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.

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)

Women Who Code – where are they?

[ I was working on a blog post about the Women In Open Source roundtable I ran, and then Brenda Wallace tweeted: "it seems reasonably easy 2 get women involved in opensource documentation, ui design, and even management. Why is it hard 2 get women coding?" Here's my longer response, mostly with ideas I got from the roundtable. ]

I ran a panel discussion about Women in Open Source at the PostgreSQL Conference East (last weekend). I talked about all the conference events that I’d seen in the last 1-2 years specific to women, and a pair of researchers talked about communication patterns among women on the KDE women’s list. Then we had a 2 hour discussion with the 10 people in attendance.

Three issues that stuck with me from the discussion were:

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Stormy Peters: Money, developers and creativity

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Sunday’s keynote at SCaLE was given by Stormy Peters. She talked about open source, business contributions and the social and financial economies driving development.

Three of her research questions were:

  • What is the initial motivation that encourages people to contribute?
  • How do companies pay for open source contributions? (and what’s the effect?)
  • How do companies change projects when they join?

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Her conclusion was that the developer community needs to teach businesses how to do things right for the community. We can’t wait for businesses to figure it out on their own. The call to action was a good one, but it seemed to leave some audience members scratching their heads. One audience member asked, “How do we do that?”

A few interesting figures she mentioned:

  • 1/3 of all developers believe that software should be free
  • Average number of open source projects a developer works on: 5
  • 40% of open source developers are paid to contribute
  • 10-20% are paid but their bosses don’t know it – that probably was a joke ;)

One quote that stuck with me was: “Typically people have been divided between left and right brain [professions].” I don’t agree. I think you only have to look briefly at the history of science to see that creativity (“right brain”) and reason (“left brain”) have often gone together.

The developer community just like many others – regular people who want to be useful, and inspired by their work. Creativity may not be asked for in a person’s work. But people invent, dream and create regardless of whether their profession requires it.

Women in Open Source: a focus group in March

Thanks to one of Audrey’s RSS feeds, I read Women in Computer Science – An Endangered Species of a New Kind? this afternoon. About the same time, I received email from a professor at UMD who is helping organize PostgreSQL Conference East. She would like to hold a Women in Open Source Focus Group session during the conference, and we’re looking for participants.

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december coder’s bash – thanks, sam

I made it out for the last hour or so of the December Coder’s Bash last night. The first thing I noticed was how many people were there! At least 50 were still hanging out at 9:15pm on a Tuesday night.

They were chatting and playing games — Settlers of Catan, some kind of card game, something involving bean bags. And, of course, there was programming shop-talk. I got to talk about embedded systems with Matt, tried to beg some help with a Drupal installation from part of the PostgreSQL crew, and started to decompress a little from the ERP migration I just completed on Monday.

And there were a ton of women! My unofficial assessment was that about 15% of the group were women.

Portland is so awesome.

I want to thank Sam Keen for putting this together. I know that a lot of other people were involved, but he was the guy sending out the email, contacting us user group leaders and getting sponsorships. Sam, you really did a great job.

women’s sized t-shirts for postgresql

I have been looking into getting some woman-sized PostgreSQL shirts, in addition to the more typical men-sized tshirts. The particular style is American Apparel shirts, style # 2102. The shirt says ‘PostgreSQL’ in small print on the front, and has the big elephant logo on the back. We’ll most likely ask for a $20 donation to the PostgreSQL non-profit for each shirt.

So, I’m conducting a small poll:

If you are interested in a woman-sized shirt, please email or comment on this thread with a quantity, and size (XS, S, M, L, XL). If you would not wear a PostgreSQL woman-sized shirt yourself, please consider whether you would maybe get one as a gift for someone else this holiday season :)

I would be overjoyed to have my mailbox clogged with requests, so please don’t be shy!

I’m just trying to get a feel for the numbers, so your comment won’t be considered an order. Also, please forward this to anyone you think might be interested.