Help improve open source, make the world a better place, AND travel to Australia

The LCA 2012 Call for Papers (speakers and tutorials, really) is still open. The Linux Conference Australia audience is bright, curious, and eager to learn more. In particular, LCA attendees seem to love talks about file systems and storage, and I know there’s at least one fewer file systems-related talk than usual in the system this year!

Part of the reason I went to LCA 2007 was to fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing a giant squid in person – and it totally worked.

VAL and giant squid

One of the big secrets about a career in open source is that you get to do interesting technical work that makes the world a better place AND travel around the world without paying for (most) of it. If you think you have something even vaguely interesting to talk about, and happily would go to Australia if you could work out the travel somehow, please consider submitting a proposal and figuring out how to pay for it during the next few months. LCA wants fresh faces and new ideas, and if your topic is interesting enough, everyone can work together to find a way to make it happen.

Investing some social capital

Over the years, I’ve tried to be an interesting person, on my web page, my blog, in person (less successfully), and so on, in part so that when I had something important to say, somebody would be listening. I have something important to say.

I co-founded the Ada Initiative because I care deeply about social justice, and in particular about women having an equal opportunity to have rewarding open source careers like mine. Open source gave me a high paying, highly respected, extremely flexible job in which I made the world a better place (and visited a good chunk of it for free, too). But I also understand how lucky I am – for example, my mother taught me how to program when I was 6 years old, and I positively enjoy defying stereotypes.

I want everyone – and in particular women – to have an opportunity to build and shape the open Internet, which is the future of human culture for our entire world (for better or worse). I want this badly enough that I worked without a salary for the last 6 months to found the Ada Initiative, and personally donated several thousand dollars as well.

Many people have asked me over the years what they can do personally to help women in open source. Now I have one answer. The Ada Initiative is accepting only 100 donations of $512 or more between June 1st and June 30th, 2011. There will be only 100 seed funders ever, and we’re not sure if or when we’ll accept personal donations again. If you want to contribute back of some of the money that you made working in open source in a way that helps even the playing field for women, this is your best chance.

Donate to the Ada Initiative now

20 years from now, when some innocent-eyed teenager asks you if it was really true back in 2011 that almost no open source programmers were women, and how anyone could think that was okay, you can say:

“Listen, kid, I helped change all that. Back in 2011 I was a seed funder of the Ada Initiative. Only 100 of them ever. And I can prove it. See this picture of Ada Lovelace on the wall? I got that when I donated to them.”

The teenager will listen respectfully and say, “Ooh! And it’s signed by Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora? Wow, I can’t believe you leave that out in the open where anyone could steal it!”

Well, perhaps it won’t happen exactly like that. But you’ll know you made a difference, and that’s what counts.

Donate to the Ada Initiative

Old kernel programmers can too learn new tricks

One of the strangest things about designing the Ada Initiative Seed 100 individual donation campaign is that I find myself working with GRAPHICS! *shudder* I’m a stereotypical kernel programmer in many ways, including my vast preference for text, starting with CLI instead of GUI, all the way up to books instead of TV and movies.

It’s almost impossible to get me to watch a video online unless it’s less than a minute long or involves a cat. Bit rate… too… low… Brain… starving for input… Aw, fuck it, I’m going to go read some kernel code.

So it has been strange to spend a month working on graphic design for the Ada Initiative, getting professional artists to create two original works of graphic art for the fund-raising campaign, finding photos for the fund-raising web site, designing the web page layout, etc. But I’m remaining true to my kernel programmer background in one way: Both prints are black and white (except for the Ada Initiative logo in the corner). :)

Overall, the prints have clearly been a major incentive for people to donate. I guess pictures are good for something!

In general, the last 6 months have involved learning a huge number of things I never had to worry about as a kernel programmer, even as a consultant. Marketing and fund-raising, people management, arcane details of tax code. (Check out my Twitter feed for stories.) It makes me miss the days of working on union mounts.

What do you find as an operating systems programmer working with visual “stuff”? Is it just me or do you also view windowing systems as not quite necessary?

NB: The Sydney Padua-signed “Lovelace and Babbage” print is down to only 12 prints left – we “sold” 13 in less than two days. Get yours now!

Ada Initiative Seed 100 donation drive opens

We started the Ada Initiative Seed 100 fund-raising campaign this morning, the first opportunity to donate personally to the Ada Initiative and help women in open source/tech/culture.

2D Goggles poster

We kept the “schwag” down to a minimum and went for one really cool reward: A signed limited edition Ada Lovelace-related print suitable for framing. The first 25 prints are a limited edition print from 2D Goggles: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (my Ada Initiative blog rave review here), signed by the artist herself Sydney Padua. Read more here!

I thought I’d have plenty of time to post on my personal blog before the 2D Goggles prints “sold” out, but we’ve already given out 8 of 25 in less than 12 hours, so it seems likely they will be gone within days or a week. If you want to be certain to get one of the 25 limited edition signed 2D Goggles prints, you should probably donate in the next day or two. My apologies for the short notice!

On the necessity of assholes

I just read Rusty Russell’s recent blog post about code written by assholes and Jacob Kaplan-Moss’s response. I’ll summarize Rusty’s point as “You don’t have to like assholes or agree with them, you just have to work with them in open source,” and Jacob’s point as, “No, I don’t have to work with assholes, and if we all worked together we could make it unacceptable to be an asshole in open source.” (Hacker News discussion here.)

At one time, I fully subscribed to the dogma that the only way to create high-quality, well-designed, reliable systems code (open source or not) was to be assholes to each other. But I’ve come to disagree with past-Valerie about the necessity of assholes for a number of reasons, starting with existence proofs to the contrary: successful well-designed projects run by non-assholes like Python and Perl.

Take just one argument for the necessity of assholes: Public humiliation is required for high-quality code. If you will be publicly mocked and humiliated for posting bad code, you’ll work harder on finding and fixing your bugs, and the overall code quality will go up. Sure, fear makes you review your code more – but is this the best way to create high-quality code overall? Are the costs higher than the benefits?

Research has shown over and over again that people experiencing fear are less creative in problem solving and less likely to find the optimum solution. Fear makes you more careful in your work, but it also makes you less willing to take risks, try new ideas, and make progress. Fear might be a good way to run a maintenance-mode project, but not one that needs active development and new ideas.

The more I look at the arguments for why assholes are necessary to good code, the more I have to wonder if some form of Stockholm syndrome is at work. As open source developers, our careers are to some degree hostage to project leaders. If project XYZ has an abusive leader, you either have to keep working on that project with that leader, or make a significant and risky career change. Change the leader or their behavior? Not really an option. There’s no manager or HR department to go to to deal with abusive fellow “employees” in open source, and it’s hard to move to a project far enough away not to work with that person but still be in your area of expertise. It’s a tough choice.

What I do know is that a lot of open source developers in asshole-heavy projects are unhappy with the current situation. Is it possible to change the social norms of these open source projects without lowering code quality? My guess is that the answer is yes, but only time will tell.

Update: People keep recommending “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t” by Robert Sutton. I haven’t read it, but it sounds promising enough that I bought a copy and will read it this weekend.

Take the Ada Initiative Census – and update your resumé!

Over at my day job at the Ada Initiative, we just launched a census of women in open technology and culture. From the blog post:

The survey (intended for people of any gender) asks two broad sets of questions: What open projects are you working on, and what is your opinion of how women are treated in your project and in the open community in general? The goal of the census is to periodically “take the temperature” of women in the open technology and culture community, so we can know what areas to work on and whether the Ada Initiative is making a difference for women in the community.

The survey only takes 5 minutes to do. Men can take the survey, but we’re making a deliberate effort to find women to take the survey.

I’m always looking for ways to help women in their careers. One of the cool things about this survey is that it gives you a big list of open technology and culture communities and asks which ones you’ve worked on and whether you were paid for it or not. It was fun remembering all the things I worked on, and it reminded me of several I’d forgotten.

If you do take the 5 minutes to take this survey, I suggest saving a copy of the page that asks you what communities you’ve participated in, and then using it as a guide to update your resumé or CV. Whether you were volunteering or being paid to do it, your work on open “stuff” is important and belongs in your resumé or CV. (If you don’t have one already, add a “Projects” section for things you weren’t paid to do.) The Anita Borg Institute has some great tips for improving your resumé in general.

Please take the survey and spread the word!

Call for translations: HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux

Recently, Jason Fragoso kindly translated HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux into Belarussian. I went to add this to my list of translations of this HOWTO – and discovered that I had only a list of languages it had been translated into, and not links to the end results. D’oh!

I know some of the translations are on The Linux Documentation Project, but I’m not sure where they all are. If you know of a translation of this HOWTO, could you comment on this blog entry with the URL and the name of the author? I’ll add it to my web site and post a follow up blog entry. I think it has been translated into Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Spanish, Ukrainian, Italian, German, and French. Thanks!