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The ghetto of the mind

I’m sorry. Rails is not a ghetto. Ruby is not a ghetto. The ghetto is your mind.

WTF

This weekend after reading a couple posts and a lot of tweets I started getting really frustrated about the situation surrounding Matt’s talk at GoGaRuCo. My frustration and anger did not stem from being offended by Matt’s talk, nor did it stem from thinking that everyone who was offended was wrong. It came from a gut reaction to all this horrible negativity thats spreading like wildfire.

I was at GoGaRuCo. In fact I was also speaking. I watched every talk, attended the after-parties and had one of the best conference experiences I’ve had. I learned a ton, met a ton of interesting people, and heard about things from a ton of different perspectives. I’m not going to say more then that. It was awesome.

The ‘controversy’ around Matt’s talk started as a couple smart individuals being angry and frustrated at another smart individual for making a mistake. It’s become a blame game and a reason for people to blame a single talk for the ails of an entire community that had the same issues before. I want to stay positive, so here are three simple rules of ANY community:

  • You can not fault an entire community for the actions of a single individual.
  • In any community there will be opposing opinions on definitions of moral correctness for n issues.
  • If you actually want to change the community, you have a better chance of influencing the future community through education then the current community through preaching.

Going from the last one, lets define a problem set and move forward.

The Problem Set

Lets rip open this silver lining. If anything good comes out of this let it be that it brought a bunch of long standing issues back in to the limelight. The big complaint out of this all has been that there are not enough women in the Ruby community. It’s pretty obvious that this is an issue. I mean, out of conference of 200+ there were less then 10 women. In fact, this conference probably had more women then any other Ruby conference I’ve been to.

I’m not going to try to deduce the myriad of reasons why this is true, instead just mention something that might lead to this situation.

Ruby is not taught in Schools. If we really want to make Ruby a language and community for everyone, the only way to ensure that people actually get exposure is to get it into schools. It would be awesome if I learned Ruby in college, but beyond that – it would have been AMAZING if I had HacketyHack when I was a kid. I whole-heartedly believe that Ruby is a great first language and the veritable cornucopia of implementations and uses could convince anyone with a slight inclination to do great things with it.

FTW

Let’s actually make this happen. How can we get more women in software development? How can we bring more women into the Ruby community? I don’t have the answer and honestly, I’m not a fantastic teacher or community organizer. However, I’m a pretty decent developer and as a freelancer I’m making some decent money so that I can give some of that money to people who are much better teachers and community organizers. With that said, I’ve started a pledgie and put $500 dollars in it. After 1 month, I’m going to donate any money I’ve collected there to a charity to support either teaching Ruby/development in schools, or supporting women in development. Depending on how much we raise, I might donate to multiple organizations. If you have suggestions about specific organizations please tweet @aq or email me at aaron at this domain.

Click here to lend your support to: For the future Ruby Community and make a donation at www.pledgie.com !

Please donate! Even if its only $2. I’ll be posting updates to twitter and here to.

Let’s try to ensure that GoGaRuCo 2025 is an awesome gathering ;)

22 Responses to “The ghetto of the mind”

Actually, plenty of us have less problem with the talk itself then the people who are so sensitive and insecure they immediately get offended at the very idea that someone was offended and then on go on misogynistic rants about ‘this’ being the problem with women, especially in the workplace.

The fact that that is the response is a data-point that should can not be ignored, when discussing the context of the talk. I was actually at GoGaRuCo too, but went out for a smoke break, almost as much because I am bored with all the CouchDB talks as much as I didn’t want to squirm though another geek (I am one, myself, obviously), thinking he is being funny and ‘edgy’.

Nobody sees there a problem in our field when women saying they are uncomfortable are immediately lambasted for it? Really, all that matters is that the 80+% of white males in the ALA survey, who almost to the T see there is no gender or race bias, aren’t offended? Fuck that. A bunch of over-privileged whiny geeks who finally get to live out their fantasies of being “rock-stars” need no coddling of their delicate cultural views. I look forward the harassment suits that will start rolling in even this field too, some day.

AQ Says: #

Tim -
I agree BUT I think that people are ALWAYS going to differ on what the ‘line’ is. Being angry isnt going to help though. I’m not trying to be all bi-partisan and pull an Obama or something – I just think the best way to fix this situation is to even the playing field for EVERY opinion to not be a minority. Every field is going to have people who have super strong opinions. This specific issue is just so much more present in fields that are male dominated partialy because its a game of probability. If you have a ‘community’ thats 97% dudes, and 10% of dudes have strong opinions about women in the workplace then you’re going to have a lot more ignorance then if you have only 50% dudes.

urfolomeus Says: #

With everything esle that has been said on this issue, you are the first to actually rise above the shit-slinging and offer a solution. I applaud you for that and whole-heartedly offer my support. Let me know how you get on!

I totally agree AQ. I’m just frustrated that people won’t admit that perhaps the locker room vibe of the community might actually contribute. I think education and other efforts are VERY important. But when you are talking 3% female attendance, it’s probably at least partially due to a self-reinforcing cycle that includes ALL of these possible effects.

Hell, why do you think there are prominent closeted Rubyist/Railsist. (Yes us queers have secret meetings)

AQ Says: #

Tim -

Dude! Seriously. The problem though, is people get heated, take ‘sides’ – forcing them to the far reaches of a discussion, never to return to actual talking and figuring out whats wrong.

people who are so sensitive and insecure they immediately get offended at the very idea that someone was offended

Please don’t say you’re offended by people who were offended by people who were offended by people. Social recursion in action :)

wage slave Says: #

We don’t need more women. We don’t need more men. We don’t need more of anything that doesn’t have anything to do with a certain field of profession. Enough of this excreement. What we need is people with a genuine interest and sincerity in our profession, regardless of their age, gender, race and political bias. Isn’t that part of the hacker culture? That you shall be judged by your merit?

AQ Says: #

I completely agree that developers should be judged by thier merit – but thats not what we’re talking about here. You really dont think we should have MORE great developers? Future great developers – regardless of gender, race, etc?

wage slave Says: #

Aaron, I was specifically replying to your question above:

> Let’s actually make this happen. How can we get more women in software development? How can we bring more women into the Ruby community?

Oh yes, I was definitely meaning to go there. ;)

cs Says: #

aye!
a big big up!

Matt Says: #

You start from a reasonable premise, but come on. Getting Ruby taught in schools is not a reasonable solution to this problem right now. Two reasons:

1. It’s not going to happen on a large scale any time soon. Curricula take time to change.
2. This whole fiasco clearly shows that there are structural problems (see: http://afreshcup.com/2009/04/28/a-painful-decision/) that will continue to drive women away from the community.

For more perspective (I’m male) I pointed one of my best female programmer friends at these blog posts yesterday, and, later that day, asked her what she thought. She was aghast. “They accept this at their conferences?” She would have felt intimidated and uncomfortable at the presentation, but what really upset her was that there were so many people defending the slides and the speaker’s non-apology (not to mention DHH’s endorsement). She’s hardly the sensitive-flower type, but she won’t be coming near the Ruby community any time soon if she can help it. Which is a shame, because she’s a damn good coder.

So: http://dyepot-teapot.com/2009/04/26/so-now-what/ and http://www.chesnok.com/daily/2009/04/27/what-works-getting-more-women-involved-in-open-source/ both contain useful suggestions for moving forward. But I would add one more:

When people cross the line, you have to tell them.

You don’t have to excoriate them for it, maybe they made an honest mistake. But you have to engage them about it and let them know you think they crossed the line. Yes, it’s hard to do this. Sure, smart people can disagree about where the line is. Smart people can also have bad judgment. Smart people can lack empathy. You don’t have to hate them for it, but that doesn’t mean you can excuse it, either. This is doubly true when said smart people are community leaders.

Go-along-to-get-along will just ensure that these problems keep coming back, over and over again.

AQ Says: #

Matt -

I agree and disagree with you.

1 – Yes, 1000$ is not going to get Ruby into schools and the curriculums of 1000s of Colleges and High Schools are not going to change over night (or even ever). However, this community is really pretty small. World-wide, there are how many Ruby developers? 20K? 30 maybe? That means that a pebble can make a huge ripple. For example, this was a conference of ~200(!!) people and it was one presentation out of >15, and look what’s come out of it. If we can teach 20 kids Ruby thats NOT a nothing in the scale that we’re operating on.

2 – I think people have a right to be upset, but up and leaving a community because of a couple individuals is a bad move in my opinion. I understand Mike’s decision to leave the Activists, but thats different then saying ‘The Ruby community are assholes’. However many people there are in the community that you don’t agree with on moral/social issues, I’ve found there are an overwhelming amount of awesome, smart, supportive individuals, who write great code and are good to talk to. As much as DHH might be a sort of Figure-Head of Rails, its still an open-source project, and if you want to change something or have a different opinion, its still pretty easy to do so. If you love Ruby but hate Rails, come to Sinatra, or Ramaze, or write your own framework!

3 – My goal was to try to influence a bit of a mode switch in this discussion. Let’s talk constructively about this. I’m really open to suggestions/conversations about how to make Ruby as welcoming a programming community as possible. In the anonymous world of the internet, there are always going to be assholes on the far reaches of every spectrum. We cant be all Bounty Hunter and try to hunt them down. We need to just hit hyperdrive and continue to write the awesome code we have been.

Personally, I don’t even think Matt’s presentation was *necessarily* a problem – what bugged me was how he “apologized.” It wasn’t really an apology but it wasn’t quite a defense. It’s really just a very back-handed way of arguing, but its back-handedness prolongs the bad vibes rather than bringing them to either a resolution *or* a confrontation.

It pissed me off, because I sympathized with the offended woman, but even if I hadn’t, it would have been bad tactics. It’s not just disrespectful to other people, it’s self-sabotaging. It adds bad feeling to the situation and poisons the whole concept of apology. If you’re arguing with somebody while pretending to be apologizing, you’re insulting their intelligence and sending the message that a real apology isn’t necessary. This implies that consideration for others doesn’t actually matter. These are all poisonous things. They make a community unhealthy.

I’ve been in arguments where people who were on my side of the argument did those kinds of things. I’ve had to take time away from the argument I was making to dismantle the argument they were making and leach the poison from it.

It’s very, very bad to argue in bad faith. It doesn’t just make you a dick. It means everybody who was adding their energy to your side of the debate now has to stop and put their energy instead into staying clear of the taint of turning into a dickhead too by endorsing whatever you did.

by the way, I’m not sure if the Matt commenting in this thread is the oh-so-controversial Matt at the center of this thread, but I agree that the teaching Ruby in schools idea is kind of irrelevant.

AQ Says: #

Giles –

I agree with you about apologizing but I disagree about Ruby in schools. It doesnt really matter how much money we actually raise, my eyes were pointed in the direction of trying to make something positive out of this ‘thing’. I don’t think teaching a couple of kids Ruby is going to change the community, but what is anyone else doing? There are two ways to effect change here:
- teach people.
- write code.
I’m trying to do both as best I can. What I DONT think is going to help this community is continuing to argue about what happened/if it was offensive.

Jeremy Says: #

Why not use the $$$ to send a woman to speak at a conference? Pay her travel, etc. That would make an active contribution to getting women more involved. Education is great, but as someone who does teach Ruby in schools, we don’t need very much cash to make it happen. :)

AQ Says: #

Jeremy –

Thats a cool idea! As I said above – I’m thinking about interesting ways to support the drive to get more women involved.

Matt Says: #

GIles: No, I’m not the Matt who presented, but I agree with your comment about the non-apology wholeheartedly. This whole mess could have been avoided if Matt had sincerely taken responsibility up front.

AQ: Unfortunately, moving forward without making it clear that the presentation was unacceptable is no longer an option, not if you’re serious about encouraging female presence in the Ruby community. The problem isn’t so much the presentation as the fact that a very vocal and influential minority of the community refuses to accept the legitimacy of the opinions of an (apparently) less-influential minority of the community. Saying “let’s focus on writing awesome code” is sticking your head in the sand and hoping that the problem fixes itself. The programming community has been focusing on writing awesome code for decades now, and, well … we all know how well that’s worked as far as encouraging female participation goes.

The core issue is actually very close to what Giles pointed out. Somebody gave a presentation that made some people in the audience feel marginalized and devalued, and when this was pointed out to the presenter, his reaction was basically to claim that they shouldn’t have felt that way. This demonstrates both incredible insensitivity and a profound lack of respect for the people who (very respectfully) complained. Worse, a lot of the community seems to think this isn’t a problem, which communicates the exact same thing. And now saying, “whatever, let’s forget about it” — what? Like it or not, this sends two messages:

1. The presentation was perfectly okay.
2. When women in the community are marginalized, nobody’s going to back them up.

That second message is your problem. Fixing it isn’t easy, but you won’t make real progress if you don’t.

elpaule Says: #

I am not sure that generally speaking too few people are working in IT. At our perl shop we have between 30-50% female programmers in the different groups (except systems support).
Some of the IT consultant companies I know, have an almost similar rate.

I guess it is more a case of reaching out to actually get them as community and company.
Make jobs (and conferences) more interesting and creative as example and consider not only programming but also social skills too (and by god, some IT shops would need that).

Tina Says: #

A. When women constitute 25% of conference attendees porn slides will not be permitted at conferences simply due to business considerations. You can’t poke a quarter of your customers in the eye and expect them to return in a year.

B. If Ruby and Rails are widely adopted a quarter of developers will be women.

C. Women often are not early adopters for the same reason most homeless guys are guys. Women are more risk-averse and will join when it looks less like a gamble. Go to Dice.com enter keyword Java to see my point. Simply they like a dependable paycheck, maybe less of a paycheck but more of a certain paycheck.

D. Mark Shuttleworth handled the nudies on the wallpaper better.

[...] outreach, and self-censorship are certainly some of the options available.   Please read Aaron’s blog post and see how you might make a [...]

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