Sowing the Seeds of Diversity


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Building and maintaining a healthy, successful open source community.

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  • I’m going to start with a problem statement...
  • This is my belief. Much of this is subjective.
  • Race, ethnicity, size, nationality, sexual orientation, neurotype, religion, age, culture, family status, ... Many of the things that I will talk about will help improve all diversity, but this won’t be the silver bullet.
  • What does this LOOK like?
  • This is just a sample of people who were willing to opt-in. This was assembled by Skud for her OSCON keynote in 2009, “Standing Out in the Crowd”. OK THE SECRET?
  • Okay, uhm...
  • Not all of these are 100% true for every project, but these are patterns I’ve seen. “ Rockstars can get away with murder.” After all, without so-and-so, you don’t have a project! (We’ll come back to that.)
  • Short term cost, long term gain. So, if our current setup has gotten us 10% of the contributor market...
  • Beer was a revelation for me. Ask: “Okay, now, why are those 90% not here today?”
  • I don’t have all of the answers, and this is a hotly contested topic. I have my beliefs and will keep updating them.
  • Code is important, but you need people to write code. You can always fix code, you can’t always fix people. You have to work with them.
  • Contributors are here and want to GIVE YOU FREE WORK. That is worth respecting! Them, their time, their contributions! Everything.
  • IMPOSTOR SYNDROME (cheering squad).
  • Don’t air someone’s dirty laundry, but don’t make them “disappear”.
  • People and projects are unique. Listen, learn, succeed.
  • Sowing the Seeds of Diversity

    1. 1. Sowing the Seeds of DiversityBuilding healthy, sustainable software communities.
    2. 2. Your Speaker•Mark Smith, co-founder of Dreamwidth Studios••By day, the Operations Lead for Bump Technologies••Technical jack of all trades with a focus on webtechnology stacks
    3. 3. Problem StatementHomogeneity holds us back: the sameinputs lead to the same outputs.Diversity increases creative innovation andcreates a healthier environment.
    4. 4. Caveat!•This talk focuses mainly on gender and skill diversity•There are many, many, many kinds of diversity•Feedback and help is very welcome!
    5. 5. Dreamwidth Studios•Forked from the LiveJournal codebase in 2008•130+ unique contributors (credited on patches)•70% of contributors identify as female•50% of contributors are new to Perl or programmingentirely
    6. 6. Dreamwidth Studios
    7. 7. Our “Secret”People are the priority.Code is just the product.
    8. 8. Typical Open Source Projects•Expects you to know what you’re doing when you arrive•Patches rejected if they’re not relatively perfect•Lack of supporting/educational infrastructure•No explicit cultural standards•Little willingness to deal with toxic contributors
    9. 9. The Call for Status Quo•This community has accomplished incredible things•The typical organization is clearly successful atproducing software•If all you care about is software, you might be temptedto say “good enough”•...but is it really?
    10. 10. The Other 90%•From the speaker’s point of view...•Realize: people are really, really different!•Don’t have the advantages of the majority (aren’t root)•Aren’t typically encouraged to explore, and oftenactively or passively discouraged•Also...not everybody drinks beer!
    11. 11. Cultural Baggage•Stereotypes are often harmful and work against ourpurposes•These ideas are also wrong: race, gender, etc. havevery little impact on what a person is capable of•Much of the “secret” is just to provide a framework tofight the baggage•This is a common theme among groups not wellrepresented here
    12. 12. People First Philosophy•Kudos, you are already a step ahead by being here!•Build up the people of your project•Pay the short-term costs for long-term gain•Make trade-offs that consider more than just codevelocity•Create a virtuous self-reinforcing circle
    13. 13. One Person’s Take“This is the kind of reason why DW has a huge crowd ofpeople working on it, [...] who dont at all come from thetraditional Open Source / hobby programmer roots.I dont think I could bring myself to [contribute] in anenvironment where the [...] atmosphere is friendly butcompetitive; obviously I cant compete with people whohave 25 years more experience than I do.”
    14. 14. Positive Culture•Respect, respect, respect•Build a culture of acceptance and encouragement•Everybody is allowed to make mistakes and be forgiven•Consider explicit: Diversity Statement, CommunityGuidelines, etc.•Culture has to be embodied from the top
    15. 15. Culture in Practice•Value all contributions, small to large•“Bugs” are just bugs•Cheering/encouragement squad (impostor syndrome!)•Patch review timeliness•Reject patches with helpful commentary•“No” should always be accompanied with “why”
    16. 16. Negative Culture•It is important to deal with problems•Toxic people who are strong contributors still have badEV!•Remember the earlier point about forgiveness•Be consistent and open in handling problems•Hot-button topics
    17. 17. Then What?•Change takes time, and nobody will be perfectovernight•Talk to groups like the Ada Initiative (,get help, respect the advice!•Start becoming known for your culture, write about it•Be ready to welcome and help newcomers•Take a look at OpenHatch (
    18. 18. Pitfalls•Thinking of this as being “politically correct”•“If I do what he says, I’ll have a dozen womenvolunteering next week!”•This is not “one size fits all”, every project is unique
    19. 19. Parting Thoughts•Do something, be involved, care•There is help available•Start with something small•Be patient: Rome, etc.
    20. 20. Sowing the Seeds of DiversityMark Smith // mark@dreamwidth.orgSlides will be linked from Twitter @xb95 and @dreamwidth.