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Linus Torvalds: Talk of Tech Innovation is Bullshit. Shut Up and Get the Work Done ( 361

Linus Torvalds believes the technology industry's celebration of innovation is smug, self-congratulatory, and self-serving. From a report on The Register: The term of art he used was more blunt: "The innovation the industry talks about so much is bullshit," he said. "Anybody can innovate. Don't do this big 'think different'... screw that. It's meaningless. Ninety-nine per cent of it is get the work done." In a deferential interview at the Open Source Leadership Summit in California on Wednesday, conducted by Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, Torvalds discussed how he has managed the development of the Linux kernel and his attitude toward work. "All that hype is not where the real work is," said Torvalds. "The real work is in the details." Torvalds said he subscribes to the view that successful projects are 99 per cent perspiration, and one per cent innovation.
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Linus Torvalds: Talk of Tech Innovation is Bullshit. Shut Up and Get the Work Done

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  • Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, 2017 @12:02PM (#53880015)

    Someone honest.

    • Re:Finally (Score:5, Funny)

      by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @12:26PM (#53880153) Homepage
      That instantly disqualifies him for management or political office.
      • Re:Finally (Score:4, Insightful)

        by emaname ( 1014225 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @05:52PM (#53882185)

        That instantly disqualifies him for management or political office.

        We may need a new mod rating for statements like this: ie, sad but true.

        • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

          No. Good. Linus is competent. It's a shame when competent people get wasted in management. If more of them were loudmouths the world would be a better place. Perhaps a good enough place that we'd view managers as low level employees whose job is to take care of the mundane crap so the competent people weren't bothered by it.

          Yes, I am also disqualified from management or public office.

          • Re:Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Psiren ( 6145 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @08:21PM (#53882967)

            It's a shame when competent people get wasted in management.

            I see these type of comments a lot, and I really don't get it. You think it would be better to have an incompetent person in management? You know what? Management is hard! I've been a manager for several years now, having stepped up from system administration when my predecessor left. Dealing with people is much harder than dealing with technology. You can't just google how to fix someone when they've got a problem. There's no reset button on a person. You have to figure it out, and work at it. Rarely do I leave the office and stop thinking about the problems I have to deal with the next day. Especially so when it's a sensitive or emotional issue.

            I've had my share of poor managers, and they're not easy to deal with. I regard myself as pretty competent, and I strive to be a good manager, but like you, I'm a person and I sometimes make mistakes. Dealing with the repercussions of that isn't always easy. I've had to deal with accidents, serious illness, family bereavement, depression, infighting, poor performance, politics (oh God, the politics!) and a whole host of other things I wouldn't or couldn't list here. Dealing with a broken server or some dodgy code is a doddle in comparison.

            Often it's a case of just taking the responsibility to make a decision. Even if the employee has come to the correct solution, they want someone else to carry it forwards. They can then go away, confident that if it all goes tits up, I'll be there to pick up the pieces and protect them from the shit heading their way.

            I love the job, I really do. I feel it's more of a challenge than I ever had as a sysadmin. I'm not making light of the work that the technical guys do in any way. We're all links in the chain, and without good management, it does fall apart. I've seen it more times than I care to remember.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Actually, the correct headline would be "Tech is bullshit." The scramble to over-hype and monetize and get rich quick has ruined it.

      One good example is the internet. Overall, it has been a net loss for humanity. Ignoring the fact that social media is turning everyone into anti-social bubble-heads living in their little "safe zones", just look at the failure of Arab Spring, which was touted as an example of how the internet would liberate people. The total of dead and displaced is in the millions, and threa

      • by SirSlud ( 67381 )

        In what alternate reality does one think that the internet wouldn't have been developed without one person? Or that computers and thus networking of those computers, and thus communication via those computers isn't just an inevitable part of the path of science and technology? We are all dumber for having read your post.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        I have bad news for you but the Internet existed well before Tim Berniers-Lee got involved with it.

        "One good example is the internet. Overall, it has been a net loss for humanity."

        Ignoring the bad pun, claiming that enabling technologies are a "mass loss" is purely absurd.

      • Re:Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @01:41PM (#53880737)

        The internet is not to blame for humanity's failings. Neither can we realistically expect it to solve them. I'll still take, on balance, the world's information at our fingertips and global communication and commerce over whatever alternative you think would be better.

        the failure of Arab Spring, which was touted as an example of how the internet would liberate people

        Only by incredibly naive, overly-optimistic pundits. For those of us living in reality, it turned out pretty much as expected.

      • Usually, you write some interesting, thoughtful things. This is not one of those cases: non sequitur after non sequitur blaming increasingly disassociated phenomena on the Internet. Also, Godwin'd. You are not wrong about hype and monetization, but what about some personal responsibility for the people who actually killed and displaced the millions? Those actors would much have preferred no Internet to spread the news of their wanton destruction.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by epine ( 68316 )

        Much to the point of this thread, the day is not long in coming where a series of small, hotly debated innovations in machine learning will culminate in a robust classifier able to ferret out a dozen egregious offenses against working brain cells in that toxic screed of hot-button click-bait you just posted.

        The wise among us will use this forthcoming capability to accept all well-formed signals, the fools will filter bubble to black. The later group being larger than the former group, while the former grou

      • If I had a time machine and could go back in time to keep one person from being borm, it wouldn't be Hitler - it would be Tim Berniers-Lee.

        If you ask Internet "who invented internet?", you get the following answer:
        Internet Inventors
        - Robert E. Kahn
        - Vint Cerf

        Maybe it's Skynet protecting itself against a potential reverse-Terminator-style scenario, or your target is the wrong one.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Rakarra ( 112805 )

      He may be honest, but he's also wrong. Yes, of course "real work" needs to be done to turn ideas into reality, but those ideas are at least as important as the work themselves. "Real work" in service of bad ideas is entirely wasted, and there are plenty of Silicon Valley companies turning out useless apps and software products that won't go anywhere that talented people have spent a lot of time making.

      Linus is wrong, and "innovation," however you want to define it, is damned important.

      • Re:Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

        by WheezyJoe ( 1168567 ) <fegg AT excite DOT com> on Thursday February 16, 2017 @03:05PM (#53881231)

        Linus' point is there's too much attention spent on hype (the "innovation"), and too little spent on actually getting something built. Having built something himself, and maintained it longer than the lifespans of countless tech companies, he's in an excellent position to say what he's saying. The weak link in the chain is where you start raising money with your idea and your salesmanship, and it becomes time to start hiring engineers, leasing office and factory space, and building prototypes that have a shot at becoming real products. All that costs money, a lot of it, and some "entrepreneurs" and their benefactors simply can't handle seeing all that money they raised just slip away. Easier to keep it, brag about how much you've raised, keep shaking hands with billionaires, and keep on partying on the fund-raising circuit, kicking the whole build-it thing down the road for as long as you can (it's better than bankruptcy in the event your product fails). Human-nature can creep in and fuck-up any good idea with fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Seems to me lately only weird guys with personality disorders like Jobs, Musk, Bezos, and Zuckerberg can both raise the money and push the right people just the right way to get a product out the door. Wasn't it Jobs who said "Real artists ship"? That's what Linus was talking about.

      • Re:Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <> on Thursday February 16, 2017 @03:12PM (#53881267)

        He may be honest, but he's also wrong. Yes, of course "real work" needs to be done to turn ideas into reality, but those ideas are at least as important as the work themselves. "Real work" in service of bad ideas is entirely wasted, and there are plenty of Silicon Valley companies turning out useless apps and software products that won't go anywhere that talented people have spent a lot of time making.

        No, ideas are a dime a dozen. You probably come up with a dozen ideas every hour, from the mundane to fantasy.

        Execution is key. An idea is just that, abstract. It doesn't mean anything, and millions of individuals will have that same idea. Most of the time, we don't work on the idea - either we realize it's fantasy and thus not worth looking into, or it's pointless, or the ROI is bad. But in the end, the idea doesn't matter. It's the execution of taking that idea and turning it into reality that's important.

        And yes, some ideas are totally bad. But behind every useless app was an idea that seemed good, and heck, enough people believed in it to actually bring it to fruition. Now, it could be an incredibly bad idea to begin with, but someone had the resources and means to get it done. Or it could be a good idea executed too early before the market was ready for it (look at streaming music - back a decade and a half, "renting music" was considered a ludicrous idea, now it's a billion dollar industry). Or suffer from poor marketing.

        And finally, what seems like a bad idea now might've seemed like a good one at the time.

        You really don't know the value of an idea until you try it out.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Rakarra ( 112805 )

          No, ideas are a dime a dozen. You probably come up with a dozen ideas every hour, from the mundane to fantasy.

          Ideas are a dime a dozen, but great ideas are rare.

      • by iceaxe ( 18903 )

        "Real work" in service of bad ideas is entirely wasted[...]

        Not if it pays the mortgage and feeds my kids.

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        Funny, I think you hit the nail on the head, except used it to support entirely the wrong conclusion. All those useless app companies tout their "innovation." They have some mediocre idea and flog it to death.

        The real innovators are the ones who have an idea then go and execute it really, really well. Linus didn't say innovation was worthless, he said it was a minor part of the whole; just the starting point.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Torvalds' personality is more of an incrementalist than a visionary. He wants to master a field before he publishes his work, and it's easier (note: *not* easy) to master to something if there is a good-size accumulation of outstanding work from predecessors.

      That's not a criticism because one could say the same of many first-rate engineers and scientists.

      • Re:Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Cederic ( 9623 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @02:37PM (#53881061) Journal

        As one of the commentards on The Register highlighted, Git deviated and can easily be considered innovative.

        So while much of his work has been taking 'good' and improving it to 'great' he's also capable of the sideways shift into a different future.

    • Re:Finally (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kagato ( 116051 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @02:46PM (#53881121)

      The Core Linux crap he leads doesn't innovate per se. It doesn't have to. It needs to be stable, consistent and performant. The work they do is important, but it's built on the shoulders of giants like Dennis Ritchie. What's innovative in Linux is the social and collaborative construct. But it's not like those are new ideas.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I just wish people wouldn't mix up invention and innovation so easily together. Innovation is after all an invention turned into economic activity.

  • by Danathar ( 267989 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @12:07PM (#53880047) Journal
    Linus perspires when he codes? Ewwww
    • Re:Perspiration (Score:5, Informative)

      by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @12:27PM (#53880161)

      "Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." - Thomas Edison []

      • Re:Perspiration (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Danathar ( 267989 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @12:34PM (#53880201) Journal
        Yea, but who likes Thomsas Edison? He was a jerk and an ass.
        • re: Edison (Score:5, Insightful)

          by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @01:34PM (#53880691) Journal

          You know, when you read about Edison growing up as a kid, it's clear he had some issues. Maybe he was Asperger's? That would explain his willingness to stubbornly sit there trying material after material to find a suitable filament to make a working light bulb.

          Steve Jobs is also often described as "a jerk and an ass", yet it's clear he had some great ideas and was able to not only build a computer company that went head-to-head against Microsoft, but brought it back from the dead when he took it back over again for the second time.

          A lot of people running companies are perceived as jerks. Some of that is probably warranted, but maybe it's ALSO because they focus so much on making the company a success? Most "rank and file" employees only care about the paycheck, or doing the little piece of the whole puzzle they're hired to do. If something bad for the company but good for them happens, they're probably pleased about it. The business owner who created it as his "baby" from the ground up? Not so much.

          Torvalds is right, IMO, embracing Edison's quote. The people who pretend it's not so are just the ones at the top who can take all the credit for that 99% perspiration of others they hired to implement an idea.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        And his 1% inspiration was from standing on the shoulders of Nikola Tesla...

    • Re:Perspiration (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @12:34PM (#53880205) Homepage
      Which is more beneficial to the world.
      1. Perspiring while developing code that is freely donated to anyone, and which has found its way into gadgets and devices all around us.
      2. Perspiring while doing an insane monkey dance screaming developers, Developers, DEVELOPERS.

      You decide.
  • Quote (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bodhammer ( 559311 )
    "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. "

    -Thomas A. Edison (Privileged White Dude & Climate Denier...) l
  • by OffTheLip ( 636691 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @12:08PM (#53880059)
    No matter what the talking heads say about STEM and giving equal opportunity to all. It take real skill, dedication and talent to be a real innovator. Luck comes later.
  • by TexasTroy ( 1701144 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @12:10PM (#53880067)
    Get with the times - you have to be disruptive now.
  • Myopia... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @12:29PM (#53880165) Journal

    Torvalds said he subscribes to the view that successful projects are 99 per cent perspiration, and one per cent innovation. 'The real work is in the details'

    As is often the case, Linus presents his rather myopic view thinking that it applies to all of IT. There's no doubt that there is an awful amount of bullshit going around in IT on the subject of innovation. It may also be true that many successful projects only have a 1% innovation component in them, but those are probably not very innovative projects. Such projects actually tend not not spend a lot of time on details, certainly not at first, because that's not where you succeed or fail; you need to understand which details are important and focus only on those. If you think innovation is just another project that needs getting done, then you don't understand what innovation is. For starters, a good innovator knows which ideas to pursue, what to turn into a POC or a project, how to evaluate those projects on an ongoing basis, and when to quit. And if you, as an innovator, never quit and bring all your projects to conclusion and launch, then you are most likely not casting your nets wide enough.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      I think it depends on where you think the innovation ends and the perspiration begins. If Musk says he wants to build a rocket that can land again that's not very innovative. If SpaceX actually builds a rocket that can land again it's very innovative. Between the former and the latter is the 99% perspiration Linux talks about. Granted, occasionally it's the very concept that's so new and popular it'll sell your idea even if you stumble on the implementation. But most of those I'd call marketing gimmicks, ca

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        Whoops, actually mean to preview not submit. But the other part I wanted to say is that a lot of the talking heads aren't actually very innovative and they act like all the hard work was in the idea. Like if they were doing Google's self-driving car project they'd spent tons of time on an overarching architecture concept that'd essentially say sensors -> analysis -> decision -> execution -> feedback and spend six months and 100 pages to say it. Well duuuuuuuuuh. And it'd be full of vaguely unimp

  • between those that do and those that don't, is that some people do and some people don't. It's as true in software as it is in any other walk of life. You can't think your way from A to B. You have to walk there.
  • totally obvious to any half-way observant person.

    All innovation is simply a series of very small steps. All "discoveries" or "inventions" are at their root, fairly minor enhancements to existing knowledge or craft.

    Sure, sometimes those minor enhancements were not at all obvious to anyone except the exceptional person (or team) who made them, but, once the enhancement is announced, it's completely obvious, to anyone willing to analyse it, how it rests on all the past development.

    I challenge anyone to f
    • What about beer?
    • Reality shows us, 99.999999% of the value is in the implementation of the idea, the idea is nearly worthless.

      Obvious solutions are only obvious after they have been solved. The fact that I can explain how an incandescent lightbulb works, a semiconductor, nuclear fusion and fission, does not put me on the level of the giants (and teams of giants) who made those discoveries. Those discoveries were made from deliberate acts of innovation that Linus declares to be bullshit and you declare to be worthless. Who gives a shit about incrementalism. Of course all discovery is built on the foundations of prior discovery,

    • The idea of plate tectonics was an innovation in geology and didn't come from a series of very small steps. It was ridiculed by the most observant people in the field.
  • If we look at what's usually called "innovation", it's often really about market acceptance. The first iPhone didn't involve any technology that was unique or special by itself; it was just a combo of features and decent implementation that caught on with the public: knowing what to keep, what to cut, and how to package it all together.

    There are a lot of interesting ideas floating around, such as my pet, dynamic relational [], but until somebody implements a version that actually catches on with the industry,

    • The first iPhone

      Do subsequent iPhones? Serious question, I am not that familiar with them, but I am with the hardware that goes into them and most, if not all, hardware that I've seen is some variation on a schematic provided by the supplier.

  • I wandered into some echo-box on Twitter where a bunch of old farts were being roused into a rabble by some liberal journalist talking about how we need basic / universal income now because soon the robots will take away our jobs and life will be pristine, prosperous, and without war.

    I called the journalist out on talking a lot of shit, in response to which he just talked more shit. To quote: "the machines will pay us". I had to point out a few things:

    1. Technology is a tool, not a participant.
    2. If your bi

  • It's round! It rolls! You could use it to transport things! I think I'll call it...the wheel.

    Example: I just saw a presentation involving a new ORM framework today - same old idea, same crappy ORM efficiency [], why am I supposed to be impressed? How many ORM frameworks do we need? [] They all do the same damned thing, and all of them do it badly. By the time you have the latest and greatest innovative framework working in your project (having had to mangle to your architecture to compensate for the horrible inef

  • This industry is full of bullshit and fads.
  • by bigpat ( 158134 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @01:20PM (#53880577)

    Innovation, invention and discovery are certainly important and can allow us to more easily or efficiently address needs, but when we are talking about "innovation" or innovative people most of the time what we are really talking about is creative problem solving using already existing methods, knowledge and technology.

    It is easy to look at IT and see how real innovations have contributed to a transformation of many aspects of society over the last half century and then fall into the cult of innovation as a sort of belief in perpetual innovation as a means for the betterment of society. But both a longer view and more critical view of our day to day society should confirm the importance of understanding that you already have many of the technological tools and methods needed to address today's needs. And a good application of those already known technological tools and methods should be the priority of problem solving rather than innovation merely for the sake of innovation.

    Surely there is always a need for innovation, especially in medicine where virus are constantly evolving to maximize their contagion and our existing tools need to be adapted to new challenges. But in other technology areas the problem domain does not change as remarkably over time. And already developed technology is well suited for most day to day challenges.

    Sure you can probably cite a thousand different examples where today's technology is inadequate to a problem or need, but I think the point is that it is no less noble or worthy to address the tens of thousands of those other problems and human needs that can be worked on without the need for any fundamental innovation.

  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @01:38PM (#53880725)

    The problem is not innovation itself, but more what we're defining as innovation.

    When a person can act like a complete fucking idiot on YouTube and amass a billion look-at-this-dumbass clicks resulting in a six-figure salary, I'd say that says a lot about what is "innovative" today. Don't even get me started on reality TV.

    The scary part is watching Wall Street get high as a kite off the innovation fumes as they drool over shit like Snapchat, who loses hundreds of millions every year and arrogantly brags how they may never become profitable, defying all common sense with a multi-billion dollar IPO valuation.

    Not that we have any.bomb evidence of what happens when bullshit infects innovation...

  • by emptybody ( 12341 )

    >> "All that hype is not where the real work is," said Torvalds. "The real work is in the details."
    >> Torvalds said he subscribes to the view that successful projects are 99 per cent perspiration, and one per cent innovation.

    this is because Linux took 99% of its innovation from others and then had the 1% kernel.

  • I love this man.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter