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Sowing the Seeds of Diversity


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Building and maintaining a healthy, successful open source community.

Published in: Technology, Career
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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.