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big dongles and forking repositories

2013-03-21 17:48:06.183175+00 by Dan Lyke 16 comments

I'm not sure whether I hit "Post Comment" and it got deleted, or whether I wavered back and forth for a while and never posted, but in either case I'm kinda glad that I didn't end up entombed for eternity in the shitstorm that is this MeFi thread on the recent PyCon incident.

"Technology Evangelist" Adria Richards (website currently responding slowly, presumably because it's being DDOSed) took offense at the conversation between two guys at PyCon who were sitting behind her, and snapped a photo, commenting:

Not cool. Jokes about forking repo's in a sexual way and "big" dongles. Right behind me #pycon http://pic.twitter.com/Hv1bkeOsYP

According to her blog entry about the incident, she then asked, on Twitter, "Can someone talk to these guys about their conduct?", and the PyCon organizers did.

A commenter on news.ycombinator.com claims to be one of the men in the photo, and claims that he got fired because of the resulting uproar (Edit: PlayHaven has confirmed that a developer was fired), and of course this has turned into a tremendous shitstorm on all the social medias.

There's disagreement over exactly what was said, the context in which it was said, and we only have Adria Richards' report to understand how it was heard. SendGrid has now publicly announced that they've fired Adria Richards.

So I'm trying to sort out my own feelings on this. On the one hand, I've been at tech conferences where I was deliberately avoiding approaching the one or two women at the mixer because I didn't want to be perceived as the creepy guy hitting on the coder chicks, but I also realize that that is not productive. Women are working on cool projects, there's room for synergy there, we can have technical discussions, and being stand-offish has as many negatives as being stalkerly (albeit in different ways).

I have also been in entirely male large groups of developers, in which the flamboyantly gay guys are saying "that's what she said" far too often, where there's been tremendous eye-rolling over the incredibly sexist behavior of members of the (mixed gender) sales team.

And, a little over-share and self-exposure here: my first reaction to The PyCon code of conduct is "that sounds like a lot of work, I'm gonna go hang with the neckbeards instead".

It should also be noted that Adria Richards had previously Tweeted a dick size joke from an account in which she named SendGrid as her employer.

So I don't know where to move forward from this. I want to create a welcoming environment for everyone who wants to contribute to a community. I want to participate in communities where everyone is welcome. I totally understand that in a room filled with guys with poor social skills that she felt like she had to ask the organizers to step in rather than taking solo action. I hate that we have DDOS attacks and rape and death threats and firings.

I don't understand how we can move forward if we have this tremendously polarized environment in which people seem to be deliberately talking past each other, and in which we seem to be elevating the right to be aggrieved over the pragmatic notion that dwelling in that doesn't move us.

Any help?

[ related topics: Embedded Devices Erotic Photography Interactive Drama Community Work, productivity and environment Law History Sexual Culture Robotics Conferences Weblogs Hardware Hackery Software Engineering Current Events Nature and environment ]

comments in descending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2013-05-16 23:35:38.474888+00 by: Dan Lyke

And thinking about Columbine's tweet about "...destroys any lingering impulses I have to participate in tech conferences." and my query last month (about the Wikipedia American novelists flap) about "How does a newcomer most effectively go into an entrenched community and create change?", my first reaction is that I have no incentive to try to participate in a community that's got that level of dysfunction.

I have been the asshole. And I'm a person to whom social intercourse doesn't come easily. I am not good at inserting mysef into a community. But, yeah, if I were going and saw that @apeiron continues to have ops privileges on the official organizing IRC channel, I'd withdraw too.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-05-16 23:22:50.55134+00 by: Dan Lyke

Interesting. I've been hearing about some of the YAPC::NA drama at finding a food vendor that isn't part of the Bikini's Sports Bar & Grill empire (which recently trademarked the term "Breastaurant").

And I just found a log of the chat (without channel ops stuff, just the IRC text), and that's exactly what kicked this off: https://gist.github.com/wchristian/c2961fed4f8241329538

I am not the most sensitive person in the world, but I remember a discussion back at the 2000 O'Reilly Open Source conference in Monterey wherein ... well ... all the participants were male, but let's say that I'm not too shocked that there are elements of the Perl community that aren't dealing with this well...

#Comment Re: made: 2013-05-16 22:21:58.002371+00 by: John Anderson

Related: well-known Perl hacker boycotts YAPC::NA over perceived CoC issues - http://blog.schwern.net/2013/05/15/yapcna-2013-withdrawal/

#Comment Re: made: 2013-03-25 20:52:51.000263+00 by: Dan Lyke

After a few more discussions on this, I went back and re-read Adria Richards account more carefully, and this time through this jumped out:

The guy behind me to the far left was saying he didn’t find much value from the logging session that day. I agreed with him so I turned around and said so. He then went onto say that an earlier session he’d been to where the speaker was talking about images and visualization with Python was really good, even if it seemed to him the speaker wasn’t really an expert on images. He said he would be interested in forking the repo and continuing development.

That would have been fine until the guy next to him…

began making sexual forking jokes

I don't know why I was reading this in a completely different way, but now I get it. Ms. Richards was on conversation with guy on the left. Guy on the right was making asshole comments. And then it got worse.

SendGrid people "investigated", probably talked to all involved, and realized "oh, yeah, guy on the right: Totally out of line."

The problem was that I was putting too much weight into that tweet, not reading her blog entry carefully. There are still things that weird me out about the whole incident, other little details picked up from Ms. Richards' blog, but...

Yeah: I was wrong. She got it right.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-03-25 16:09:35.96774+00 by: Dan Lyke

I Have a Few Things To Say About Adria (Dogs and Shoes).

As Columbine tweets:

One side effect of this Adria Richards mess is that it destroys any lingering impulses I have to participate in tech conferences.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-03-23 21:08:10.627692+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yeah, back in the '90s someone gave me a book of post-modern feminism essays, and one of them discussed how Madonna was manipulated by her handlers into using sex on her audience, and I thought "that sounds condescending as hell".

I want to accept women into my field. The women I've worked with have been awesome. I'm concerned that we're heading back into "women are delicate flowers who need to be protected" territory, and I don't think that serves anyone.

(And I have a few other observations that I don't feel comfortable making in public... which I'm even more conflicted about, because one of 'em is kinda not speaking up...)

I think that had "mr hank" not been fired, this all would have been a learning experience, but the collateral damage without public due process on both sides feels really really wrong to me.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-03-23 12:56:09.424556+00 by: DaveP

I'll also add my prediction that in five years, the first (only?) thing people will accurately remember about the whole incident is that it happened at PyCon.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-03-23 11:26:35.35096+00 by: DaveP

I'm with your initial reaction of "that sounds like a lot of work," Dan. When I caught up with the news on this yesterday, the main thing I thought was that I was extremely lucky not to know anyone involved in this whole mess. About the only people who seem to have reacted reasonably were the PyCon organizers who went and talked to the guys and got an apology and left it at that.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-03-23 06:26:34.892087+00 by: ebradway

When I was helping organize FOSS4G 2011, the assault on Noirin Shirley at ApacheCon occurred. I brought up the idea of having a Code of Conduct in the program. The idea was quickly shot down by the organizing committee. And probably rightly so... I wonder if, instead of a "code of conduct", there should be a statement of "boys will be boys... and you are entering a hive of boys who may lack common social graces." If you are directly assaulted by someone, bring it to the conference organizers' attentions. But if you accidently overhear crude humor, move to another seat.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-03-22 20:43:42.452063+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yeah, it's become impossible to have a discussion about the initial incident because the response from the assholes has been so amazingly ugly and horrible. Whatever nuance we could have had about humor and sexual references got completely blown out by this tremendous escalation.

But that may be the point of the DDOSers and the threateners. When the response isn't disproportionate, we have situations like Violet Blue and the Security BSides situation, where she's seen as collateral damage in the war on hurt feelings.

Or they could just be adolescent jerks.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-03-22 18:36:31.004928+00 by: other_todd

Richards made a mistake in going straight to the escalation, and she apparently is no prize, but whatever mistake she made doesn't justify the brutality of what she's hearing from the trolls and mouthbreathers. Death threats? Rape threats? Really? What year is this again?

I like that Amanda Blum article a fair bit. Good to see someone trying to actually do some analysis in this shitstorm rather than scorch the earth further.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-03-22 14:54:41.116833+00 by: Dan Lyke

Amanda Blum - Adria Richards, PyCon, and How We All Lost.

According to Ms. Blum, this has been a pattern.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-03-22 14:13:47.192967+00 by: Nancy

I will agree that it wasn't handled correctly by Adria. I think, however, the first question is 'should the original comments have happened in the first place?' and how can we institute helpful culture change including a safe way to react.

With a daughter in the tech industry, I hear about this type of situation from her occasionally. She estimates she is one to about 25 males in her immediate work environment - a massive telecom company.

She is very smart about keeping her social media workplace-neutral; she is probably very much with the majority of women, especially women just a few years in the workforce, in perhaps being less sure of how to respond to these situations.

I think certainly everyone, man or woman, should behave in a way they would want others to behave toward them. That puts Adria's tasteless jokes in question, but at the same time doesn't condone the inappropriate comments.

Can't we all just get along!?!

#Comment Re: made: 2013-03-21 22:56:49.103913+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

SendGrid: A Difficult Situation.

What we do not support was how she reported the conduct. Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line. Publicly shaming the offenders – and bystanders – was not the appropriate way to handle the situation. ...

I'm not sure that they're right. Or, rather, I know they're caving to DDOS attacks from assholes on the net, and that's a business decision, and it sucks...

... but I also think that maybe part of what we're dealing with is that we as a culture are still feeling out how to create change at Internet scales. Having the conversation at the con with bystanders: okay, and I can understand how that's uncomfortable, so also asking the con organizers to come in and have the conversation, also totally okay.

And we should back that up.

Having the conversation by splattering it across a widely followed Twitter feed, when your job is PR: that spreads one side of the conversation to the world, and people who have only seen that side of things are suddenly rallying, and then because there's so little information and no opportunity to pursue more, people start speculating, and the other side starts rallying, and we have polarization.

So there's a matter of scale here.

[Edit: I was repeating myself. Elided]

I also have read notes for a book that, alas, will never be completed. It won't be completed because the author died a few years ago, but she was writing a book about her experiences working in the tech industry contrasted with her experiences working in a brothel. The tech industry does not come out well. But based on my reading of those notes, that we're having this conversation at all indicates that we're in a completely different world than two and a half decades ago.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-03-21 20:16:54.372372+00 by: Dan Lyke

In thinking about it, the reason to not deal with it personally is if you're afraid of the repercussions. If she was afraid of the repercussions, really felt threatened (and I'm not going to judge that feeling, I know social pressure can be pretty harsh), she could have actually made this a win for everyone involved by just asking a PyCon organizer to deal with it, and not making it a big public spectacle.

And clarification: There's now some question as to whether the SendGrid firing announcement is real or not.

I think I would, at this point, like to see a little more introspection from both "mr hank" and Ms. Richards, on how we can not do this like this next time. Because I think it's pretty plain that this mess isn't serving any of the parties involved, nor is it serving the larger purpose.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-03-21 19:51:23.828155+00 by: meuon

"Can someone talk to these guys about their conduct?" - She had first chance to nip it in the buttocks, but made it someone else's issue.