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Linus Torvalds: Successful projects are 99% perspiration and 1% innovation (theregister.co.uk)
651 points by oska on Feb 16, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 172 comments

Chris Anderson: So you spoke to me last week about these two guys. Who are they and how do you relate to them?

Linus Torvalds: Well, so this is kind of cliché in technology, the whole Tesla versus Edison, where Tesla is seen as the visionary scientist and crazy idea man. And people love Tesla. I mean, there are people who name their companies after him.

The other person there is Edison, who is actually often vilified for being kind of pedestrian and is — I mean, his most famous quote is, "Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." And I'm in the Edison camp, even if people don't always like him. Because if you actually compare the two, Tesla has kind of this mind grab these days, but who actually changed the world? Edison may not have been a nice person, he did a lot of things — he was maybe not so intellectual, not so visionary. But I think I'm more of an Edison than a Tesla.


Tesla worked for Edison and was a person who could finish things and some of them changed the world. He was also person with vision, so I think Linus is either wrong or he is trying to put emphasis only on hard work. What if you have person like Tesla with both qualities?

He is simplifying the situation to make his point, that if you have to choose between inspiration and execution, he would choose execution by a wide margin. It's not meant to be an accurate historical commentary or to portray any sort of reality.

I agree -- you need a little bit of both qualities. The vision of what to create and the execution to carry it out. The two go hand in hand. I think Linus is putting the emphasis on hard work because we mere mortals aren't endowed with the same genius that Tesla had and for us, the best way to achieve something great is through hard work instead of "divine" inspiration.

The Chinese made a whole industry out of executing without visionaries. It's called cloning products of visionaries. Or slightly improving them based on marketing feedback.

>The Chinese made a whole industry out of executing without visionaries. It's called cloning products of visionaries.

That's how the US got its start too. In the 19th century still, most inventions were from Europe (England, France, Germany, etc), from the steam engine to the refridgerator, and from the radio to the internal combustion engine, cinema and photography. All European inventions.

And the Japanese post-WW2. Toyota was considered to be the poor man's Ford until at least the 1970s. Samsung and LG were mocked as artless copiers of Sony/Panasonic/Pioneer products as recently as the 90s.

Everybody starts with copying. You need a certain amount of proficiency in a given subject to be able to innovate. China will get there at scale too.

They start with a bit of copying then follow with originality. This is true even for high schoolers doing programming in US. China's copiers in imdustry didnt for a long time. So, it's not as simple as you suggested. Shenzhen is in opposite situation where it's both cloning and innovating so fast there's no stability in offerings.

>China's copiers in imdustry didnt for a long time.

What "long time"? China has been the "factory of the world" for mere 2 - 2.5 decades now and has done huge leaps since the early 90s when it started.

For contrast, it took from '45 to the mid-70s or so for Japanese companies to start innovating.

I think maybe you should go back to the history of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, which hinged initially on industrial espionage.

They didnt invent anything? Only duplicated others' work identically or with uglier, shoddier construction at lower prices? Im interested in a link with evidence of that if you have it.

Until quite late, with Edison and co, they didn't. And that's like 2 centuries after independence. All major inventions (and their first major uses in production) came from Europe until then, from the steam engine (UK) and the radio (Italy), to the car engine (Germany), the refrigerator (Germany, UK), the battery (Italy), telephone (Scotland), etc.

>Only duplicated others' work identically or with uglier, shoddier construction at lower prices?

Also, "uglier, shoddier construction at lower prices"? You seem to be under the impression that the Chinese just build cheap knockoffs.

Actually they also build also the high quality, high precision stuff you buy, from iPhones to BMWs (as of now 1 million BMWs have been assembled in Chinese plants).

Many important railroad technologies were developed by the US, even very early on: the US invented the cowcatcher and leading trucks on locomotives, and built the first locomotive to be duplicated. The Janney (automatic) coupler and the Westinghouse air brakes are major railroad innovations developed by the US, albeit in the 1870s. Geared steam locomotives (i.e., the Shay locomotive) were also developed by the US for mountainous logging operations.

"Also, "uglier, shoddier construction at lower prices"? You seem to be under the impression that the Chinese just build cheap knockoffs."

That's what they did in the past as I stated. They were renown for it. Later on, they started innovating a ton on top of that. The transformation was covered very well in the Wired Shenzhen documentary.

That's a false dichotomy, but also, this is a well-known phenomenon. It was taught even when I learned history in high school here in California.



I think it's a really interesting phenomenon how quickly we as a culture are able to imagine that what we're experiencing right now is without precedent.

It's not a false dichotomy. It's what the Chinese did to American goods until they developed innovation centers. The other person said America was the same. I wanted references. Yours seem to illustrate that was true. Hilariously, too.

They brought in Englishmen who'd memorized the design of the textile mills so they could copy them in Massachusetts.

have you actually spent sufficient time in China recently? I go there every quarter nowadays and find the innovation and impact of mobile tech on the everyday life of people a couple of years at least ahead of the West. I also see India beginning to leap ahead - kind of where China was 3-4 years ago.

Historically, it's only taken a decade or so for copying to move into innovation in Japan. China's already completed that decade now.

> What if you have person like Tesla with both qualities?

Like Elon Musk for example (who Torvalds seems to be making a gentle dig at, in the quote above).

Ironically, Musk likes Edison better too.

Linus is right that it's about the work you put in, but he's wrong if he thinks Tesla didn't work hard to develop his visualization abilities

There's a myth that some people are born with amazing powers (Tesla, Einstein) but what people don't see is the hours they put in from a young age

Therefore, both Tesla and Edison worked hard, except Edison bragged about it

Of course he bragged about it. He actually wanted people to use his technology to fund other ventures. Whats the point of creating things if no one actually knows about it?

Is it so hard to believe that some people just like to create for the sake of it?

No, but who changes things.

Those who create? Or those who share their creations?

You could say that if an invention is any good it speaks for itself, in which case you've saved yourself the effort of bragging and people still get to know about it

Good inventions usually look bad from outset. Otherwise someone else would have come up with them much earlier. So, you still need to sell your inventions and get people to see the potential.

A good invention might speak for itself if you give it 20 years and wait. But you can't run a business if your marketing strategy involves "wait 20 years".

This has to be one of the biggest fallacies in tech.

I'm pretty sure that the "work" Linus is referring to is work on the project, not work educating yourself and building up your abilities ahead of time.

> but who actually changed the world?

All the production of electric power in the world and most of its distribution today is based on the Tesla's methods. Not accidentally: Edison's were simply ineffective.

(Some also claimed that the first ever AND electrical logical circuits, today minimized in every chip in every computer, were the ones that Tesla built as the part of his wireless remote controlled boat in 1898. Here the article: https://www.computer.org/csdl/mags/dt/2007/06/mdt2007060624-... just mentions http://www.tfcbooks.com/teslafaq/q&a_024.htm but I can't find other sources. So let's stay by the electric power today. Tesla.)

Edison and Tesla both changed the world. Tesla (and Ferraris) are responsible for the invention of first viable AC motor, without which we would rely on DC for our grid.

The Edison quote was during a live radio debate between the two of them.

Tesla's response was : if you thought a bit more, you wouldn't have to sweat so much

I think we're all reading lots of different things into what Linus said here. My interpretation is that he's just saying that we tend to overvalue ideas and undervalue the less glamorous work involved in bringing those ideas to fruition.

The Tesla vs. Edison narrative is always couched in terms of the idea guy vs. the more pragmatic (perhaps more business-oriented) guy, not unlike the popular Woz vs. Jobs narrative, or the Jobs vs. Gates narrative in the '80s. These are popular narratives and archetypes that reflect the people involved, but can lead people to mythologizing history rather than understanding it.

In a different field, Lennon vs. McCartney.

So, among my peers at least, conventional wisdom is that Tesla was 100% an amazing visionary and got screwed over by unfair forces of history, and Edison was the villain whose contributions are overrated by historians. There's some truth there, but more than anything else it's a historical narrative where people are slotting Tesla and Edison into archetypes.

When a lot of people talk about Tesla vs. Edison, they're really just talking about those archetypes, and revealing to what degree they value inspiration vs. perspiration. I think that's all Linus is doing here, saying that in his mind perspiration is undervalued and inspiration is overvalued among his peers. I don't think he's really trying to make a historical argument, which is what a lot of the commenters here are assuming.

I agree with your interpretation, "he's just saying that we tend to overvalue ideas and undervalue the less glamorous work involved in bringing those ideas to fruition."

I would also add, Torvalds is an enchanted unicorn from a resume perspective, it's not like he has followed a typical FOSS career trajectory, so seriously, what does he know --> that you can put to use? It's like a beautiful young woman telling you how you can get just a warning instead of a speeding ticket next time, just do what she does (except if you follow Linus's lead you will definitely get the speeding ticket)

Humans have a built in instinct to follow great leaders, but if you are not a great leader yourself, emulating them might not actually work for you.

I have tremendous respect for Linus and for the HN community; I'm just saying, let's use critical thinking. There are plenty of successful super lightweight coding projects; he works on kernel level OS for a huge legacy of hardwares; he already was first to market, you still need to be, it's always tradeoffs. Borrowing/paraphrasing an idea from finance or population genetics, maybe the world is the way it is because that's the right mix, why believe you know a better way to a greater extent than your already believing so is already part of the right mix?

so, I'm not saying don't think, reflect and improve, I'm saying don't throw yourself into these debates all on one side. One size doesn't fit all.

Then he wrote git and hit the doubt out of the ball field. This may be an anomaly, but he is behind one of the most successful large projects in the history of software engineering. It's an insult to say 'enchanted unicorn'. It makes this sound like luck. That is exactly what he is saying is bullshit.The difference between some great lightweight projects and the Linux kernel is not linear. There are almost no other projects that are as complex.

It's funny how he says "Don't do this big 'think different'... screw that", apparently without realising that Apple did exactly what he's talking about. Almost all of Apple's big innovations were stolen from other places, and then they shut up, and got to work : making it work properly, making it user friendly, making it sexy, and then selling it.

Apple's slogan may have been "think different", and they have the image of being radical innovators, but hardly any of their innovations actually originated with them. Apple is 99% perspiration and 1% stealing good ideas :-)

There's even an infographic : http://mashable.com/2012/10/27/apple-stolen-ideas/#Fs4Q5gSS....

Picasso said "Good artists copy, great artists steal" which is quoted again by Steve Jobs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CW0DUg63lqU

Even to do something like a simple library and to publish it professionally will need `high quality`: code, tests, documentation (user/developer/guides), examples at a minimum. Basically the long tail of polishing is that 80% perspiration, 19% perspiration is to get to the stage (MVP may be) where you get on to polish it and that 1% innovation is when you kick your backside to get going!

I don't generally write documentation or tests when I start a library. I'll maybe write a couple tests if I want an indicator of when I'm done. I get it working, and then release.

Then, as I use the library, if a bug comes up that seems like it might come back, I add a test. If I break something accidentally, I add a test for that. And if I can't remember how an interface works, I document it in the readme.

That's it. Over time my documentation and test coverage come to match my use of the library. Anything I don't use gets deleted. And I end up with pretty ok documentation and test coverage.

The philosophy is: your first interface is never right anyway, so don't bother testing or documenting it. Just document the stuff you fix.

For me the word "steal" in "Good artists copy, great artists steal" quote always meant: make it that good that the public will think it was always yours. The origin does not matter, because reality for people is what they believe in. If you will execute it better than anyone else it will be considered "yours".

Edit: At the same time there are also few options to make people believe it's yours beside exceptional execution, but that's not what the quote is about.

I like this. Build it so well the customers won't suspect a thing and will think you're the original creator. In a way, this is "fake it 'till you make it... the best version ever."

Apple is going to steal all the thunder again, this time in AR/VR, isn't it.

Hard to say. I can't shake the feel that that the consumer electronics Apple that we have come to know this last decade or so came down to them making products for one man, Steve Jobs. The iPod was basically tuned for his ears for one thing. If he didn't want to use it, never mind be seen using it, it didn't make it to the stores.

I've never heard that interpretation of that before, but it makes so much sense. Stealing as copying done better. thanks

From NPR:

"When is copying flattery, when is it thievery, and when is it sheer genius? In this hour, TED speakers explore how sampling, borrowing, and riffing make all of us innovators."


I think it's too harsh to call them "stolen". Apple understood things about these ideas that most others didn't. The end result was something that was qualitatively very different from what preceded them.

As an example, I worked on a tablet in '99 [1]. As the referenced article indicates we were not alone, nor were we first, and more came after. Around the same time there were a number of attempts at gluing together PDA's and phones. With e.g. Palm you had a UI that was not that dissimilar to the iPhone (ironically things like the memory model in PalmOS was inspired by pre-OS X MacOS - it was awful).

But all of these failed to graps fundamental issues that Apple understood, and you have it right when you say they "got to work" on making it work properly, making it user friendly, and so on. But I feel you undervalue how transformative what they did was.

When we started designing the Freepad, it's not like we were not thinking about usability, making it sexy etc. But while I think we did reasonably well in terms of aesthetics, we were too locked into thinking about it as a phone replacement, and letting ourselves be led down the wrong path by being controlled by technical limitations we ran into:

Battery tech had just barely made cellphones viable at that point. Instead of deciding what it would take, and waiting, like Apple did (not just on batteries, but also screen and others), the batteries available at the time dictated that this would not be a device to take out and about. The lack of a well established wifi standard and extremely slow GSM data mean we were led down the route - since battery meant you wouldn't run around anyway - of thinking of this as a home device and consider DECT (wireless home phones) with a data extension as a viable solution, firmly locking you into using the tablet around the house or at best out in the garden.

We ended up with a resistive touch screen because it was the only alternative that was viable cost-wise. RAW and flash was woefully limited, and dictated a model without any app eco-system, because we had to tune everything (hence things like Nano-X [2] mentioned in the article, coupled with our own widget library) to make even basic applications fit.

So while you may say that Apple "just" stole the idea (the idea was not ours either - I grew up with sci-fi describing or showing tablet-like devices; we were never under any illusion that we were first), they did more than "go to work".

What they did was that they refused to accept the limitations, and rather than let the technology-limitations dictate the product and lead them down the path of turning a good idea into a bad one, they didn't compromise and instead waited it out. They did this with the iPhone as well as the iPad.

This is why so many who had seen the previous tablet and smartphone fad reach maximum hype and fade away looked at the iPhone and went "so what?" (I was guilty of that): We'd already had devices that came from a similar idea, and we failed to realise that while the germ of that idea was similar, what we had ended up with last time was an idea that had been compromised in so many different ways that it was no longer the original idea but a corrupted, bastardised version that had lost the important bits when we tried translating it into reality.

I mean, the tablet I worked on was tethered to your house, for example, as mentioned above (and see the title of the article [1] - it references Ericssons "Screen Phone" - which basically says it all: the first generation tablets were either replacements for landline phones - in the case of Ericsson and Screen Media and others - or laptops with swivel screens in the case of PC manufacturers; the latter flawed in entirely different ways).

We didn't start out with that vision, but we let practicalities corrupt our vision, and convinced ourselves that the result would still be good enough, because we didn't see any alternative: It had to be good enough.

Part of the problem was that we failed to grasp which parts of the idea where essential, and which we could compromise on. Mobility was essential, and we compromised on it. Screen quality/touch quality, was essential, and we compromised on it (the screen was great for the time, but awful by the standards of even the first iPad). An application ecosystem was essential, and we compromised on it and never really even thought seriously about it.

The result, to me, is that while the core of the idea might have started out the same, the iPhone and iPad were fundamentally different and innovative from the attempts that went before them, not just because Apple "got to work" but because they understood where you could compromise, and which parts of the idea were essential and had to remain no matter what.

[1] http://www.zdnet.com/article/freepad-norways-alternative-to-...

[2] http://microwindows.org/

Very insightful post, thanks! I still stand by calling it stolen ideas though: if you go to PARC, see some cool stuff, and then come home and build it again for yourself, that's stealing an idea.

But the main point I was trying to make was : taking Apple's slogan to mean "just think of something new and the world will be changed" is wrong, Apple hardly even did the "think of something new" part, but they did the hard work of getting it to a useful state. The 99% perspiration. But you're right, Apple did have something extra, they didn't get to where they are just by doing the hard work.

So let's say "99% perspiration, 1% recognising and stealing good ideas, and 1% knowing where (not) to compromise"? :-)

As someone who went to PARC and saw the cool stuff years before Jobs did, I don't think he stole their idea. The PARC approach was to build the future expensively and wait for hardware to catch up. Eventually the hardware did, but not until the late 1980s.

Kay had a vision, but his vision was quite different from the way personal computing went. He was thinking of closed systems which would replace dedicated word processors. The Xerox Star was the result. Imagine a machine with Microsoft Office built-in, with all the software installed at the factory.

Kay also had a thing for discrite-event simulation as the killer app. Kay wrote, in Personal Dynamic Media, "In a very real sense, simulation is the central notion of the Dynabook." This matched well to Smalltalk, which was the successor to Simula-67, an ALGOL dialect with objects for discrite-event simulation. All that "message" stuff came from the simulation world, where you have many asynchronous blocks passing events around.

The real successors to the PARC work were the first generation of UNIX workstations. The Three Rivers PERQ, the Apollo, the Sun I, and the Apple Lisa all predated the Macintosh. They were all much better, but much more expensive. The UNIX workstation era tends to be forgotten, but those were the first good desktop computers. Macs were toys.

The original Mac was a flop. No hard drive, 128K RAM, too slow, and too expensive. The competition was the IBM PC/AT - 20MB hard drive, about 1MB RAM. This almost killed Apple. Not until the Macintosh SE (1989) did Apple have a built-in hard drive. In the Apple II era, Apple had a majority of desktop system market share. The Mac in the 1980s had about 15%, which gradually declined.

>> they didn't compromise and instead waited it out

Genuinely hope that Apple or any other company does the same about VR tech.

Thanks for the detailed post, very informative reading.

I think he's attacking the mentality a lot in silicon valley have more than Apple specifically. He's using their marketing slogan as a stand-in for the whole ethos.

It's a shame that the author of the infographic neglected to put the Newton on it...

They didn't steal anything, they often entered markets that others were already in, as most companies do, and often they did it better.

The iPod was evolutionary. The iPhone - their #1 source of revenue - was a fairly big leap forward.

'Think Different' is a marketing slogan, not a modus operandi.

I deeply respect and admire Torvalds, but in the corporate world, the hypey/trendy thing helps tech people getting important changes approved by upper management, at least in my experience. I work in a tech company whose culture is primarily driven to productivity (read: getting business features delivered using the established stack and tools, as quick as possible). There is certainly an upside to it, but it produced a mindset in wich, in the face of a new problem, developers didn't even think of the possibility of bringing another tool to the toolbox. I mean seriously, to the extent of building their own xml parsers. Only recently we have been able to assemble an architecture team (i know, i hate the concept) to actually find adequate solutions to the bigger issues, and the hype is sometimes a powerful enabler to push things forward.

Traditionally big corporations, or anybody with legacy systems, are very conservative with technology choices...

It's a good thing. Imagine if they built something with Angular Material Design or Material Design Lite, for example.

I never thought of it that way. Thanks for the insight.

How did you get an architecture team assembled? How does it help people make better decisions?

The strong words of the title are not the relevant or interesting part of the article (presumably of the talk also). The success in managing the network of kernel collaborators seems to be the real story here.

"It's a social project," said Torvalds. "It's about technology and the technology is what makes people able to agree on issues, because ... there's usually a fairly clear right and wrong."

EDIT: Just for context, HN thankfully edited the title. When I wrote this the post was using the article's title: "Talk of tech innovation is bullsh*t. Shut up and get the work done – says Linus Torvalds"

I preferred the original title. But I agree that the main point of the article is Linus' efforts in mastering (collaborative) process.

I like the header and experimented with current trends:

- Talk of AI is bullshit. Shut up and get the work done.

- Talk of Machine Learning is bullshit. Shut up and get the work done.

- Talk of VR is bullshit. Shut up and get the work done.

- Talk of Smart Contracts is bullshit. Shut up and get the work done.

- Talk of IoT is bullshit. Shut up and get the work done.

Not sure if I entirely agree with him but there's some truth.

These trends are either evolutionary or entirely predictable. Several so predictable that they first made their debut in movies long before most of us were born.

I think this is what he means. Working on any of these ideas doesn't make you an innovator. You might do something in a slightly better or more novel way, but we aren't inventing crap.

And if you don't execute on your slightly better path, you'll still be beat by someone with a slightly worse idea who buckled down and delivered.

Silicon Valley is littered with companies with better ideas and better base products that lost.

The adage "we stand on the shoulders of giants" comes to mind. Some of the louder people in our industry could stand to remember this.

In truth, there are no giants (or maybe very few). Even the giants of the adage are actually made up of innumerable little people supporting each other.

Do note that when Newton coined the term "standing on the shoulders of giants" in a letter to Hooke, scholars believe he was making a friendly joke about Hooke being a rather delicately built man.

The actual innovations are worth talking about.

But the bullshit starts when people use the technology and claim they are making tech innovations.

Blockchain is missing.

I assumed that Smart Contracts are built on top of the Blockchain.

Smart Contracts kind of covers it.

I think you could sum up Linus's message as something like "don't try to coast on your smarts; they only count for so much."

> ...but there's some truth.

But what truth though, can you be specific?

Talking about technology is necessary to attract people to our own work and find new ideas ourselves. Open source, vendor, Saas. All get value out of conferences, meetups, articles, etc.

Sure, not every word adds value, but the same could be said of code.

This is exactly what he is saying, now time to close this browser - surfing around and Get Work DONE!

Upvote 1000x - I'm sick of hearing people who've done nothing and "thought leaders" ranting on. I'm pleased I put my head down, did work and did something that worked for me that I can encourage others with and give evidence. I wish those who have done nothing would go away - and stop filling my inbox, and targeted advertising spots, and meetups with their crap. I wish I could help others see over the shouting and point to what does work instead of seeing them fall for the hype every time.

I agree with this very strongly. It's similar to what happened with blogging. Early on, blogging was people who knew how to do something very well writing about their knowledge and experience. Then it became profitable and the filler appeared, which is mostly people who have no actual useful knowledge talking about what other people are doing, or about nothing at all. The transition from "engineers who write blogs" to "bloggers".

The same thing has happened with "thought leadership". There was, and still is really, a group of people who do the work and have useful insight. They became high profile, and presumably made money on it, and now the filler has appeared. Self-professed thought leaders who are endless sources of bombastic buzz words and constant self-marketing.

It's a natural pattern, I guess. Something becomes profitable and profit-seekers without much actual value show up. I think the thing for those who can do is to just ignore it and continue creating things of value. Maybe also guide junior engineers on the path of being actually effective and ignoring the crud.

Many people work in marketing in some way or other, and that work fulfils an important function. I'm not particularly thrilled about it either, but we don't currently operate in a perfect information market and human bandwidth needs to be used to propogate ideas.

Rage on it if you like, but you're yelling against the wind. My recommendation would be to save your blood pressure.

As long as everyone knows their place. I've found that the people - who add nothing more than their opining, expounding, and big promises but confuse having a core idea for the sweat that forges it into reality - to be lazy, parasitic, and dishonest manipulators of the worst sort who look at the people doing the real work as their instrument. To me, no one is more irksome in a business, and when they have equity it's an injustice I simply can't tolerate.

Marketers also have the 99% / 1% rule. They aren't coming up with new marketing slogans all day long. They come up with 1 good idea per quarter and then go through the painstaking process of fleshing it out, testing it with groups, presenting it to management, getting design teams to execute, managing a project/budget/schedule, etc...

This is a general human rule that most people spend WAY too much time criticizing the effort of those of us who are working.

'Thought leadership' is about being honest about what's happening and expressing this. Giving a voice to SMEs about what they're doing, why they're doing it, and where they think this will go; it is ideal Agile, constituting the combination of thoughts from technology, leadership and subject matter expertise. A credible message which parts on their own cannot communicate. Some organisations do this very well.

When it goes wrong is when it becomes sales led.

> I wish I could help others see over the shouting and point to what does work instead of seeing them fall for the hype every time.

That's the point of thought leadership vs sales. What you complain of is people using the term under the guise of sales.

'Thought leadership' is about being honest about what's happening and expressing this. Giving a voice to SMEs about what they're doing, why they're doing it, and where they think this will go; it is ideal Agile, constituting the combination of thoughts from technology, leadership and subject matter expertise. A credible message which parts on their own cannot communicate. Some organisations do this very well.

I don't want to be a dick but you've summed up what's wrong with 'thought leadership'. If thought leadership consists of a bunch of buzzwords that everyone else is using, you aren't a leader, you are a follower.

It's a business in and of itself; there's no correlation between 'thought leadership' and success. Of course the traveling preacher would want you to think there is.

You're not being a dick, I completely concur. HN itself is an example of what thought leadership can be, but would hate to be labeled with the tainted brush the term has come to stain.

Oh ffs. I can't tell you how much I hate these self professed 'thought leaders'. s/thought leader/unoriginal wanker/g is what goes through my mind and I just stop listening. Stop talking like you are on a god damn yoga retreat.

you forgot to put /sarc at the end.

Someone who should be a multi billionaire says to ignore marketing and sales and just work.

Edit: I'm not saying that he WANTS to be a multi billionaire, but the fact is that he has attained disproportionately less value than he's created. By rights he should be one of the wealthiest people in tech. He might have 150m but that's peanuts given what he's done. The wealth of the guy who made Instagram dwarfs that. The guy who made Whatsapp has a net worth of 8b.

Creation might be 90% perspiration as he says, but perspiration doesn't equal success, and success doesn't equal a career. Obviously everything isn't about money, and Torvald's legacy will be timeless. But if you want to ensure earnings, at some point it's a good idea to sell.

You somehow make it unclear whether or not Linus not being a multi-billionaire is a good or a bad thing.

Are you saying that because he didn't try to monetize his code as much as he could have, it somehow makes his opinion less valuable?

The man created Linux AND git, it doesn't matter whether or not he's got billions. He's got something more important than that, a legacy.

It's not black and white, good or bad, that's the OP's point, it depends. If your goal is to accumulate wealth perhaps LT did it wrong, if your goal is to build something great then you should perhaps choose his route. Those goals may intersect and that's great, but that's not a necessary condition.

> He's got something more important than that, a legacy.

Why is that important?

In my opinion, a legacy like that of Linus means that he's produced a piece of software that has positively impacted the lives of people.

It's important because he's actually delivered on the famous SV con-artist promise of "making the world a better place".

Not directly, as in curing diseases or revolutionizing energy production or consumption, but in ways that help people in developing countries access information due to falling costs of computers (Linux) and phones (Linux through Android) and people in business can thrive because of the diversity it brings to the table (versus the Microsoft quasi-monopoly we had before).

That's what I put under the umbrella term "legacy", something that has, in a way and ever so slightly, changed the world for the better.

Then again, we might say "it's just software", but in a software-centric world, I reckon it does matter.

Positively impacting lives is surely important.

That's besides the point. My point is that working without selling is not a viable strategy for 99% of people. Hell it barely worked for him in terms of earnings, and he's one of the most impactful people in tech history.

It's not besides THE point, it's besides YOUR point, big difference.

Suppose that what matters is to monetize your work. Then by that metric, Linus is immensely successful (personal worth of over 100 million dollars, which likely puts him in the high brackets).

Now suppose (like I do) that the metric that actually matters is sharing the result of your work so that others will build upon that and end up creating even greater things. Well, by that other metric, Linus is still a HUGE winner.

So we're basically both right (unless of course we're ready to discuss obvious falsehoods such as "Having 100 million dollars means it barely worked for you").

On your deathbed, are you going to regret not making more money? If your basic needs have been met and your children have been well educated and aren't starving, then the answer is probably no.

But many of us will regret not spending more time with our loved ones, or not leaving something of value behind, something we created.

The truth is many of us aren't doing this for the money, because let's be honest, most of us have an IQ over average and we could work in the finance industry, which is far more lucrative for making actual money. Or we could build a local business selling products or services for local needs, not "disrupting" anything in the process. Or we could end up in upper the management of big corporations, in safe and high paying positions, instead of doing the actual coding. Etc, etc.

We, the software developers, are creating, we've got the creator's virus. It's both a blessing and a curse.

Oh and if any recruiters are reading this, those of us with passion, experience and capacity for solving hard problems might be motivated by technologies or projects, but we aren't cheap or exploitable, so for as long as we are on the right side of the demand/supply curve if you're looking for cheap, then GTFO!

Nice romantic view but the fact is that 95% of people in the western world can't afford society's perceptions of "basic needs". I'd wager that most people you hear talking about innovation, outside of Websummit and so on, are living hand-to-mouth and very much need to sell their ideas.

> 95% of people in the western world can't afford society's perceptions of "basic needs"

You're saying 95% of people in the Western world can't afford food, shelter, clothing, education, transportation, healthcare and entertainment? That's awfully grim. It also doesn't really jibe with my experience of the Western world; you can get by fine on $50k/yr (median US household income) outside of expensive areas like SF Bay Area or NYC. If what you're saying is true then the rest of the world must be truly unlivable.

EDIT: I think something like 20% is closer to the mark.

I specifically said 'perception' of basic needs ;) I'm not talking Maslow's hierarchy here...society's perception of a basic need is to own a modest house, but that puts most people into debt for life. Well that's how I see it at least.

I understand, and I really wasn't going for bare necessities (that's why I threw transportation and entertainment in there). I guess what I'm saying is that perhaps there's something wrong with society's perceptions of what a "modest" house actually is.

To illustrate, the median house price in the US is around $250k. That's pretty much in line with the rule of thumb that your house should cost at most 5x your gross annual income. So it would seem (at a first approximation) that most houses in the US are affordable, in the strictest, 30-year-mortgage sense of the word, to most households (considering $50k to be the median household income). And a $250k house in most parts of the country is by no means "modest"; we're talking 1500-1800 sq. ft., 2-3 bedrooms, a yard etc. (again outside expensive areas). So if a median-earning household were to spring for a truly modest home (1-2 bedrooms, 1000-1300 sq ft, $100-150k range) it would actually be cheap relative to their income and they could pay it off in < 15 years.

Maybe I'm simplifying too much, or perhaps your experience is different. In which case, of course, we would have differing opinions on this matter.

Those people you're talking about should move outside of Silicon Valley.

There's a whole world out there where you can live quite a comfortable lifestyle for a half or even a third of your average SV monthly income.

Seriously, money is a matter of hygiene and if you're feeling the need for more, it's time to make a serious change, like to change city or profession, because startups are a lottery.

Well your pay is going to decline in accordance with the cost of living. I'm mainly talking about salaried jobs here, I don't know how profitable the average startup is (I'm guessing 'not very')

Yes, but the relation between the cost of living and monthly income is not directly proportional, especially in the software industry where remote work is possible. You would be making less, but if you're making one third of your SV income, the cost of living can be much lower than one third of SV.

I'm from Romania, having worked remotely for EU and US companies and I never left because here I can have a much better lifestyle, I have freedom of movement when needed and recruiters coming with proposals which include relocation are simply not competitive.

Seriously, Silicon Valley is extremely overpriced and IMO quite toxic as an environment to live and raise children. That's because it is a bubble of really smart and well paying engineers, scientists and business people that have created a highly competitive environment.

And if you suffer because of the bubble, the answer is not to fight your way to the top, because that doesn't solve the problem. No, if you don't like the bubble, the answer is to get out of it.

If you're alive, your basic needs are being met. What you do over and above that is a recreational activity. Though I see people all the time engaged in recreational activities that don't look like much fun at all.

Not sure if homeless people's or victims of abuse and exploitations' needs are being met. Some even think it's totally fine after acclimating. There are varying degrees of needs and if you approach it biologically then improving the lives of people suffering is simply participating in a "luxury" industry. Pretty sure the execs of Tiffany's and Louis Vuitton do not view themselves as fulfilling the same general needs of the world as UNICEF and other humanitarian non-profits.

This kind of reducto as absurditum is how we have people that think it's perfectly fine for unprecedented mass poverty in the US outside the Great Depression because people may have running water and TVs when most of the world doesn't. While true, it misses the spirit of the discussion and is a non-sequitur line of reasoning as a result.

Linus Torvalds' work has been useful to me, and to you, and to many other people. That's surely more important than whether or not he is rich

?! Surely that completely depends on whether or not he'd like compensation for your convenience.

Well, if you're considering only what's important for him then yes. Otherwise no

It's just my opinion, but given the current values of the Western socienties, producing something that greatly improves your knowledge area or industry is perceived as a more noble goal than accumulating wealth. It can get you in a history book at least.

Also - it is possible that as a commercial product, Linux would not have had the same level of success as it does today.

As a Scandinavian I'd like to think that the culture Linus was brought up in influences what he personally sees as "success". Considering he grew up under the belt of the Nordic model, he might consider success completely different from someone brought up in the US for example, where the American Dream™ has long been the status-quo where amount of money equals amount of success.

I'm sure Linus is living a very comfy, happy life - even though his Net Worth isn't greater than the guy who made Instagram.

And its cool to hear you saying that. Because if you measure great software, and divides that by population, Nordic countries proves that their culture are the best one, to make great and influential technology (and let's not forget all the influential tech achievers working for US companies now).

And i think, a lot of that has to do with your culture.. people should take this kind of thing more into consideration, try to understand what the "secret ingredient", and try to replicate the things that work somewhere else.

I've always assumed this about him. Again, I admire him greatly and I don't think that money trumps everything. I used the Instagram and Whatsapp examples just to demonstrate Linus' almost ridiculous lack of work->earnings.

I mean if a world-renowned workaholic genius can't automatically generate a fair amount of wealth from decades of creating some of the most used and influential software in the world, what does that imply for the rest of us?

I don't think it is because he couldn't generate a fair amount of wealth from his work, but rather that he chose not to, and I believe that is what lead to the success of the project.

I also don't see him as a world-renowned genius (as you put it), because he isn't one and from what I've understood from watching his talks & reading the mailing list he himself does not want to be refered to as one either. I think that people should keep that in mind when they read articles about Linus, because most articles tries to portray him as some kind of higher form of being among the likes of Steve Jobs & Gabe Newell, which I believe is not the way he'd like to be perceived when you read a sentence he spoke.

Oh I see your point now, in that he chose not to. Yeah you're probably right.

Tech-world renowned I should've said. And he may not be a self-proclaimed genius but he has a level of talent which is surely rare, at least.

> but the fact is that he has attained far less value than he's created.

This goes for an extremely large portion of humanity, probably > 99.99%.

Very few people manage to extract all of the value they created (and sometimes more), and most of those people are not the nicest ones.

Our society is premised on the vast majority of people not extracting all of the value they create. The difference between what people create and what they extract via wages is the source of profit, and is extracted by the capital-owning class. This is...basic economics.


No, it's extracted by the customer. Which all workers are in other contexts.

Oh well absolutely, but Linus' value creation/wealth disparity is mindblowing. Again, I'm not suggesting that money is everything, and I'm sure that he'd say he doesn't care about money. But he's advocating an ethos which wouldn't work for most people, and which barely worked for him in terms of earnings.

> which barely worked for him in terms of earnings.

100M$+ or so? Barely? Where do I sign?

You could not spend > 10M$ on yourself and your direct dependents meaningfully in a lifetime.

Now think about the man who invented writing.

The truth about most SV billionnaires is that they captured far more latent value than they created. This ethos of building a fortune of absurd proportions can not work for most either.

Really? I would say that a large portion of people who live in a society extract more value from it than they put in. If you are just merely doing your job you are not making any extra value. I could work hard as a hunter-gatherer, or work hard programming, but either way I'm just doing my job. In the second case I'm just using the infrastructure that other people have set up to be able to live a much happier life by working just as hard (or even less hard).

> If you are just merely doing your job you are not making any extra value.

That's got to be the most ignorant comment on HN in a very long time. Really? Think for just two seconds: Do you think a person would be employed at all if they did not make more value than they took home (including taxes and all that)?

The whole reason our economy works at all is BECAUSE people make more value than they take home. If not for that there would be zero employment.

How about you think, for maybe 10 seconds or more? Even the most well designed machine needs cogs. Most people are just a cog in the machine. The cog doesn't add value, it just makes the machine work. But of course those cogs are still needed and therefore employed.

Entrepreneurs build the machines. Everyone else is just cogs or highly specialised components.

Try looking outside of your little bubble once in a while. Just for one day pay attention to what the vast majority of working people are actually doing.

Well, there are some people who are not employed.

Who are kept alive by the taxes from those that are, so even there the excess value created is what makes the system work.

Linus Torvalds has an estimated net worth of $150m, I doubt he's worrying about where his next meal is coming from.

Where did you get that number from?

Funny because if he did a Bill Gates his creation would be so much less special.

You and "the instagram and whatsapp guys" simply use a different denominator for wealth than perhaps Linus, theregister readers, or many of us here.

You're talking first of all there about valuations (aka pie-in-the-sky) not cash-in-the-bank-or-matress anyway or other encumbered "assets" not money. These usually only get "converted" when in a mad rush to beat the avalanche of other "assets" seeking rapid conversion on a massive scale due to black swans, and then good luck converting those "billions" into (purchasing-power-equivalent, in-the-bank) billions.

> Obviously everything isn't about money, and Torvald's legacy will be timeless.

So why the heck bring it even up? =)

> So why the heck bring it even up? =)

Because he's saying shut up and work? But working doesn't just...work...

Well he didn't say "shut up and work to make a billion" =) whatsapp and instagram are .. cute, not major groundbreaking "innovations"

Torvalds didn't say that marketing and sales wasn't work. He said that crapping on about innovation isn't work, and that work is in the details. And the same is true in sales as well - who would you rather work for you in sales, the one who spends their time crapping on about how huge everything is going to be, or the one who spends their time pounding the pavement, making calls? The work is in the details in sales as well.

That's all very true, but the people you typically hear 'crapping on about innovation' are doing their job, and have more than likely put enormous effort into perfecting their documentation, presentations, delivery, pitching, market analysis etc etc.

Your good point is getting very unfairly down-voted by disagreers. Sure, he's set for life, but compared to his massive contribution to the industry, Linus seems to have left a lot of money on the table. I know--it's stupid to believe in the just-world, but it grinds my gears that in our world talkers tend to be rewarded orders of magnitude more than doers.

He is worth $150 million and has an annual salary of $10 million : http://www.therichest.com/celebnetworth/celebrity-business/t...

I say he marketed himself well

I doubt both claims are true, especially the one about his annual salary. I would like to see a better source; I googled it, but the only other answer I found was that in 1999, he got some shares from Redhat worth of about $20 million.

Had he heavily monetized, Linux might not have happened at all in the current shape.

If you think money is important you aren't a hacker.

An ironic thing to say in a seed accelerator-owned website.

I think there's a sizable camp of HN members who just come here to read the various interesting tech articles, with no plans to join the cult of SV.

Money is a tool in a hacker's kit like any other. If you don't recognize the importance of useful tools you aren't a hacker ;)

A tool is not important. A tool is just a tool.

I'm assuming this is sarcasm, but in case anybody thinks this, just remember: money = freedom.

I think our viewpoints are so diametrically opposed that we each can't comprehend the possibility of the other being serious or well-informed.

> money = freedom

That's a strange formula. Shouldn't there be some kind of saturation for freedom.

I believe Linus claims to be an engineer, or maybe a manager nowadays. shrug Glad he has done well anyways.

Hear hear! Linus really is the patron saint of grumpy, cynical engineers. There's nothing more frustrating than listening to the bullshit artist spin castles made out of air, knowing that you're the poor son-of-a-gun that's going to have to do the hard work to make it actually happen, and get blamed when reality intrudes on the grand vision.

Also closes with a great quote. Code is easy, it's either right or it's wrong. People are the sticky wicket

> It's almost boring how well our process works," Torvalds said. "All the really stressful times for me have been about process. They haven't been about code. When code doesn't work, that can actually be exciting ... Process problems are a pain in the ass. You never, ever want to have process problems ... That's when people start getting really angry at each other.

"Also closes with a great quote. Code is easy, it's either right or it's wrong. People are the sticky wicket"

When I read that I got the feeling that people were thinking to themselves "it either executes or has an error," but that is certainly not the case when Linus deems code right or wrong. Obviously not executing is an automatic disqualification.

Two patches can correctly execute and achieve the same goal, and yet one will be deemed "brain dead" and "moronic" and the other be deemed "right," solely on the subjective whims of Linus. Totally his prerogative, and I have no issue with it.

But don't think for a minute that code is "black and white."

> Torvalds said he subscribes to the view that successful projects are 99 per cent perspiration, and one per cent innovation

Certainly true. IMHO, innovation is about orientation, while perspiration is about walking. They live in different timescales: GTD takes time while innovation is a spark. However, both are equally important: it would be useless to go forward in a wrong direction, it would be useless to identify a meaningful direction without going forward, and it would be of course useless to walk backward.

An acceptable - and subjective ! - balance is hard to find, these days.

It takes all kinds. I say this seriously and without intent to offend: it's good to have a grouchy curmudgeon in the industry to keep us grounded.

Thank goodness for that one specific grouchy curmudgeon, otherwise there would be no grouchy curmudgeons and we'd all live like Eloi and waste the days away braiding each others hair :)

Invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple.

"That's 105%!" - Mrs. Teevee

Beer and chocolate in there somewhere?

and 99% sex.

The OpenBSD folk have a similar (and surprisingly polite) motto of "Put up or hack up" which I've always been fond of.

In the context of consumers, no one wakes up and thinks, "I gotta buy me some innovation today." NO. ONE. People just want their problems solved. That is the target. Sure, innovation might be part of the means, but innovation is not an ends (as it's often framed to be).

p.s. As a side-snark...Enough already about all these various dev technologies. So they enable still-shitty user experiences? So what. No one says, "Oh. I love they use _____."

Users. Don't. Care.

So please, for the love of God & country, stop stroking yourself with your shiny new (dev technology) object. No one cares. The technology is a means. The experience is the ends. Stop focusing on the wrong problem. Please?

This is a social political problem especially with 'exceptionalism'. People adapt to the environment they are in, that's one thing human beings are good at.

In the US there is intense pressure right from school to colleges to work to be 'exceptional', and to be recognized and celebrated for it.

There is nothing necessarily wrong, excellence is worth pursuing and to have individuals believe they can achieve it. But there is a huge difference between motivation by passion and interest and motivation by social recognition and celebration.

There are pitfalls and side effects in a society from a toxic focus on 'winners' and 'losers', constant judgement, politics and one upmanship, the ability of people to work together without the need for self congratulation and diminishing the collective. It takes a village and all.

Excellence always comes through, you don't need to do anything special, individuals who are brilliant will always shine in a self evident way without labels or self congratulation via their work, throughout history and now and in the future.

But you can't progress alone, progress comes from a generational interlinked collective, and there is huge risk of diminishing the collective and brushing every other factor under the carpet by an extreme focus on individuals.

This is one of those statements that end up being understood in slightly (but significant) different ways based on one's own experience.

Good grief, not that again. One of Edison's contemporaries said that Edison would have found a working lightbulb faster if he had put more thought into his investigations.

What works for me is a series of plan -> do -> review sequences with about 10 to 15% planning, 80 to 85% doing and 5 to 10% reviewing.

> "All that hype is not where the real work is," said Torvalds. "The real work is in the details."

That's where the real work is, in the details. I respect those who walk the talk and he's one among them.

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. - Thomas Edison

It's not so original and it sounds like it was copied/pasted from an old quote 100 years ago

Linus literally talks about Edison and that quote in the article

I suspect the original Edison quote is so widely familiar, that a conspicuous modification is a sort of play on words that doesn't require citing the original.

wrt the rewritten HN headline, I've begun to prefer a different quip also attributed to Edison—

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."

+1 for that take on innovation.

I would look at it as the Zeno's arrow paradox. 99% perspiration could be again broken down into 1% inspiration/innovation, and 99% perspiration, and so on...

We need innovation simply because its fun.

Is it just me, or is this a predictable answer from someone who works exclusively on an operating system? There is no innovation needed in his job, everything has already been made by MS, Apple etc, he just has to take existing ideas and fit them into Linux. Or even write the code that glues pieces together.

Now ask someone in the VR/AR department. Everyday they have to think up is new 'innovative' ideas because they are on the bleeding edge. We know innovation is needed because so far not everything is working.

What about Neural Nets, where there have been a lot of innovations to get from one one 'neuron' to what we now call deep learning. And the list goes on.

Invention and innovation are two different things that get conflated together frequently, but innovation doesn't necessarily mean you have to come up with something from scratch, but it does mean that you'll have to improve something. Maybe it's more like all (successful) inventors are innovators and some innovators are successful inventors. Sometimes it is the execution of the invention that was done wrong rather than the concept itself - there's absolutely value to society there. People get PhDs for finding commonalities across different disciplines and uniting them under common terms. Hence, because of the massive surface area of what constitutes innovation compared to invention, business people and others with more visibility are typically "innovators."

Checkout this tweet from John Carmack, who approves this quote : https://twitter.com/ID_AA_Carmack/status/832215292180840448

Of course he says that. His project was a clone of something that already existed, Unix.

It's 99% luck, 0.99% perspiration and 0.01% innovation.

Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory. – K. Pattabhi Jois

Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory. K. Pattabhi Jois

Trust is earned, Linus is right.

can 99% perspiration be automated with 1% innovation?

Ja cause if you tried 2% innovation you'd need 198% perspiration to go with it.


Fuck yea.

linus troll status = epic

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