At AdaCamp this weekend – reception & plotting for the imposter syndrome workshop

I flew to San Francisco yesterday to join 200 women and allies at AdaCamp. This is the third Ada Camp I’ve been part of, and it’s been wonderful to see the event evolve, get quite a bit bigger and turn into a place where I meet coworkers and like-minded nerdy women in an unabashedly feminist space.

I stopped by Heroku before heading to the reception, to meet up with @cathynalee and see my buddies at Heroku Postgres. After a round of a hilarious card game where you fight rounds to the death (with dice of course) with strange heros (mine was a Barbarian) and acquire coins to win, I headed off to the Google SF offices for our reception.

I’d never been to the space before. The view was pretty great.


Many, many old friends were there. Having the opportunity to sit and mingle and be silly for a couple hours was great for calming me down, and wonderfully restorative to be able to just relax with friends I work on so many difficult problems with, week after week. I also saw several friends from Portland, who I don’t see often enough at home. I ran into Sarah Sharp, who gave me the stats on her work with the Gnome Outreach Program for Women and the Linux Kernel. In short: In 13 days, 374 patches were submitted, and 137 patches were accepted. Six women were accepted into this round of OPW. Fantastic work on the part of the Linux Kernel contributors and all the women who applied.

I also got to mingle with hackerspace founders from Seattle and San Francisco. I’m just a supporter of hackerspaces, rather than a founder, so I felt a little bit like a fangirl joining their conversations. I also met the creator of Hate Map, a sentiment analysis heat mapping tool.

And, I met a fellow coworker from Mozilla for the first time and we chatted about PyLadies, PyStar and grassroots education efforts for adult, beginner programmers. And then another woman joined us and we veered off and talked about Texas, how insane the advisory system is in high schools that steer women away from tech and science classes “to keep balance” in the girls lives (!!??!?!) and learning to drive as an adult.

As the party wound down, I met with some organizers of an imposter syndrome workshop. My advice to women who feel like they’re frauds: pick some badass skill to acquire and spend a couple days mastering the basics. For me, my eyes were opened to the power of badassness and the confidence that it inspires when we taught PyLadies how to use git. Several of the women who have taken these classes have come back to me with stories of impressing their coworkers, getting jobs and overall just feeling like they belonged in tech circles and discussions because they could confidently talk about git workflows.

Overall, great conversations and I’m looking forward to more amazing ones over the next two days.

Keynote at What Beginners Teach Us

I returned from Taiwan on Monday after a long weekend at

I gave a keynote called “What beginners teach us“. Audrey Tang graciously translated the slides for me.

The talk was a bit short – about 30 minutes, which left nearly 15 minutes for questions. So many people asked questions about resources for teaching their families and children Python. My first recommendation was Python Programming: An Introduction to Computer Science. The reason I suggested this was the clearly articulated learning objectives at the start of each chapter.

What we really need, though, is a short list of books oriented toward the different kinds of relationships programmers have (parents, grandparents, colleagues, lovers, children, etc.). Each relationship feels a bit different in terms of what will motivate the person, why the programmer is seeking to educate them and what ultimately will be useful about programming or computational thinking in their lives. I’d appreciate any books or resources you’ve used!

Anyway, the questions were wonderful, and I’m looking forward to the video being posted.

UPDATE: Video is now posted!


I met members of WoFOSS and chatted about starting a PyLadies Taiwan chapter! WoFOSS has been around at least since 2010, and they have monthly meetings in Taipei. About 70 Taiwanese women are involved, and they are hackers from all kinds of different FOSS communities.

Great hacker talks

I also saw some amazing talks, including one by first-time speaker Andrew Cole, who also publishes a zine in Seattle about pinball. His presentation was a tour of Rosetta Code, which translates bits of code between lots of different languages. He linked to the fabulous “chef” language (not the configuration management tool).

The conference was full of amazing hacks, like this Open Office piano-player (and many more audio/pictograph hacks) from imacat. This hack used OO Calc to create a playable piano, and another sheet plays a Christmas tune that reveals an image of Santa flying reindeer.

More fun hacks came from Yusuke Kawasaki. His talk was a very funny set of demos using iPhones and a very simple IR transmitter, made from extremely cheap parts and Sguru. He later demo’d a two-iPhone camera and remote control system for a remote control dump trunk at the hackathon.

On day two, Audrey Tang gave an amazing demo of making an open source dictionary using Postgres and Node out of documents available only in Excel from the government. I was inspired.

I highly recommend, which typically happens in April every year.

About high school computer science teachers

I’m giving a talk at PyCon next Saturday about teachers. The title is “What teachers really need from us“.

The first thing I should admit is that when I started thinking about this talk, I was sure that the list of what teachers needed from us was really long.

Then, I started actually talking with teachers.

So, here’s what some of them have said:

  • Reading comprehension is the biggest barrier to completion of AP Computer Science (Page 8 of this AP CS course description)
  • Fighting for continued existence is the biggest battle for a computer science teacher every year. “The number of secondary schools offering introductory computer science courses dropped 17 percent from 2005 to 2009 and the number offering Advanced Placement (AP) computer science courses dropped 35 percent in that time period.” December 2010 report
  • Writing personal letters from a teacher to students and parents increased the number of girls in one teacher’s class (in Virginia) from nearly zero to 50%. Research into increasing the number of women and minorities in CS classrooms is available in Stuck in the Shallow End.
  • Students at a high school learned three languages in three years. (C++, Java and Python) This busted so many notions I had about how long learning to program takes or what languages are most appropriate for beginners.
  • Kids don’t need algebra to learn to program. Algebra is a weeder course, often a prerequisite to CS and one that strongly indicates whether or not a student will graduate high school. What if kids could take an “algebra on computers” course instead of failing out of school? Please note, learning to program is not the same thing as being a professional programmer.
  • School counselors who help kids choose classes still send students to CS class believing that they’re going there to learn to type. Find out more about the wildly varying understanding state-by-state of what a computer science class really is in the Running on Empty report.
  • What teachers wanted from me was for me to come to their classes and give a short talk to their kids about myself and my work.
  • Teachers were super excited to hear about PyLadies. They struggle to get girls into their classes and are all looking for ways to increase the diversity of their classes.
  • The CS teachers I’ve met want to share their lessons – with me and with other teachers.
  • The CS teachers I’ve met don’t know other CS teachers.
  • Teachers were only mentioned once in the 84 initial statements of support for

I think we’re all really missing out when we don’t talk to teachers.

I’ve talked directly with nine computer science teachers. Most of them are in Oregon, but I also was introduced to a couple teachers who came to Python-related conferences, or were married to Python programmers. I’m hoping to meet more. If you know someone, please put them in touch with me. I’m happy to chat over the phone or email, and love to meet folks in person.

Why PyLadies?


Hey Hacker News! If you’re coming here for the first time, you may also be interested in What I mean when I say I would like more women in the software industry

PyLadies is a group of women working on welcoming, encouraging and directly inviting women to join the Python community and to learn from each other.

I started a PyLadies chapter in Portland, OR last September (2012). We started out with weekly meetings to do homework from a Coursera class to make games with Python. That turned into weekly meetings — plus homework meetups on Saturdays at a local coffee shop, and IRC hangout time to test homework. And that turned into me giving mini-lessons at each Coursera meetup about the material from the class.

People seemed really excited.

Stats - PyLadies PDX (Portland, OR) - Meetup

Before we knew it, it was December, we had over 60 women subscribed to the Meetup, 30 of which had attended a meeting. Today, we’ve got 96 subscribers, 50 people have attended a meeting, and more have signed up to attend events in the future than ever before. And, it’s done by women. Using open source. Teaching classes. Learning developer tools. And writing software.

Since September, I’ve met even more women involved in running PyLadies chapters across the country. Much like the way the PostgreSQL community is organized, we’ve got a loosely connected group of people working independently. We offer support to each other, but don’t have hard and fast rules about what each chapter does. We encourage teaching and workshops, but don’t require them. We share our resources and are quick to put git repos out there of our materials. We send lots of pull requests. And we’re constantly looking for ways for women to get more involved in open source and Python.

All Group Reviews - PyLadies PDX (Portland, OR) - Meetup

I’m completely energized by the positive feedback we’ve gotten for every meeting. More recently, I’ve heard from people that they feel confident and sure of their knowledge because they’ve spent time in our meetups talking and learning from other women.

My goal is to make every get together like that – by having great lessons, a shared understanding of coaching and peer-based education and presentations from our members. Building these groups takes time, and I’m impatient to get to the part where I feel like every interaction with the group is rewarding for every member.

And I can’t do it alone. We’ve got four meetup organizers (although one is about to relocate to the Bay Area!). I work closely with Flora Worley, a kickass developer who chose programming as a career path after working on a PhD, on topic details and planning for the meetings. I’m so looking forward to meeting in person with the many members of the PyLadies community at PyCon next month.

Recent talks: How to get a job like mine, Command-line essentials, Restore FTW

Here are a few of the talks I’ve given recently here in Portland. I’m trying to give more talks locally, and happy to speak at your Portland User Group. Just drop me an email.

  • How to get a job like mine. This talk was given to PSU students as an encouragement for them to get involved in free and open source software. Toward the end, we did a brainstorming session on the reasons why they didn’t contribute, and tried to come up with projects each person in the audience might be interested in learning more about
  • Command-line II. I’m writing up my notes from this talk, hopefully to turn it into a real tutorial that others could copy. My goal this year is to give a tutorial every other week, and I’m hoping to have at least 10 lessons come out of that work. It seems like I need to give each lesson twice to really get the hang of it. Which means I aught to get out of this experience with 26 lessons… but trying to stay realistic about my time.
  • Restores FTW at PDXPUG. This talk is about backups for PostgreSQL and how to get your teams to come up with restore plans that exercise databases as part of normal operations. I’m trying to switch talks about Backups to being talks about Restores. The next time I give this, I think I’ll change the order of the “restore patterns” to be at the start of the talk, and the discussion about planning for backups/restores to the end. I plan to do a Mozilla brownbag that covers these topics and also goes through a live demo of backing up, restoring and testing PostgreSQL with the new 9.2 tools.

Setting up HBase for Socorro

Setting up HBase for use with Socorro is a bit of a bear! The default Vagrant config sets up a VM with filesystem-only. For those that want to try out the HBase support, or are on a path toward setting up a production instance, these instructions might help you along the way.

You may also be interested in Lars’ recent blog posts about Socorro:

Here’s how I got it all working on an Ubuntu Precise (12.04) system, along with some scripts for launching important processes and putting test crashes into the system so you can tell that it is working. Ultimately, my goal is to incorporate all of this into some setup scripts to help new users out.

Set up HBase and Thrift

Socorro uses the Thrift API to insert new crashes and retrieve them through the middleware layer. These Quickstart instructions are pretty helpful for getting HBase installed.

Then, you need to edit


and remove the ‘’ entry, and add your hostname to the localhost ‘’ line. Also, it’s helpful for the defaults to add ‘crash-stats‘ and ‘crash-reports‘ as host aliases. Your final config line for localhost would look like:       localhost wuzetian crash-reports crash-stats

(where wuzetian is your hostname)

You also need to add configuration for HBase. Here’s an example:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<?xml-stylesheet type="text/xsl" href="configuration.xsl"?>

That sets the location for your HBase files for and zookeeper. This setup is for testing, so I put the directories in a location can easily clear out.

Then, to start HBase and Thrift up:

/etc/init.d/hadoop-hbase-master start
/etc/init.d/hadoop-hbase-thrift start

Setting up processor tools

The processor that looks at raw crashes runs two tools by default: minidump_stackwalk and exploitable.

You can build these from the socorro source tree with:

make minidump_stackwalk

Then make install should put these files into a useful location.

You can also just copy the binaries from the stackwalk/bin directory and the other is exploitable/exploitable.

The paths for these are configured in config/processor.ini: exploitability_tool_pathname and minidump_stackwalk_pathname

There’s also a symbols resolver configured, but I am not setting this up in my test.

Disable LZO compression for HBase (unless you have it configured

Our hbase schema is configured to use LZO compression by default. Change that to ‘NONE’ and load the schema into hbase:

/bin/cat /home/socorro/dev/socorro/analysis/hbase_schema | sed 's/LZO/NONE/g' | /usr/bin/hbase shell

Set up crashmover

Update two lines in scripts/config/

localFS.default = '/home/socorro/primaryCrashStore'
fallbackFS.default = '/home/socorro/fallback'

Set those to directories that you can store crash dumps.

Configure processor and monitor to use HBase

You need to set the processor up to use HBase instead of local crash storage.

The easiest way to do this is as follows:

PYTHONPATH=. python socorro/processor/ --admin.conf=./config/processor.ini --source.crashstorage_class=socorro.external.hbase.crashstorage.HBaseCrashStorage --admin.dump_conf=config/processor2.ini
PYTHONPATH=. python socorro/processor/ --admin.conf=./config/monitor.ini --source.crashstorage_class=socorro.external.hbase.crashstorage.HBaseCrashStorage --admin.dump_conf=config/monitor2.ini

Then edit both files to reflect your HBase configuration.

Starting up

The docs suggest starting up four daemons in screen sessions. I mocked up a shell script and a screenrc to get you started.

And that’s it! You should now have a working system, with crashes being submitted and stashed into HBase, and the monitor and processor picking up crashes as they arrive and running the stackwalk and exploitable tools against the crashes.

Please let me know if these instructions work, or don’t work, for you.

Updates on my Lenovo X230 situation: Skype, screencap work; Vidyo not so much

Here was my wish list from before:

  • Camera working: Done! The trick was ‘uvcvideo‘, which I eventually built as a kernel module.
  • A Skitch replacement: Mostly done. I was given Shutter Project as a recommendation. I haven’t had a look at it yet. PrtSc actually takes pics of my visible desktop and I added a Firefox Addon called “Awesome Screenshot”. That solves my problems for now.
  • Vidyo working: Not working. I can now get video, and audio OUT, but I can’t hear other people. I need to dig into and troubleshoot this more. Skype, however, does work well. It does tend to flake out (slow video, loss of audio) far more on the Lenovo than on the Mac.
  • A package for my .bash_profile, .ssh and .gpg directories that I can install in any new system: Not done.
  • A better driver for the touchpad that doesn’t let my mouse jump around while I’m typing: Not done.
  • Change configuration to have the mouse behave like the latest OS X (reverse scrolling): Not done.

Overall, I feel much more comfortable on my Linux laptop now than my Mac. The mousing in particular is frustrating without buttons on the Mac.

I still switch back and forth because of Vidyo. I’m hoping in the next week or so to figure out what’s wrong with my audio and get it solved for good.

The nicest productivity improvements have been around test servers like HBase and Thrift, and being able to recompile my kernel at a moment’s notice for new features.

Abstract for PSU Tech Talk, Feb 1, 4pm

I’m doing a tech talk at PSU about open source community:

Collaborative chaos: what it means to write code, manage projects and work with people in open source communities

Working in software and with computers means wildly different things depending on who you talk to. In open source, the work spans every aspect of software development — from the marketing and documentation to the troubleshooting end-user systems.

The “community manager” or “organizer” role in open source communities is probably the least-well defined in our industry, but is seen as a crucial part of open source software development. 

Selena will talk about her work as a serial user group starter, open source conference circuit speaker, conference organizer and contributor to PostgreSQL — all roles considered part of community management. She’ll also talk about other kinds of community management roles available at small and large companies, or as a volunteer in an open source project. 

Selena is a major contributor to PostgreSQL, she founded and runs the Postgres Open conference and keeps chickens. Selena has been working with open source software for over 15 years.She’s keynoted at SCALE, DjangoCon and LISA, and regularly gives technical talks about Postgres, open source and trolling. She is currently a data architect at Mozilla, makers of the Firefox browser.

Code review for the new PyLadies in your life

This goes out to all the geeky spouses, partners and friends of brand new programmers:

Code review is a cultural practice.

When you sit down to read the work of another, you bring with you all the experience you’ve had up to that point, the code reviews you’ve received, the mistakes you see yourself making and the bits of hard-won knowledge embedded in your coding personality.

Basically, you bring your coding baggage into your review.

When a brand new programmer shares their code with you, they are fundamentally vulnerable. They’re sharing something creative, and like any new creative endeavor, the product is a newborn taking it’s first few, shaky steps.

They are asking for your help and very likely, they’re asking for an indication that they’ve accomplished something. That all the time they just invested in learning something new — paid off.

And, in the case of PyLadies, women are all stepping out on a limb. Some are taking a Coursera class or maybe a workshop, but mostly working alone. We have each other to learn with and we’re all learning something new. Many people are spending 2 nights a week with a group, and another 15-20 hours a week struggling through the very first programs they’ve ever written.

Here’s the very best thing you can say when a PyLady shares her code with you:

“Thanks for sharing this!”

And then, after you’ve had a look:

“I’ve had a look and you’re doing a great job. Tell me about what you’ve written.”

Seriously. That’s about it.

If the PyLady asks specific questions, give your answers. Keep it short and sweet, and encouraging.

I’m laying this out because lots of the women who are trying this stuff out for the first time have loving, geeky spouses and friends who are very excited that the women in their lives are learning to speak their languages. And some of that enthusiasm comes in the form of detailed critique of style, formatting and design.

I’m here to let you off the hook. Just be encouraging, and ask a few open ended questions. That is all you need to do.

Because the reality is: the PyLady is her own worst critic. And, when she comes to a meetup, she can get the detailed help she needs from the other women who are struggling right along with her.

The people in the group have earned the right to share and receive feedback by strugging together. That’s the value of a cohort and one reason why PyLadies, and groups like them, are so important.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get your chance to share some code back, and maybe even write something together. But you build that coding relationship one encouraging step at a time.

If you’re interested in joining PyLadies-PDX, we’re meeting weekly through December, and then starting Monthly meetings on January.

And, if you want to read more about code review in general, here are some additional blog posts I found useful:

While we’re here, let’s fix computer science education: DjangoCon keynote and resources

My keynote today is done, the resources list is here and the slides are below. I wrote slightly different text to address our experience here in the US, but a mostly-complete transcript of the talk is here.

A ton of people came up to me after the talk and we started talking about all the ways that we might be able to solve problems. I created a mailing list for our first few discussions. If you are a person that doesn’t like google groups, contact me, as I of course can set up something that’s outside of that infrastructure if we have enough people who’d prefer a different place to have this conversation.

We have a plan to contact teachers in our local communities, and ask them what they need that we as open source software developers could help them with. And we all agreed that want to build things, but we’re pausing for a minute to ask the teachers around us what they need first.

For some background, the key bits of reading you should do to get up to speed are the following:
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