Just read an article on “The Register” by Simon Sharwood posted October 6, 2015. The article discusses why Sarah Sharp, a Linux community contributor & developer on USB 3.0 drivers in the Linux kernel is stepping away from the Linux community altogether. But, she may be more famously known for encouraging Linux Torvald to tone down his own abusiveness in in July 2013 ; presumably towards her and others.
In her blog, Ms Sharp discusses in detail her frustration with the Linux community. Their unwillingness to recognize and acknowledge there is a problem. An unwillingness to do little to nothing about it, let alone enforcing it. She states she their is a general culture of hostility, vile and rude comments, cursing, yelling at and over each other along with sexist and homophobic comments. In her words the Linux community is choosing inappropriate behavior over respect for the individual “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”.
It is this topic I wanted to discuss. The business environment, particularly in the western countries who have promoted business cultures promoting tolerance and individual choice. There are almost daily stories on Fortune 1000 businesses pushing local, state and federal (ie national) governments for equal rights whether that is for single parents, minorities, gender equality, sexual orientation as well as other groups and individuals. Companies such as Facebook, SalesForce, IBM and Eli Lilly come to mind.
Presumably these companies have a Linux strategy. Actually, I happen to know they all use Linux in various parts of their businesses. In IBM’s case, they sell & support Linux (workloads) on their Mainframe and Power platforms. How will these companies who publicly promote diversity react to a community that is not accountable to anyone which is what Ms Sharp was stating unlike a traditional vendor. By the way, I am not advocating for open source vs traditional commercial offerings. Just drawing a distinction.
The Linux community is consists of people whose strengths lie at their fingertips not in their polished verbal skills. I may be stereotyping a bit but having worked in the Technology industry for 20+ years does not require a rocket scientist or a call to Mr Obvious to know that software developers and engineers lean more towards being introverts (think geeks, pocket protector). Socially awkward except maybe when they are behind a keyboard or wearing a headset. As I look across my own team of platform engineers there is a mix of personalities. Each has their own strengths when it comes to collaboration, sharing ideas, presenting to an unfriendly audience.
For years I’ve said managing technical people is about “personality management” vs performance management. They are often not motivated by money or time-off. They continue to work on problems until resolved as if they were saving a house from an impending flood. A reward to them is an “Atta Boy”, “Great Job”, giving them movie passes to the next Star Wars movie or ensuring they have the latest toys to develop on. Their strengths are often social weaknesses. But, when there are problems they are the ones every business wants at the keyboard. Due to this fear of the unknown, businesses often tolerate their behavior. This highlights how the open source community which is not a singular “business” to regulate behavior. No HR department to ask for a sit down with someone who is escalating their tone or worse, hurling insults toward another individual because they do not suffer fools.
Maybe the problem is Ms Sharp herself. I do not know her or her situation. However, it does expose a weakness in the open source world where there is little accountability or enforcement….except when customers stop using a product claiming not only do we wish to operate our businesses with tolerant communities but also expect those with which we conduct business to do the same.