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Linux Kernel Dev Sarah Sharp Quits, Citing 'Brutal' Communications Style 928

JG0LD writes: A prominent Linux kernel developer announced today in a blog post that she would step down from her direct work in the kernel community. “My current work on userspace graphics enabling may require me to send an occasional quirks kernel patch, but I know I will spend at least a day dreading the potential toxic background radiation of interacting with the kernel community before I send anything,” Sharp wrote. Back in July, 2013 Sarah made a push to make the Linux Kernel Development Mailing List a more civil place.
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Linux Kernel Dev Sarah Sharp Quits, Citing 'Brutal' Communications Style

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  • by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @04:53PM (#50664455)

    This is one of those things that needs context.

  • by segedunum ( 883035 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @04:54PM (#50664461)
    Everyone who gets involved in kernel development (male, female or other) finds the whole process utterly brutal and gets the shit kicked out of them at some stage. While not all that nice sometimes it at least does ensure that ideas and code passes the mustard.
    • by Luthair ( 847766 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @05:15PM (#50664653)

      Being an asshole and personally attacking the submitter doesn't help improve code. Its much more likely to alienate people and give them reasons to fuck you over in the future.

      Further, if these people were to act this way in person they'd eventually get the shit kicked out of them.

    • by rudy_wayne ( 414635 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @05:16PM (#50664693)

      Everyone who gets involved in kernel development (male, female or other) finds the whole process utterly brutal and gets the shit kicked out of them at some stage. While not all that nice sometimes it at least does ensure that ideas and code passes the mustard.

      I generally try not to be a dickwad. However, I'm not in charge of a major software project. After reading Linus' explanation of why he isn't "nice" I can't say i disagree with him:

      The fact is, people need to know what my position on things are. And I can't just say "please don't do that", because people won't listen. I say "On the internet, nobody can hear you being subtle", and I mean it.

      And I definitely am not willing to string people along, either. I've had that happen too - not telling people clearly enough that I don't like their approach, they go on to re-architect something, and get really upset when I am then not willing to take their work.

      • by jcdr ( 178250 )

        Most of the time when someone ask comment on an approach on a Open Source project he got no useful response. Later when he submit his patches he got brutal responses. It's the "let's the other do a mistake to show my power" scenario. It's only a hidden way to conserve leadership, even if it's unconscious.

    • That's the dumbest argument for a pack of assholes that I've ever heard.

      AND is factually wrong on 'ideas & code pass the mustard.'

    • Everyone being offended by the atmosphere in kernel development hardly makes headlines.
  • not really news (Score:5, Informative)

    by godamntheman ( 989491 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @04:54PM (#50664465)
    The link from "back in July" was from 2013, and Sarah hasn't made a kernel contribution in 18 months. She's moved on to other projects, and I wish her the best of luck.
    • The link from "back in July" was from 2013, and Sarah hasn't made a kernel contribution in 18 months. She's moved on to other projects, and I wish her the best of luck.

      More of the microagressions.

  • by toonces33 ( 841696 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @04:55PM (#50664473)

    in the *very* early days (0.9x), and back then Linus never seemed like much of a dick, but then again, at the time he was still a student. Even met him face-to-face a couple of times. I stepped away due to the huge time commitments required by my regular job, not because of any issues I had with anyone.

    The stories I hear leave me scratching my head. This isn't the Linus I knew back in the day. I guess all the fame and all of that must have gone to his head.

    • by jon3k ( 691256 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @05:04PM (#50664561)
      I think given the growing size of the kernel, it's inevitable that there will be more opportunities for poor code to be submitted. There's more humans involved, more lines of code and more opportunity for "drama". I think it was inevitable at some point. I think he intentionally makes an example out of people occasionally. I think it keeps people on their toes. It certainly will make people double check that code before submitting it for fear of being embarrassed.
    • Linux took some serious fire up to and including SCO. I'd be pissed and brutal too if the world's biggest software companies tried to wipe my work out for nothing more than greed.
    • by halivar ( 535827 ) <bfelger@gm a i l . c om> on Monday October 05, 2015 @05:31PM (#50664875)

      Or you only hear about the more salacious bits of otherwise mundane developer communication.

    • by Lisias ( 447563 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @08:12PM (#50666305) Homepage Journal

      The stories I hear leave me scratching my head. This isn't the Linus I knew back in the day. I guess all the fame and all of that must have gone to his head.

      Or perhaps the job of dealing with people that you didn't hired and you can't fire is getting on his nerves.

      Linus don't control strictly his workforce, he must deal with people hired by others - something as a matrix organizational structure. All he can do is to accept or reject the commits, and this is something merely reactive, not pro-active. And it's always expensive, if not in money, in effort and time.

      Being stuck with a not so cooperative coworker that you don't control is enerving. I'm currently switching jobs for this exact reason: *ONE* coworker that I can't fire was cooperating less than I needed, but I still had full responsibility on the results.

      I can't just imagine what it would be with thousands.

  • by CajunArson ( 465943 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @04:57PM (#50664497) Journal

    (FYI, comments will be moderated by someone other than me. As this is my blog, not a government entity, I have the right to replace any comment I feel like with âoefart fart fart fartâ. Donâ(TM)t expect any responses from me either here or on social media for a while; Iâ(TM)ll be offline for at least a couple days.)

    Reminds me of the old phrase about being able to dish it out all day but not being able to take it for one second.

    Kind of reminds me of the whole Ellen Pao debacle where she accused people who worked with -- at a VC firm -- of being complete assholes. And she was right about that part. However, she lost the case because the facts showed that she was one of the biggest assholes in the whole place so she might as well have sued herself.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @05:06PM (#50664581)

    ...What that means is they are privileging the emotional needs of other Linux kernel developers (to release their frustrations on others, to be blunt, rude, or curse to blow off steam) over my own emotional needs (the need to be respected as a person, to not receive verbal or emotional abuse). There’s an awful power dynamic there that favors the established maintainer over basic human decency....

    That shows a complete lack of professional respect on the part of those who bully others by demanding the environment be so disrespectful.

    In a professional environment, you criticize the work, not the person. Period.

    Those who say that such bullying is par for the course are more part of the problem than part of the solution.

  • by 0xdeadbeef ( 28836 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @05:09PM (#50664605) Homepage Journal

    This isn't empowering women. This is arguing that they are weaker than men far more profoundly than any MRA red piller gamer gater misogynist could ever hope to accomplish.

    • Culture Conflict (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Rather than view it in terms of "the right way" versus "the wrong way", how about we agree that on average men PREFER a certain communication style that is different from women's average preferred communication style.

      It's an old-fashioned "culture conflict" type of problem.

      These are mostly volunteers in this case such that we cannot simply slap a discrimination lawsuit on them to force them to talk "professionally".

      Maybe someone can offer special classes to learn how to sling "dude crap" with the best of th

      • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

        Rather than view it in terms of "the right way" versus "the wrong way", how about we agree that on average men PREFER a certain communication style that is different from women's average preferred communication style.

        No, because that would require agreeing that men and women are different.

        Which is SEXIST!

  • Hmmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IamTheRealMike ( 537420 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @05:17PM (#50664697)

    It took a hell of a lot of digging, but it seems to have started with this thread [lkml.org], way back in 2013.

    Now, I'm all for professional communication, and emails can be easy to misinterpret, but this looks like a bit of an over-reaction. Someone commented that they send patches to Greg KH because Linus scares him, but added a winkey smiley afterwards, i.e. not really all that scary. Then Linus made a joke about Greg being big and squishing people that may or may not be playful or insulting, without knowing much about the relationship between these guys it's hard to say. Squish is hardly a word you use when you're really angry though.

    And then Linus and Ingo gently tick off Greg and says he should be tougher, Linus says Greg is acting like a "door mat" and says "You may need to learn to say no to people". Ingo says "be frank with contributors and sometimes swear a bit". Probably this discussion would be held off list in a more traditional corporate environment to avoid embarrassing Greg (though "you are too nice" is not that embarrassing), but he takes it in his stride and agrees to be tougher.

    OK, so far, just another day in open source land? Well, then Sarah Sharp flies off the handle and says:

    Seriously, guys? Is this what we need in order to get improved -stable? Linus Torvalds is advocating for physical intimidation and violence. Ingo Molnar and Linus are advocating for verbal abuse.

    Not *fucking* cool. Violence, whether it be physical intimidation, verbal threats or verbal abuse is not acceptable. Keep it professional on the mailing lists.

    What the heck? The only thing she could be referring to this thread so far has been Linus talking about Greg being a giant who might "squish you without even noticing". Nobody could seriously interpret that as advocating for violence unless you were so unbelievably literal you'd be unable to handle ordinary conversations.

    And then there's the conflation of "verbal abuse" with "violence". These are two words that mean very different things. And finally the assertion that by trying to make jokes (perhaps not very well), Linus and Ingo were being unprofessional. Not surprisingly, Linus had a problem with this claim.

    Now I don't know, probably this could have been avoided if the discussion with Greg had been private. But it seems Sharp would have let rip at some other point if someone else made an off-colour joke. I can believe LKML is a tough environment, but this isn't the best evidence possible. Perhaps there have been other incidents, but as Sharp doesn't list any, it's hard to say.

    • Re:Hmmmm (Score:4, Interesting)

      by CajunArson ( 465943 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @05:25PM (#50664783) Journal

      Thanks for bringing facts instead of blog-post innuendo into the conversation.

      First Interesting point in that thread: The first person to start dropping f-bombs on other people is none other than Sarah Sharp. Who is using the uncivil and threatening language exactly?

      Second interesting point: She doesn't seem to have a problem with a posting a rant about communications that seem to have literally nothing to do with her whatsoever. Nothing in that thread was directed at her or was even being abusive towards some other woman either.

      • She doesn't seem to have a problem with a posting a rant about communications that seem to have literally nothing to do with her whatsoever.

        It's not usual for someone to wade into the middle of a mailing list thread that gone overboard to demand that everyone cool it. I once asked a question on the Python mailing list and someone took offense at my email address. I ignored that person and didn't respond back. Other people waded in and told him to STFU.

    • Re:Hmmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

      by IamTheRealMike ( 537420 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @05:30PM (#50664857)

      And from the other Slashdot discussion, a picture of Linus and Greg sitting together [linuxzasve.com]. Wow, Linus wasn't kidding. Greg KH is enormous! I don't mean fat, I mean, literally he does appear to be a giant. Unless there's something weird about that camera perspective it's not totally surprising that Linus may have made a joke along the lines of "you should be scared of Greg".

    • Re:Hmmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

      by _KiTA_ ( 241027 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @05:46PM (#50665037) Homepage

      So she's a social justice warrior troll doing this for attention? Called it earlier.

      Expect her to have a Patreon account up within a few days, as well as a campaign started explaining why Linus is problematic and needs to be removed from Linux development soon, or how Linux needs a safe space special interest group so feminist coders can submit their commits without being threatened by people pointing out their code sucks. Because remember kids, criticism is "Cyber Violence. [popehat.com]"

      As an aside, she's a blockbot user, so yes, she most definitely is a SJW or a SJW ally:
      https://twitter.com/sarahsharp [twitter.com]

      (If you're blocked and have never even spoken with her, congratulations, you're a member of Randy Harper's blacklist, [leagueforgamers.com] an list of white men, gamers, nerds, conservatives, KFC, President Obama, and other people Randy Harper and her radical feminist friends consider too "problematic" to be allowed to communicate with people in the tech industry.)

      Actually... Yuuuup, 5 seconds of research later:
      http://sarah.thesharps.us/tag/... [thesharps.us]

      Third Wave (Professional Victim) Feminist, with posts pushing the lie about the gender gap (there are more women than men getting STEM degrees now [aaup.org]), and a post about the "Donglegate" lynch mob, wherein a professional outrage mob was directed by professional victim and gender identity con artist [twitter.com] Adria Richards to shame and destroy the lives of two men making a joke about forking and dongles, suggesting that hearing a joke you disagree with is equivalent to being physically attacked.

      In short: She might be a gifted programmer, but she's a weak willed human being, and her having a professional freakout about Linus making a joke about being intimidating isn't surprising -- it's a calculated maneuver. Expect something else to come up soon -- as mentioned, Linus will be deemed too problematic to be allowed to remain in Linux, or the Professional Victims will demand special treatment for Women in Linux Development.

  • Gave up years ago (Score:4, Informative)

    by imp ( 7585 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @05:20PM (#50664741) Homepage

    I stopped contributing to the Linux kernel in like 1995 because the environment even then was too toxic. With the same sort of 'apologist' rhetoric that we hear today. In the 20 years I've been contributing to FreeBSD, I've still yet to accumulate as much toxin as was present in the 12 months or so I tried contributing minor things to Linux.

  • Sarah, the LKML SJW (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MagicMerlin ( 576324 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @05:30PM (#50664861)
    I was curious and did some research on this. I know Linus and some of the other guys can be a lot to take. However, after reading a lot of the posts Sarah made complaining about people and things, I started to get the feeling she's attention seeking and disruptive. She constantly brings up gender in irrelevant ways and appears to be the self styled 'girl kernel developer'. She also punches below the belt. For example:

    "*Snort*. Perhaps we haven't interacted very often, but I have never seen you be nice in person at KS. Well, there was that one time you came to me and very quietly explained you had a problem with your USB 3.0 ports, but you came off as "scared to talk to a girl kernel developer" more than "I'm trying to be polite"."

    Linus tends to be very direct, as are a lot of important open source communities. The critical people are very busy and get frustrated when people display various kinds of incompetence. In fact, it appears to me that they were treating Sarah very gently precisely *because* she was a girl. Or maybe it was the intel.com email adress -- who knows.
    • by Orgasmatron ( 8103 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @06:10PM (#50665253)

      1. Locate or Create a Violation of the Narrative.
      2. Point and Shriek.
      3. Isolate and Swarm.
      4. Reject and Transform.
      5. Press for Surrender.
      6. Appeal to Amenable Authority.
      7. Show Trial.
      8. Victory Parade.

      SJWs are cowards. Even the slightest resistance early on is usually enough to stop the process. In this case, step 3 didn't materialize, so she's stuck repeating step 2.

      Fortunately, Linus seems to be a natural. He values results over pretty much all else, and his results are currently running just about all meaningful computation and communication on and in the vicinity of this planet, so threats to withdraw approval don't mean shit to him.

  • The Line (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @06:17PM (#50665303)

    There is a place for profanity laced arguments. There are times when the cluebat need to be applied. They should be the exception and preferably done in private. The problem comes when every discussion quickly devolves into name calling and profanity. It has the following effects;
    1. Less discussion as people drop out as vitriol ensues.
    2. Fewer participants as people never come back.
    3. Distraction from the real subject. It becomes an insult contest rather than a discussion.
    4. Fewer discussions as many don't want to start arguments.
    In the end it created smaller communities and worse code. Just because you can bully someone into agreeing does not make you right; just a more effective bully.

    Just because a woman has brought it up does not make it a gender issue. In the end this is not a man or woman issue it is a civility issue.

    To all those who say "women should get thicker skins and not take things personally" I say "certain men should stop equating being right with their worth/masculinity or go back to the cave where they belong".

  • Torvalds tried to take the conversation private, Sharp choose to make it public again ..

    "The argument over whether such language is appropriate then moved off-list, with Torvalds trying to make the conversation private and Sharp making it public again. "Oh, FFS, I [was] just called out on private email for 'playing the victim card,'" arstechnica.com [arstechnica.com]

    "I'm *also* not going to buy into the fake politeness, the lying, the office politics and backstabbing, the passive aggressiveness, and the buzzwords" Torvalds
  • If she were a he (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chuckugly ( 2030942 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @06:26PM (#50665393)
    Would this be news if it were Samuel Sharp posting this and quitting?
  • by sethstorm ( 512897 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @06:35PM (#50665475) Homepage

    Given that FreeBSD already has been neutered by a CoC due to similarly written complaints, this doesn't sound too different from a spurned SJW.

  • by DrJimbo ( 594231 ) on Monday October 05, 2015 @06:37PM (#50665501)
    A clash of cultures -- The LKML is not Intel

    This is an interesting conflict. A group of people find the LKML culture to be toxic to such an extent that they decide to stop participating in it. The question is: should the LKML culture change to accommodate them?

    I don't see any easy answers. Many people agree that Casablanca was a great film. At the time it was being made, the people involved thought it was just another film. We don't know what magic ingredients caused that film to be great. There is no known recipe to reproduce that greatness.

    The Intel culture has produced some fabulous things. It has been at the forefront of exponential growth in digital electronics for decades. But there are many things that culture is not good at creating. Operating systems that run on their hardware, for example. Likewise, Google bought Motorola Mobility in 2011 but ended up selling it at a loss three years later. The Google culture was really good at many things but making smartphones was not one of them.

    The Linux kernel is unique and like the movie Casablanca we just don't know what combination of elements caused it to be so great. We have no recipe for making another OS like Linux. This is not from lack of trying. The question is: should we try to change the culture on LKML in order to make it appear less toxic to a group of people? Are the parts of the culture that seem toxic to some people part of the magic that has made Linux so successful? We just don't know.

    If I was king of the world and everyone ultimately answered to me then I would let Linus decide if he wants to change the LKML or not. I don't think anyone knows why the LKML consistently make good kernels the same way Intel consistently makes good hardware. The person who knows it best is Linus. I would trust his gut instinct of what to do about changing the culture he has created. If I was forced to decide then I would tell him to keep doing what he has been doing because, for me, the quality of the kernel is far more important than a group of people finding the LKML culture toxic.

    Of course there has to be a line drawn somewhere. For example if the LKML required ritual human sacrifices, that would be totally unacceptable. Any forms of physical violence would be unacceptable, even forms of hate speech would be unacceptable. For me, a group of people who can't work with the kernel because they find the environment toxic does not cross the line. If it was a large fraction of the developers then it would be a problem. If I saw instances that were particularly egregious then that would be a problem too.

    There are many work environments that people would find much more toxic than the LKML. Commercial fishing is one obvious example. I think the vast majority of people (at least from the first world) would find working as a commercial fisherman to be toxic, intolerable, and probably impossible. This does not necessarily mean commercial fishing needs to change in order have a less toxic work environment. The obvious solution has already been implemented: if you don't want to be a commercial fisherman then don't be one.

    Perhaps the same obvious solution has been found here was well. I think it is good that this issue is brought up every now and then. It gives Linus a chance to see if he thinks the LKML culture needs to change. But I don't see any reason for the LKML to be all inclusive. I think it would be fine if it were a mostly all whiteboys club (I don't know if it is) as long as there is no discrimination based on gender or race instead of actions. If it works and you don't know how or why it works then don't fix it.

  • There have been "abuse" problems on the internet since before it existed, when bulletin board servers were common. There is just something about being on a remote keyboard or microphone that brings out the absolute worst in a lot of people. Trash talking gamers, bigots, racists, stark raving lunatics -- they're all "wired".

    You can complain about it all you like, but unless you're going to censor the shit out of every forum, website, and mailing list in existence, you are going to be faced with it. The same way you're going to be faced with such people in real life.

    Sadly, a lot of people would rather whinge and whine about their "rights" and their "feelings" rather than face up to reality. They live in a dream world of kittens, unicorns, and rainbows that exhibits a completely and totally unrealistic expectation of what society is or should be.

    Can't handle the pressure? Leave -- which she is doing. But posting a long-winded rant about why you're leaving is just childish, selfish, "pity poor me" bullshit. Everyone already knows it's going on; they don't give a flying fuck about your hurt feelings over anyone else's (often including their own.)

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