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.

Giving back: “Career advice in less than 5 minutes”

Garann Means came up with this brilliant idea: give career advice about the big topics women in tech are facing IN LESS THAN 5 MINUTES.

So she started a gist to collect advice!

Have a look at the list of topics, and if you’ve got something to add do this:

  1. Make a short video
  2. Upload it to Vimeo
  3. Comment on the gist
  4. Tweet it out!
  5. Feel like the awesome mentor and contributor to the advancement of women in tech that you are!

Also, anyone have a good idea for a tag we should use?

I’m also collecting links to other resources.

Finally, I was talking with some people here in Portland about starting an advice column from respected recruiters and hiring managers. Would you submit a question? I’m thinking like Captain Awkward, but focused on issues women in tech face in looking for jobs, navigating a male-dominated working world, managing and hiring.

Thoughts from Think Out Loud’s Women in Tech radio broadcast

I was on the radio program Think Out Loud here in Portland this morning. Before getting on the radio, I prepared a few things to say and wanted to share a longer form of what I was thinking.

I’ve been blogging more about women’s issues in relation to open source community and technology more generally. The experience is finally something that’s pretty fun — because there is finally research, success stories and a real sense of optimism among my friends and colleagues.

This is in no small part because of the wonderful experiences I’ve had working in open source and on PostgreSQL.

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What I mean when I say I would like more women in the software industry

Sometimes I’m asked about women’s equal representation in the software industry. And someone might also ask me — what other than ethics justifies spending precious resources on making a company or a community include more women?

When I think about getting more women involved in the production of software, I think about:

  • What’s the ethical thing to do
  • What’s the fallout when we don’t do the ethical thing

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I am a feminist hacker: Reflections on the first AdaCamp

I had a wonderful time at the first AdaCamp, held in Melbourne, Australia on January 14, 2012.

I didn’t take notes during most of the sessions, and spent a lot of time listening and thinking.

The two important things I took away from the first AdaCamp were about context – my context, and the camp itself.
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She’s geeky: day 1 report

Image courtesy of Sarah Novotny

I got in about 1pm to She’s Geeky, an unconference about women who self-identify as geeks.

I’m here on a mission: to find developers who want to move to Portland! Emma, Urban Airship, Puppet Labs, About Us and BankSimple are all hiring (and BankSimple is even interested in remote hires).

My favorite conference session yesterday was about leadership and management, the difference between the two, and how to work with managers. We had an amazing discussion, with @noisegirl, Allison Randal, and Ursula Kallio leading a lot of the discussion. Topics ranged from how to carve out time for individual contribution when you take on a management role, to dealing with insane micromanagement to exploring the limits of change in an organization.

Another discussion I participated in was “Startup. Now what?” We talked about the issues each woman faced in starting her own business, and I asked a lot of questions. :)

I also attended a talk about the commerce department’s Privacy Green Paper. I hadn’t heard of it before, but the response being formulated is here: http://wiki.idcommons.net/Privacy_Green_Paper_Response

The main gist of the discussion was about encouraging congress to think carefully about the legislation and the business environment created (or stifled) by new data regulations. The contention is that activity data stored in “personal data stores” (PDS) is inherently of value — we already know this because our data is bought and sold without our consent or knowledge currently. So, why not create a system where businesses can do this, but with the consent and knowledge of consumers? I’d probably say “citizens” there instead of consumers, but you know. Whatever. :)

I’m not sure I fully understand the issues yet. I tried at one point to draw a link between PDS and “owning your own logs.“, but that didn’t seem to resonate. Kaliya said something about respecting definitions, so I think that I still don’t quite understand what defines a PDS.

Or, put another way, I am having a hard time understanding the distinction, because the freedom issues seem to be very much the same.

I tweeted a bit about my thoughts on APIs related to PDS, and here’s one conversation that tumbled out of it:

Welcome, Selena! | LinkedIn
Uploaded with Skitch!

Anyway, much to think about from the first day, and I’m excited to see what discussions unfold today!

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)

Mentor Summit Report for PostgreSQL

mentor summit

Update: Fixed the etherboot wiki link.

I attended the Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit this past weekend on behalf of PostgreSQL. We met at the Google campus in Mountain View.

This event was an unconference and so, none of the sessions were determined in advance.

Some of the highlights were:

  • Leslie Hawthorn and Chris DiBona went into some detail with the whole group about the selection process for GSOC. This session made me feel as though PostgreSQL had relatively good chances for being accepted again next year. Google, however, does not pre-announce projects/products, so there is no sure thing about our (or any other project’s) involvement.
  • I met MusicBrainz guys and was pleased to receive many bars of chocolate they requested to be distributed to SFPUG and PDXPUG members as thanks for making an great database.
  • Attended three sessions concerning recruitment and retention of students. This is a topic that many people were interested in, but that few people feel they have a proper strategy for.

I also led a session on recruitment and retention of students to open source projects. Some of the ideas that came out of that and the related sessions were:

  • Determine what makes you personally need to be part of Postgres (joy of learning, scratching a technical itch, making a tool for your job, fame). Find out which of those things your student also needs or wants and try to give that or help your student achieve that thing.
  • Have a clearly defined method for students to keep journals. Several projects simply used MediaWiki and templates.
  • Use git (or other distributed revision control), and have students commit early and often to a branch that mentors have access to.
  • The Etherboot project has a great system: http://etherboot.org/wiki/soc/2008/start
  • Hold weekly meetings over IRC. These can be brief, but help get students accustomed to your project’s culture and way of doing things.
  • Ask the student: “are you on track?”, ask the mentor: “do you think the student is on track?” on a weekly basis
  • If you want students to stick around, find incremental responsibilities to assign that are driven by their enthusiasm.
  • Interview on the phone all your students ahead of time, not just the ones you think might be a problem.
  • Require a phone number on the application for the student.
  • Require a secondary contact so that if the student “disappears” there’s a backup person to contact. (and contact that person BEFORE SoC starts)

I made good connections with members of Git, Parrot, WorldForge, Ruby and many other community leaders. I was particularly impressed by the ideas and stories from the current Debian project leader, Steve McIntyre and Gentoo council member Donnie Berkholz. Donnie recommended some books about recruitment that I plan to read and review in the next few weeks.

The issue of mailing list moderation and the number of people required to keep mailing lists functioning properly came up frequently. If you know a moderator for a Postgres mailing list, please consider thanking them for doing a very tedious, extremely important and often thankless job.

I also spent some time discussing with Leslie Hawthorn and Cat Allman how to increase the total number of women mentors and students next year. Leslie and I shared some ideas and I offered to help implement them next year. One thing the crowd asked for was explicit training on how to recruit and manage female students. Realistically, this information will apply to all students, and I hope this training helps us recruit more students overall.

I thought the conference went quite well. I hope PostgreSQL is accepted next year, and that one of our mentors is able to attend this conference. And, if you go, be sure to register for the hotel early, and stay at the Wild Palms.