Exclusive Interview With Linus Torvalds At LinuxCon Europe 2011


I have met and interviewed almost all of the leaders of the free software and Linux world. I interviewed Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux in 2006 when Forbes published a story that Linux infringes upon Microsoft’s license. That was a long interview. Ever since 2006, I wanted to meet Linus in person. And LinuxCon was the closest opportunity I could get to meet Linus. We were able to have a 50-minute, one-to-one interview with Linus Torvalds. Here is the complete interview.

Since the interview was due for a long time and covers a lot of topics and areas, I have divided the interview into several chapters to make it easier for readers to read the complete interview without any problems.

Linus Torvalds on the Sad Situation of Linux Contribution from India
I started off asking if Linus had been to India before and the obvious question regarding the contribution coming from the ‘software’ hub of the world.

Linus: I have never been to India. Literally, I have never been to China either and these are two big markets. Part of it is I really don’t like to travel and going to India means a long trip. I would actually like to go to India but as a tourist, completely anonymously and not do a conference at all. I won’t mind that kind of travel. But going there for a conference doesn’t have any upside for me usually.

Swapnil: India is a leading software development hub of the world. It’s a huge country, what kind of contribution is coming from India?
Linus: India is kind of somewhat a sad situation. Compared to the amount of educated people, I think India is fairly low on the list compared to what it could be. Culturally it should be fairly easy, because language barriers should not be there. If you are educated in India, you know English even if it is not your first language. So India actually should have an easier time being involved in some of the discussions. Don’t get me wrong, there are developers, but just not as many as I would expect. And I don’t know quite why.

There is a fair amount of really enthusiastic local LUGs and I get to hear about them. But, at the same time I don’t know India, you know much better. My gut feeling is that a lot of the actual professional developers in India see software development as a job and not as a hobby. That’s the kind of picture I’ve gotten, I don’t know if it’s true. If you see it [software development] as a job and not as a hobby the whole open source thing is not as natural anymore.

India actually should have an easier time being involved in some of the discussions.

A lot of open source developers start out developing because it’s fun and then they get a job later. So, to them the hobby came first and job came later. If they start off thinking of programming as a job, and a well paying one, then open source is not as natural and you are not as likely to get involved. That’s my guess.
Swapnil: I totally agree. In India you have to have a job, settle down, get married and have kids. That’s why India is not known for start-ups. You have a better reputation if you work for a big company than running your small firm. And there is no scope for hobbyists. When I started my career as a writer, people would ask what do you do. I said I write and they would say, “That’s OK, but what do you do for living?”
Linus: I literally think Linux came out of Finland because it’s culturally very open to hobbies. Hobbies are very important. High education is taken for granted. You don’t have to worry about getting a job because there is so much social infrastructure. I spent eight years at university just having fun and doing Linux and not worrying about a job. Because I knew as a software engineer I could find a job that could pay me well enough. I think that is not necessarily true in India.

Swapnil: Do you really know where the contributors are coming from?
Linus: No. I actually don’t know, and to a large degree, I don’t care. To me, most developers are email addresses. I don’t meet them. I mean I do meet them at the kernel summit. There are about 70-80 people that I come to meet here. And honestly I know about half of them pretty well. So there are almost 40-50 people I have worked with so long that I know what they look like, probably I know where they live, but, for every release there are a thousand developers. And I don’t know all these people and I don’t care. Sometime I can guess from the name or the company name on the email. But it doesn’t matter where you are from, which is I think how it should be – you can do Linux development regardless.

To read the rest of the interview, click the links below.

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