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posted by martyb on Wednesday October 30 2019, @11:07AM   Printer-friendly
from the programming...people dept.

Submitted via IRC for soylent_blue

Linus Torvalds: 'I'm not a programmer anymore'

Linus Torvalds, Linux's creator, doesn't make speeches anymore. But, what he does do, and he did again at Open Source Summit Europe in Lyon France is have public conversations with his friend Dirk Hohndel, VMware's Chief Open Source Officer. In this keynote discussion, Torvalds revealed that he doesn't think he's a programmer anymore.

So what does the person everyone thinks of as a programmer's programmer do instead? Torvalds explained:

I don't know coding at all anymore. Most of the code I write is in my e-mails. So somebody sends me a patch ... I [reply with] pseudo code. I'm so used to editing patches now I sometimes edit patches and send out the patch without having ever tested it. I literally wrote it in the mail and say, 'I think this is how it should be done,' but this is what I do, I am not a programmer.

So, Hohndel asked, "What is your job?" Torvalds replied, "I read and write a lot of email. My job really is, in the end, is to say 'no.' Somebody has to say 'no' to [this patch or that pull request]. And because developers know that if they do something that I'll say 'no' to, they do a better job of writing the code."

Torvalds continued, "Sometimes the code changes are so obvious that no messages [are] really required, but that is very very rare." To help your code pass muster with Torvalds it helps to ''explain why the code does something and why some change is needed because that in turn helps the managerial side of the equation, where if you can explain your code to me, I will trust the code."

In short, these days Torvalds is a code manager and maintainer, not a developer. That's fine with him: "I see one of my primary goals to be very responsive when people send me patches. I want to be like, I say yes or no within a day or two. During a merge, the day or two may stretch into a week, but I want to be there all the time as a maintainer."

That's what code maintainers should do.

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  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 30 2019, @02:30PM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 30 2019, @02:30PM (#913709)

    No, this is just normal career progression. You do most of your learning and wrench turning when you are early in your career. Late in your career you're managing projects that you've developed or have put in charge of because of the knowledge and experience you've built up, but that takes a lot of work, so you have junior people working for you. I've heard many people complain that all they do is PowerPoint and try to bring in more work instead of "real work".

    It is a bit of an extreme example, but most of the first dozen or more names on a LIGO or LHC paper (unless they're listed alphabetically, of course) have not done "real work" in many years, if you define "real work" to be soldering up detector wires or writing and processing code for data analysis. But, they direct at a higher level and get the satisfaction of setting the direction and goals of the project, which can be very satisfying. However, they also spend a lot of time selling the program, writing proposals, managing schedules and budgets, etc.

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  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by HiThere on Wednesday October 30 2019, @04:28PM (2 children)

    by HiThere (866) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday October 30 2019, @04:28PM (#913774) Journal

    I'd say, personally, that there are strong reasons why he *should* work that way. I know that I, personally, am no longer as good a programmer as I once was. I can't hold as much code in my head at once, and need to keep referring back to what I've just written. The eventual code is still as good (AFAIKT), but it takes a lot longer for anything long...and I need to document the code while I am writing it rather than later. (OTOH, documentation for my own use is significantly different from documentation for users. And documentation of private and local variables is necessary unless their use is both really local and trivial.)

    Javascript is what you use to allow unknown third parties to run software you have no idea about on your computer.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 30 2019, @06:09PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 30 2019, @06:09PM (#913814)

      Aren't you? With age and experience comes a tendency to second-think your code generation, I think for the better. I know that I can't (won't) hack something together the way I could (did) when I was 12, but overall what I write now is much more reliable and maintainable.

      • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Thursday October 31 2019, @02:40AM

        by HiThere (866) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 31 2019, @02:40AM (#914001) Journal

        At 50 that was true. Perhaps at 60. Not these days. Short term memory declines. It's not noticeable if I'm not doing something like programming, and I'm probably still better at it than most, but I'm no longer even nearly as good as I was. Small pieces I might be better at, and overall design, but not large chunks of detail. I need to go over those again and again, and still depend on a debugger and assertions to catch slips I shouldn't have made.

        Javascript is what you use to allow unknown third parties to run software you have no idea about on your computer.