All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary

A bit of Rush lyrics:

“All I know is that sometimes you have to wary – ’cause sometimes the target is you”

My only editorial on the run of public scrutiny on the GNOME Foundation.

I’ve had the great opportunity to engage with the community these past couple of days.  Once we got past the concerns of the financial health of the GNOME Foundation, discussions focused to the GNOME’s support of the OPW program.  It’s easy to dismiss these interactions as misogyny and I tried not to fall into the trap because if you do you’re missing out on the opportunity to listen.  I was listening even while defending OPW.

There is a lot of resentment towards outreach programs like OPW that target a specific demographic and that it is a sexist program because it focuses on giving internships to one gender at the expense of the other.  I think it is a mistake to think this way. That’s not the point of OPW.   OPW is an incentive based program, and the idea is that we pay for a highly motivated and talented individuals who are capable of doing the work we want them to do while at the same time add their collective experience and perspective to the organization.  With a little luck, they might like the environment they work and will want to continue on.  What is the benefit of adding women to what has culturally been a male dominated environment?  An increase in openness.  Adding people who are different than you ultimately changes the culture of the organization you’re participating in.  It’s that cultural change that we want.  By accommodating woman we add the sum of their experiences to the collective whole.  The act of valuing and understanding that experience makes us more open.  Some may mourn the loss of male comraderie by adding women, but they would miss out on something wonderful and unique.  It isn’t a loss, it’s a transition.

When an organization participates in OPW, we hope that it is because they honestly believe that they want the change the culture of their organization and become more open and more welcoming.  OPW’s effect on the GNOME Project has been quite profound.  We’ve come a long way from when Telsa Gwynne left the project due to the attitudes of the GNOME developers.  It was one of the few times that really disapointed me about GNOME.  A Free Software conference like GUADEC with about 20% women participation is a great accomplishment.  We need to continue working on retention rates and improving them and continue to give challenging projects to not just our OPW students, past and present but to everyone who wants to volunteer and support GNOME with their time, experience, and expertise.  Those who were OPW students, we hope will come back and help mentor both men and women and create the model for other organizations to follow.

In my discussions, both recently and in the past several folks have remarked on some organizations and conferences that try to support women by holding women only events or workshops at conferences and other gatherings.  OPW’s strength is that the program brings in women to the organization.  It however does not encourage further subdivision by creating women only events within the GNOME project but encourages interaction as equals.  If you are an organization that organizes such events then I implore you to choose a different path.  It isn’t diversity if you create women only events and likely leads to resentment by men.  I remember in one discussion, a man was eager to attend a workshop on Android development that looked really interesting and was crushed to find that the event was women only.  If organizers feel that women are uncomfortable enough that they need women only events to interact within the organization, then something has gone wrong.  At GUADEC, there was a BOF I think on OPW, it was attended by all women, until they realized that there were no men attending.  They went out and found asked men to join the discussion.  I was one of those men, and it turned into a very active and spirited discussion because each gender brought their own experience to the discussion making the feedback that much more valuable.  It was a lot of fun.

My last comment is that programs like OPW should never be used in perpuity.  At some point, you need some clear indicators that you’ve changed the culture for the better and that it is sustaining.  High retention rates, collegial interactions, and the organization is attracting women without the need of the program are good indications that you participating in OPW has been a success and you should declare victory!

In closing, there have been many comments that can be construed as misogyny, but we should be patient and prove that programs like OPW are worth having and worth supporting even if we get into trouble from time to time doing it.

Thanks for reading.

* My comments are my own, and I take responsiblity for them and no one else.  Just taking in the spirit of the Rush lyrics mentioned above. :D

Musings on the West Coast Hackfest

The idea of a west coast hackfest came out of a failed attempt to have the Montréal/Boston Summit in Portland.  Initially, we had decided to have it in Portland, but due to timing and the lack of availability of a decent venue made things harder.

When Endless Mobile offered their office as a venue, we moved the event to San Francisco and then made it the week before the Red Hat Summit allowing most of the Red Hat crowd to show up.  With Tiffany Yau, Christian Hegert it was such a pleasure to put together this hackfest and make it a reality from conception to implementation.  I think we all had a great time and we were able to move the platform forward.

One thing we wanted to do different from the other hackfest and GUADEC is to turn this into something more public facing.  We want to be more inclusive and invite the general public, invite potential parterns and customers.  I wasn’t quite successful in this.  I came into the realization that to build the brand amongst startups and potential partners, we would have to build up a contact list, a rolodex that we should have a continuous contact with in order to really be able to have the ability to bring people to events.  So one task is to start building up that contact list, and start working on making connections so that we can start making the next hackfesst and hopefully a sister conference that is more outward facing so ewe can expose the project to those who actually use our software.

My failure to bring in externals wasn’t a complete failiure, we did have great participation from Yorba and ElementaryOS.  In fact, their input was very valuable in identifying barriers of working on GNOME software and working with the community.  As Matthias mentioned in his blog, working with Daniel Foré we were able to help solve some of their issues as well possibly solving some of us are.  We look forward to working more with Elementary OS in the future.  I have encouraged the Elementary OS community to present at GUADEC and be part of our community.  I have plans to extend this to other GTK+ based desktops like XFCE and Numix.  There is a recognition that our diversity is our strength and we should be more aggressive about reaching out.  Particularly, Elemntary OS seem to have a similar goals as us minus the shell and several of us have remarked how beautiful the desktop looks.  Morever, they are a complete OS from top to bottom.  Wehile we’ve talked about GNOME OS, Elementary OS is already there.

We made a great impression on the Endless Mobile folks, who all told me how excited they were to have all of us there and as one person said “I can finally get my GTK+ patch accepted!”  Lots of discussions with everyone there and of course again, so nice of them to offer their space and their hospitality.  Big thanks to Nuritzi Sanchez and Matt Dalio for making us feel welcome and providing us witih gift bags with chocolates, energy drinks and trinkets!

Germán Poo-Caamaño and I had a hangout with Diego who was unable to come but we all talked about our website and hopefully being able to better capture our mission better than the current iteration.  We will continue that discussion with the engagement team and find better ways to attract people.  After all, if you’re going to work out a method to reach out to someone, you will also need to have the infrastructure for them to be actual useful.

The events were a big hit.  Huge thanks to Christian Hergert for setting up the community dinner.  Big thanks to Tiffany for setting up visiting Noisebridge and the event at Zeitgeist.  Cosimo also gets thanks for buying the first round! :-) The noisebridge event was a lot of fun, and great exposure to the maker community.  We share a lot of values, and I had some great discussions with the people there.  It does underscore that the fact that we really need a nice way to setup GNOME with all the development tools.  Colin Walters actually had some nice thought about this in regards to GNOME Continuous.  We should be able to have our cake and eat it too!

Overall, it’s been a great experience.  I think everyone feels they would like to do this again.  We are already working on planning for next year, but this time with a goal to be fully sponsored, better representation, and hopefully events that we can meet the people who want or use our software.

Of course, the biggest thanks goes to everyone who attended and took the trouble to come al the way out there and hack on GNOME!  Thank all of you!