Tag Archives: software development

Standard linkspam procedure (7 May 2013)

  • The 30 Most Important Women Under 30 In Tech: “We were truly blown away by the number of young, successful women in the tech industry. These women hold a variety of roles in the industry: founder, CEO, engineer, venture capitalist — you name it. “
  • The Balance of Power: “The systematic, persistent acceptance of women’s second-class status is history’s greatest shame.”
  • Good for GitHub: “Women-only programs work well for some women, and for that reason, I’m glad they exist. And I’m glad GitHub supports one of them.”
  • Just because you like it, doesn’t make it feminist: On Game of Thrones “I get the feeling that (some) women, especially younger feminist women, really, really want the things they like to be feminist. Which is a nice thought, of course, but is also ridiculous.”
  • Sexism in Video Games Panel at ETSUcon: “Kat, Jenn, Cameron and I fielded questions on a variety of topics ranging from the infamous Dead Island: Riptide statue to the representation of women in video games to the inclusion of women in video game development studios.”
  • I’m a dude. Can I organize a RailsBridge workshop? “So gentlemen, dudes, guys, and men: please organize a workshop. Please assist a woman who’s already organizing one. Take those logistical things off her plate (if she wants to share them) so that she can be a technical presence at a workshop. (Perhaps you can recruit a woman to present the technical portion of the opening presentation while you cover the other parts.)”
  • Taking Out the Trash: Post-Trilogy Reflections on “Iron Man 3″: “The superhero genre was—once, long ago—fantastically subversive.”
  • Amy Dentata and Black Dahlia Parton talk trangst, porn, and video games: Self-described geek feminism podcast.
  • Your Baloney Detection Kit Sucks: “The most troubling aspect of logical fallacies is their use in suppressing uncomfortable ideas and viewpoints, and this can happen whether they are invoked correctly or not. I’ve seen countless examples of fallacies being called upon to dismiss other people’s opinions and ride over their emotions. Used in this way, they are tools of power, summoned to establish and protect a self-serving clique.”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious 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.

I’ll be post-linkspam in the post-patriarchy (30 April 2013)

  • How One College Is Closing The Computer Science Gender Gap: “There are still relatively few women in tech. Maria Klawe wants to change that. As president of Harvey Mudd College, a science and engineering school in Southern California, she’s had stunning success getting more women involved in computing.”
  • Calling All Hackers: “Hackers treat the paradigm of “some people are in charge and some people aren’t” as social damage, and they invent ways to route around it.”
  • Reviews, Genre, and Gender ? Radish Reviews: In the recent dustup over whether female-authored SF/F books get reviewed, an entire review outlet was left out because its bread and butter is romance-novel reviews, even though its SF/F reviews are not limited to romance.
  • Feminist Hackerspaces as Safer Spaces?: “In the case of feminist hackerspaces, such safer spaces are not only about safer speaking spaces, but also safer making and trying spaces.”
  • Tech companies that only hire men: Quotes from job descriptions that specify gender. Really??
  • For all the women I have loved who were dragged through the mud: “I’ve read a lot of great essays about how fandom is female-majority and creates a female gaze and a safe space for women and etc. But spend five minutes in fandom and you’ll have an unsettling question. Why does a female-majority, feminist culture hate female characters so much?”
  • little girls R better at designing heroes than you: Superheroes based on costumes worn by little girls.
  • Journalists don?t understand Wikipedia sometimes: “Thus, a well-meaning attempt to include women in the main categorization for American novelists (where many of them were never listed in the first place) may result in women writers no longer being easily identifiable to those who might want to find them.”
  • Dropcam’s Beef with Brogramming, Late Nights, and Free Dinners: “[M]any startups in Silicon Valley, especially the ones I was familiar with, would only hire young, male programmers, people who didn’t have families and weren’t going to have kids in the next few years… We do maternity and paternity leave and all of the things that used to be things that only big, mature companies did. That has allowed us to hire from a bigger group of people than we would be able to if we were part of the brogrammer culture.”
  • Women Are Earning Greater Share of STEM Degrees, but Doctorates Remain Gender-Skewed: “Possible explanations include gender bias, the prospect of short-term postdoctoral jobs that complicate child rearing, and a lack of role models.”
  • Bacon is Bad For You: A talk about developer monoculture and how it puts all of us (even the vegans) at risk.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious 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.

I have no mouth and I must linkspam (18 December 2012)

  • On Software Startup Culture: “So how do startups come to be even more white and male than even the general software industry? And should they be as celebrated and glorified as they are in software culture? I can only speak of my experience as a white trans woman working for a small ~6 employee startup but for me it comes down to risk and the way privilege mitigates those risks.”
  • The Woman Charged With Making Windows 8 Succeed: “As the head of Windows product development at Microsoft, Julie Larson-Green is responsible for a piece of software used by some 1.3 billion people worldwide. She’s also the person leading the campaign to introduce as many of those people as possible to Windows 8, the dramatic redesign of the iconic operating system that must succeed if Microsoft is to keep pace with a computing industry now shaped more by phones and tablets than desktop PCs… An expert in technical design, she also led the introduction of the novel, much copied “ribbon” interface for Microsoft Office, widely acknowledged as a major improvement in usability.”
  • Sexual and Gender Diversity in Physics: Discussion of a session on gender and sexuality issues at the American Physical Society March Meeting.
  • Tide of history must change to swim with Nobel penguins: “The locals call it Penguin Mountain. Each year, on December 10, on the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death, residents of Stockholm witness the awarding of the world’s most prestigious prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology, medicine, literature and economics to rows of men in tuxedos. Rows of grave looking, exceptionally clever men in penguin suits. It’s a sobering, thrilling spectacle. But since 1901, only 44 of all 861 Nobel prizes have been given to women.”
  • NASA Johnson Style (Gangnam Style Parody) – YouTube: Replaced “sexy lady” with “Science daily ” and “It’s amazing”. Hilarious and catchy.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious 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.

Linkspam, the country where I quite want to be (8th December, 2009)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Questioning the merit of meritocracy.

In certain communities (I’m looking at you, open source), it’s common to describe the way the community functions as a “meritocracy”. The idea is that the community is led by those who demonstrate ability and skill, and in software projects, that usually means the people who write the code. Meritocracy is often espoused as being fair, in that anyone is theoretically able to rise to the top: all they have to do is demonstrate their ability.

For instance, in Jono Bacon’s recent book The Art of Community, he says:

The magic of meritocracies is that the playing field is level for everyone. Those who work hard and show a recurring commitment to the community are rewarded. Those who think that driving a car with a blue neon light underneath it will impress us are going to be sadly disappointed.

Few would argue that a meritocracy is a bad thing. Its fundamental basis is in rewarding hard work. This concept largely maps to the general life lessons that we are all raised with: work hard and you reap the rewards of your efforts.

I don’t mean to pick on Jono here, because his is only one description of meritocracy that I’ve seen. Others include PHP, Apache, and Eclipse.

But something about Jono’s description of meritocracy really jumped out for me: “the life lessons that we are all raised with.” I was lucky — let’s call it what it is and say privileged — because I did receive that message, largely through my schooling at a private, girls-only school. But it came long with other messages, from my family and society at large, like “people won’t like it if you’re too clever” and “ambition is so unattractive” and “don’t put yourself forward, dear.”

Noirin Shirley describes the situation in a blog post from 2006, FLOSSPOLS, Sexism, and Why Meritocracy Really Isn’t:

On the surface, [meritocracy is] a completely fair, non-sexist, open concept. Anyone can get in, anyone can progress, as long as they’re good enough.

That’s very, very rarely true. Generally, at best, a meritocracy turns very quickly into a merit-and-confidence/pushiness-ocracy. Good work doesn’t win you influence — good work that’s pushed in others’ faces, or at the very least, good work of which others are regularly reminded — wins you influence. And that’s where women fall down.

In short: meritocracy benefits not only those with skill and ability, but with the self-confidence to demonstrate their skill publicly and demand recognition for it. And self-confidence is highly gendered.

Noirin also writes about unconscious bias in judging merit:

The final problem with meritocracy is that even after all the noises of “it’s all about the quality of contributionsâ€, women very often aren’t judged on the same basis as men. This is one of the few areas that FLOSSPOLS have looked at where both men and women perceive there to be a problem. People listen or pay attention to women, or don’t, based on the fact that they’re female — not based on the merit or otherwise of their contributions.

This reminds me of the practice of blind auditions, where it was found that women have greater success rates in auditioning for orchestral roles when they are placed behind a screen that prevents the listener from perceiving the musician’s gender. We know that unconscious sexism plays a part in how merit is judged in other “meritocracies”; it would be naive to think that the situation is different in software development.

So when I hear someone say that their project is a meritocracy (especially if they say it as if it’s necessarily a good thing), I tend to assume that they are 1) naive, and 2) probably have a bunch of unexamined, unconscious sexism going on.

So I guess this is the part where I offer suggestions for improvement.

First up, I’d like to see projects expand the definition of merit. A pure “meritocracy” based on coding skill will lead to crappy documentation, ugly UIs, and poor community dynamics. Watch How Open Source Projects Survive Poisonous People and consider whether a poisonous person who writes good code has merit or not. Then consider any steps to seniority or leadership that are based on “merit”. Do you judge nothing but code, or do you also include other skills, including “plays well with others”, in your reviews of people’s merit?

Accept that some of your contributors will have lower “merit”, but may still be valuable, perhaps by taking on easy tasks so that more senior contributors have time to work on harder ones, or perhaps as senior contributors in training. Don’t expect people to come in with a high level of skill and ability from day one, and be prepared to accept contributions that are less than perfect. Denise Paolucci’s Teaching People to Fish is a good read on this subject for project leaders, and Angie Byron’s A diary of two developers describes a similar situation from the contributor’s perspective, showing how imperfect contributions quickly iterated can lead to a more active, collaborative community than a single perfect patch.

Finally, don’t require pushiness along with ability. To what extent do people need to put themselves forward to progress in seniority? Could you offer commit bits or leadership roles to people who haven’t asked for them, if you think they’ll do a good job? And consider “pulling” instead: ask people how their patch is progressing, and offer to review it privately. Make yourself available via a back-channel such as instant messenger and ping contributors from time to time to give them an opportunity to talk without appearing pushy.