On March 24, a post appeared on the Code Anthem blog titled “Don’t Judge a Developer by Open Source“. Since it starts by saying that the authors are big fans of 37Signals, I skipped over it (I’m not), but when links to it started appearing elsewhere, I went back to have a read. The post’s thesis is that judging developers by looking at their open source contributions is a bad idea. I’ve been doing that for several years (and telling my students that they should contribute to open projects in order to get noticed), so I expected to disagree with the post, but that’s proving hard. In order, the author’s points are:
- It’s an arbitrary distinction.
- There are smarter ways to spend your time.
- Requiring open source contributions is sexist.
The first is moot, and the second is arguable, but the third hits home. Open source is overwhelmingly male: depending on how you count, only 1-2% of OS developers are women, compared to 12-15% in the industry as a whole . That means that if OS is your selection pool, in the long run you’re going to drive the proportion of women in programming down.
My “solution” is to address the underlying imbalance by evening up gender ratios in open source, but (a) that’s going to take a long time (particularly because so many men in open source still refuse to acknowledge that there’s even a problem to address) and (b) even the way I’ve phrased it is a sign that I’m reluctant to admit the problem too. As another poster says elsewhere:
If you insist on a lot of experience in a particular male-dominated sub-culture as a prerequisite for a job, that reads as “we prefer [a subset of] men, basically, or at least people willing to work hard to minimise all the ways in which they aren’t [part of the subset of] men” even if you didn’t intend it to and even if you didn’t want it to.
I hope that course projects like those in UCOSP will prove to be a workable middle ground, i.e., a place where young programmers can build their portfolios and reputations without having to worry that some crank is going to be allowed to sneer, bully, or troll without being held accountable. We hope to know soon whether we’ll be able to run the program again this fall…
 The article’s 28% is much higher than any number I’ve ever seen quoted elsewhere, and the source the article cites doesn’t cite an original source itself.
A talk I’d really like to see:
Moving the Needle: How the San Francisco Ruby Community got to 18%
In January 2009, the monthly San Francisco Ruby meetings averaged 2% women. In January 2010, they averaged 18%. What happened in a year to make such a big difference?
Over the last year, Sarah Allen and I have been spending all our nights and weekends working on a series of workshops for women who want to learn Ruby. When we got started, to be honest, I wasn’t very optimistic. I’ve lived through quite a few gender diversity efforts in quite a few technical communities, and most of them failed to make any noticeable dent.
But to my amazement, we were incredibly successful. In this talk, I’ll take you through the factors that were critical to our success, and I’ll explore the great things our community has gotten from the effort – some expected, some wonderfully unexpected. I believe that any local OSS community can adapt these techniques and end up with an outreach effort that makes an immediate, visible, and lasting difference.
Speaker: Sarah Mei
The only downside of last week’s DevDays in Toronto was the more-abysmal-than-usual gender ratio: it was at least 100:1, and may well have been worse. So, if you’re organizing a tech event of any kind, check out geekspeakr.com — it’s a new directory of women in tech who can speak on topics ranging from Android programming to… um… something techy that starts with ‘Z’. (Forgive me, I have a cold…)
I accumulated a few links this summer about gender equity in computing, particularly in open source. The two that bear re-reading are:
- Robert Kaye reports on Kirrily Robert’s OSCON keynote “Standing Out in the Crowd“. Five years after Michelle Levesque and I looked at gender ratios in open source, the average is still only 1.5% female (though some projects, like Drupal, have reached the same 15-20% as the industry as a whole). Most of the talk was upbeat, though, as some people are working hard to address the problem.
- Maggie Fox’s “Oi! Are we invisible or something?” makes some of the same points, and offers a checklist of things conference organizers can do to help.
Thought-provoking post from Dru Lavigne about the scarcity of women in open source:
To me, equating “code” with “open source” is so early 90s. The closest analogy I can think of is equating “doctors” with “health care”. While doctors tend to get the glory, there is a whole ecosystem of paramedics, RNs, candy stripers and volunteers, technicians, midwives, administrative staff, etc. and etc. that keep the health care system up and running. As open source projects mature, they go light years beyond a developer scratching an itch into ecosystems containing foundations with administrative staff, advocates, lawyers, conference organizers, trainers, support contracters, technical writers, and so on.
So, at the risk of raising the ire of women programmers everywhere, I propose that the problem to be solved isn’t “how do we get women to program in open source?” but rather “what are the roles in open source and who can we get to fill them?”. I think that projects who can define and enable their roles will be both richer for the experience and pleasantly surprised to see how many women pop out of the woodwork.
I’m not sure I agree, but I’m not sure I don’t…