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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