Rusty Russell's Coding Blog | Stealing From Smart People

Archive for May 2011

This was passed on to me by Ben Elliston, ex-gcc hacker and good guy.  Amusing in context, but the corollary is that working on free software means you’ll encounter such people.  You may have to work with them.  You may have to argue with them (and they may be right).

Quite some time ago I was horrified by the private behaviour of a hacker I deeply respected: malicious, hypocritical stuff.  And it caused an internal crisis for me: I thought we were all striving together to make the world a better place.  Here are the results I finally derived:

  1. Being a great hacker does not imbue moral or ethical characteristics.
  2. Being a great coder doesn’t mean you’re not a crackpot.
  3. Working on a great project doesn’t mean you share my motivations about it.

This wasn’t obvious to me, and it seems it’s not obvious to others.  A-list actors endorsing Scientology doesn’t make it a good idea.  Great FOSS political work was done by a certain obnoxious LWN-haunting nutball.  Julian Assange may or may not be guilty of crimes in Sweden. Many of my kernel coworkers believed that GPLv3 was somehow a radical change from GPLv2.  Some sweet code has been written by gun nuts, lechers, holocaust deniers and (in at least once case) someone who believes that fasting will cure cancer.

In any walk of life you have to work with all kinds; having to do so in my dream job as FOSS hacker was a hard lesson for me.  It’s great to work with people whose skills you respect, but don’t expect to like them all.

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I was delighted that Jon Corbet pinged me to say he was finally implementing a supporter option for LWN.  It’s been about 12 months since I started asking about it, and 6 since I started asking publicly.  When it finally arrived, in classical FOSS brand-suicide style, it was named the “Maniacal supporter” option.  I don’t think Jon believed anyone would actually pay more “for nothing”, but curiosity finally won out.

But he’s wrong: people want the consistent commentry and in-depth analysis that only dedicated experts like Jon can provide.  And we know that if they don’t get enough money, they’ll have to stop writing and take day jobs; this is not some abstract charity.  I want Jon to be comfortable and LWN financially secure and able to concentrate on what they do best, which seems to be a rare skill in our community.  This is a start in that direction; I welcome your suggestions on what to do next…

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