So, you want to be a kernel hacker. Before you go down that path, or get involved with any other free or open source development project, you should know that it's often a wild, raucous place where -- no matter what level of coding skill you possess -- your tolerance for criticism or rejection might constantly be tested. Even Linus Torvalds isn't immune to criticism.
Most FOSS developers write code for the ego hit or the warm-fuzzy you get from being of service to others. Yes, the elite are often paid well by large corporations for the sweat of their brows, but for the rank and file, which includes some of the world's most gifted programmers, it's work freely given with no rewards expected.