twittering on 2009-04-30

An opportunity for Postgres

I wrote up my thoughts on the opportunities for Postgres in light of the Oracle/Sun merger, and the response from our communities.

An excerpt:

As a developer and a sysadmin, my enthusiasm for Postgres comes directly from the people that work on the code. The love of their craft – developing beautiful, purpose-built code – is reflected in the product, the mailing lists and the individuals who make up our community.

When someone asks me why I choose Postgres, I have to first answer that it is because of the people I know who are involved in the project. I trust them, and believe that they make the best technology decisions when it comes to the core of the code.

I believe that there’s room for improvement in extending Postgres’ reach, and speaking to people who don’t already believe the same things that we believe: that conforming to the SQL standard is fundamentally a useful and important goal, that vertical scaling is an important design objective, and that consistency is just as important to excellent user experience as are verbose command names and syntactic sugar extensions.

Let me know what you think!

twittering on 2009-04-29

What’s changed? Portland as an example of increasing women’s participation.

Code from @christiekoehler's presentation. #cns

At Code-n-Splode last night, we first heard Christie Koehler give a great talk on CodeIgniter, the one PHP web framework endorsed by Rasmus Lerdorf, original author of PHP. She went over the pros/cons, details of how you go about installing and then using CodeIgniter, and then showed a very detailed example from her recent work. I hope she posts the slides soon – they were great. (If you want to see our tweets – per Gabrielle’s suggestion, we’re tagging with #cns now.)

After the talk (nearly 9pm!) we all went over to the Green Dragon for our #afterhours chat. Audrey led off by explaining the recent controversy she’d written about, and the Ruby/Rails community response to her posts.

Some of the things she shared I was shocked by – specifically some very personal attacks in comments that she’d decided to save (in Skitch), but remove from her posts. Her standard was: “is this something that would cause my mom to stop reading.” And, if the comment met that standard, she archived and removed it.

I learned about threads in the local ruby community about the topic of women’s participation, and some very positive comments on Hacker News and Digg, and _why’s posts that seem to be expanding perceptions and opening people’s minds to ways that may ultimately be more inclusive of women and minorities.

All told, we had 15 people at the meeting, 13 of which were women. Our first Code-n-Splode meetings started with about five people. Our largest meeting (thanks to the clever, rocket-building Sarah Sharp) had somewhere around 30 people.

Among the many things that the Code-n-Splode crew discussed last night was “what made portland different”. And I thought I’d let you in on our secret.

We ask women to participate.

When we have code sprints for Calagator, Open Source Bridge or we have the Agile development meetups dedicated to coding – there are always women there. From what I understand, having women show up regularly to code sprints is unusual in other cities.

When I am responsible for these meetups, I contact the people that I want to attend directly – and I ask them to come. This is a mix of women and men (I no longer have to explicitly think about inviting women, because so many are already in the community). But when I was first asking people, I *did* have to contact women who were just dipping a toe into the community — to convince them that yes, joining us would be fun, educational and sometimes good for their careers.

When I first started attending user groups regularly about nine years ago, I often was the only woman. Now, it is extremely rare for me to be the only one. Particularly in groups that span multiple technologies (Web Innovators, Open Source Bridge, Extreme/Agile developers, Functional programming, and BarCampPortland come to mind) or are largely social opportunities for geeks to mix (Lunch 2.0, Beer and Blog). More geeky women (and women that I don’t already know) seem to attend these types of events.

I don’t think there is a single magic formula for transforming your city’s geek scene. But I think it is worth asking questions of the Portland tech community leaders, finding out how our groups work and trying out our techniques in your home town.

twittering on 2009-04-28

  • @StevenWalling any particular suggestions? some restrictions enable freer/more creative thought,. interested in what you’re going after. #
  • What works? Getting more women involved in open source: http://tr.im/jS3V #
  • RT @sarahsharp: The USB 3.0 and xHCI host controller code is now public on kernel.org! http://tinyurl.com/d9qj5j #
  • @stewart glad you made it home safe and i hope that the genetic opera helped pass the time. #
  • RT @perbu: Slashdot is running Varnish. Yeah. #
  • @elein totally agree :) #
  • @br3nda who doesn’t love fast, scalable and Scandinavian? ;) #
  • @StevenWalling i think that you meant “Internet Celebrity” ;) #

twittering on 2009-04-27

  • @stacybird yes you may! it is apparently hardy since it survived my garden :) #
  • @kindrawoo adorable! :) #
  • @brampitoyo i think its a little too late today.. have some work to do. will sync up tomorrow! #
  • ok, starting to feel pretty tired. #
  • RT @paulvallee: @selenamarie blogs about a conversation we had re assurance challenges facing Postgres adoption: http://tinyurl.com/dc27mj #
  • @paulvallee was a great conversation that got me thinking. will be contacting @bkuhn today #
  • looking forward to code-n-splode this evening. codeigniter with @christiekoehler, 7pm @cubespacepdx #
  • @rabbidavid i am confused! retweeting :D #
  • looking forward to code-n-splode TOMORROW evening. codeigniter with @christiekoehler, 7pm @cubespacepdx #
  • @ubergeeke never fear! i was wrong :) #
  • @demew yes! tomorrow! today was the day i discovered people pay attention to my tweets :D #
  • @e_monty be sure to visit @lulasweet :) #
  • lol http://tweetingtoohard.com/ (via @ljbanks) #
  • @manimal code-n-splode is a portland software engineering group dedicated to getting women together to talk about code. [1 of 2] #
  • @manimal men are welcome to attend code-n-splodes. these meetings are just not about them :) [2 of 2] #
  • also, @gorthx is giving a talk about creating, running and maintaining Code-N-Splode: http://tr.im/jQWG #
  • @manimal yeah, i think it will be a good talk! you should attend. :) #
  • @Theory i talk about you all the time anyway. i don’t need a code-n-splode ;) #
  • RT @igalko: I, for one, welcome our new @osbridgebot overlord’s desktop wallpaper! http://tr.im/jRiJ @osbridge #
  • RT @postgres_totd: Postgres TOTD: Setting log_statement = ‘ddl’ may save your bacon someday. Better than the default! http://tr.im/jRJY #
  • RT @akfarrell: I <3 the Portland tech community. #

What works? Getting more women involved in open source.

Taking a break while digging a ditch

Taking a break while digging a ditch

When you have a community, and you notice that there’s an imperfect distribution in participation, what do you do?

How do you increase participation of a particular minority group? What should your goal be?

For example, if you have an open source project, and you need more programmers to contribute — what do you do? What I’ve observed is that the project advertises explicitly – they say, “Hey, we’d like more developers – interested?”

The leaders of the project call up their good friends, and ask those people to help out. Then they present at conferences, saying “Hey, look at our cool project. Want to join us?” They talk to individuals, they talk to groups. They say the same thing, “We’d really like you to join us. So, why don’t you download our code, ask me some questions, and contribute!”

Bottom line: they network, and they find the people that they are looking for.

So, I think this model works equally well for getting more women involved in open source projects. You say to your group of friends, “Hey, I’d like more women contributing to my open source project. Do you know any?” You go to conferences, and you say explicitly, “Hey you – would you like to participate in my project? What are you interested in? Can I help you find a project that is of interest to you?” You go to user groups, and you talk to the women who show up and find ways to keep them engaged in the group, and in the code.

All the hand-wringing over this problem that starts with “I don’t know what to do” can be solved by simply asking people to be involved. Politely, insistently and like you’re bringing them the best party you’ve thrown all year.

Invite them explicitly, rather than falling back on a “if we build it, they will come” mind-set. Sure, a laid-back approach works when you have a popular project, or the choice to contribute is easy. But otherwise, we need to ask for greater participation.

Take a moment, ask yourself — how many women do you know that write code? How many women do you know that contribute to open source in other ways? What can you do to expand your open source circle so that you invite at least one woman into our community? More than one? Maybe half a dozen?

Change yourself, and the whole community will change with you.

Fact is, open source software contribution is still kind of difficult. There are so many barriers to entry that community managers from huge corporations and extremely large open source projects are willing to meet with a group of five people at a 2000-person conference to explain the culture, the potential pitfalls, and the tremendous benefits of getting involved. And those same people are so convinced of the importance of this one-at-a-time contact, that they tell potential contributors, “If you have any questions, email me directly, and I will help you.”

We love our communities and the ideas that drive free and open source software so much that we want to talk to anyone who is interested. We think that it is worth it to convince people, one at a time, to contribute.

The same logic applies to getting women involved. The change won’t happen in a day. We convince people, one at a time, that what we work on – what we believe so much in – is worth contributing to.

And then, one person at a time, we will make it so that women are 50% of open source community.

(image courtesy of diamondmountain via Creative Commons license)

twittering on 2009-04-26

  • yay! the tarragon came back in my garden. #
  • just finished reading @spinnerin’s blog posts. funny, had similar conversations friday at #mysqlcon about women/tech. #
  • RT @sarahsharp: Portland State Aerospace Society now on Twitter!Follow @pdxaerospace to learn about #opensource amateur #rockets.#pdx #linux #
  • @gorthx it was actually troll-frree :) but i realized, most people still have no idea *how* to start making things different. #
  • @kindrawoo i think you’re doing the right thing. #

The future of free and open source support models

I attended the MySQL Conference all last week, and am feeling very excited about the future of open source databases. I had many interesting discussions and met a ton of Drizzle hackers I was lucky enough to spend Friday with, digging through code.

I was talking with Paul Vallée of the Pythian Group Thursday about Postgres and the future of enterprise support. And he showed me this great graph from indeed.com. It’s acceleration here, not the raw numbers – but still, a neat graph :)

We discussed the issues that enterprise customers with certain types of regulatory obligations encounter — such as contractual obligations for PCI-compliant credit card storage or outsourced management of sensitive data. The standard response developers might give for this is “read the spec, and make sure you implement it properly”. But the truth is, for larger companies, that may not be enough.

So, assuming for a moment that the Postgres community would even want to address this problem as a group — could it be possible for the Postgres community to provide the legal and financial assurances that an incredibly huge corporation (ahem – Sun/Oracle) can?

The short answer for Postgres right now is “no”.

Originally, I had thought just in term of liability, but Paul clarified:

The liability is just one component of what gives the guarantee meaning because there is a consequence to failed delivery. An SLA can also do this. As can a simple lucrative contract that can be lost, or canceled early if delivery does no take place. The key here is to ensure that the technology adopter can legitimately be confident that they are provably being responsible by adopting the platform. “I trusted” doesn’t cut it for many.

My view was that this type of agreement helps to determine who exactly is to blame (and who can be sued) in the event of a software failure. But, Paul said, “It’s more about assurance (with evidence) that obligations realistically will be met.”

I sometimes think that this system of liability and assurances is just ultimately broken. But it is a reality. So, would it be possible for us to come up with a new legal framework for community-driven software?

Paul brought up the idea of a cooperative, and that maybe such a legal entity could provide protection for individuals involved in supporting Postgres, and also shoulder some or all of the liability that a corporation using Postgres would want. I’m not sure that core developers of Postgres would join such a thing, or whether they would be allowed to given existing agreements they have with their own companies. But it is an interesting idea.

Creating a blueprint for this type of organization – hackers cooperatives – could be a way for truly community software to be developed across companies and among individuals in a sustainable, and “trustable” way. Maybe?

Continuing this train of thought – maybe these are non-governmental organizations, whose main purpose is to create and maintain infrastructure software for the good of the world.

Funding for mid-sized free and open source projects seems to be a consistent problem. Perhaps NGOs are a fair model for us.

I am curious about what effort may have already been made in this direction. My next step will be to contact Bradley Kuhn and see if there’s something out there that might address this.