Graying Linux developers look for new blood

Graying Linux developers look for new blood

Summary: The top Linux developers are getting older and The Linux Foundation is addressing the issue.


It's not that Linux's core developers are "old." After all, Linus Torvalds, Mr. Linux himself, is only 42. But for a few years now, the core Linux kernel developers have been aware that the top programmers have been getting older.


This isn't just an impression. While as Amanda McPherson, The Linux Foundation's VP of marketing and developer programs, told me that "participation in Linux is greater than ever before" and that "more than 8,000 people had contributed to the Linux kernel since 2005," a closer look at the Linux developer numbers reveals that the older generations of Linux programmers are fading away.

Jesús M González-Barahona, one of the founders of software development analysis company Bitergia, found that when you look at Linux kernel developers considering “age” as “time in the project,” new "generations" of programmers" are getting smaller and smaller. In general all generations are now much smaller than they were five or six years ago."

Bitergia's "study is based in the analysis of commits to the git repository, which means that we rely on git information, which is available only since 2005, when the project started to use it." So far this ongoing study has made three conclusions:

  • Generations, which are three months long, are shrinking over time from about 100-150 to 30-50 per quarter.
  • Older generations are getting less active. 
  • Recent generations of younger developers are quite smaller now than they were six years ago

The Linux community has been aware of this problem for some time. In 2010, at the The Linux kernel panel at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit, Greg Kroah-Hartman, a senior Linux kernel developer and head of the Linux Driver Project, said, "Turnover at the upper level is not happening."And James Bottomley, the CTO of sever virtualization at Parallels, added that "There are more gray beards. The graying of the Linux kernel is going to continue until people start dying." Andrew Morton, a Google software engineer and senior Linux kernel' developer concluded, "Yes, we're getting older, and we're getting more tired. I don't see people jumping with enthusiasm to work on things the way that I used to."

So what to do about this? For one thing The Linux Foundation is trying to widen the developer door to hobbyist programmers.

McPherson added that "The Linux Foundation's mission is to advance and protect Linux. A big part of that is providing the infrastructure necessary for collaboration. Events are a key part of that. We think about events providing both a place for the developers to meet face-to-face--which is crucial since everything is done remotely--and a place for users, industry and the greater ecosystem to learn about Linux and the open cloud direct from the source: the developers themselves."

So, "while participation in Linux is greater than ever before, we always want to reach new people and new talent." That said, "Consistently our members and those we survey say finding Linux talent is an impediment to even more growth of Linux. One of the small ways we hope to impact that is making LinuxCon a welcoming place to new comers. We have always had a 'big tent' approach to that event, perhaps sometimes too big as people aren't sure if it's a developer or sys admin/architect event. And the fact is that it's both."

Specifically the Foundation is starting "new programs to help facilitate participation from newcomers as well increase contributions from women and other groups. We want these events and the Linux and open cloud communities to be welcoming and inclusive and hope these programs can play a small part."

So, for example at LinuxCon in New Orleans this September, the Foundation "will host a Newcomers Reception on Sunday night, September 15. We're inviting first-time attendees to join us and meet some of the Linux kernel developers who will also be in attendance. We hope by hosting this before the event actually opens newcomers can get the very most out of their week and make connections early on."

In addition, McPherson concluded, "We're hosting our first Women in OSS [Open Source Software] luncheon. We're looking forward to bringing this group together to learn more about how we can increase participation among women in open source and Linux and to give these people an opportunity to meet each other."

Hopefully, all of this will bring new blood and vigor to the Linux development community.

Related Stories:

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Software Development

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • The Linux Foundation should make an effort to discover the identities

    of the developers behind the Hand of Thief GNU/Linux banking trojan and help find them good-paying jobs at the top corporations contributing to the Linux kernel:

    o Red Hat
    o SUSE
    o IBM
    o Intel
    o Oracle
    o Google

    These developers would make a much better living contributing to the Linux kernel as corporate employees than they ever will writing malware for the GNU/Linux desktop with its relatively small market share.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • 5 flags and counting ...

      What's the worry with bringing [presumably] qualified, former malware writers on as Linux kernel developers? Backdoors in the Linux kernel? The Linux kernel is licensed under the GPL, which means that the source code is available for anybody to inspect ... many eyes and whatnot.

      Better to have these individuals contribute constructively to the Linux kernel than continue with GNU/Linux malware development, no?
      Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Let's all hope the new generation purges some of the bad habits

    New blood will hopefully purge some of the terrible habits in the Linux world.

    1) Pre-zero version numbers. Guess what, if you release something, and people start using it in some significant number, it has achieved 1.0 status whether you acknowledge it or not. Grow a pair, raise your game, and make the next version 1.1 instead of 0.0.3 or some similar nonsense.

    2) API maintenance. Sometimes you have to break stuff, we all get it. But for heaven's sake, treat an API with respect. No one wants to keep re-coding because someone can't make up their mind about how a library should function from version to version.

    3) Get over the desktop GUI infighting. It was tiring in the late 1990's, it was tiring in the 2000's, and it is sure as heck annoying in 2013.
    • You forgot display servers

      X.Org vs. Wayland vs. Mir
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Re: You forgot display servers

        None of which have to do with the Linux kernel.
        • Which brings up another point

          Quit making excuses for substandard coding by saying its not part of the Linux kernel even though it is an essential part of using the operating system in every day practice.
          • What?

            Who's making excuses? This discussion is about the Linux kernel. Nobody is arguing that UI servers are important and that they need to be done well. Why throw in left field arguments? I don't like the way Skype works in Linux! Fix it kernel devs!
        • ldo17: "None of which have to do with the Linux kernel"

          Except that the Linux kernel developers do their magic using the GNU/Linux desktop, which includes the Linux kernel, a display server and a desktop environment. Linus Torvalds has famously chewed out desktop environment developers for moving his cheese. It won't take long for the same to happen with the new display environments.

          And I also recall that Linus chewed out the desktop GNU/Linux developers for requiring root authentication to add a printer. Wasn't this openSUSE?

          The top Linux kernel developer has very important work to do, including herding the other Linux kernel developers. Best to not distract him with various GNU/Linux desktop developer antics.
          Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Correction: "new display environments" should read "new display servers"

            Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Re: requiring root authentication to add a printer.

            That was SuSE Linux, not Linux -- and was a deliberate security choice of the SuSE developers

            Linus didn't like it, because it wasn't what he expected ("moved his cheese" is an apt characterization) but he should have expected, as he was using an enterprise desktop -- it was his choice to install an enterprise-oriented distro, that he was unfamiliar with, on his daughter's personal laptop. And he was embarrassed, because he was unexpectedly confronted with a configuration issue he hadn't come across before, and was stuck trying to talk his daughter through it over the phone under time pressure. He reacted by describing the (easily changed) default configuration as "stupid". I sympathize, but for once, he was wrong.
          • bswiss: "That was SuSE Linux"

            Like I stated in my post (although I did add a question mark as it's been awhile), it was 'openSUSE', SUSE's test bed for SUSE Linux Enterprise desktop (aka SLED). You can read all about it here:


            And openSUSE is not an enterprise desktop any more than Fedora is an enterprise desktop. They're both community-based projects sponsored by SUSE and Red Hat, respectively, that serve as test beds for their enterprise products. Enterprises crave stability and neither openSUSE nor Fedora provide it.
            Rabid Howler Monkey
    • and it is sure as heck annoying in 2013.

      Since when was having choice annoying? having choice in GUI is good, if every other GUI was discarded for KDE that would be bad for users of old PC's, or people who just don't like KDE.
      • Meaningful choice s annoying

        Choice as a result of battling egos, like all brash and braying noises, is irritating.
        • Re: Meaningful choice s annoying

          Tell that to the automobile manufacturers, the motorcycle manufacturers, and the beer brewing companies (just to start).
        • Choice as a result of battling egos

          No battling egos here, people simply chose to create a different GUI because they were free to exercise that choice, do you know how many video editors there are? Wikipedia lists more than 50, yet no one complains that choice in video editors is annoying do they.
      • What's wrong with KDE?

        Although it's considered bloated by some, it's not too bad. Granted KDE4X is a bit different from the older 3X, not sure which I like best, but it's one of my favorites.
        • What's wrong with KDE?

          Nothing, I like KDE, I'm actually using it right now, but I wouldn't use it on an old PC with outdated specs, I would probably use something like XFCE, or even pure Openbox.
        • Knoppix used to use KDE.

          Knoppix now uses Gnome with XFCE. The latest version is 7.2.0 and it's awesome. I've been using it on a USB Flash drive.

          I just use the Synaptic Package Manager to install the GDebi package installer, the same installer used on Linux Mint. I install Opera, Chromium, Chrome and the default Ice Weasel is made from Firefox, but you can install Firefox if you want to.

          I chose to encrypt the drive when creating it using 256 bit encryption in case I lose my key chain with the flash drive. It's 32 bit, so you can borrow anyone's computer and use it to access your personal OS and files.

          Mint 15 Cinnamon is installed on my computers hard disk, but it's convenient and fast to just use the flash drive OS. It boots up in less than 30 seconds.
    • complaints reasonable sounding but wrong

      Your comments sound better than they are.

      1) distros don't "pass on" the pre kernels. So the numbering is fine

      2) The linux kernel keeps the API between itself and userland EXTREMELY stable. To a fault, I'd say. The internal APIs are not APIs and are not intended to be stable. APIs between userland components are not the product of the kernel team (in all but a few cases). So what are you talking about?

      3) GUI infighting isn't anything to do with the kernel. And simply calling it "GUI infighting" doesn't resonably characterize what's going on.
      • To reiterate, stop the excuses

        saying it's not the kernel. If you can't use the kernel without it, excuses don't make any difference. End users see it as all the same thing.

        MS understood that long ago. Windows is Windows and no one argues about whether it's the kernel or not.