Women In Open Source

and what we hate about them

Posted by Alexander Todorov on Mon 21 November 2016

OpenFest 2016

It's been 2 weeks after OpenFest 2016 and I've promised to blog about what happened during the Women in Open Source presentation, which is the only single talk I did attend.

The presenters were Jona Azizaj, whom I met at FOSDEM earlier this year, Suela Palushi and Kristi Progri, all 3 from Albania. I've went to OpenFest specifically to meet them and listen to their presentation.

They started by explaining their background and telling us more about their respective communities, Fedora Women, WoMoz, GNOME Outreach and the Open Labs hackerspace in Tirana. The girls gave some stats how many women there are in the larger FOSS community and what some newcomer's first impressions could be.

Did you know that in 2002 1.1% of all FOSS participants were female, while in 2013 that was 11% ? A 10x increase but of them only 1.5% are developers.

The presentation was a nice overview of different opportunities to get involved in open source geared towards women. I've specifically asked and the girls responded how they first came to join open source. In general they've had a good and welcoming community around them which made it natural to join and thrive.

Now comes the sad part. Instead of welcoming and supporting these girls that they've stood up to talk about their experiences the audience did the opposite. In particular Maya Milusheva from Plushie Games made a very passionate claim against the topic women in tech. It went like this:

  • I am a woman
  • I am a good developer
  • I am a mother
  • I am a CEO of a successful IT company
  • when I hire I want the best people for my company and they are men
  • women simply don't have the required tech skills/level of expertise
  • the whole talk about women in open source/diversity is bullshit
  • girls need to sit down on their asses and read more, code more, etc.

In terms of successfullness I think I can compare to Maya. I also have a small child, which I regularly take to conferences with me (the badges above). I also have an IT company which generates a comparable amount of income. I also want to hire the best employees for any given project I'm working on. Sometimes it's happened that to be a woman, sometimes not. The point here however was not about hiring more women per se. It was about giving opportunities in the communities and letting people grow for themselves.

Yes, she has a point but there's something WRONG in coming to listen to a presenter just to tell them they are full of shit! It's very arrogant shouting around and arguing a point about hiring when in fact the entire presentation was not about hiring! It is totally unacceptable, The NY Times writing about apps you develop and behaving like an asshole at public events at the same time!

I've been there, the crowd telling me I'm full of shit when I've been presenting about new technologies. I've been there being told that my ideas will not work in this or that way, while in fact the very idea of trying and considering a completely different technological approach was what counted. And finally I've been there years later when the same ideas and technologies have become mainstream and the same crowd was now talking about them!

After Maya there was another person who grabbed the microphone and continued to talk nonsense. Unfortunately he didn't state his name and I don't know the guy in person. What he said was along the lines of little boys play with robots, little girls play with dolls. They like it this way and that's why girls don't get involved in the technical field. Also if a girl played with robots she will be called a tomboy and generally have a negative attitude towards her.

It's absolutely clear this guy has no idea what he's talking about. Everyone who has small children around them will agree that they are born with equal mental capacity. It is up to the environment, parents, teachers, etc to shape this capacity in a positive way. I've seen children who taught themselves speaking English from YouTube and children the same age barely speaking Bulgarian. I've seen children who are curious about the world and how it works and children who can't wipe their own noses. It's not because they like it that way, it's because of their parents and the environment they live in.

Finally I'd like to respond to this guy (I was specifically motioned at the conference not to respond) with this

I have a 5 year old girl. She likes robots as much as she likes dolls. She works with Linux and is lucky enough to have one of the two OLPCs laptops in Bulgaria. She plays SuperTux and has already found a bug in it (I've reported it). She's been to several Linux and IT conferences as you can see from the picture above. She likes being taken to hackathons and learning about inspiring stuff that students are doing.

Are you telling me that because we have the wrong idea women can't be good at technology she can't become a successful engineer ? Are you telling me to basically scratch the next 10 years of her life and tell her she can't become what she wants ? Because if you do I say FUCK OFF!

Even I as a parent don't have the power to tell my child what they can do or not do, what they can accomplish or not. My job is to show them the various possibilities that exist and guide and support them along they way they want to go! This is what we as society also need to do for everyone else!

To wrap up I will tell you about a psychological experiment we devised with Jona and Suela. I've proposed to find a male and female student in Tirana and have them pose online as somebody from the opposite sex, fake accounts and all. They've proposed having the same person both act as male or female for the purposes of evening out the tech skills difference. The goal is to see how does the tech community react to their contributions and try to measure how much does their gender being known affect their performance! I hope the girls will find a way to perform this experiment together with the university Psychology department and share the results with us.

Btw I will be visiting OSCAL'17 to check up on that so see you in Albania!

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