Tag Archives: Open source

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“Put up or shut up”

One thing I love about open stuff, such as open source communities, is that we (try to) measure people by what they contribute.

I’m now Volunteer Development Coordinator for the Wikimedia Foundation (although I am not speaking for them in this post), so I care about the quality and quantity of contributions to MediaWiki, and about the people behind them.  In fact, I’ll partially be measuring my success through statistics on the number of people who offer code, bug reports, translations, documentation, talks, mailing list posts, and so on.

And it’s not just doing, it’s doing and sharing.  We value collaborative work, not hoarding.

This norm, among others, leads us to use “put up or shut up” to quash unproductive conversations, bikeshedding, trolling, and “you should…” unhelpful suggestions.  I once had the satisfying experience of saying, to a guy full of “why didn’t they do foo”, “you should totally post that suggestion to the mailing list!” and seeing him just shut up, defeated.  He knew that doing this without embarrassing himself would take a modicum of research and thought, and he had no intention of doing anything that arduous.  He’d just wanted to mouth off.  And now I’d revealed him as a noncontributor.

I saw another example in Kitt Hodsden’s talk about the Hacker Dojo community center.

all talk, no action

Another aspect of open source development we encountered, an aspect that is also found in just about every volunteer organization ever, are the troll subspecies “we oughta.”

The we-oughtas clan is often very vocal, they know what we should be doing. When it comes to the actual doing, however, they aren’t around, they aren’t available, or that’s not what they meant.

When this is the case, the response is either, that’s nice, and ignore it, or, just as in open source projects, “put up or shut up.” Essentially, if you’re not willing to put forth the effort of leading your own project – even if that leading is just finding someone else to lead your project – we’re not going to follow.

At its best, “put up or shut up” is empowering.  In Hodsden’s talk, she shared a story about a potential member whose “project was outside of our expected and supported hardware and software development spaces”:

We gave the answer we have learned to give for people who have crazy, though potentially awesome, ideas that in the future could work wonderfully in our space: lead the project: tell us what it is going to take for your project to succeed, develop a game plan, put in the safety measures, find supporters, work up a budget, start the fundraising, make it happen.

The community defines itself. If the community decides it wants to become a metalsmithing shop or an experimental biology lab, it’ll become that, because that’s what the community wants.

I bet all of us who have held leadership in FLOSS can attest to the two sides of “well go ahead then, patches welcome, make it happen, this is a do-ocracy.”  Great, we can empower people.  But how often do we use it to shut down discussions, ideas, and people we don’t like?  In particular, have you been part of an interaction where a privileged FLOSS project member used “you want it, you make it happen” to wrongly dismiss a concern that might require the whole community to change its behavior?

Look at what I did, in the anecdote I told in the third paragraph of this post.  I wasn’t purely kind or rational or ideologically anarchic in telling that guy to write to the list; I found him annoying and wanted him out of my hair.  I told him to contribute, superficially encouraging him, but really wanting to discourage him.  Have you ever been on either end of that, especially around geek feminist issues?

And I suspect this disproportionately affects newbies and non-native speakers of a community’s language.  This is the problem with saying “you want it, make it happen” in response to requests for a harassment policy, or for all of an app’s strings in one file to make localization easier.  The very people who need those new policies, procedures and abstractions are least able and worst placed to implement them.

(Small digression: in the case of harassment policies, consider “Did you know how to react?” by Noirin Plunkett, and Bitch Radio’s interview with Valerie Aurora.  The Ada Initiative, in suggesting and working towards conference anti-harassment policies, has far more energy and resources than would one individual seeking protection.)

Developers are used to dealing with requests for features or bugfixes, but FLOSS leaders are still learning how to deal with requests to socially engineer our projects.

And no matter whether you’re considering adding a feature, hosting a sprint, changing version control systems, or joining a conservancy, it’s sensible risk mitigation to chat about it before putting substantial effort in.  This is a different kind of work, not coding, but building support and getting the lay of the land.  And it’s part of contribution.

So, fellow FLOSS leaders: If you want to grow new contributors, along with giving them permission to suck, build personal relationships with them.  In private or face-to-face, listen as they vent and discuss their ideas, even the half-baked ones.  Listen for the difference between “we should” and “I’d like to/how do I?”.  Sometimes they’ll need sympathy, and sometimes advice.  If you say “go do it then,” say it encouragingly, not dismissively.  Watch out for moments when a marginalized potential contributor is essentially asking you, “help me help you.”  And watch yourself in case you’re about to do what I did, using “put up or shut up” to shut down someone you find abrasive.  Because sometimes I’m abrasive too, and sometimes I have good ideas.  :-)

As hypatia puts it: “a gentle ‘that’s definitely an issue, could you file a bug’ goes a long way.”

Magical linkspam sparkles (26th May, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Linkspamming the night away (11th May, 2011)

  • May 13 in Boston: A project-driven introduction to Python for women and their friends (unfortunately now gone to “waiting list only” status).
  • An open letter to the Australian SF community: However, the venue staging was awful, in terms of its accessibility. High, and only accessible by temporary stairs, the stage was off-limits to anyone in a wheelchair, anyone in an electric scooter and anyone with a significant mobility impairment… This should not be acceptable to us as a community in the twenty-first century.
  • How To Encourage More Brown Women To Launch Tech Startups I realized that simply asking, “Are you going?” is enough to make a difference in someone’s awareness.
  • As benno37 says: Tip to open source developers: don’t name your library after a sexist/offensive/illegal activity. I’m looking at you upskirt! Seriously, wtf. (So that not everyone has to google for the term, upskirt is a library to parse the Markdown syntax for webpages. The Wikipedia page for Markdown has loads of alternative implementations to choose from.)
  • Confessions of a Fairy Tale Addict: Because it is a lifestyle choice, to write fairy tale books. Make no mistake. I mean, in our culture, the phrase fairy tale practically means: trite, lightweight, and fluffy. You know, girl stuff.
  • There’s a long series of interviews conducted in 2010/2011 with women working in planetary science. See for example Natalie Batalha (From postdoc to Deputy Project Scientist on Kepler), Amy Jurewicz (Stardust, Genesis, and SCIM) and for that matter Emily Lakdawalla (It is NOT failure to leave academia).

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Google Summer of Code 2011: application tips

Student applications for Google Summer of Code open March 28 and close April 8, but students are expected to begin talking to mentoring organisations now. The mentoring organisations for 2011 have just been announced.

Students who are interested in applying: this is a big process, don’t wait for the official opening to get to work on researching and talking to mentoring organisations, as there are only two weeks between the open and close of applications. Here’s some starting points:

Terri’s post from last year, Showing your awesomeness for Google Summer of Code has many more details.

If anyone wants to discuss experiences with applying to Summer of Code, or evaluating applications, please do so in this post!

Update: this thread is for discussing how best to apply to Summer of Code. So that that isn’t drowned out, use the classifieds post for advertising your project or projects you have worked on, and for general discussion of Google Summer of Code that isn’t on either of those topics, use the latest open thread.

GF classifieds: Google Summer of Code 2011 edition

Google Summer of Code–yes, bad name for anyone in the southern hemisphere, but you are allowed to apply!–is a project sponsoring Open Source development by students (largely university students, you have to be 18+ or turning 18 by April 25 to apply) over the northern summer period. Google pays a stipend for students to work on a contribution to a project over summer. Open Source projects are selected as mentoring organisations, students apply by submitting a project proposal to a project, and some of those proposals are accepted.

The mentoring organisations for 2011 have just been announced. Student applications open March 28 and close April 8, but students are expected to begin talking to mentoring organisations now.

So as with last year, here’s an edition of GF classifieds for mentoring organisations to reach out to readers here. If you are a mentor or part of a mentoring organisation for Google SoC and you’d like to bring your project to the attention of readers here, please post a description in comments at any time before April 2 (comments automatically close then). The more you can say the better:

  • Do you have link to a list of ideas for projects?
  • Can applicants make contact with you or your mentors in order to discuss their application before submitting?
  • Are previous years’ students available to discuss their experiences?
  • What kind of skills are you looking for?

Of course, if your project has made a commitment to diversity in some way, then feel free to tell us about that.

Former Summer of Code participants who worked on a project and liked it and found it welcoming or diverse, feel free to also promote your former project here, if they are mentoring again.

Note: obviously Google SoC projects accept applications from people of any gender. The reason for this post is to level the playing field at the awareness level. By posting here, what you’re doing is hopefully increasing the visibility of your project among interested women, rather than excluding anyone else from applying.

Update: this thread is for mentoring organisations and former mentees to promote themselves and their projects. So that that isn’t drowned out, use the application tips post for discussing how to apply, and for general discussion of Google Summer of Code that isn’t on either of those topics, use the latest open thread.

Always check behind you for linkspams when out after dark (March 19th, 2011)

  • BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, and IBM are pleased to announce a new annual event, the BCS Karen Spärck Jones Lecture honouring women in computing research. Fran Allen will give the first lecture on 24 May 2011 at the BCS London office.
  • The GNOME Outreach Program for Women internships are open for another round, from May 23 through August 22, 2011 with applications closing April 8. That round coincides with Google Summer of Code and GNOME enourages women interested to apply for both programs.
  • [Trigger warning for tokenism] On Being Feminism’s “Ms. Nigga”: Latoya Peterson on tokenism, conferences and feminism. Some folks would call that an attempt at diversity – but it is a nefarious double bind for those of us who get the nod. To refuse to participate may mean that voice is never represented, that the voices are the underrepresented are once again unvoiced, unheard, and perhaps unknown. Unfortunately, absence can be interpreted as a reinforcement of the status quo… However, to accept the position also means to be pressed into the token spot.
  • Luciana Fuji Pontello, a GNOME Women’s Outreach participant and the Cheese webcam application developer responsible for the application’s camerabin port and gobject introspection support was interviewed for International Womens Day.
  • [Trigger Warning for implied violence and disregard for women] Tim Buckley of the ctrl-alt-del gaming comic criticises some of the “padding” quests in Dragon Age 2 which are… insidiously disturbed: […] when I came across a sparkly pile of bones in Darktown labeled “Remains of (some woman whose name I can’t really remember), and upon looting got actual remains instead of treasure, I figured I’d started a quest at least worthy of a small cutscene about how this guy’s poor wife had been kidnapped by the slavers I’d just finished slaughtering, and how happy he was that he could now give her a proper burial. But nope. Instead it turned out to be just another schmuck who acted like he’d misplaced his fucking car keys or something. Maybe customs are different in Kirkwall, I don’t know.
  • [Trigger Warning for implied violence and disregard for women] For bonus failpoints, there are multiple quests that follow this script in the game. Fuck you, Bioware. Really. To quote one gamer friend: Baldur’s Gate II doesn’t mean you get away with this.
  • The Ladycomicsparty is back for another year: If you are a lady who is involved with comics, and you’ll be near NYC around the MoCCA fest, you should come to this!
  • Jeri Ellsworth devised a $10 version of a $5000 safety product and was accused of having set back the progress of women 100 years. Whaaaaat? As Cory Doctorow notes, Misogyny is alive and well in technology circles. An Ellsworth supporter retorts that The only way Jeri Ellsworth could set back women 100 years would be by developing a time machine in her guest room.
  • Ladyada on the front cover of Wired! (And doing it Rosie the Riveter style!) This is the first female engineer to appear WIRED’s cover.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious or the #geekfeminism tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Linkspam: International (Geek) Women’s Day

The first International Women’s Day was observed on 19 March, 1911: 36,515 days ago. In honor of 101 such observances, and in the spirit of celebrating the achievements of women, here are a few of the past year’s highlights and milestones for women in geekdom.

Awards and Recognition

Community

Business

  • A report published in 2010 showed that venture-backend startups led by women delivered better than average results
  • Jane Silber became CEO of Canonical

Academia

  • Physicist/Feminist marks IWD by posting statistics on the progress of women in science from 1958 to 2006, using statistics from the NSF

Please share your favorites in the comments!

But he’s really a nice linkspam (24th February, 2011)

  • Ada Lovelace Day, the once a year blogswarm highlighting women in technology will be held on October 7 (unlike the previous two years when it was held in March).
  • More keynoters in the open source space: Runa Bhattacharjee and Lydia Pintscher are two of the three keynotes for conf.kde.in 2011.
  • My mom has a PhD in Math” – fighting back against gendered advertising.
  • @victoriajanssen tweets: “FIVE of the SIX Nebula nominations for novel were written by WOMEN!!!” as well as 4 women nominees for short story. (via @skud)
  • Top Secret Rosies is a documentary made last year about the computers of WWII, “when computers were human and women were underestimated.”
  • Hillary Rosner writes about learning that she really did like science after all.

One year I took an introductory genetics class (“genes for jocks”), just to confirm that science still sucked, and when I earned a C+ I retreated, satisfied, to the comfort of literature, politics, and cultural theory.

And then a strange thing happened. Several years into my journalism career, I became captivated by stories about the environment. I couldn’t read enough of them.

  • Cordelia Fine of “Delusions of Gender” fame writes about sexist speeches by former Harvard Presidents, and straw-feminists [trigger warning for discussion of essentialism].

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious or the #geekfeminism tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Because sexual assault is more common than you think

This is a guest post by Jacinta Richardson. Jacinta runs Perl Training Australia and is a strong supporter of making IT more friendly to everyone.

This is an edited version of a mailing list post.

The apology from the organisers about Mark Pesce’s linux.conf.au keynote caused much discussion on the linux.conf.au attendees’ chat list. The vast number of responders felt the right thing had been done with the apology and were happy, however there were a small number (5 or less) squeaky wheels that insisted that the talk was fine and that no apology was necessary.

This post is an edited response to my reply in a thread discussing whether the anti-harassment policy was too broadly scoped as well as possibly unnecessary.

Warning: this entry discusses sexual assault, rape and real statistics.

The anti-harassment policy that linux.conf.au adopted didn’t set an impossibly high bar for attendees or speakers, despite the complaints of a select few. As far as I know, all of the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 speakers, and all but one of the 2011 speakers managed to adhere to professional standards in their talks
and not use images that did or would have caused the ruckus Mark’s talk did. At about 90 (official) speakers per conference and maybe another 90 mini-conf speakers per conference that’s about 899 talks which all managed this feat, and quite a few of those talks were challenging, hard hitting, world shattering and all the things that Mark’s talk was too.

However Mark’s talk relentlessly employed the language and imagery of sexual assault as a metaphor for the loss of personal freedoms, and this is inappropriate. For all that Mark’s theme was timely and valuable, the talk would have been so much better had it been delivered with respect for those members of our community who have actually been assaulted.
Continue reading

Advocacy project for women in open technology and culture: The Ada Initiative

Today, Valerie Aurora and I launched the Ada Initiative, a new non-profit organization dedicated to increasing participation of women in open technology and culture, which includes open source software, Wikipedia and other open data, and open social media.

Valerie and I have 10 years experience in open source software, open social media, and women in computing activism with groups like Geek Feminism, Systers, and LinuxChix. The Ada Initiative is focused on helping women get careers in open technology through recruitment and training programs for women, education for community members who want to help women, and working with corporations and projects to improve their outreach to women.

Get involved

If you’d like to get involved, check out our contact page. If you’re really excited, write a blog post about us. We’re on Twitter and Facebook too.

Project ideas

If you have project ideas for the Ada Initiative, especially the kind of work that iis difficult for volunteer groups to do (that is, intensive and/or lengthy), we would be happy to hear them. You could raise them in comments here, or contact us.

Donating and funding

We are not yet accepting donations, but if you are interested in helping fund the Ada Initiative or putting us in touch with potential donors, please contact us.

We’d like to stress though that we do not think that women, inside or outside open technology and culture should fund the bulk of the Ada Initiative’s work; that is the job of projects and companies that make money from their work. If you are enthusiastic about the project and want to help with startup costs you will welcome to donate, but we do not expect you to, particularly if it would be in any way a financial burden.

Relationship with Geek Feminism

While both of the co-founders of the Ada Initiative write for the Geek Feminism blog, the Ada Initiative and the Geek Feminism project are not the same thing. The Geek Feminism blog, wiki and community comments on, critiques and builds geekdom as a whole and is far from limited to open technology and culture. The Geek Feminism blog is independent from the Ada Initiative and will remain so. Valerie and I will continue to write for the blog on various subjects outside of any work we do for the Ada Initiative.