Jim Zemlin on What the Tech Industry Has Learned from Linus Torvalds (Transcript)

Jim Zemlin on What the Tech Industry Has Learned from Linus Torvalds at TEDxConcordiaUPortland Conference – Transcript

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Jim Zemlin -Executive Director at Linux Foundation

Good morning. Thank you.

So, many of you may not recognize this person on the screen. He lives here in Portland, Oregon. He was named the 17th most influential person of the century by Time Magazine. This is Linus Torvalds, and if you’ve never heard of him, you’ve probably heard of the software he created.

Linus Torvalds created Linux, the world’s most successful software. It runs everything. I’m not kidding. It’s in your phone, it’s in a car, it’s in your television, it runs your bank, it runs most of the global economy, it runs air-traffic control systems, nuclear submarines, it runs most of the Internet.

You use Linux every single day, multiple times a day, and you don’t even know it. So if you’re in the tech industry, you for sure have heard of Linus Torvalds and almost none of you have ever heard of me.

I’m Linus Torvalds’s boss! Now I know what you’re thinking. Wow, this guy is the boss of one of the 17 most influential guys of the century, wrote the world’s most prolific software. Who else works for this guy. The person who created the Internet? So first of all, no, Al Gore does not work for me. But let me show you a couple of others who do.

These two. Especially that little girl there. That’s my daughter. My four and a half year-old daughter, Nisha. And what’s funny is Nisha actually shares a lot in common with Linus Torvalds. No it’s true, it’s true.

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First of all, they’re both adorable. Second, they’re both geniuses. And finally, neither of them listens to anything that I say.

In other words, I’m nobody’s boss. But fortunately, Linus Torvalds doesn’t really need a boss. He’s got this great mascot, this penguin. And Linux really has done very successfully despite me. And let me show you a few numbers, just to give you an idea of what this looks like.

1.3 million smartphones running Linux are activated every single day.

700,000 televisions are sold every single day running Linux.

92% of the world’s high-performance computing systems that predict climate change, forecast the weather, run the CERN supercollider, are all running Linux.

85% of the world’s global equity trading platforms run Linux. The New York Stock Exchange, the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the London Stock Exchange, most of our economy runs on Linux.

1000 trillion dollars is the amount of transactions that happen on just one Linux system, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. It runs Google, Facebook, Amazon, most of the Internet; it is by far the world’s most widely deployed software.

So, how does Linus do it? And why should you care, for that matter? Well, he does it collaboratively, by working with thousands of developers, all across the world, in different countries, performing a grand act of creation. And I’m just a bit player in this grand play that’s been unfolding over the last 20 years. But as a witness to all of this, and technically as Linus’s boss, I’ve learned some lessons that I’d like to share with you today, so that you might become better collaborators, so that you might achieve the same success as someone like Linus and something like Linux.

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And some of these lessons may surprise you. The first lesson I learned: don’t dream big, don’t dream big.

This is an email from Linus Torvalds over 20 years ago, announcing the creation of Linux. “I’m not doing anything big, just something for fun.”

And what’s interesting here, whether it was intentional or not, Linus was paraphrasing a poet, Robert Frost, who said, “Don’t aim for success, if that’s what you want. Do what you love and believe it and it will follow.”

And I think it’s appropriate that Linus was paraphrasing a poem, because what’s happening behind thousands of computer screens all over the world is a renaissance. The Michelangelos and the da Vincis and the Raphaels of their day are creating great poetry. And they’re doing it because they love it.

Linus felt so strongly about this that he wrote an entire book on it. And he titled it “Just for Fun.” Because when you’re doing this kind of grand creation and collaboration, when you’re doing it because you love it and you believe in it, you can create great things. And let me tell you, there is a difference between a house-painter and da Vinci. And the grand code poets who are writing this truly believe in what they’re doing it. It is making a huge difference throughout the world.