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I meant to participate in Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate and acknowledge the accomplishments of women in science and technology, but I got distracted and then it was late and I fell asleep. Such is my life. Anyway, I'd like to acknowledge a woman who I've only recently met, mostly through the Free Software Foundation's women's outreach events.
Marina Zhurakhinskaya works for RedHat, and is a developer for GNOME Shell. She's always enthusiastic about sharing her work with other people in person and inviting others to get involved, and is one of those people who is in there every day getting stuff done. I wish I were as confident about the things that I work on.
Marina has also been working on the second incarnation of the GNOME Women's Summer Outreach Program, I believe. And she keeps giving talks all over the place, which is great! Go visibility. Now if only she would blog more.
I'd never met Marina before last September, despite living in the same metropolitan area! I'm glad women that I don't know about and who work on free software exist and that I get to meet them and find out that they live nearby.
If you are able and support this cause, consider donating to fund additional women's travel to this event. Being able to meet in person with other people like you is such an energizing opportunity. Give this gift to someone who wouldn't otherwise be able to make it!
I received a surprising 13 responses to my previous post, which was certainly more than I expected and is one reason it's taken me a few days to follow up on it. (How do you pick someone from a group of 13 people based on just a paragraph or two? Clearly I'd like for someone to help all of these people get involved in Debian, but to do so solely by myself would be making a commitment that I just don't have time to come through on. So, it ends up being quite arbitrary. I pick who I think I'd most like working with and could make the most out of the opportunity, and even that is an arbitrary judgement based on very little.)
One question asked by one of the people who emailed me was, "Why did you ask for someone who isn't involved in Debian already and who doesn't necessarily have the technical skills needed?"
The answer to this question has several facets.
For one, people already involved in a free software project tend to be busy people. The workload in projects tends to be concentrated in few hands, and many of those people who are already involved in a project don't need or want any more work. So, asking for someone not already involved in Debian increases the pool of people who might respond to such a request and actually be able to follow up on it.
While this a valid reason, it still doesn't explain why I didn't just say, "it's okay if you're not already involved in Debian or don't know python" and not state a preference as to the skill level of the person who would respond to such a request.
I did, however, have a specific reason for stating my preference. I asked specifically for someone who wasn't already involved in Debian and who didn't necessarily know python or consider themselves a competent programmer because I wanted to encourage people who don't consider themselves to already know enough to be a useful comaintainer to contact me. I've picked up a lot from following Geek Feminism on what sort of language turns minority groups like women away, and I wanted to ask in such a way that it didn't turn away people who aren't good at self-promotion or who are less sure of their skills, or who don't yet have the skills, men and women alike. Even I still sometimes internally question my own competence as a programmer, and my self-confidence has increased over the past few years.
(For the curious, the responses I received were, at my guess, 85% male, 15% female. Whether that's a success or not depends on the demographics of those who read the post, but it is better than the ~98% male involvement in the FLOSS world altogether.)
And I do think it's more of a contribution to the project to help someone new get involved than to try to convince someone who's already overcome the barrier to entry to take on some more work. We'll see how it turns out in the end. I have high hopes. (No pressure, soon-to-be-selected mentee.)
I was one of the participants invited to the FSF's Women in Free Software mini-summit which happened on the same day as Software Freedom Day this year. That was this past Saturday, September 19th.
I was feeling hesitant going in, given the controversy over "why would the FSF run a closed event about such an important topic" and just a general burnt out feeling about the subject on my part. Honestly, I've tended to avoid being much of a feminist in the past and simply hope that people will stop bickering and leave me to my code, especially in the aftermath following well-publicised incidents. This is despite the fact that the thing that got me involved with free software originally was Debian Women, back in late 2004/early 2005. I needed a hook, and yet I haven't felt confident enough to reach out to others now that I'm in.
I see now that there are valid reasons for having an event that is purposefully small. We all fit in a nice conference room at the FSF office, the atmosphere was very intimate, we got to learn everyone's names (and even remember them). I met some great local free software people who I hadn't met before. Food was take out from My Thai, an excellent vegan restaurant in Boston's Chinatown. While it sucks to be exclusive, in my opinion the small size really had an effect on what we got done and how we felt at the end.
The official minutes from the meeting are online here, and there's a picture and brief blog post from Deborah here. The picture was taken using Cheese! I'm in the middle wearing my ever-popular Best Practical "my free software runs your company" t-shirt.
There are only a few things I want to highlight myself.
It was a great idea to invite someone who is involved in freedom movements but is not necessarily heavily involved in free software in particular. Hillary brought fresh insights and helped us draw parallels and come up with ideas that I don't think we would have thought of otherwise. It's easy to get used to parts of a community as being "normal" and I am so happy that we have allies who can show us where we've internalised or just have learned to ignore sexist parts of the community. Women in free software are already in free software—and we need to learn to reach out to others who aren't in already.
Cooperative power. There are groups of people that just aren't attracted by FOSS marketing that challenges you to "prove yourself the best" or similar. Just because someone doesn't like coding at 3am doesn't mean he doesn't like coding. If we want to succeed at our mission, we need to stop thinking win-lose and start thinking win-win. This applies to being more inclusive in general, not just for women. It also applies to valuing contributions from those who don't code. We need them too.
There are times when I don't speak up and I should. There are times when I don't blog (or participate in discussions via other media) because I don't feel like dealing with potential community backlash. I am very careful about not stepping on peoples' toes, because I've seen other people get trampled on and am not particularly excited about experiencing that myself. While I'm trying to cultivate courage in myself, it was good to have a reminder that it's not just me.
The current plan is to hold a bigger event that is open to all in the spring. I am so excited about the momentum we are building! I think the biggest thing that I took out of this is that there are still things wrong with the community and that I shouldn't be afraid to speak up and be an activist. Watching people like Deborah and Hillary talk perfectly seriously about making very long-term plans and reaching parity was incredibly empowering.
We can do so much better. The time to do it is now.