Linux users, the coolest cats in town

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Only one topic in town this week and that's bullying …

This post however was originally inspired by Glynn Moody's unrelated blog which broadly was a treatise on the simile between organising Open Source folk on any large scale and herding cats...

...this activity is, as we all imagine, a futile pastime ... and moreover transposed into an office context, represents for a manager of 'cats' a role of terrifying proportions.

However, whilst mulling over Glynn's words of feline wisdom; we the news consuming public, were treated to some press hysteria, namely 'bullying in the work place'. The alleged place that caused the upset was 10 Downing Street no less...bullying is a hot topic so let's combine the two.

Cat Herding

My experience of individuals in the Open Source Software community, has been and continues to be, a privilege. They are amongst the most able and independent thinkers I have met.

Such folk in my experience, always have something of the outsider about them. Not that they are antisocial just that they are selectively social, shall we say?

In general, you meet their type most often in academia but much less often in big business or public institutions. They do act cooperatively, of course they do. There would be no large Open Source software projects if they did not.

But this happens, if we are honest, only when they all 'smell the same tin of tuna'.

Alternatively if you just tell them what to do, top down as it were, i.e. herd them..what then would happen?

Answer, probably as Glynn intimated viz the mega-FOSS-firm? ... a herd of cats?...is this a true oxymoron or can we get them knocked into institutional shape?

Bullying Cats

Cats are not fearless, but as cat owners know, are very hard to dominate: beat up a cat and it simply walks out of harm's way and leaves you for a better home or no home at all.

Sadly one can easily bully some animals, I'm thinking of dogs, horses and humans. These more social creatures can have their lives made a misery by others but sticking with our Open Source-Cat analogy, it follows that it would be hard to effectively bully an Open Sourcerer too.

So if we continue with the idea, we can move into the workplace and conduct some thought experiments.

Big Biz

Compliance is the order of the day in big biz.

Major institutions put compliance with their systems (often disconnected from any reality check at the outcome level) at the top of their workplace agenda. It runs through all levels of management to those who actually do the work.

How otherwise do you reconcile the systemic absurdities that create NHS trust hospitals that neglect patients, Local Authorities that neglect children; or banks that recklessly bet their clients' money... with the almost total absence of whistle blowers or indeed anyone prepared to make a stand.

Compliance with workplace systems is achieved essentially in the following ways:

  1. Powerful charismatic leadership 'I want to follow you personality cult stuff'.
  2. A large tin of tuna...or rather something equally tasty like a whopping bonus.
  3. Intimidation, physical, verbal or psychological otherwise known as bullying.
  4. Detachment...or 'failure to engage' i.e. passivity.

All four are seen regularly, Number four is probably the most common and one the rarest (and most scary).

If our Open Source folk are put into the above context, given what we have asserted about their nature then only one and two will work on them.

Given then that in the software industry both charisma and tuna are rare, the chances of a conventional FOSS mega-corp look slim.

Looks like we're stuck with Microsoft, Oracle, Novell, Sun....

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