Linus being Linus

Linus Torvalds is a name that is well known within many tech communities. As the creator and maintainer of the Linux Kernel, he is revered by many users oblivious to his behavior. Behavior that is certainly effective, but also frequently highlighted as unprofessional and unnecessarily abusive towards volunteers whose only interest is to help continue making Linux better.

Which is why I rolled my eyes somewhat when I saw a new mailing response from The Man Himself calling out one of his developers for only considering a subset of cases, the ones escalated, without regard for all of the other cases that are not escalated, not even reported as problems, because the software or the process did exactly what it was supposed to do.

As an admin, I saw one section of this response and wanted to highlight it, because whether it’s useful in context or not, it is very relevant to work that those of us in Service positions (be it sysadmins or any other position — technical or non-technical). It is this:

So you’re making that statement without taking into account all the cases that you don’t see, and that you don’t care about, because the [insert something] has already handled them for you

Linus Torvalds [ ]

It was something I realized far too late in my Front-Line Support career — the people who are calling for help, or looking for your assistance, have either been inadequately informed of your repositories for self-help, or couldn’t understand or follow it for some reason. They are a poor representation of your entire support base which also includes 1) the people who didn’t have any problems at all, and 2) the people who did have problems but were able to solve them without calling for help. And in the case of the people who couldn’t find your documentation, the easiest solution is to show them how to find it!

Next time you’re on the phone with that one annoying customer who just can’t figure out how to do whatever simple task (that is part of his regular job duties) and you’re helping him for what feels like the fiftieth time this week, consider two things:

  1. What improvements you might be able to make in terms of providing documentation to the user so that they don’t need to be walked through it yet again (really, if it truly is the fiftieth time, you should have been writing the steps in a document as you went, and firing off copies to the user and their manager).
  2. How many people have to follow this process, and how often, and they don’t need to call you every time because they were able to do it without the additional help?

If your sample size is idiots, it’s easy to see why you might think everyone in the world is an idiot. It’s a valid assumption given the data, but it’s also an unfair assumption against the rest of the population.

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