As Linus Torvalds labored over the wording of an important announcement in 2018, he was gripped with doubt and self-consciousness.
The message he was writing to the community of Linux developers would announce that Torvalds, the creator and leader of the project, was taking a leave to "get some assistance on how to understand people's emotions and respond appropriately."
It was an incredibly personal, and unusual, moment for one of the programming world's most iconic figures, revered for having created the Linux operating system that caught Microsoft flat-footed, and feared for the scathing emails he habitually directed towards anyone whose work fell short of his famously high standards.
"I work in public, so you'd think writing another public message would be just 'another day at work,' but it felt very different," Torvalds told Insider.
"It's one thing to discuss a project like the kernel very publicly for decades, it's another thing entirely to write something fairly personal like that – knowing that it will be discussed very publicly in a lot of the tech press," Torvalds said.
Torvalds' timeout was relatively brief, lasting only about a month. But for the first time in his life, he also began to talk to a therapist. Now, three years later, Torvalds reflects on the period of self-evaluation he went through, and on the challenges and future of Linux, in exclusive comments to Insider.
Among the insights and revelations in Insider's in-depth profile of Torvalds:
Torvalds' evolving perspective on diversity in tech and in the Linux community:
- "Do we have women and people of color in the kernel? Yes we do - but I'd be lying through my teeth if I claimed it wasn't a small small minority."
His thoughts about what the transition to a post-Torvalds' Linux will look like:
- "There would be politics, there would be some infighting."
The "graying" crisis affecting Linux and why some developers like Facebook's Jens Axboe think resetting the culture is so critical:
- "As you go into decade one or two or three, to make the project survive and thrive over time, you need to bring fresh, new blood. A caustic environment or reputation for being caustic is not conducive to bringing younger people into the fold."
How members of the Linux open source project says Torvalds, and the community, have changed since his return.
- "We get less and less outbursts."