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Millennium Youth CampMYC News - Oct 26, 2012

Programming is not scary

That is how Millennium Technology awarded Linus Torvalds encouraged his audience at Millennium Youth Forum on Monday. The man behind Linux discussed his life and work with over 150 high school students.

Linus Torvalds talked to the youth also during 2012 MY Camp. Photo: Sakari Tolppanen.

Linus Torvalds made his first public speech about Linux nineteen years. At Millennium Youth Forum this Monday, most people in the audience at were not even born then.

Torvalds, the winner of 2012 Millennium Technology Prize for his open source operating system, Linux, discussed with Finnish high school students about his background, innovations, and love for computer science.

To start with, Torvalds explained how everything started with Linux. For that he had to look back to the beginning of 1980s when his grandfather, a professor at the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Science introduced him to Commodore VIC-20 computer and writing BASIC code with it.

Torvalds was only twelve years old, and since then he has been clued to the computer screen.

He started at the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Science after graduating from high school with an outstanding grade in Maths and thought to follow his grandfather’s footsteps in the academic world. However, he soon realised that his real passion lay in programming, not in writing papers.

Back then, according to his own words, Torvalds was a poor student who could only afford a cheap Unix-clone operating system, and that’s when it all began with Linux.

“You find something that you don’t like, and think, hey, what can I do to make it better. That’s what I’m still doing,” he explained to the audience.

In the mid-90s Torvalds wrapped up his studies, moved to the US and started to build his hobby into a career.

After well over a decade, he still likes what he is doing and defines programming with expressions that emphasize the creative side of it. “It’s like playing chess, but you are not limited by the board, only by your skills. It’s like playing World of Warcraft but you do something that actually matters.”

Torvalds also said that it is a wonder, why programming does not seem to appeal to girls on the slightest. In Finland, the majority of University students are female and also the technical fields are getting more and more female students, but still 99 % of programmers are male.

“Programming is not scary,” he said, and added that there might be problem with offering opportunities. Torvalds said that it might be a good idea to offer for example week-long programming courses at schools so that everyone would get an idea of what it is all about.

“Everyone would have the option to try it out and we could find the 5 % who think that it’s cool”, he added.

2012 Millennium Youth Camper’s met with Linus Torvalds last June. Read about that in MyScience’s article: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

The application process for Technology Academy’s and Finland’s Science Education Centre LUMA’s Millennium Youth Camp is on! Read more on MyScience.

Elisa Lautala works as web editor for University of Helsinki's Faculty of Science. Elisa likes all kinds of cultural events, good books, warm weather, and aqua-jogging.