Linus Torvalds interview: 'All my daughter wanted for Christmas was a polymerase chain reaction machine'

By Graeme Burton
04 Jan 2013 View Comments
linus-torvalds

Q. You work at home on doing what you love best, which is an enviable position for anyone to be in, could you describe for us your typical day?

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Oh, that's pretty easy. A typical day starts at 7:30 when I get up to see the kids off to school (they're big enough that this mainly involves turning on the coffee maker and starting to make coffee). By the time the kids are off, I'm usually on my second or third cup of coffee, and sitting in my ratty bathrobe in my office above the garage, reading and answering email, taking a break every hour or two to make more coffee.

Incidentally, when I say coffee, I don't mean just any swill. I take my coffee seriously, and have a high-end cappuccino maker that makes a good latte at the press of a button, including freshly grinding and tamping the coffee from beans that have been roasted recently. The coffee part is important.

And that's about as exciting as it gets. Seriously. I sit in front of the computer all day. Sometimes the FedEx guy shows up with a new book for me (or fabrics for Tove, or whatever) and, hopefully, I've got dressed by then or he doesn't need a signature because, quite frankly, it's embarrassing to have to open the door at 2pm still in your bathrobe, but it happens. I suspect the FedEx people think I'm some crazy unemployed slob...

The kids are usually home by 4pm or so in the afternoon and that, in turn, can imply some driving around from or to gymnastics or ballet or whatever other things they are doing. Generally, I try to get most of my work done in the mornings, so afternoons are less about sitting constantly in front of the computer. I also slow down my coffee drinking after 3pm.

My normal day really isn't glamorous. At weekends, we sleep in later, but they otherwise look fairly similar.

The great part (well, one of them) about working on Linux is that it isn't a 9-to-5 job. I can take the day off if I need to, or several days, for that matter. If it's a particularly busy time I will have a laptop and can get my job done almost anywhere. But during calmer periods I just tell some of the people I work most closely with that I'll be gone for a few days, just so that they'll be aware of it.

Q. Were you aware of the Millennium Technology Prize and does it have an impact in Finland?

I was aware of the prize mainly through Henry Tirri (who I know from my time at Helsinki University). I am honoured to be on the shortlist of laureates for the 2012 Millennium Technology prize. It is one the world's most important awards for advancements in technology that impact human life and culture.

Q. You have won a significant number of scientific prizes and awards, including the Millennium Technology Prize 2012. What benefits can these bring to your work?

It means that I have things to hang up on my walls, so my office is less bare.

I think the real benefit (which I'm not sure is the right word in this context) is that feeling that everybody wants to have of simply being appreciated. It's not like I walk around looking at them (I suspect the most common reminder is my best friend in the neighbourhood often pointing out that he has a "real" PhD, not just that honorary kind). At the same time, we all have this yearning for recognition and the fact that I get it makes me very happy with my life.

Of course, some of the prizes come with more or less substantial direct benefits in the form of actual money. I'm a well-paid professional – and I won't claim that money doesn't matter. It may not be my primary motivator, but at the same time, I absolutely don't want to have to worry about money either. I'd much rather worry about technical issues than about how to pay for a leaking roof or my kids' education.

So, for example, the remodel we did that moved my office up above the garage, was largely paid for by the C&C Prize. Could we have done it without it? Yes. But the prize money turned it into something we didn't have to worry about. 

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