OLPC and gender

Brenda is a open source coder, who spends most of her days playing with gadgets for telcos. She blogs at coffee.geek.nz.

I’m now able to declare myself a (very) active contributor to the One Laptop per Child project. This is famous as the $100 laptop project that has been shipping laptops and open source educational software to the world’s poorest childen.

I’ve been contributing for more than a year now, and the amount of time I give has gone from about once a month, to now being a couple hours a day.

The project, in New Zealand, has a very healthy gender balance: about 40% women. I really have no idea of the international gender balance, as most of the names used are not ones I can recognise the usual gender for. But i suspect there’s a much higher percentage of women than most open source projects. Contributors are recruited from education, and at least in the english speaking countries that means a lot of women. These people often don’t self-identify as geeks. “I’m not a hacker” she’ll say as she hand crafts some config for her laptop’s boot loader.

However, when signing up to contribute, or be on some mailing lists, there are requirement of “respecting privacy”, which equates to not talking about what goes on inside the project. I have access to several of these closed resources within the project now – and if anything resembling the awful incidents that occur in truly-open open source were occurring within the OLPC project, well, i couldn’t tell anyone about them without breaking this agreement. I wouldn’t be getting support from outside the project in the event of yucky behaviour. This was in the back of my mind as I agreed.

But, to end on a positive note: One Laptop Per Child, and the Sugar software project are a great cause, and are easy to become involved with. If you’re interested in helping out, and don’t know how to start, you’re welcome to contact me. shiny at cpan dot org. Ther are tasks for everyone from coder hackers to testers to documentors to hardware tinkerers.