Why PyLadies?

pyladies_blue

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.

9.1 presentation at Windy City Perl Mongers

I recently updated my PostgreSQL 9.1 slides for a presentation at the Windy City Perl Mongers.

We discussed 10 features that the Postgres community decided to emphasize in our press releases. The crowd was primarily people who had never used Postgres before, which was a bit of a different audience for me.

It was great to be able to compare notes with folks who are supporting Oracle and SQL Server, and see a lot of excitement for trying out 9.1.

When I’m traveling around, I’ll be looking for more non-Postgres user groups to give talks like this. Let me know if you’d like me to come speak at yours!

Note from Nashville

I was lucky enough to catch a meeting of a new Arduino user group in Nashville last night. That picture above is a prototype of a segway-like machine that uses tilt sensors to turn. (Segways use a handle-twist mechanism to turn.) I spent an hour or so reading through code, and helping identify the various constants we need to pull values for off of the equipment Jay used for his project.

We met at in a building that houses a distillery in a building called the Corsair.

The person demo’ing was Jay Settle, a brewmaster who, along with his brother, is a tinkerer. Jay showed some videos of projects like this one:

He’s also automated the work of distilling by modifying some 1920s-era copper stills with Ardiunos and temperature probes. He put together a terrific site showing his work on it. Don’t miss all of the rest of the projects on the links at the top of the page, including my favorite, the remote mower.

Anyway, the group is awesome, and you should go! If you know any hackers in Nashville, send them to the mailing list.

Nashville is not really known for it’s hacker culture, but it’s alive and well and finding its center. I have to think that the BarCampNashville has something to do with that – giving locals a reason and a deadline for showcasing ideas. Now, more conferences like the PHP Community Conference are picking Nashville. Anyway, I looking forward to seeing what comes next from the Arduino hackers!

PDX tech scene community facilitation

I was just thinking about this today, because I went to Last Thursday on Alberta street on April 29th. (that picture of a cookie is from an awesome vendor at Last Thursday)

I didn’t realize that the vendors there are primarily self-organizing until about two weeks ago. I had always thought there was a central committee (But there is this ning…). But the vendors just show up, set up tents and hang out.

People would probably make more money and not have to work so hard if things were a bit more organized, but they need more of a light form of administrative assistance, rather than a bunch of top-down organizing. Creating a contact point and information hub, making sure there are portapotties, figuring out ways of providing power, and making sure that business owners and locals are (mostly) happy with what is going on would do wonders. And really, it seems like Magnus Johannesson is working toward that.

This is how I feel about tech community facilitation – we should be making incremental, measurable progress in our tech community on goals that most see the value in and in ways that continue to make organizers and participants feel empowered to act on their own.

Unlocking the clubhouse: cultural resistance and learning communities

I finished reading “Unlocking the clubhouse” on Saturday, finally. The book is only about 150 pages long, but it’s full of useful information about increasing participation of women in computer science.

The chapter that most stuck with me was chapter 6, “Persistence and Resistance: Staying in Computer Science.” I have said more than once, in a tongue-in-cheek way, that Code-n-Splode‘s mantra for men who think that we should not have the “dude token” policy should be: “It’s just not about you.”

My feeling is that establishing a culture where female voices dominate, rather than are assimilated in, creates a social environment that’s fundamentally different. And that that difference is *good*. I wouldn’t say that the book totally supports that notion, but it points out situations where women found peer groups that did not conform to a male hacker stereotype, and that foundation of social support helped them stay in their course of study.

The students referred to in the paragraph are undergraduates at Carnegie Mellon University:

Women who accept the prevailing culture as the norm and who continuously compare themselves to this norm and find themselves coming up short are the ones who suffer the most.

The majority of women struggle to find a place where they can feel comfortable in the prevailing culture…

Ironically, it is in this area of relationship to culture that international women may have an edge. The international women do not as readily use the U.S. male hacker as their reference group. Since they are not fully part of this culture, their reference group is elsewhere. Many international students have alternative success norms and social bonds that protect them. Other priorities are dominant, and with these come other scales for self-evaluation.

So, rather than bringing their cultural norms to the hacker culture and modifying it, the international women have their own social structures which exist outside of the dominant culture. “Cultural resistance” was the title for this section, and it’s a great way of characterizing the lack of assimilation.

I have more than a few times heard women-specific groups discouraged because of they emphasize differences that the dominant culture feels should be unimportant. I’m interested in further research that discusses the effects of splinter groups, particularly when they are created for women.

The second interesting topic in this chapter concerned learning communities.

Former University of California calculus professor Uri Treisman (1992) believes that a supportive learning community is critically important for the success of minority students in math and science.

The story went on to describe Professor Treisman’s observation that Asian students tended to socialize *and* study in supportive groups, which tended to help students stick with the courses and get better grades. He established similar groups for Hispanic and African American students, and found across several universities and colleges that these groups helped retention. Our observations and the resulting user group for women mirrors that Professor’s experience.

There’s a special connection created when you live and engage with material in a supportive learning community. They take time to create, and are a bit harder to maintain outside of an academic context (where life, work and diverging interests can be a bit more challenging to coordinate).

Code-n-splode has been fairly quiet about its successes, but I think now is the time for us to start talking a bit more about how well the group has succeeded.

Photo courtesy of DrPantzo under a Creative Commons License.

User Group Idea: Present what you do for work

Ta da!

Ta da!

One consistently interesting topic for our PDXPUG meetings has essentially been show and tell. Presenters answer the question: what is it that I do for work?

We’ve had oceanography, GIS, relational algebra and even MySQL presentations that stem from this idea.

For the most part, those of us who do database work are so specialized that we might gloss over the details of our job to avoid boring our friends and colleagues to death. The fact is though, much of the work that we do *can* be made interesting for 30 or 45 minutes. And what better forum than a group of dedicated database geeks?

Some angles I’ve seen work are:

  • Giving background on the how and why of data collection (for example: Discussing probes that collect location, temperature and salinity in the ocean: how they communicate back to the mainland, data quality issues, failure modes);
  • Explaining a schema design and sample queries that work with it;
  • Going through a refactoring exercise with an existing database;
  • Describing a particularly difficult to deal with problem or incident (database migrations!) and how you did (or didn’t) solve the issues that occurred along the way;
  • Turning your meeting topic into a drinking game.

Our favorite meeting topic for drinking games is relational algebra.

The important thing about these types of presentations is that the person presenting picks the most interesting parts of their job to talk about. Enthusiasm for work shines through, and draws in the audience — a great thing when you haven’t given many presentations.

What are some topics you’ve seen, or would like to see covered related to a person’s day job?

Photo courtesy of exfordy, via Creative Commons license

User Group Idea: Patch Review Party

On Tuesday, I invited a group of people from PDXPUG over to my house for chili, beer and patch review. PostgreSQL has what we’re calling a ‘commitfest‘ every two months where we buckle down and try to review and commit (or reject) the patches submitted over the last few weeks. Webb and Gabrielle had the original idea to get everyone together for a review party, and they did a fantastic job recruiting people to join in.

Gabrielle gave the details and lessons learned on our PUG site already, so I won’t repeat that.

One thing that occurred to me as we were doing this work was how affirming and *fun* it is to work on patch review with people in person. Several people commented on how they enjoyed doing this work in the company of others, and how the tedious issues around compiling, applying patches and going through all the questions were made so much more enjoyable with a group of good-natured hackers sitting around answering questions.

The atmosphere wasn’t pressured – I gave a little background about commitfest, how it’s been run in the past and what the development group is trying to change about it (mainly, bring in more people, and make patch review faster for people who submit patches, and smoother for the committers). Then we just got down to work in pairs or groups of three.

Working in pairs is a really good idea for this type of event. I certainly learned a few things from John, and over email and in-person again, we were able to wrap our review up a couple days later after the regular user group meeting. Having another person to bounce questions off of was invaluable for the patch that we reviewed, and it was just fun brainstorming variable names, piecing together a test case and then finding a solution to a problem we found.

Another thing that happened was that I had lots of time to chat with people I hadn’t talked with before about projects they’re working on (a really exciting materialized view implementation, and a massive cleanup of our *.bki infrastructure — two very ambitious projects!). Both people are now signed up to give talks at our local user group about their work.

I’ve talked a little bit about the social benefits of commitfest on various mailing lists, and I think the opportunity for user groups to get together and review patches as a team is a great one. I’ll be gathering up some of my other observations about PostgreSQL community and posting those over the next few weeks.

I’ve got a talk about user groups to prepare for (JPUG’s 10th anniversary in November!), so now is the perfect time for me to be gathering my experiences and thoughts from the last three years.

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.

Twitter and PostgreSQL!

Twitter: What are you doing?
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

On pgsql-general, Doug Hunley mentioned he’d created a twitter account for pgsql-announce! Way cool.

I’d written during last PgCon about Postgres and Twitter, and I figured it was time for a new list of Postgres-related people who I follow! Especially since a few people commented that Twitter was a waste of time last year ;)

If you’re on twitter (or identi.ca), and I missed you — please comment below!

Here we go (in no particular order):

  • Selena Deckelmann (me!)
  • Gabrielle Roth, member of PDXPUG, main force behind Code-N-Splode
  • Mark Wong, performance expert, leading the Portland PostgreSQL Performance Pad and associated projects to bring regular performance testing back to PostgreSQL
  • Francisco Figueiredo Jr., developer maintainer of Npgsql, speaker, member of PostgreSQL.Br
  • Magnus Hagander President of Pg.EU – the European Union non-profit organization dedicated to PostgreSQL and supporting user groups in the region
  • Josh Berkus, pgsql-advocacy leader, Member of the PostgreSQL core team
  • Jean-Paul Argudo, leader/member of PostgreSQL.Fr and Treasurer of Pg.EU
  • Hubert Lubaczewski , author of a great technical blog about PostgreSQL http://www.depesz.com/
  • Nikolay Samokhvalov, leader of the Moscow PostgreSQL Users Group, and consultant in Russia
  • Kristin Tufte, Postgres user, member of PDXPUG and assistant professor at Portland State University
  • Satoshi Nagayasu, member of the Japanese PostgreSQL Users Group, and spearheading meetups in Tokoyo
  • Brenda Wallace, moble gadget fetishist, Drupalista and Wellington, NZ PostgreSQL User Group wrangler
  • Isis Borges, Postgres enthusiast, works in the fashion industry in Puerto Alegre, Brazil
  • Dan Langille, DBA and organizer behind PgCon
  • Michael Brewer, DBA and board member of the United States PostgreSQL Association
  • Joshua Drake, business owner, board member of the United States PostgreSQL Association
  • Fábio Telles Rodriguez, active member of the PostgreSQL.Br (Brazil) and PgDay Brazil organizer. If you speak Portuguese, you can check out Planet Postgres Br here – http://planeta.postgresql.org.br/
  • Fernando Ike, member of PostgreSQL.Br
  • Ed Borasky, PhD, analytics nerd, PDXPUG member
  • Robert Treat, author of PHP and PostgreSQL book, speaker, on the board of the United States PostgreSQL Association
  • David Wheeler, contributed citext most recently to PostgreSQL, consultant, maintainer of Bricolage, formerly of I Want Sandy
  • Greg Sabino Mullane, author of Bucardo and check_postgres.pl, maintainer of DBD::Pg, recently contributed patches to psql, on the board of the United States PostgreSQL Association, my boss :)
  • Christophe, volunteer at OSCON for PostgreSQL booth, DBA
  • Aaron Thul, DBA, developer, speaker on PostgreSQL on Drugs :)
  • David Fetter, DBA, maintainer of the PostgreSQL Weekly News
  • Elein Mustain, DBA, speaker, maintainer of http://varlena.com
  • Chris May, DBA, member of PDXPUG
  • Jason Kirtland, developer, maintainer of SQLAlchemy, Pythonista
  • Josh Tolley, developer, DBA, statistics nerd, author of PL/LOLCODE and pgsnmpd
  • Erik Jones, Portland resident, Pythonista, made a cool python-based partitioning tool (pgpartitioner)
  • Nicholas Kreidberg, Nevada resident, PostgreSQL user
  • Gavin Roy, DBA, Business dude, Myyearbook.com, speaker, on the board of of United States PostgreSQL Association
  • Chris Browne, Slony maintainer
  • Douglas Hunley, creator of pgsql_announce on twitter :)
  • Larry Rosenman, PostgreSQL supporter, help with DNS for PostgreSQL.org, contributor (some of the syslog* stuff in version 7.0)

Organizations: