Articles tagged: linuxchix

LCA2011, day 1

3156 days ago


O HAI, LCA2011!

Monday. No less than 7 miniconfs: Open Programming (more programming/developer focused), Freedom in the cloud, Southern Plumbers (kernel/low-level), The Business of Open Source, Multimedia + Music, Haecksen (LinuxChix) and Arduino.

The weather is really lovely. The humidity is OK considering I spent the past five days in Emerald (acclimatising! just like a tennis player :)) and, uh, the fact that we spend nearly all day inside.

I missed the opening and the first sessions because I was stressing over the three talks I gave today. One of them was a lightning talk, sure, but it was a well-prepared one nonetheless! First was An approach to automatic text generation in the Open Programming Languages miniconf (my “work talk”), then Distributed wikis (slides) in Freedom in the Cloud, and finally a lightning talk called Neurosexism (a kind of book review of Delusions of Gender ; slides) in Haecksen. (I will publish links to video when it comes online, and slides for the work talk if I get permission. :)) I got positive feedback on all of them which was nice.

Whew! I was happy that by afternoon tea, they were all over and I could relax and enjoy the rest of the conference.

I had to brush off quite a few people today to say “I need to work on my next talk… catch up with me later, OK?” I hope they actually do. :) It’s great to catch up with people – this is my fourth LCA. There have also been some nice surprises seeing people I didn’t expect to attend.

Then it was off to Red Hat offices for a Girl Geek Dinner. Which was very nice but hunger and fatigue gave me trouble keeping up with socialising.

Finally some tidbits gleaned from the interwebs –

PS. There is a planet. Textpattern is deficient in providing tag-specific feeds, so if you happen to have a blog feeding into the planet, feel free to include a link to this post for me…!

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LCA recap - Code of our own

3526 days ago

(Techiturn is a tad neglected. I somehow managed to not blog once about attending OSDC. My bad. Anyway, let’s skip straight to LCA...)

Monday’s Haecksen and LinuxChix miniconf brought what was for me, the first great talk of LCA 2010: Liz Henry’s Code of our own. Because there were no abstracts, I guessed from the title she was going to talk about the Archive of our own (AOOO) project, but she was talking more generally about potential answers to questions like, what can we do to encourage more women in open source? How can we better support the ones that are here already?

The title (as well as that of AOOO) is a reference to Virginia Woolf’s A room of one’s own, directly referencing the feminist ideas about the value of spaces specifically for women. In terms of coding, I definitely see the value myself in spaces to talk to other women about programming: I can ask questions and share my experiences without having the pressure of representing All Women Programmers Of All Time. Not to mention, I can actually just have a tech conversation with another woman without a man butting in.

So, Liz opened by saying that she wanted to apply “advanced feminist solidarity theory” to FLOSS, and was going to skip over some assumptions, like diversity is good, and universal design is a goal of FLOSS. (I am paraphrasing from memory and brief notes, so if you can correct my paraphrase please let me know.) I hadn’t heard the term “universal design” before but I guess in software it mostly is referred to as usability and/or accessibility.

She pointed out the interestingly-covered book How to suppress women’s writing, which identifies rhetorical strategies used to trivialise women’s writings, such as

  • denial of agency — “someone else (a guy) must have written it”, but also, interestingly, seemingly complimentary statements like “women are just naturally good at design” (ie, she didn’t have to work so hard)
  • pollution of agency — “she only hacked with her boyfriend”
  • double standard of content — kernel hacking is important, blog software is not. Coding is important, documentation/design/support is not.
  • false categorising — women defined as a relative/partner of a male hacker rather than in their own right. Maybe also related to above, “what she did isn’t REALLY hacking”.

And there are others.

Liz talked about her experiences at the BlogHer conferences, with some 1800 attendees, mostly women, who all write their own blogs and in some cases earn a living from it. Many of them may be on the verge of being able to hack. How could they be “converted”? What kind of things can be done to encourage women to contribute to FLOSS projects?

One thing often suggested is a mentoring programme. She mentioned she is not a big fan of these, because they typically have a very strong teacher/learner dichotomy, which can put a lot of pressure on the self-appointed “expert” teacher. Rather than this, maybe it is better to have a situation where two people are just learning and figuring out stuff together, rather than one having the responsibility to always have the answers.

Another barrier is that new developers often don’t have “old school skills” — ie the command line. This is often required (or virtually required) for contributing to FLOSS projects. I definitely notice this myself, even though I am comfortable with the command line. For example, a page describing how to access/commit to the code base of a project will have sample command-line SVN commands to run, even though there are great SVN GUIs that don’t require any command-line fu at all. They could have screenshot-based walk-throughs but they don’t. I mean that is one side, the other side is making sure women have a chance to learn command-line stuff. Lots of demystification is needed. Plus even if you did complete a CS degree, there is always a ton of command-line tricks you don’t happen to know about yet!

Liz also made the great point that the reaction “We need more women in FLOSS – let’s teach programming to girls!” is not very rational. Of course, teaching programming to girls is great. But it’s not like all the existing grown women in the world who don’t currently program are write-offs. :) Teach programming to WOMEN, too!

So when it comes to actually holding women-friendly or women-specific hacking events, she had the following advice:

  • Treat tech support and debugging as feminist activism — demystify, reassure and empower
  • Create a culture of figuring things out together
  • Always do introductions! Do them faciliated – have people talk about their life briefly, or 5 keywords, or one thing they know about and one thing they want to learn, or have everyone put their picture on a sheet of butcher paper with a brief bio.
  • “Show and tell” – what tools does everyone use? How do they go about doing a particular task?
  • Have a “installathon” — install Wordpress on a webhost, just go through bits of code together. Admit that debugging (figuring out how code works) is hard!
  • Create guest accounts for everyone on a server if need be
  • Have a house party. It doesn’t have to be huge or super formal.
  • Do lots of paired/one-on-one activities
  • Borrow the practice from fanfic of having a beta reader – someone who looks over your work before you release it to the world. (AKA code review! I love this reframing)

Liz mentioned that she hates IRC and much prefers using instant messaging and Pastebin. Got to say I’m not much of a fan of IRC either — the attitude is just so often hostile or just apathetic, although it is a useful just to know how to use it because a lot of FLOSS projects don’t give you much other choice. Knowing how to connect to the LinuxChix server is a good skill to have too. :)

She also recommended to show the code! Blog about your code, even though it means exposing it along with all your potential mistakes. Although it is hard not to feel wary about this, after observing the reaction to Leah Culver doing a similar thing.

One of the audience questions was, “Where do I find these great geeky women?” One answer was Girl Geek Dinners (although I was discussing with another woman later, that the women I’ve met at these are often a distinctly different crowd to the women I know through FLOSS. But that’s no bad thing, we can recruit them :D). Liz also suggested running a class at a library on blogging.

Another audience comment was that this may not be a good approach for getting women into a particular project. This kind of approach, which is not integrated with the project’s community, may make it seem that when a woman does begin publicly contributing, she is “coming out of nowhere”. I have often observed that FLOSS projects don’t take too well to suggestions or criticisms that seemingly come from outsiders. (Of course, some don’t take to them too well from insiders, either. ;)) Making contributions inside a community is important for establishing reputation and trust. Personally I see the kind of approach Liz is suggesting as preceding any kind of project-specific recruitment, and just encouraging a “can-hack” attitude.

So that’s pretty much my take on the talk, but you should definitely get it straight from the horse’s mouth and watch the video. If this sounds interesting, you should probably also check out Build Your Own Contributors, One Part At A Time about the Dreamwidth fork of Livejournal blog software. Liz Henry is also talking in the main conf on Friday about Hack Ability: Open Source Assistive Tech.

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Ada Lovelace Day: Stormy Peters

3827 days ago

The inaugural Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology.

Stormy Peters (blog, Wikipedia bio) is the executive director of the GNOME Foundation and AFAIK most of her work has been in the intersections of open-source tech + business, and open source tech + community. She has worked for HP and OpenLogic, and talked at a number of big tech conferences. Her blog is easy-going in nature, wide-ranging in interests and thoughtful in its commentary, which is much like the brief impression of her I got from LCA 2008. Although she did a keynote there, I in fact remember her talk at the LinuxChix miniconfWhat does a community manager do?

It was a bit of a light-bulb talk for me. I realised, “I have been acting as a community manager!” But until right then no one had recognised it, including myself. Being an unappointed volunteer community manager is a tough gig, but maybe easier than being paid — you always have that volunteer luxury of walking away.

Anyway it was basically Stormy’s talk, and reading her blog subsequently, that sparked my interest in community management. Other blogs I can recommend on the topic are FeverBee and Fast Wonder by Dawn Foster.

I always think that ‘code’ and ‘people’ are the two sides of the tech coin, and great communicators are a precious asset for any community or group that wants to persuade others. In this way the open source community is indebted to Stormy for talking the talk in a way that outsiders can understand and appreciate.

PS. It’s still Tuesday in America, so it’s not too late to participate in Ada Lovelace Day! Just fire up your blog :)

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An unsurprising exchange

3849 days ago

I wish I could say it was unexpected, but not entirely. I decided to organise a little LinuxChix in Melbourne prior to a large Linux user groups’ meeting. This is what the folk in Sydney have done for a while and it seems like a good idea to me.

From: me
To: tech mailing list

We will have a LinuxChix meeting before the meeting tomorrow. We
will just meet at [venue], which is just a
minute’s walk from the main venue. So women who normally go to the meeting and
can come a bit earlier, or women who have occasionally or never
attended the meeting before and would like to know a few friendly faces before
they go to the meeting, are welcome to come along. Please also forward
this message to any women you know who might find it useful.

For more details see [link],
feel free to email me offlist for my mobile number in case you think
you might get lost or have trouble finding us.

From: [individual]
To: me

Are you implying that only women can attend? Because that sounds
suspiciously like affirmative action :-)

From: me
To: [individual]

As the link says, Men may come as the guest of a woman attendee.

If you are unfamiliar with the purpose of LinuxChix, I would recommend
reading and .


So, a few things…

  1. I’m not sure when simply linking to Criticism sections in Wikipedia articles became any kind of discussion or argument (I mean did you personally write the whole thing? or you just subscribe to that section wholly, but not the rest of the article?) — but the nice thing is it’s usually quick and easy to rebut. I mean I could really have just replied with and that might have been an unanswerably awesome reply.
  2. Affirmative action? What? Since anyone who wants can attend, and no one gets a medal at the end, what are we… what? Yeah.

I know that women will have experienced, as I have, the scenes of women at technical meetings shouting over one another and interrupting and correcting one another, while rare men sit amongst them silent and perhaps bored or nervous or uncomfortable. And at the breaks, the women, who have been going for years and years, instantly become engrossed in conversation with one another while the newcomer men sit wondering if they should butt in and introduce themselves. And sometimes you notice the men glancing around the room and counting on their hands to see how many of them there are. And they only need one hand.

And yet we have the chutzpah to try and increase our ranks further. The nerve of it!

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On being selfish

3883 days ago

So the very first talk I went to at LCA was Mary Gardiner’s Starting Your Free Software Adventure. It’s interesting that the first talk I attended is the one I am still thinking about the most come the end of the conference.

In her talk, she recapped some interviews she had done with women in the free software world. One of the interviewees apparently commented that she was amused she had ended up doing “girl stuff” (documentation and usability work) in her community, because when she started out she had tried to avoid it.

I guess my first reaction was surprise to hear non-coding activities so explicitly devalued to be labelled “girl stuff”. Gosh, I thought, here I was doing all this “girl stuff” and having no idea my presence was merely being tolerated as a non-harmful side activity.

Well — that’s not strictly true. I don’t think it’s possible to work in a software project without being aware that status is directly proportional to coding skills. I just thought most geeks would be enlightened enough by now to realise and acknowledge that non-coding activities are also essential to the success of any software, Free or otherwise.

So is there really a perception of “girl stuff” or is it perhaps women’s paranoia about pigeon-holed into lower status activities, and wanting to prove oneself on the same terms as men? I dunno the answer to that one.

Later I thought, if other project leaders and developers aren’t enlightened enough to realise the importance of documentation, usability, design, organisation, community management, whatever other non-code things you can think of, well, that’s their problem. Eventually they will realise their shortsightedness and fix their priorities. …Probably.
And if you are good at something, and you want to do it, you should do it. Duh. You shouldn’t feel obliged to play at the highest status role if it’s not one that particularly suits you. For any given project I could spend an hour trying to code a feature for it, or an hour fixing up its documentation, and I can tell you for sure which activity is going to have a better bang-for-buck.

But… later I talked about it a bit with Mary and some others, and she mentioned that you need to “be selfish” to deliberately choose to devote the time to something like mastering a software codebase in order to be able to contribute to it.

And that’s true too. Actually my favourite thing about writing software is building virtual shit. I understand why they call it software engineering. It is constructing. It is making something from nothing, or from an idea. It is powerful and empowering and gives you an awesome feeling of accomplishment. IMO this is where geek kin comes from, knowing we have both experienced this. It’s that obsessiveness geeks are renowned for.

And everyone who wants to, should be able to feel confident enough, to be selfish enough, to take however much time it takes and write however much really crappy code it takes, to be better at it, because that is the only way to get there. Yes. This is a time when women should be selfish. And gosh, that taught-instinct to be helpful, and consider others’ needs, is so insidious that I didn’t even notice it there until Mary said the magic word, “selfish”.

I’m still going to do all that non-code stuff, of course… but maybe I will carefully choose to be selfish a little more often this year.

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