TED 2016: Linux founder not a 'people person'

By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter, TED conference, Vancouver

Image source, TED
Image caption,
Linus Torvalds (R) was interviewed by TED curator Chris Anderson

Linus Torvalds may have created one of the world's most collaborative tools with his open-source operating system Linux - but he actually prefers to work alone.

The software creator gave a rare interview at the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Vancouver.

He revealed that he did not originally intend to make Linux open-source.

He also admitted that sharing his work was not an easy decision.

"I did not start Linux as a collaborative project, I started it for myself. I needed the end result but I also enjoyed programming," he said.

"I made it publicly available but I had no intention to use the open-source methodology, I just wanted to have comments on the work."

Mr Torvalds was surprisingly open as he was interviewed on the TED stage, revealing that he works at home in an office devoid of noise or distraction.

"It is the most boring office you'll ever see," he said.

"I often work in my bathrobe, and I have to have complete silence."

It may seem surprising for someone credited with kick-starting the open-source movement and running a software empire, but for Mr Torvalds it comes down to personality.

"I am not a people person," he revealed.

Asked what he was like as a child, he said that he had always been a "nerd".

"My sister had to brief me about who family members were. I was more interested in my Rubik's Cube than my younger brother."

He has, he explained, come to learn that having different people involved in a project is important.

"We need the 'people people' who are warm and friendly. I just care about the technology and there are things that I can't do.

"I am not a visionary. I'm an engineer. I'm happy with the people who are wandering around looking at the stars but I am looking at the ground and I want to fix the pothole before I fall in."

Just don't ask him to design a user interface (UI).

"I can't do it to save my life. If I was stranded on a desert island and the only way to get off was to create a pretty UI I would die there," he joked.

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