Sometime around 1991, a geek from Finland posted some code he had written to create a small Unix-like operating system for Intel x86 processors for other geeks to review, use and improve upon as they saw fit. In the more than ten years since, that little piece of code has become a screaming success, powering hordes of corporate computers and embedded systems around the world and offering up some very real, very tough competition to established stalwarts like Sun and Microsoft, making the guy who first wrote that code something of a legend of mythical proportions in the eyes of geeks everywhere.
And today I got to shake his hand and thank him.
LinuxWorld is in town at Moscone Center this week and I grabbed a free “Exhibition Only” pass a few months ahead of time in anticipation. I’ve spent the last two lunch hours roaming the hall and gathering swag, as well as some interesting information. Truth be told. I sincerely doubt the AAC will ever drop Microsoft in favor of Unix, despite the fact that Microsoft products have already proven themselves to be a massive headache. There is entirely too much opposition against anything new here, which is why innovation is so hard to come by and there’s such a severe morale problem. So events like LinuxWorld offer a little bit of an escape for me. They let me get back in touch with my geek roots and show me that, no, the tech world is not as bleak as it seems.
As I sat through a Red Hat demonstration (I wanted one of the cool red hats they were giving away… and I had some time to spare) I glanced over and saw a woman who looked *exactly* like an ex-girlfriend of mine. I found myself suddenly sitting somewhere between panic and the desire to say hello (no, I don’t know what I was thinking. “Hi, *****, how are you? Oh, me? Great! Getting married in November to a great gal who I am very much in love with. Wanna come to the wedding?”) and decided, as always, that the best move was to remain still and do *nothing*. Besides, it was highly unlikely that it was her – what the hell would she be doing at a Linux conference? She HATED computers. So I sat through the presentation, got my hat, then ambled around the hall, half looking for her so that I could debate whether I wanted to run into her or not.
All of a sudden, I saw a glimpse of a very familiar face walking in front of me. The quest for the ex took a sudden detour as I tried to figure out why I knew this guy. He kinda looked like a picture I’d seen, but he also kind of looked like a guy I used to work with named Karl. He was heading in my direction, so I sort of followed him while I put it all together. I quickly jumped ahead of him and, finally, turned around.
“Excuse me, but has anyone ever said that you look a lot like Linus Torvalds?”
He smiled and, in a light Scandinavian accent replied, “Yes, I hear that often.”
“That’s ’cause you are Linus Torvalds, huh?”
He smiled bigger and nodded.
I shook his hand, “Thank you for all of your contributions. I genuinely appreciate it.”
He smiled like a guy who got this treatment a million times a day but never really tired of it and said thanks. And that was that. I had my camera phone on me and flirted with the idea of being a major dweeb and asking for a picture, but he was clearly on his way somewhere and, frankly, this is a guy who seems to like a little bit of anonymity. I figured the last thing he needed was some start struck geek (ok, probably the 40th of the day, or possibly hour) fawning all over him.
But I find it remarkably refreshing that he was just wandering around the show floor, bag in hand, just another geek in the geek kingdom. I know a couple of people recognized him – they gave him those waves you give people that you know but they don’t know you and they wave back like, “Yeah, it’s me, thanks for acknowledging.” – but they didn’t flock around him or anything. And, really, that’s why shaking his hand is so cool, way cooler to me than shaking the hand of a Hollywood celebrity or whatever. This guy is just a geek. He’s a geek who worked with other geeks to develop the platform that is now considered the de facto geek platform. He took a little risk – according to his book, he wasn’t really sure if his code was even good enough to release – and it paid off big.
And that, to me, is something of an inspiration. I’m remarkably risk-averse. For the most part, when it comes to finances and emotions, I tend to play it safe. This explains while I’m still toiling away for someone else instead of working for myself and why it took me so long to find “the one”. With Dani, I felt I took a lot of risks. I really put myself out there. And now look at us: in four months she’ll be my wife, and I genuinely couldn’t be happier about that, or really much else for that matter. It’s just plain, freakin’ wonderful.
When I was writing, I read all the time about folks who complained that they were failures as writers, not because of all of their rejections, but because they never submitted their work to begin with. They were too afraid of criticism and having to face the possibility that they may be fooling themselves. Then you look at the successful authors who tell their tales of being rejected over and over again until, finally, someone recognizes the brilliance of their work, publishes it and makes them successful beyond their expectations. Linus could have chosen not to post his work for fear that the other geeks, who are a notoriously rough and critical bunch, would peg him as a fake. But he posted it anyway and took that risk. And it paid off big time.
I need to take more risks. I need to take a clue from Linus and, frankly, from myself and just lay it out there. Of course, you never just take the risk of jumping off a building and hoping to survive without first planning how you will obtain a parachute and whether it will open in time to save you from the inevitable concrete bellyflop. So I need to take a more calculated risk. May take some time to calculate and wait until the weather is good for it (getting married in and of itself is a big risk, so I may want to wait until that’s complete), but I’ve felt very strongly about this for some time now and I’m resolved to take some action. Besides, I’ve seen both sides of the coin and, frankly, I don’t feel I have a lot to lose.
…LINUS FREAKIN’ TORVALDS!!! </geekout>