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OPW and Growstuff: Frances Hocutt on open and welcoming open source communities

Two weeks ago, I interviewed Geek Feminism founder Alex Skud Bayley about Geek Feminism, programming, and the Growstuff Indiegogo campaign. As a followup, I’m interviewing Frances Hocutt, who will work on Growstuff’s API if the fundraiser reaches its target.

Frances Hocutt looks at a flask in a laboratory

Frances Hocutt

Frances is the founding president of the Seattle Attic Community Workshop, Seattle’s first feminist hackerspace/makerspace. She prefers elegance in her science and effectiveness in her art and is happiest when drawing on as many disciplines as she can. Her current passion is creating tools that make it easy for people to do what they need to, and teaching people to use them. She is a fan of well-designed APIs, open data, and open and welcoming open source communities.

Frances is entering technology as a career changer, from a scientific career. She’s recently finished a Outreach Program for Women (OPW) internship, and she spoke to me about OPW, Growstuff, mentoring and friendly open source communities.

What did your OPW project go? What attracted you to Mediawiki as your OPW project?

This summer I wrote standards for, reviewed, evaluated, and improved client libraries for the MediaWiki web API. When I started, API:Client Code had a list of dozens of API client libraries and was only sorted by programming language. There was little information about whether these libraries worked, what their capabilities were, and whether they were maintained. I wrote evaluations for the Java, Perl, Python, and Ruby libraries, and now anyone who wants to write an API client can make an informed choice about which library will work best for their project.

I am generally interested in open knowledge, open data, and copyleft, and I admire the Wikimedia Foundation’s successes with the various Wikipedias. When Sumana Harihareswara asked me if I might be interested in interning on this project for the Wikimedia Foundation I jumped at the chance. I was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming and supportive I found the Mediawiki development community. I had a good experience technically, professionally, and personally, and I learned a lot.

What attracts you to Growstuff and its API as your next project, technically?

Growstuff open data campaign logo

I really like creating usable tools and interfaces, and when that comes with the chance to play around with APIs and structured data, that’s gravy.

My favorite tech projects value developer experience and generally usable interfaces (whether for UIs or APIs). Growstuff’s current API makes it hard to retrieve some fairly basic data (given a location, when was a crop planted?), so I’m really looking forward to the chance to have input into designing a better one.

I also enjoy writing particularly clear and careful code, which I’ll be doing with my API example scripts so that anyone can pick them up, include them in their website or app, and easily modify them for whatever their intended purpose is.

What attracts you to Growstuff as your next development community?

The development community is the main reason I’m so excited about working on Growstuff. Growstuff is one of a handful of majority-female open source projects, and I definitely feel more comfortable when I don’t have the pressure to represent all women that sometimes comes when women are a small minority. Growstuff has great documentation for new developers, a friendly IRC channel, and an agile development process where pair programming is the norm. It’s obvious that Skud has fostered a collaborative and friendly open source community, and I’m looking forward to working in it.

What can the technical community learn from OPW and Growstuff about mentoring and supporting people coming to tech from diverse backgrounds and oppressed groups?

As I’ve come into tech, I’ve gotten the most benefit from environments where interpersonal connections can flourish and where learning is easy and ignorance of a topic is seen as an opportunity for growth. I credit much of the smoothness of my internship to being able to work with my mentor towards the shared goal of helping me succeed.

Some particularly useful approaches and skills were:

  • explicit explanations of open source community norms (i.e. how IRC works, whom and how to ask for help, ways that various criticisms might be better received, where a little praise would smooth the way)
  • constant encouragement to put myself out there in the MediaWiki development community and ask for help when needed
  • willingness to share her experiences as a woman in technology and honesty about challenges she had and hadn’t faced
  • willingness to have hard conversations about complicity and what we’re supporting with our technical work
  • willingness to engage with a feminist criticism of the field and orginazation, without falling back on “that’s just how it is and you need to get over it”
  • introducing me to other people like me and encouraging me to make and nurture those connections
  • telling me about career paths that my specific skills might be useful in
  • making me aware of opportunities, over and over, and encouraging me to take them
  • inviting metacognition and feedback on what management approaches were working for me and which weren’t.

Gatherings like AdaCamp have also helped me find people at various stages in their careers who were willing to openly discuss challenges and strategies. I’ve been building a rich network of technical women of whom I can ask anything from “how does consulting work” to “how much were you paid in that position” to “how in the world do I set up this Java dev environment?!” It’s amazing.

I’m looking forward to more of the same at Growstuff. Growstuff’s pairing-heavy style encourages those connections, and Growstuff’s development resources focus on making knowledge accessible and not assuming previous experience. I’ve admired Skud’s work for years and I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with her myself.

How are you finding the fundraising process for Growstuff? How can people best support it?

Frustrating, in a word. The crowdfunding campaign I ran last year only ran for ten days, so I’m adjusting to the longer and slower pace of this one. Like many women, I often feel awkward promoting myself and my projects — even when I would be happy to hear a friend tell me about a similar project she was working on! I try to reframe it as sharing interesting information. Sometimes that works for me, but sometimes I still feel weird.

That said: if you want to support Growstuff (and I hope you do), back our campaign! Tell any of your friends who are into sustainability, gardening, shared local knowledge, or open data why Growstuff is exciting and encourage them to donate! If you garden, sign up for an account and connect with other gardeners in your area! We’re trying to make it as an ethical and ad-free open source project and every bit helps. And if there’s anything you want to do with our data, let us know! We’d love to hear from you.

Growstuff: food gardening, open data and extreme programming the geek feminism way

In 2012, Geek Feminism founder Alex Skud Bayley founded Growstuff, a website and multi-purpose database for food-growers to track what they have planted and harvested and connect with other growers in their local area. Growstuff is now two years old and has launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund API development, which will help outside developers of tools like a harvesting calculator to show you how much money you save by growing food or emailed planting tips and reminders based on your location and climate.

Skud uses open source software and related technologies to effect social and environmental change. She lives in Ballarat, Victoria, where she works on a variety of open tech projects for social justice and sustainability. Skud and I have talked in the past about how Growstuff is among the projects that Geek Feminism contributors have built on principles we brought to and out of Geek Feminism, and I’m kicking off the second week of Growstuff’s fundraiser by asking her more about this.

Q. Which communities is Growstuff modelled on, and what principles has it inherited from them? In particular, how have Geek Feminism and other social justice communities and your work within them influenced Growstuff?

Growstuff open data campaign

Skud: When I started Growstuff, I’d been running Geek Feminism for about 3–4 years, and involved in a few other “women in open source” groups before that. This had led me to watch really closely as different open source communities worked on how to be welcoming and supportive, and to attract participants from different backgrounds and demographics. One thing I saw was that projects founded by women attracted women — no big surprise there I suppose! And, unsurprisingly, Growstuff has attracted a lot of women as developers: roughly half of the 40ish people who’ve made code contributions have been women, and we have lots who’ve volunteered for things like testing and data wrangling as well.

Initially we modeled Growstuff quite heavily on Dreamwidth, which has a majority of women. (Dreamwidth was one of the projects I focused on in my 2009 OSCON keynote, Standing Out in the Crowd.) I also took inspiration from the Agile software development movement.

Extreme Programming, which is the variant of Agile I grew up on, had a lot to say about having real conversations with people involved in the project, working at a sustainable pace, and using introspection to think about the process. I think some of the more recent versions of agile (like Scrum) have made it more business-friendly and, dare I say, macho. But to me, developing software the agile way is about working on the things that are most important, and about honouring each participant’s expertise and their time and energy they bring to the project. So Growstuff has a policy of working closely with our members, getting them involved in the project, and in some ways blurring the lines between tech/non-tech roles. Our choice not to use the term “users” is part of this; we use “members” instead because we feel like “users” distances the people who use Growstuff from the people building the code, and treats them more as consumers rather than collaborators.

Agile development methodologies are probably not what you were thinking about when you asked about social justice movements, but to me, my feminism and the way I work on projects are closely connected. I certainly find agile development (which I do with clients as well as on Growstuff) to be a more egalitarian way of working together than traditional/non-agile approaches.

Q. Your crowdfunding campaign will pay a developer, Frances Hocutt, to work on Growstuff’s API? Why is Growstuff moving towards a paid development model, at least in this case?

Growstuff's Lettuce crop page

Screenshot of Growstuff’s page for the Lettuce crop.

So far, Growstuff’s been built by volunteers. My work on other projects (mostly doing tech contracting for sustainability non-profits) has funded my work on Growstuff, and other volunteers have generally been funded by their own day jobs. Unfortunately, requiring people to volunteer their time not only means you’re relying on their rather variable availability, but those who are likely to have the most availability are generally relatively privileged. That means that the contributor pool will be demographically tilted towards those who happen to be the most affluent and time-rich. In the feminist tech community, we’ve been talking for a while now about labor issues in open source: Ashe Dryden’s The Ethics of Unpaid Labor and the OSS Community is important reading on the subject.

As a matter of principle, I want to be able to pay people to work on Growstuff. Maybe not all people all the time — it’s still an open source project, and our volunteer community is important to us — but I want our contributors to know that they’re not expected to go to extraordinary lengths without remuneration. That includes myself! I guess like many women I find it hard to ask for money for my own work, especially work for a “social good” that is so often undervalued and unpaid. It’s easier for me to ask for money on other people’s behalf.

Frances is exactly the sort of developer I want to work with on Growstuff. She’s come from a career in organic chemistry and switched to open tech. I got to know her through her co-founding Seattle Attic (a feminist hackerspace in Seattle, Washington), and through her Outreach Program for Women internship at the Wikimedia Foundation. By the time I met her I already knew she was a developer with a strong interest in community and collaborative projects, with the right combination of high level thinking, code, documentation and outreach. Her work developing “gold standards” for Wikimedia’s APIs (including the Wikidata API) seemed like a perfect lead-in to working on improving Growstuff’s APIs and helping people build things with them. When I heard she was looking for a short-term contract, I jumped at the chance to see if we could raise the money to pay her to work on Growstuff for a bit.

What principles and techniques could other software projects adopt from Growstuff? And how does Growstuff fit in — or rather, not fit in — to the current venture funded hypergrowth model of software companies?

We’re still trying to figure that out. Growstuff is structured as a sort of hybrid business/social enterprise: the website’s direct expenses are funded by memberships, while my work as Growstuff’s lead developer and organiser is funded indirectly by consulting on other projects. We don’t have any outside investment though we have received a couple of small grants and some support from a government startup program. We’re not seeking traditional VC investment, which makes us rather at odds with most of the “startup scene”, but I would much rather that Growstuff as a whole were funded by the community it serves, than by an external party or parties (investors, advertisers, etc) whose goals and values might be at odds with ours.

The bigger-picture answer, I guess, is that 21st century western-style capitalism increases inequality. The rich get phenomenally richer, and the rest of us get screwed over. If someone offered me the chance to get super rich off Growstuff at the expense of our members and community, I sincerely hope that I’d be able to resist that temptation. Though to be honest, I think Growstuff’s insistence on copyleft licensing and other choices we made early on (such as not to serve ads) mean that nobody’s likely to make that offer anyway. I’ve intentionally set Growstuff up to be more cooperative than capitalist. The trick is to figure out how to fairly support our workers under that model.

I think it depends a lot on our members: people are used to getting online services “for free” in return for their personal information and marketing data, which is used to make a handful of people very rich indeed. Are they going to be willing to resist that easy, attractive evil and become more equal partners in supporting and developing an online service for their/our mutual good? That’s what we still have to find out.

How is food gardening a part of your feminism? (Or feminism part of your food gardening?)

Photograph of Skud wearing a sunhat

Growstuff and Geek Feminism founder Alex Skud Bayley in her garden

I think the connection, for me, is through the idea of DIY — doing it yourself. My feminism is closely tied to my dubiousness about our current capitalist system. As I said, a system that concentrates wealth in a small segment of the population increases inequality. As businesses get bigger, our choices are fewer. I think growing your own food, even in a small way, is an important area of resistance: every pot of herbs on your windowsill means one less thing you buy from a giant supermarket chain. Incidentally, I feel the same way about building our own software and online communities! And I think that those who are least well served by the mainstream capitalist system — women, for instance, who are constantly bombarded by really screwed up messages about what we eat and how we feed our families, trying to sell us highly processed foods that ultimately benefit the companies that design and package them far more than they benefit us — have the most to gain from this.

How can Geek Feminism readers contribute to or support Growstuff?

Well, of course we have the crowdfunding campaign going on at present, to support Frances and myself as we work on Growstuff’s open API.

We’re always looking for people to join our community as contributors: testers, data mavens, coders, designers, writers, and more. Even just diving in to our discussions and weighing in on some of the ideas there helps us a lot — we’re always keen to hear from food-growers (including aspiring/potential ones) about what they’re looking for in Growstuff and how we can improve, or from people who’d like to use our data, to discuss what they have in mind and how we can support them.

Apart from that, just help us spread the word :)

More about Growstuff

You can learn more about Growstuff and its philosophy in the pitch video for the crowdfunding campaign (audio transcript follows):

Hi, I’m Alex Bayley. I write software and I grow vegetables in my backyard. I founded Growstuff in 2012.

More and more people are taking up veggie gardening all over the developed world, especially in cities. That means millions of new gardeners trying to eat and live more sustainably. People are growing food in their backyards, on balconies and in community gardens.

I started to grow my own food because I want to know where it comes from and that it hasn’t been grown with environmentally damaging fertilisers and pesticides. Like a lot of people these days, I worry about food that’s not local. The costs of transportation and the waste from overpackaged food are huge. I think it’s important that we have alternatives to the big supermarkets. And of course homegrown food just tastes so much better and it’s so much better for you.

Like most gardeners, I’m always searching online for information. Most of the growing advice I find isn’t suitable for my climate. I need local information, not something from halfway around the world.

Growstuff started when I met a guy called Federico from Mexico. He’s also a software developer and a permaculturist and he has trouble finding growing information for his local area. So he asked me if I knew of any open databases that had planting information about where to plant any kind of crop anywhere in the world.

We looked around and we couldn’t find anything. Some governments release open data, but it’s usually aimed at big farms. The stuff aimed at home gardeners was usually either just for one region or else the websites had really restrictive rules about what you could use the data for.

I’m a software developer so when I look at data I want to build things. If that data’s locked up where no one can use it that stifles innovation. Growstuff crowdsources information from veggie gardeners around the world. We gather data on what they plant, when and where they plant it, and how to grow it. We use this information to provide local planting advice back to our members and anyone who visits our site.

Growstuff is 100% open source and our data is also open. You can download it straight from our website and use it for any purpose, even commercially. But we want more people to use our data. We’re raising funds to improve our API which lets third party developers use Growstuff to build apps, mashups, tools, or to do research.

With your help, we’ll be creating a new version of our API with more features, building demos, and running workshops for developers. I’ve been working with open data since about 2007 and I think making food growing information freely available is one of the most important things we can do.

Whether you’re a gardener or a software developer or you just care about sustainable food please support Growstuff’s crowdfunding campaign.

Disclosures: in addition to working with Skud on the Geek Feminism project, I’ve worked with her when she was an advisor to the Ada Initiative, an AdaCamp staffer, and in several other capacities over many years.

I take it wearing cat ears wouldn’t help?


A Twitter friend of mine linked to a cute post that Asana — a startup that makes collaboration software — has on their web site. It’s a joke proposal for furnishing the office with kittens. This is a nice type of humor because it doesn’t rely on making fun of anyone. I would have appreciated it, if not for one thing.

Back in June 2013, I got a recruiter email from Asana. I was already considering leaving my job at the time, and it seemed like the company was doing something pretty cool. I asked whether they offered trans-inclusive benefits. The recruiter looked into it for me, and came back with the following answer:

“We researched this and went back and forth with the insurance company and our insurance broker. It appears we probably do not have the coverage you are looking for. Sorry about that. I would have liked to be able to talk.”

So that was it. I would have considered the job otherwise, but not if I was clearly going to be a second-class employee. There was nothing particularly unusual about this interaction. As trans people, we’re not a protected class under US law, so it’s okay for insurance companies to deny us medically necessary care as long as it’s care that only a trans person would need. This isn’t because insurance executives actively hate us or something like that — no, it’s because of something worse. They know that because the American public considers us subhuman, they can get away with cutting costs by denying us health care — just because we happen to be in a politically unpopular group. To me, that’s worse than being actively hated.

Is this the fault of a small tech startup? No, of course not. But at the same time, many companies — big and small — have found ways to be fair and just in how they provide benefits to employees. Generally, this just means negotiating a deal with an insurance broker to add a rider for trans-related care. It should be the default, but in the meantime, negotiating that deal is the right thing to do. Engineering is supposed to be about solving problems, not reassigning blame so as to accumulate more of them.

Negotiating a better insurance plan is also the smart thing to do, because at a time when it seems widely accepted that there’s a shortage of tech talent, turning somebody away because a doctor assigned them an incorrect sex category at birth makes no sense; being trans has no bearing on anybody’s ability to write software. And even when you are not actively discriminating against trans people, saying (explicitly or tacitly) “it’s not worth our time to treat trans employees the same way as everybody else” is effectively equivalent to active discrimination.

So when I saw that “kittens” link, this is what I thought about. Somebody at Asana had enough time to write a cute, silly blog post — that nevertheless must have taken some effort — on the clock. And there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. But at a company with more than 50 employees, nonetheless, nobody has time to spend a few hours executing a simple, well-documented procedure to make sure that they are treating all employees as equally welcome. So that says something about their priorities.

When I made this observation on Twitter a few hours ago, it didn’t take much time before Asana’s co-founder Dustin Moskowitz was in my Twitter mentions explaining to me that Asana doesn’t have any trans employees (how does he know that, exactly?) but if they ever did, they would be sure to make their health insurance coverage fair after that person got hired.

Even more mind-bogglingly, he defended this choice by saying that many HR processes work this way, using pregnancy leave as another example. This is like saying “we are only going to install men’s restrooms in our office, and wait until a woman gets hired before installing a women’s room. Too bad if she needs to take a bathroom break while we’re interviewing her.” Lazy evaluation can be a great feature in a programming language, but it’s a terrible way for a company to ensure it’s meeting minimal standards about equity and inclusion right from the beginning.

Right now, I’m thinking about the free labor that I’m expected to perform by virtue of my membership in a marginalized group. If I actually did apply to Asana and was hired, I’d be expected to out myself to, potentially, people outside HR, just so I could get something every other employee takes for granted: health benefits. As it is, Moskowitz attempted to deflect criticism by asking me if I knew which insurance brokers were willing to negotiate trans-inclusive riders. Is that my job? And anyway, I reported the problem directly to Asana over a year ago — if they had acted on my feedback (as a job candidate who would have considered working there if not for this), the whole conversation would never had had to happen! How much more work do I have to do for free? In the time Moskowitz spent writing defensive tweets, he could have instead called up Blue Shield and gotten a price quote for a trans-inclusive rider. It took me less than five minutes on Google to find that Blue Shield has been offering such riders since 2012. Moskowitz never claimed that cost was an issue in deciding not to provide equal care for trans employees, so what’s the problem, exactly? Is this a good way to do public relations?

I don’t mean to single out Asana here. There are many companies that fail to provide this basic health coverage to their employees. But today, there was only one whose co-founder chose to spend his time arguing with me instead of fixing the problem. Is that a good way to do business? While Moskowitz eventually replied to me saying that he recognized he’d been wrong and would look into it more, still, I’m tired. I’m tired of the knee-jerk reaction to constructive feedback about how to stop marginalizing people that amounts to, “when you do more work for us for free, we’ll stop marginalizing you.” Again, no startup founder made the decision that insurance companies shouldn’t treat trans people equally by default. But by expecting trans people to take the lead in working around that decision, they reveal their own complicity with it.

What it amounts to when a startup co-founder says, “fix the problem for me, being fair isn’t important enough to me for me to do it myself” is attempting to convince users that a problem those users are having isn’t really hindering them, in lieu of just solving the problem. I think engineers can do better than that. If you want to build reliable software, you do the research on tools for static analysis, debugging, and testing; you don’t ask your customers to tell you what the best test framework is. Likewise, if you want to show that you treat people equally — that you try to be like a meritocracy, even if that abstraction is unrealizable — then you take the lead. I think business people call this “being proactive”. And when proactiveness is selectively applied so that no work ever gets done to move a company closer towards fairness unless the people being treated unfairly do all the heavy lifting — well, we notice. There is nothing complicated about what trans people are asking for. We want to be treated like everybody else. Apology or not, Moskowitz’s reaction to criticism today confirmed what we already knew: for many of the companies that employ us, treating us fairly is just too hard and takes up too much time that could be spent writing proposals about kittens.

Edited to add, October 19, 2014: I wanted to note that Dustin Moskowitz actually took the time to email me on September 11 (I just didn’t read it until now) to say that he had researched the issue and found out that Asana already had a level of trans-inclusive coverage comparable to Yelp (see their entry on the MicroActivism wiki). I’m glad they do, and hope that the lesson to other startup folks who see this post is to know the level of benefits you offer up front, before a potential hire asks; as well as familiarizing yourself with your state or locality’s laws about what types of coverage must be provided.

It has been zero days since the last sexist incident in tech

[Content warning: sexual objectification.]

Obie Fernandez is the author of The Rails Way, the editor of Addison-Wesley’s Professional Ruby Series, and a co-founder and CTO of Javelin, a startup that builds “tools and services to help you change your world”.

Fernandez also, apparently, can’t talk about technology without reminding everybody that he has, on some occasion or another, had sex. Despite being a CTO, he also apparently doesn’t know that the Internet doesn’t have an erase button — which goes to show you that extremely poor judgment doesn’t stop you from getting copious VC funding for your company, if you’re male.

A screenshot of a tweet from Obie Fernandez, which he later deleted

Fernandez’s Twitter bio declares, “Author, Programmer, Dad”. Usually (certainly not always, I’m aware!) being a dad implies that you have had sex at least once. But it’s so important for Fernandez to remind us that he has had sex — with people of multiple ages — that he also has to inject tortured sexual analogies into what could have been a perfectly benign programming language flame war.

At 8:36 PM tonight (in my time zone, anyway, Fernandez tweeted, “still not sure exactly what I’m supposed to apologize for other than being a bit crass about 20-year old people.”

By 9:11 PM, Fernandez had evidently thought about it deeply and carefully enough to issue a retraction. I guess the “lean startup” approach is so powerful that its adherents can go from sneering at their critics (including a risible attempt to backjustify his sexism with an appeal to pansexuality — folks, we’ve been over that already) to heartfelt apology in less than 40 minutes. (I fear that his apology may not be entirely heartfelt, though, as he quickly moved on to declaring that he’s “not a sexist” and attempting to pay for his blunder by citing all the women he hires.)

Readers of this blog are aware that one asshat in tech would have little effect on his own, if he were indeed an isolated case. They are equally aware that Fernandez is no anomaly of asshaberdashery. I think the hapless Fernandez is providing us with a valuable lesson: the message to “not feed the trolls” is a dangerous one. While any given individual absolutely can and should disengage with trolls when necessary to protect their physical and mental health, engaging with them can have value. Judging from his Twitter avatar, Mr. Fernandez is at least 30 years old. That makes 30 years or more in which not a single person in his life has told him that the world generally does not need to know that he has done a sex. Perhaps his demeanor makes them afraid to challenge him. Perhaps they don’t think it’s worth the time. Who knows? But at one point in his life, one presumes that he was impressionable — one knows that he’s impressionable, since nobody acts like he does unless they get rewarded for it. Rewarded with laughs, with buddy-buddy slaps on the back from fellow bros, with congratulations on how delightfully politically incorrect he is, with 1.5 million dollars of venture capital money from the likes of Mark Suster, Eric Ries, and 500 Startups.

Back when I was first dabbling in Usenet in the mid-1990s, it was conventional wisdom that trolls were usually children sitting at a computer in their mothers’ basements. That, in other words, they had no real power other than the ability to rustle a few jimmies for a moment. It’s 2014 now, and some of those children have grown up and become technology executives — people with hiring and firing power, with a lot of control over a big part of the economy. If the adults in the room had spent a bit more time trying to socialize those children (because clearly, they weren’t getting it from their parents) and less time stating their troll-starving prowess, perhaps we would be able to attend a conference without hearing about some guy’s crotch.

Postscript: On Twitter, Matt Adereth pointed out this 2005 blog post from Fernandez:

I didn’t particularly like Ruby the first time I met her. I thought she was interesting, but a few months later (to my surprise) something changed. I started seeing her appealing qualities. My friends really spoke highly of Ruby, so we started spending time together. The love affair began in February 2005 and about a month later, things started getting pretty bad with my wife, Java. Even when I was doing Java, I couldn’t stop thinking of Ruby and how much better she is for me.

So it looks like Mr. Fernandez has been unnecessarily sexualizing technical discussions for fun and profit for quite some time. As Adereth observed, it also looks like Fernandez’s use of the “who said I was talking about women?” derailing tactic is entirely disingenuous.

Linkspam is the mind-killer (1 July 2014)

Facebook’s emotion study and research ethics:

  • Facebook Manipulated 689,003 Users’ Emotions For Science | Kashmir Hill at Forbes (June 28): “Facebook’s data scientists manipulated the News Feeds of 689,003 users, removing either all of the positive posts or all of the negative posts to see how it affected their moods. If there was a week in January 2012 where you were only seeing photos of dead dogs or incredibly cute babies, you may have been part of the study. Now that the experiment is public, people’s mood about the study itself would best be described as ‘disturbed.'”
  • Facebook unethical experiment : It made news feeds happier or sadder to manipulate people’s emotions. | Katy Waldman at Slate (June 28): “Facebook’s methodology raises serious ethical questions… ‘If you are exposing people to something that causes changes in psychological status, that’s experimentation,’ says James Grimmelmann, a professor of technology and the law at the University of Maryland. ‘This is the kind of thing that would require informed consent.'”
  • Facebook and Engineering the Public | Zeynep Tufecki at Medium (June 29): “I’m struck by how this kind of power can be seen as no big deal. Large corporations exist to sell us things, and to impose their interests, and I don’t understand why we as the research/academic community should just think that’s totally fine, or resign to it as ‘the world we live in’. That is the key strength of independent academia: we can speak up in spite of corporate or government interests.”
  • Did Facebook and PNAS violate human research protections in an unethical experiment? | David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine (June 30): “As tempting of a resource as Facebook’s huge amounts of data might be to social scientists interested in studying online social networks, social scientists need to remember that Facebook’s primary goal is to sell advertising, and therefore any collaboration they strike up with Facebook information scientists will be designed to help Facebook accomplish that goal. That might make it legal for Facebook to dodge human subjects protection guidelines, but it certainly doesn’t make it ethical.”

Spammy spam:

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

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

Some Questions For Brian Carderella and Wicked Good Ruby

This is an anonymous guest post.

Today, the organizers of Wicked Good Ruby decided to cancel the conference. One organizer, Brian Cardarella, posted to the BostonRB list to explain his reasoning.

I have some questions.

Why was there no code of conduct?

Increasing numbers of tech conferences, both within Ruby and otherwise, are adopting codes of conduct. Codes of conduct protect attendees, particularly attendees from marginalized groups, and are an important part of making conferences safer. Codes of conduct also protect conferences and their organizers; having defined policies in place for what to do when harassment happens make the on-the-ground decisions easier to make and more legally defensible after the fact.

Ashe Dryden and the Ada Initiative, among others, have written extensively on why codes of conduct are important and on how to effectively write and implement them. There’s no excuse any more for not having one. Because of this, increasing numbers of people have pledged to not attend events without a code of conduct. Some companies have even decided to not sponsor events without formal codes of conduct.

This may partly explain your speaker-recruitment and sponsorship woes.

Why wasn’t your outreach to female speakers sufficient?

I’m glad that you read the advice that direct outreach to female speakers is often necessary to establish gender balance. However, you make it clear in your posts explaining the cancellation that you were primarily seeking female speakers to avoid “drama,” to not “get destroyed publicly,” to avoid “how crazy everybody gets over the gender issue in Ruby.” Nowhere did you say anything about doing it because it’s the right thing.

I have to wonder: did you read the widely available advice for how to do outreach to female speakers properly? I’m wondering this for two reasons: first, the lack of a code of conduct makes it sound like you weren’t interested in meeting female speakers’ likely needs; this may have contributed to their lack of interest. Second, the way you characterize your outreach makes it sound like you emailed people saying “Hey, I need a woman so the internet doesn’t fall on my head, and you’ll do. Wanna speak at my conf?” That’s not nearly as appealing a prospect as, say, “I really admired your work on [gem]; do you want to talk about it at WGR?”

Maybe I’m being too harsh on you with that assumption. But, still, I wonder why you only asked twelve women, given that you were trying to fill 24-36 speaker slots. (Were you assuming they’d all say yes?) I wonder when you started your outreach process, given that popular speakers are often booked months and months in advance. I wonder why you didn’t even let your CFP hit its deadline before snappishly assuming no women would apply in the last week.

Why did you blame women for WGR’s cancellation?

By your own account, the biggest reason you cancelled WGR was a lack of sponsorships. Why did you throw that frankly bizarre paragraph about lacking talk proposals from women? It’s a nasty little pit of nastiness, and frankly seems pitched to incite the “drama” you claimed to want to avoid.

Why did you want to blame women, instead of the people with the money?

I leave the answer to that question as an exercise for the reader.

Everything that linkspams must converge (13 June 2014)

Warning for discussion of sexual assault. Predatory behaviour and sexual assault at International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and in ed-tech:

  • The original post at Medium, entitled “What is this, church camp?”, by Ariel Norling, is now deleted, Norling has since published Setting a Few Things Straight | Medium (June 5): “Both men’s actions were aggressive and symptomatic of larger systemic issues of sexism and rape culture. This topic has been too often avoided (because it is simply too intimidating for women to confess), ignored, and silenced. My sole objective was to bring attention to the fact that educational technology is a sector that still suffers from these issues, despite being comprised primarily of women.”
  • #YesAllWomen and Ed-Tech Conferences, or Why ISTE is Unsafe | Audrey Watters at Hack Education (June 4): “As I’ve explained on this blog before — or actually, in retrospect, maybe I’ve just hinted — I have received an incredible amount of misogynistic and violent feedback to my work in education technology.”

New movies! Reviews of Maleficent and X-Men: Days of Future Past abound! But it seems our spam submissions have a preference…


  • Kim Moir of Releng of the Nerds recommends (June 9) Brianna Wu’s talk Nine ways to stop hurting and start helping women in tech (video, June 4) [no known transcript or subtitles, you can start subtitling at Amara to help make it accessible]
  • Online Harassment, Defamation, and Hateful Speech: A Primer of the Legal Landscape | Alice E. Marwick and Ross W. Miller at Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy: “This interdisciplinary project focused on online speech directed at women and seeks to provide a primer on (i) what legal remedies, if any, are available for victims of sexist, misogynist, or harassing online speech, and (ii) if such legal remedies and procedures exist, whether practical hurdles stand in the way of victims’ abilities to stop harassing or defamatory behavior… The study concluded that… there are few legal remedies for victims.”
  • How Perks Can Divide Us | Melissa Santos and Rafe Colburn at Model View Culture (June 9): “As managers, our goal should be to build the strongest and most effective teams possible. That starts with being able to draw from the broadest pool of candidates possible. When we exclude people because they don’t drink beer, can’t hang out after work, are remote employees or don’t like video games, we’re driving away people who could make our teams great for irrelevant reasons.”
  • Bigotry, Cognitive Dissonance, and Submission Guidelines | Charles Tan at Bibliophile Stalker (May 28): “On the very same day [N. K.] Jemisin made her [WisCon Guest of Honor] speech, a call for submissions for an anthology titled World Encounters went up… from the same editor who called Jemisin a [racial and gendered insult] and [gendered insult].”
  • Hospitality, Jerks, and What I Learned | Sumana Harihareswara at WikiConference USA (May 30) [transcript, video and audio are also available]: “When someone is criticized for doing something inhospitable, the first response needs to not be ‘Oh, but remember their edit count. Remember he’s done X or she’s done Y for this community.’ We need to start treating hospitality as a first class virtue, and see that it is the seed of everything else. Alberto Brandolini said ‘The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.’ It has a big cost when someone treats others badly.”
  • Black girls take on tech’s diversity woes | Contessa Gayles at CNN (June 10): “This past weekend, Black Girls CODE, a nonprofit that teaches coding to girls from underserved communities, hosted its first ever hackathon. “
  • The Newest Frontier | Lesli-Ann Lewis at Model View Culture (June 9): “There’s a persistent lie that there is a new industry of equality in the West. There’s a belief that in this industry, there are new playing fields, even ones, where ingenuity, inventiveness and good ole gumption result in success for anyone worthy. That industry is tech.”
  • Some thoughts on handling harassment and toxic behavior privately | Selena Deckelmann (June 9): “I believe in proportionate response. However, when the interactions are online and there is no physical public space, just ‘public media’, there’s a serious problem with the idea that a private response, particularly from the harassed, works at all.”
  • Lean Out: The Dangers for Women Who Negotiate | Maria Konnikova at The New Yorker (June 11): “Hannah Riley Bowles… has been studying gender effects on negotiation through laboratory studies, case studies, and extensive interviews with executives and employees in diverse fields. She’s repeatedly found evidence that our implicit gender perceptions mean that the advice that women stand up for themselves and assert their position strongly in negotiations may not have the intended effect. It may even backfire. “
  • How Not To Review Women’s Writing | Mallory Ortberg at The Toast (June 2): “I have gone back and forth several times over the last few days on whether or not it would be worth addressing Adam Plunkett’s New Yorker.com review of poet Patricia Lockwood’s latest book here… Also, if I am being perfectly honest, I didn’t want to seem mean by criticizing a man twice in public. I have since overcome this reluctance… It is such a perfect illustration of Joanna Russ’ How To Suppress Women’s Writing that I think it merits mentioning, if only as a cautionary example for all you future New Yorker (dot com) reviewers out there.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

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

Cold the Wind doth Blow (or The Unquiet Linkspam) (6 June 2014)

Announcements etc:

  • Peep Game Comix: “Attention All African American comic book creators and publishers, we are looking for original titles to add to Peep Game Comix. We are looking for current projects and even back catalogs of books.”

Several submissions on the “hurricanes with female names” thing:

  • The study is Jung, Shavitt, Viswanathana & Hilbed. 2014. Female hurricanes are deadlier than male hurricanes. PNAS http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1402786111.
  • Hurricanes with women’s names more deadly: study | Joan Cary at Chicago Tribune (June 2): “According to a recent study by University of Illinois researchers, hurricanes with women’s names are likely to cause significantly more deaths than those with masculine names — not because the feminine-named storms are stronger, but because they are perceived as less threatening and so people are less prepared.”
  • Why Have Female Hurricanes Killed More People Than Male Ones? | Ed Yong at National Geographic (June 2): “Jung team thinks that the effect he found is due to unfortunate stereotypes that link men with strength and aggression, and women with warmth and passivity… But Jeff Lazo from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research disagrees. He’s a social scientist and economist who has looked into the public communication of hurricane risk, and he thinks the pattern is most likely a statistical fluke, which arose because of the ways in which the team analysed their data.” (Study authors respond at comment #7.)
  • Do Female-Named Hurricanes Need To Lean In? | Beth Novey at NPR (June 3): “We’re also worried about what this trend means for the career advancement of female storms. We’ve seen this before. We know where this is going. So to get ahead of the curve, we’d like to offer some advice to all the girls out there hoping to become fearsome natural disasters when they grow up.”

Everything else!

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; 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 considered harmful (7 May 2014)

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

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

GitHub alternatives and replacements?

Promoted from comments to a “Ask a Geek Feminist” post for commenters because we suspect many people have this question:

rmd1023 asks:

So, is there a github replacement out there that hasn’t pissed off a whole lot of women in tech (at least not yet)?
Might be a good market niche, among other things. I’ve dabbled in github but only have a couple of small repositories that are basically personal-only. I’d love to move it over to someplace better.

See the background and also the Culture Offset pledge, to donate the equal of any money paid to GitHub to “culture offset” organisations. Wikipedia has a big list of code hosting sites.

Where are you hosting your code and why?

Note: if you are affiliated with any code hosting site, please disclose it in your comment.