriously believe that being publicly disrespected should be part of the learning process?

Depends on the learner, the teacher and the lesson itself. If someone sweeps others at a firing range with his firearm, then getting knocked down and chewed out will probably instill a more lasting lesson that a quiet reprimand. If someone forgets to include a comment on a function, that's probably less important (although it could be, e.g. if that function were controlling a generator at a hydroelectric plant…).


I am pretty sure that sweeping others with my firearm would have earned me a beating in the army...


> Do you seriously believe that being publicly disrespected should be part of the learning process?

Full Metal Jacket opening monologue.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71Lft6EQh-Y


That's not really being disrespected as much as it is being uniformly primed for the "club" you just joined. Since we're using this film as an example, though, how did that public-disrespect-as-a-teaching-tool work out for ol' Private Pyle? ;)


> And sometimes being personally disrespectful yields better results. Which is, after all, what one wants out of a software project: results, not happy feelings.

I think this kind of mentality is the problem this person is talking about. Great software and happy feelings are not mutually exclusive things.

> If this atmosphere of harsh personal criticism does yield better results, then it's necessary.

I disagree. From what I've seen and heard, criticizing someone personally has nothing to do with development or really with the workplace at all. You can criticize my work, you can show me where I went wrong, and you can tell me where I absolutely failed but criticism about any portion of my person or my identity is unwarranted. I'd be open to being shown a situation where this is not the case, but I'm highly skeptical.

Personally, I think that there _was_ one personality that thrived in core kernel/linux development and it's caustic and Linus-ian. If that group wants to see additional contributions and not alienate the people like post author then their attitude and culture need to change.


> Which is, after all, what one wants out of a software project: results, not happy feelings.

That's a pretty disgusting utilitarian way to look at thngs. I'm sure you would never work for an employer that sees you as a unit of production, and not as a human being that requires healthy, positive human interactions.


> If this atmosphere of harsh personal criticism does yield better results

but does it?


With me it does.


Just to make sure we're on the same page... Consider these two options:

1. "sssilver, you are a fucking moron. I'm amazed your ancestors managed to not only crawl out of the primordial soup, but to reproduce successfully enough times to bring you into existence. Christ, think about your code before submitting your pull request."

2. "This code has several memory leaks. Function bar_baz() returns a pointer to a stack-allocated data structure. On line 32, you've got a likely null-pointer dereference. There are several other problems as well. Go find some reference material or someone to help you improve."

You'd prefer to get #1 as feedback rather than #2? #2 is direct and blunt, but not full of personal insults.


I'd like both. #1 adds some levity and humour; #2 gives me the technical details.

Perhaps if it was personal, like pointing out that I consistently do terrible work and really am not cut out to be a dev, then yeah that might hurt. Though more because the intent is that I shouldn't contribute, full stop, not just improve my work.

Though I suppose it's because there aren't any impersonal insults that'd bother me. Whereas being a member of another group that gets sincere bigotry aimed at it - yeah that might be incredibly frustrating. No one believes Linus wants to actually travel through time and perform abortions, nor would it make anyone think to do such a thing. But a "this proves women should really avoid engineering and stick to cooking" is something that many people actually believe and reinforces that thinking.

Edit: Though it'd need to be clear that this is the environment, that such strong feedback is not personal. If this was just delivered to some new hire with no warning, then it might come off the wrong way.


I would perform better with #1, because it'd motivate me a lot more.

With #2, the only thing that's at stake is the particular problematic code. With #1, my whole ancestry and evolution is being questioned, and I'm gonna make damn sure I perform well enough to justify my very existence. I know it sounds creepy, but that's how it works with me. Especially if the feedback is coming from someone I have immense respect for.


I hope you don't get downvoted. That is an exceptionally fascinating answer for me! I wouldn't call it creepy at all, just... unusual. It took a fair bit of effort for me to come up with at all, given that #2 is my typical feedback approach. I have a feeling that giving #1 as feedback on a student's assignment would result in a disciplinary hearing. :)

Very fascinating! Thanks for giving me something to chew on!


For me, there are different kinds of "works" at play here. If the question is what produces dramatic, short-term improvement, an abusive approach quite often works wonders. But over the long term, that's thoroughly corrosive. Fear isn't a sustainable motivation when people have other options. (Which is why serial abusers also end up being very controlling; they need to eliminate the options.)


I also don't represent the western culture. That might be a culprit.


sssilver, you are a fucking moron. I'm amazed your ancestors managed to not only crawl out of the primordial soup, but to reproduce successfully enough times to bring you into existence. Christ, take a moment to realize that just because you have a masochistic desire to be abused by your coworkers doesn't mean everybody else feels the same way. And your stupid desire to suffer assholes is just setting yourself up for a life of being shit upon.

(Is that more to your taste? ;-) )


No fair! You actually included information and facts!


The only thing #1 would motivate me to do is (a) complain to the boss (b) complain to hr (if it exists) (c) get my resume in order in preparation for peacing out.


#1 is far more likely to make an emotional impression than #2. That might be for good (one avoids making such bad mistakes again) or bad (one avoids making any contributions again). It's certainly more memorable.


I came up with it trying to think of something vicious that contained absolutely no insight about how to be better. It doesn't actually have any information about what the bad mistakes might be. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the whole idea that that'd work for some people.


Well, a real-life example would contain both disrespect and information about the mistakes, and how to do better. Something more like, 'How could you possibly be so stupid as to use the same memory location to store the car's current radio station and the desired fuel-injection rate, controlled only by a flag in another piece of memory? Didn't it occur to you that someone working on the entertainment system code might never even think of checking for a flag related to speed & safety? Dear God, Smith, do you realise how many people you could have killed? I can only hope that your other mistakes have prevented idiots like you from being born and placed into positions of trust, you sorry misbegotten excuse for an engineer!'

Harsh, but I bet Smith would remember that moment well, and be more careful in the future. Or he might quit, and never write automotive-safety-impacting code again.


Which is, I think, a mistake; by and large, the best of harsh feedback is more 'both' than 'either/or' - i.e. it might include a fair chunk of yelling but there's also actionable criticism therein. Certainly if you look at Linus' rants the ranting is to emphasise the criticism, not to act as a substitute for insight.


> And sometimes being personally disrespectful yields better results. Which is, after all, what one wants out of a software project: results, not happy feelings.

This kind of belittlement is not doing her post justice at all, and is exactly the kind of disrespect she is criticizing. She does not talk much about her feelings at all, but about respect. It is completely possible to criticize the work of someone, also with harsh words if needed, but without being disrespectful towards the person.




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