Five Takeaways from Linus Torvalds’s TED Talk | TechWell

Five Takeaways from Linus Torvalds’s TED Talk

Linus Torvalds belongs to an elite group, those individuals who opened a new door, leading the rest of us in a different direction. His concept of an open source operating system and the Linux kernel helps power the Internet and millions of Android devices. What makes him unique? In a recent Q&A TED Talk, Torvalds discussed how he likes to work (alone), his good and bad traits, and why he doesn’t see himself as a visionary.

Ideal Workspace
What’s most important to Torvalds when he’s working? “I want to not have external stimulation.”

During the TED interview, the screen onstage flashes with a photo of Torvalds’s office. It’s messy, and has a walking desk that doesn’t look like it gets much use. (My home office, furnished with second-hand furniture, odds and ends from Ikea, and a step stool, looks more impressive than the Linux world headquarters). But it’s not about the décor. He prefers to work alone, in his bathrobe. And although he appreciates a powerful computer, his #1 requirement: “It really has to be completely silent.”

Stubborn Is Good
What drives him? Torvalds admits to being a geek as a child, “the prototypical nerd” he calls himself. Growing up, he was interested in computers, math, and physics, not people. His predominate trait was stubbornness. He reminisced his sister said his “biggest exceptional quality was that I would not let go.”

Inherent Good Taste
While admittedly not a people person, Torvalds enjoys working with people who have what he calls good taste in software code. “Good taste is about really seeing the big patterns and kind of instinctively knowing what's the right way to do things.”

Not a Visionary, an Engineer
Torbalds emphatically does not have a five-year plan and scoffs at the idea of himself as a visionary. “I'm an engineer ... I'm looking at the ground, and I want to fix the pothole that's right in front of me before I fall in. This is the kind of person I am.”

Edison, Not Tesla
In the debate about who was the better inventor, Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla, Tovalds sees himself in the category of Edison, who is sometimes seen as the more plodding genius. Edison famously said, "Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration," and this appeals to Tovalds. “Edison may not have been a nice person, he did a lot of things—he was maybe not so intellectual, not so visionary. But I think I'm more of an Edison than a Tesla.”

However, Tovalds is not a total recluse. “I love computers. I love interacting with other people on email, because it kind of gives you that buffer. But I do love other people who comment and get involved in my project. And it made it so much more.”

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