My name is Camille Acey and my talk is called That's What She Said OR …. Just to give you a little bit more background on me. I'm a wife...
This is an obligatory selfie of my husband and I eating burgers. Of course.
I'm also a mother. My son is four months old
And I'm a woman, a black woman, in open source and free culture. This shows some projects I'm involved with or have been involved with
I am also available to be tweeted at, now or later at this twitter handle, kavbojka, which means cowboy girl in Slovenian.
So I'm here to talk about why open source? And when I say open source, I also mean OSS, FOSS, and FLOSS. I'm gonna use these all interchangeably here. So when Vanessa first told me that she wanted me to speak about Why Open Source? I thought great. This will be easy. I work at an open source company and this is what we do all day, but then I figured instead of taking the sales approach, I'd talk about why I choose open source. In thinking about it, I identified a few different reasons
The first reason was immediacy. Open source is immediate. When I got up one morning four or five years ago to find out my last Windows machine was really and truly dead, I said “Aha! This is finally the time to start running Linux” and I did it right then and there. In open source you can download now, engage the community now, share now, learn now, tinker and customize now
Open source also appeals to my nerdy/ problem solving side. Open source also appeals to my nerdy/ problem solving side. I like to tackle problems and fix things (or at least *try* to fix things), whether it's a book's binding, the kitchen plumbing, or a computer. The image you see here is a lengthy post on the Ubuntu forums about a problem I was having with an external hard drive.
You see I was fortunate enough to grow up during the ascent of Bill Gates (which represented a certain “rise of the nerd”) with a nerdy father who regularly told me “Don't be afraid to be a nerd” and who allowed me and in fact encouraged me to experiment with software and hardware. BTW, this is just a generic image (none of these lovely ladies is me).
The third aspect that open source appealed to was my political/ do gooder side. I believe in free and open access in and of itself and as a means to empower various communities. For me, running open source and contributing to open source is akin to flossing my teeth or giving to my local NPR affiliate. It is something I should do regularly, sometimes it is annoying or unpleasant, but I ultimately feel better when I do it
And the fourth thing that appealed to me about open source was that it allowed me to join in a collective effort. I working with other smart people to tackle and hopefully fix challenging things and open source is all about that!
So if.... Well, there again I've identified four key reasons why some women might be a little turned off by open source.
First are what we unfortunately have to call the “usual reasons”. On the external side this boils down to misogyny and sexism. While these problems are definitely very present in open source, they are not endemic to open source and we encounter them a lot in the STEM fields as well as any other area where women are completely or disproportionately underrepresented. These manifest themselve in things like women being discouraged from pursuing those fields, women being alienated by sexist rhetoric/behaviour or just plain unhospitable awkwardness and gendered language that makes women think they don't belong there.
In addition to the external usual reasons, we also talk about impostor syndrome. The nagging worry that despite all we know and we know and all we have accomplished that we are somehow illegitimate and will be found out any minute now. (external)
We should definitely be mindful and working to bring down barriers to entry in the tech field in general, but in addition to these challenges open source poses a few more specific ones.
First is hobbyism. Hobbyism is at the heart of open source software culture (in fact it used to be referred to as hobby computing”). This is the idea that you sit at home either alone or with peers and noodle with the computer. Not in a classroom or under formal instruction but on your own free time...for the pure pleasure of hacking. This is unfortunately something that a lot of girls and women have either been unable or discouraged to do so either because of one of those “usual reasons” we spoke about earlier or because doing so requires a young girl to perhaps hang out with one or more young boys, a behaviour which mom or dad might deem risky. For young women the issue may be more about time and lack of cognitive surplus due to conservative ideas about what women should be doing in terms of pursuing a career, tending to marital obligations, house work, or children. For a young girl this might manifest in comments like “Get off the computer so your brother can use it.” or “What are you doing and how will that get you a job? A husband? A family?”
The next challenge I note is what I'm calling the Freedom to Fail.
And here, I'll digress for a short educational interlude. Linus Torvalds is the original creator of the Linux kernel. In 1997, open source developer and advocate Eric Raymond wrote a long essay called The Cathedral and The Bazaar which was probably the first to give a good breakdown of open source development and in it he distilled what is known as Linus's law, which is “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” Meaning that given enough participants in an open source project, all problems rise to the service. While much of the value of open source undoubtedly comes from that collaboration
..getting involved means lots of those eyeballs can be on you and your contributions – your emails on the mailing list, your code submitted for review. What does it mean to be visible and vulnerable in this way in cultures where women have not been traditionally taught how to fail in public, the way boys do with competitive sports?
and of course coupled with lots of the “usual reasons” this can add up to many women being reluctant to put themselves out there
The third barrier to entry I've identified is the culture of irreverence. OS culture which id argue was an important influence on startup culture. We're not like them. We don't need corporate picnics and company baseball leagues and diversity policies. We are doing things our way, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but often leads to a sort of immature boys club environment. Further problems can arise however when this unstructured play makes it hard for a newcomer – especially a female newcomer -- to know how and where to join in, where the limits are and how to report when someone has crossed them. I'm sure many of us are familiar with this idea of “Spoiling the fun” or “not being a team player”. Who wants to be that person?
The fourth and last barrier I've identified is on the project-side. people within the projects often don't recognize the difference between an open door versus a welcome mat. The question is “We are free and open, why do we need to to cater to anyone?” As opposed to “We are free and open. How can we live that out through our words and practices?” Hand in hand with that is the idea that many open source contributors are doing it on a volunteer basis and organizers are loathe to set standards. When you are asking people to give of themselves freely, how can you say “We'd like to set a goal of proportionate female representation?”
So with all that discouraging news, why SHOULD women get involved in FLOSS? I mean who wants to be where they aren't wanted or where they'll feel like a second class citizen? Well, there are lots of reasons. Firstly,
Ok, well here's where I get a little sales-y. Reason #1 open source is on the rise. Companies like Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook use open source as the foundation of their product. According to the Linux Foundation, enterprise Linux adoption is on the rise and according to this beautiful infographic by Black Duck software, open source is actually EATING the world. Don't you want to take a bite?
Reason #2 is when women are part of the project, women (can) matter more. When more women are involved, more eyeballs are likely to be on issues that directly affect women, and organizations can develop in ways that not only tackle these issues but make the entire organization more open and accessible to all.
and in open source, a hospitable project is a more successful project. True hospitality means more people will want to and can come in and contribute code, write documentation, ask and answer questions on the forums, speak at and organize conferences, serve on project steering committees, and the list goes on.
The third reason is because although women represent only 3% of the open source community, many women have already made a huge impact. Just to go quickly over the women here. Valerie Aurora of Ada, Mary Gardner – advocate for women in open source and free culture, also help to create antiharassment policy that help to make communities and conferences more hospitable and safe fore all; Camille of Apache Zookeeper, Window Snyder formally CSO of Mozilla now at Apple, Karen formally of Software Freedom Legal Center and now director of GNOME Foundation, Sue Gardner, ED of Wikimedia Foundation, Stormy Peters formally of GNOME and now at Mozilla. And there are so many other great women.
Like this one. Jessamyn Smith is a Canadian developer working in a typically male dominated organization. One of the men in her organization decided to create an IRC bot which when triggered by certain keywords would reply with the lascivious comment “That's What She Said”. Jessamyn being an intrepid Python developer decided to use her chops to create the TalkBack Bot which in response to the Thats What She Said bot would reply with a quote from a famous woman in history. You can check out her code at Github and you can follow her on Twitter at Jessamynsmith.
The fourth and last reason I think women should be involved in open source is because we can do it now. I recently got an email from a mother on one of the parents' email lists I'm on. She basically said “I don't know much about tech but my daughter is studying video game design in school and apparently everyone in her class started programming a long time ago and there are all these things she doesn't know and now she is totally demoralized and help!” and my response was basically “Tell your daughter to get involved in open source. Tell her to join the GNOME Womens program, tell her to go to Ada Camp, tell her Wikipedia needs more women contributors, tell her to come to to Write Speak Code. She can do it and she can start now.” And I guess today some of you are going to start now too.
Thanks, tweet at me there. Links to some of what I talked about are on my blog there and I'll throw my slide deck up there soon.
That's What She Said: A Few Reasons Why Women Don't Contribute to Open Source and a Few Reasons Why They Should
Thats What She Said!ORA Few Reasons Why Many Women DontContribute to Open Source and A Few ReasonsWhy They Should Anyway