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Why do we tolerate shitty, mean behavior like this in programming communities?
24 points by simonsarris 1763 days ago | hide | past | web | 22 comments | favorite
Exactly one month ago Linus sent an angry email over the gmane.linux.kernel group:


It also resulted in the site: http://shutupmauro.com/ (where you can see the response as well)

You can find many defenses of him when this was discussed 30 days ago on HN: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4962912

If you want to be spared the reading it is Linus Torvalds berating someone, and every top level comment in the HN thread is a defense of Linus.

I think its salient to bring up in light of the #1 topic right now, "What It's Like To Be Ridiculed For Open Sourcing A Project": http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5106767


Linus' mission and position do not excuse his language. In defending users, he's still attacking a person. In the topic 30 days ago and commentors in the #1 topic right now are defending the same.

I think rooting out this kind of shitty behavior is the most important thing we can do to advance programming communities and make others feel welcome. By miles. Especially gender and general newcomer disparities.

The fact that so many here and elsewhere seem to think think this language is OK or justified completely blows me away.



> It's a bug alright - in the kernel. How long have you been a maintainer? And you still haven't learnt the first rule of kernel maintenance?

> If a change results in user programs breaking, it's a bug in the kernel. We never EVER blame the user programs. How hard can this be to understand?


> Shut up, Mauro. And I don't _ever_ want to hear that kind of obvious garbage and idiocy from a kernel maintainer again. Seriously.


If you talked to your spouse like that it would be called abuse.

Why do we tolerate shitty, mean behavior like this in programming communities?

Here is a story that happened to me on a totally different part of the internet:

Someone on a music-related board posts a song and a request for someone to take out the chords. Nobody replies and the post lingers. A few weeks later I come around and figure that even though I'm an amateur, maybe I can help this guy. So I spend about two hours listening and relistening to the song and writing down the chords I hear.

Then I reply with the chords and include a caveat that I'm not very good.

15-20 minutes later one of the veteran 1000+ posters come around and totally chews me out for getting some of the chords wrong. Basically giving me a lesson in how much I suck. Though he later that day posts a much better version than mine with all the chords correct.

The moral of the story? Douchebags are verywhere. Anecdotal evidence yes, but I'm sure the douchebag concentration is not higher among hackers than in any other subculture. In fact, I believe hackers are much nicer than most folk.

Because theres a large difference between yelling at a kernel maintainer who should know better and yelling at somebody for reimplementing sed in a high level language and posting it to github.

The former could cause widespread losing on millions of machines. The latter isn't even a drop in the ocean.

In the first example I think that being rude is the way Linus shows his love; joking aside as a developer for kernel you should be aware of the implications of an apparently small bug; and if you don't like Linus,ok, don't work with him.

Regarding the second example... my personal opinion is that people overreacted. I appreciate comments about my code, but when the person that makes them explains what I've done wrong, or how it could be improved but if they just say that my code sucks and no arguments... ignore them.

A few evenings ago I was talking with a small group of local developers about a situation at one developer's company. He was head of Team A and another developer, head of Team B, was leaving the company. My friend is going to now head A and B. Team B has suffered over the years because their manager was a "nice guy," and so Team B does not criticize each other very much. In Team A, on the other hand, my friend is critical in a diplomatic way, and members of his team will say things like "that code is fucking horrible" to each other if it's bad (followed by specific examples.) The result is that Team A, where people insult each other, has much better code and it's now a challenge to get B to accept even mild direct criticism of code without being offended and an even greater challenge to improve their work without offending them.

I think that is a typical story. Good, tight teams are harsh with each other. More skillfully spoken criticism sounds nicer, but the message that the code or the program design is bad is still there just as clearly.

A lot is being made of this person's treatment on Twitter. I agree the when presented with stranger's code in a situation where it doesn't matter, it's best to say nothing. But I would expect that if the developer wrote a poor program on the job, for the job, the code should be criticized and the developer should know they did a bad job on that particular task, and they should be shown how to do it better or how to figure out how to do it better. It's only because the developer in the Twitter story had no relation to their criticizers that the criticism can be considered inappropriate.

Regarding women in programming, my experience is that the serious ones, just like the serious men, would rather give and get harshly and be counted among the best than to be treated like a child and progress slowly for years. We should really think about whether we are making things worse by refusing to give anyone the benefits of a trial by (controlled) fire.

I don't understand your using the headline "Why do we tolerate...". This particular discussion in no way, shape, or form involves me. Maybe it involves you but it doesn't involve me. So why do you say this is about we?

In other words, I don't care what/how they treat each other in their own forum because it's not my business or care. If Mauro, Linus, or other members of that forum don't like it, then they should do something about it. It's elitist of you to try to make it any bigger than that. It's silly and asinine of you to say that I "tolerate" such behavior when, in fact, I had nothing to do with it (nor will I).

Some people take the perspective that by not speaking out about something, you by implicitly accept how it is, or even embrace it.

Yeah, I get that, but clearly OP has taken liberties here to correlate "Everyone on HN" and "Everyone on the gmane.org site". It's just silly to bring "us" into this argument. We have nothing to do with that site. If he/you/they/anyone argues otherwise, then the logical counter argument is "So I'm supposed to police every internet fight about everything I like or identify with now?" It's just fallacy to think that this is anyone's fault other than the people involved.

We tolerate shitty behavior because we are not told otherwise.

Growing up you you could meet a new kid on the block and play with some random game without much of a issue. We had bullying in High School and we tried to learn to deal with it.

Personally I know where I went left, I expected the best out of people and I treat people how I expect to be treated. Unfortunately it does not always work out that way, even if you work for them.

I won't generalize if there are more takers or bullies then yesterday, or tomorrow. I just know that people need to realize they give the bullies power over them. Once they stop giving that power they can /start/ to recover.

Because Linus Torvalds is brilliant at what he does, but is a shitty, mean-spirited human being? Or as I call him, an antagonistic rude sarcastic egotist, commonly shortened to "ARSE".

Big deal. If you can't handle it don't become a kernel maintainer. If you think this is bad go try to submit garbage code to the openbsd devs and see what they call you.

If you want to be coddled work for the government or a corporation. This is the hacker way if your skin is so thin you cry to the bullying police you aren't cut out for it. Turn off IRC, join the hand holding php cms dev groups and resume your livejournal pity posts about how cruel the world is

Oh this is so much macho posturing.

Have you ever worked for the government or a corporation?

It's responses like Linus' that has kept me out of open source development. Seriously these guys aren't getting paid, they're contributing. Does that give them license to write shitty code? No, but also doesn't give anyone license to be a snotrod about it either. I've found it's much more constructive to help a team recover from an individual's

One last comment.

I always wondered, what gave some random asshat on the internet the right to ridicule my code and beat me up.

They have no right, but until you know that...

I'm a few days late to the conversation, and this will probably fly under the radar, but here's my two cents.

I'll start by saying that I believe Linus was justified in the intention of his response, but not the execution of it. Linus, like it or not, is one of the lead maintainers (if not THE lead maintainer) of one of the most used pieces of software in the world - the Linux kernel - and is responsible for how well it works. If one of the other maintainers screws up, it's his job to make sure that (a) it gets fixed and (b) it doesn't happen again. This is the intention of his response - informing a maintainer that they screwed up, how they screwed up, and not to let it happen again.

Now, I think the most important thing to take away from both Linus' response and "What It's Like To Be Ridiculed For Open Sourcing A Project" is the relationship of the abuser to the abusee.

First, in Linus' case, Mauro is a volunteer and working under Linus, for all intents and purposes. Do I think Linus is justified in his response? No - his response is overwhelmingly immature for a professional. But I do believe that his response is expected; Linus is not exactly known for his tact and kindheartedness. I also believe that it is Linus' responsibility to keep those working under him aligned to the goals and values of the project, especially a project as far reaching as the Linux kernel. It's up to Mauro to learn from his mistakes or pack up and go home. Sure, it's abusive, but Linus and Mauro are not spouses.

In Heather Arthur's case however, the relationship is that of peers. The way her and her project were treated are downright despicable, especially in a community that is normally so constructive and welcoming. What happened here is completely opposite of Linus' response; this is not a supervisor chastising his underling for a poor job, these are fellow developers baselessly bullying another for publishing code that was useful to her. Heather was not forcing this project on anyone, nor did she claim it was better than anything else; it was merely useful to her and wanted to share it.

Here's the thing though: we don't tolerate "shitty, mean behavior" in programming communities. In Linus' case, most of us have simply accepted him for who he is: an immature, obscene, yet brilliant developer. We put up with him only because of the impact he has had and is continuing to have on computing as we know it. However, he is an outlier - any one else who acts as mean-spirited and childish as he does is immediately called out. Look at the outcry from Heather's blog post and the immediate apologies by the perpetrators. As a community, we almost unanimously frown upon "shitty, mean behavior".

Just because it happens, doesn't mean we tolerate it. The internet is full of immature, self-righteous, sarcastic, arrogant, elitist, and/or antagonistic assholes, and as we grow larger as a community we will see more of them. But that doesn't mean we support it. I love the programming community because of how open, constructive, sharing, supportive, and welcoming it is to newcomers and existing members alike. The thing that stands out to me, though, isn't the aforementioned assholes; it's how we respond to them that matters.

No one's pointing a gun to this Mauro person's head and forcing him to interact with Linus. I doubt Linus ever took a vow to love, honor, or respect Mr. Mauro. If someone with whom I am only interacting by choice says something mean to me, you know what I do? I take my ball and go home.

You are being an idiot and should get the fuck over this nonissue.

Well, someone isn't in touch with their emotions. You apparently run away from conflict and try to bully others into doing the same.

It's not bullying.

Yes it is. Refer to this:

"You are being an idiot and should get the fuck over this nonissue."

The word "bullying" implies repetition. And that's not the only aspect missing from its definition in his posting.

Twisting the definition so it benefits one person is not helpful here.

Huh? I'm not twisting the definition, and my comment isn't benefiting anybody. You make no sense.

You're an idiot and should get the fuck o--KIDDING! I'm not sure why you bothered replying to me other than to play the "I am more mature than you" game, so I hope this reply entertained you.

Are you trying to act like Linus?

I feel like this comment came straight out of Middle School..

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