Is requiring Open Source experience sexist?

Code Anthem’s Don’t Judge a Developer by Open Source (via Meg in the Open Thread) argues that companies that rely on Open Source coding contributions as a hiring criterion are both demanding a lot of their hiree’s free time and are sexist:

Open source is a culture. There are plenty of smart and passionate developers out there who are not part of that culture. And certainly there are plenty of dumb and curmudgeonly developers out there participating in open source…. There are there smarter ways to spend your time. The stereotypical open source developer works for a bumbling corporate during the day, doing dull work (but necessary to make money) and then comes home to work on his passion, OpenOKHRWUJ Framework…

Requiring open source contributions is sexist… Open source is dominated by men even more so than the programming community as a whole… it’s irresponsible to require your new hire developers to come from a male-oriented pool. Alas… “Underrepresentation breeds underrepresentation”.

I have a comment in moderation there in which I say that I think the stereotype is incorrect: that Open Source developers in my experience are either university students or other young people with a lot of free time, or they’re paid Open Source developers. (I know hobbyist Open Source coders with unrelated dev or other full-time jobs too, yes, but not nearly so many and their contributions are for obvious reasons usually not as significant. If nothing else, this group has a really high incidence of typing injuries.)

But that’s a side-note: I think the core point of the post stands. Open Source is very male-dominated, is known for being unpleasantly sexist, and is also a subculture whose norms (even where neutral as regards sexism) don’t fit everyone. Requiring these norms feeds right into the problem talked about in Being Inclusive vs Not Being Exclusive:

People who come from underprivileged minorities are usually very experienced in the art of being excluded. Sometimes it’s overt – “we don’t like your kind” – but many times it’s subtle. They’re told that they’re “not quite right”, or they “don’t have the right look”, or “don’t have the right experience”, or just aren’t told anything. At the same time, they are surrounded by all sorts of imagery and communique about how they don’t quite belong, about how they have to change themselves to fit in, about how they are undesirable. They do not see a lot of examples they can relate to; even the ones that come close tend to stick out for being “Exotic”, being a token. They already have a lot of barriers against them and are already of the mind that they’ll more likely be rejected than accepted.

If you insist on a lot of experience in a particular male-dominated sub-culture as a prerequisite for a job, that reads as “we prefer [a subset of] men, basically, or at least people willing to work hard to minimise all the ways in which they aren’t [part of the subset of] men” even if you didn’t intend it to and even if you didn’t want it to.

Code Anthem isn’t, as far as I can tell, thinking about Open Source paid jobs in that post, but they of course have this problem magnified. It seems vastly reasonable on the face of it: hiring existing Open Source contributors, ideally people from your very own community, means you hire people who are well-versed in the particular mode of development you do, in particular, the use of text-based mediums for communicating among a distributed team. Since Open Source (or more to the point Free Software) projects are at least sometimes associated with particular non-commercial goals and philosophies agreement with those seems desirable. But since most long-term Open Source developers need to be paid for it, it strongly feeds into this cycle of long-term Open Source developers continuing to be male and of a particular kind of culture, and continuing to overtly or subtly signal that that’s who is welcome in Open Source development.

Possible other posts of interest:

  • Terri’s Want more women in open source? Try paying them.
  • Dorothea Salo’s Sexism and group formation:

    A woman can be an honorary guy, sure, with all the perquisites and privileges pertaining to that status—as long as she never lets anything disturb the guy façade.

    It’s good to be an honorary guy, don’t get me wrong. Guys are fun to be around. Guys know stuff. Guys help out other guys. Guys trust other guys. And in my experience, they don’t treat honorary guys any differently from how they treat regular guys. It’s really great to be an honorary guy.

    The only problem is that part of the way that guys distinguish themselves from not-guys is by contrasting themselves with women.

59 thoughts on “Is requiring Open Source experience sexist?

  1. Pierce Nichols

    I totally understand where Code Anthem is coming from, and think she’s got a good point.


    A hiring manager can evaluate an open source developer more accurately than someone who isn’t. It is extremely hard to figure out how competent a developer or engineer is just by talking to them — basically impossible. With an open source developer, the hiring manager can inspect their work directly, which should tell them in a hurry whether or not the developer they are considering is any good or not.

    Second, the hiring manager can tell how good the developer they’re evaluating is at playing well with others when they are not necessarily on their best behavior. That’s also hard to judge in an interview situation, but comes across loud and clear on developer lists.

    So, while there certainly are bad developers in FOSS, it’s a whole lot easier for a hiring manager to recognize them.

    1. Mary Post author

      I see your point as well, and actually there’s interesting discussions to be had about how to effectively evaluate someone if you’re committed to hiring diversely, because you will have to carefully consider how to choose the set of skills you really need and separate them from all the cultural trappings that you (generic you, it’s not as though I wouldn’t have the same problem) regard as a shorthand for having those skills. (Anyone want to guest post?)

      But the thing about this is that telling us that it’s harder is something we already know. And again, just by being women or feminists doesn’t make it any easier for us to do what we suggest either. But even if you are using Open Source because it gives you coding samples and long-term behaviour patterns, you still also fall into this problem of getting close to eliminating women entirely from your hiring pool.

    2. Cessen

      I think evaluating how well someone works with others is probably the most critical point, actually. If you’re hiring with long-term intent, people can continue to learn new things and improve their existing skill-sets on the job. But people can’t so easily learn how to work well with others on the job. (Or at least if they do, they’ll likely need to take those lessons elsewhere to actually use them, because by the time the lessons are learned, patterns and relationships would already be pretty set.)

      But this does seem like a bit of a pickle. Requiring open source experience does provide some insight into how well people work with others, and thus it’s obvious why it is so tempting to require it. But I also see the clear importance of what the article is saying. :-/

    3. Skud

      In the past, when I’ve been a hiring manager, I’ve asked applicants to send in a code sample before their interview. It can be a script or a library or even an interesting subroutine. Then I look over it, and we talk about it in the interview. This was for jobs where we were expecting people to have some experience in the language we were using, which helped, of course. I think this at least broadens the field from just FLOSS contributions to anything the applicant’s worked on for school, paid work, volunteer work, or personal use. I can imagine a situation where a suitably experienced applicant wouldn’t be able to provide a short code sample — perhaps someone who’s only worked on classified government stuff? — but I’ve never come up against it in the real world (yet).

    4. spz

      I also want people who have enough energy and time left after dealing with their daily duties to take on additional voluntary ones, because I’ll likely be able to put a lot more load on them than the average person.

      That’s why volunteering in -anything- is something that makes a resume look better, even if it’s totally unrelated to the professional work. Not nice to those whose volunteering is in their family; but the business is trying to make money, not make society a better place to be in (usually), and asking them to do the latter is usually not getting one anywhere useful.

      1. spz

        ah, faux-html get deleted. The first pragraph above wants to be enclosed in “selfish hiring manager”
        and the second misses a cynic-off at the end.

      2. John Sturdy

        I’ve seen the opposite kind of cynical hiring manager, too — one company that interviewed me lost interest when they found I had any interests outside work.

  2. Mackenzie

    Never thought about this aspect. It certainly makes sense. I’ve found my open source experience extremely helpful in getting jobs with decent pay, but I never really considered the fact that all the women who were shoved away from FOSS were missing out majorly.

  3. FoolishOwl

    Wow. I hadn’t thought about this problem from quite this angle.

    I’m unemployed, and taking classes on Linux system administration. Every source of advice on finding a job in IT I’ve seen — articles, discussions on Slashdot and Ars Technica, instructors — has insisted that the key to getting a job, especially for someone without much paid experience, is having volunteered on an open source project. Usually, this is cited as one of the virtues of FLOSS.

    On the other, it’s already a strain in the family that I spend as much time and energy on tech stuff as I do. I spend a fair amount of time on family tasks — getting the kids to school, housecleaning, laundry, etc. — but not much mental energy on things like scheduling summer classes for the kids, filling out high school financial aid applications, etc. There was a discussion here some time ago on how men often cherry-pick household tasks that don’t require much thinking, and it’s been a concern in our household. Spending even more mental energy on something like working on an open source application would make things even worse.

    1. Brenda

      I agree – raising the kids is something women do more so than men. Lotsa pressure on mothers to be good mothers, spending time cleaning kids’ drool off their faces. Lotsa pressure put on fathers to work hard at their jobs to provide money for their kids. The result is women who spend almost every awake moment with the children, and fathers who come and go between job and hobby and kids.

      I contributed to half a dozen projects before I became a mother. It’s becoming hard to see when i’ll be able to start that again. Meanwhile the postgres port of statusnet is not working in git head, and more and more code that breaks it is committed each day :-(

      Requiring people who currently work for a proprietary company to have enough spare time to make open source contributions before you hire at your open source company does result in generally only finding men, or very young women, or single women without children. It also excludes people who spend their spare time on something else, like cleaning up beaches or teaching self-defence, or volunteering at a rest home.

  4. Addie

    I remember hearing this detail during a Google hiring event several years ago – that biasing based on open source experience was inadvertently discriminatory. I’d never considered it until then, and yet it made perfect sense – and it was a relief to know that some within the Engineering infrastructure were aware of it (not that this had much of an impact on the company’s overall problems with diversity in engineering).

    I’ve been embracing open source ideals, using open source products, and otherwise have been an interested party on the periphery for years now – but making the jump to actually being a participant requires immensely more work, from finding a project one is passionate about to having the willpower to deal with the cost of entry (except for the still-rare community where the social dynamic is more welcoming). And, given the toxicity of certain open source communities, I’m not sure the revelations made by one’s participation may always be positive.

    It’s struck me since I started working 4 years ago that hiring managers tend to be inherently lazy, so of course adding a requirement that shortcuts the process of finding qualified candidates is appealing. I certainly have some sympathy for it now that I’ve been on the other end of the hiring process. But there’s nothing easy about finding qualified candidates. There’s nothing easy about cultivating a workplace that is inclusive and welcoming of diversity (the Not Exclusive vs Inclusive article was an excellent addition to this discussion). It requires a constant mindfulness that is hard to fit into the other pressures of working life.

    Anyhow, thanks for this – now I know what to pass on instead of a resume if I ever do see a company explicitly requiring open source experience.

  5. Jonquil

    This also has severe class implications. Just as professions that expect unpaid internships exclude kids who need to work during their college vacations, expecting applicants to be known open-source developers requires applicants to have sufficient free time to work essentially two jobs. Requiring FOSS work is requiring an unpaid apprenticeship. A kid who is working her way through college, for instance, is less able to devote time to FOSS than a kid whose family is covering most of the bill. A working parent has less time for FOSS than a young single. Obviously, any single person can be an exception to these tendencies, but the trend is that FOSS is a heavy free-time tax.

    When you add to that the problem of the FOSS-experienced pool being weighted heavily male and heavily white, for all the reasons brought up in this blog and others, you’ve severely reduced the diversity of your hiring pool before you even start interviewing candidates.

  6. Kim Lim

    Open source is just not motivating for a person like me. At the end of the day, one has to pay the bills with cold hard cash. I am not sure why anybody would develop code for free that is not in their own fiduciary interest. This is because such a developer would need to be able to _afford_ to work for contributing to open source without pay. This can turn to be an enticing projection only when the developer in question is already earning sufficiently in the high fives in order to spend time developing code during spare or free time.

    1. Mackenzie

      I’m a student working my way through college and contributing to open source. I think I earned about $15,000 last year. Is that “the high fives”? Granted I’m single, not trying to support a husband and children on it, but I’m also in an expensive city (Washington, DC). My mom tells me that back in Pittsburgh a 2br apartment would cost $600/mo. So I imagine a 1br would be about $500, and that would certainly be affordable at my present income level.

      Some people spend their free time at a bar paying $8 for a cocktail. I spend it making the software I use better and socialising with the people I know online who by and large are a self-selected group of intellectuals (making them much more interesting to me than the people I would meet in a bar).

    2. spz

      > I am not sure why anybody would develop code for free that is not in their own fiduciary interest.

      Easy. A lot of open source developers I know are sysadmins with an axe to grind.

      Some software is 80% right but the remaining 20% are infuriating? Sit down and do something about it.
      It does 90% of what you want but lacks this one little feature that would make your life so very much more pleasant? Well there’s an editor and a compiler, and lo, problem fixed.
      It should be doing this and is doing that (or crashing) instead, and you need it to work correctly right now? Half an hour later the bug may be dead.

      Most of these contributions are not a product. They are a little fragment. You will not be able to sell them. They don’t take you all week. If you can take 2 hours on Sunday every Sunday, and do it for years, you may still end up with an impressive track record.

      Other people are volunteer firefighters instead. Is that a bad thing to be able to do, as well?

    3. Brenda

      same reason many musician write music- they can’t help it.. the music just has to get out.
      Likewise the code. it’s our form of art — and just like musicians will write for money, many will write for the love of coding. The code i have written on my own time, i don’t have to stick to budgets, i can keep going until it’s elegant and flexible and how i want it.. there’s no client dictating when it’s finished or when it’s due.

    4. Yvi

      I am not sure why anybody would develop code for free that is not in their own fiduciary interest.

      I am a grad student, work around 40 hours a week and make less than 15,000 USD a year, I suppose. On average, every evening, I spend about one hour ( plus a few hours on the weekends) doing open source development. Because I like it. Because I enjoy it.

      I could watch TV. I could play my guitar. I could read a book. I could cook more elaborate meals. I could chat with friends. I could do some sports. (And I do all of these, too, to various degrees) My point is, it’s a hobby just like anything else and not just people “earning sufficiently in the high fives” have the time for a hobby.

  7. Jonquil

    As several of us have said, this is possible for some people but not others.

    “Some people spend their free time at a bar paying $8 for a cocktail. ”

    This is flat-out judgmental. Some people spend their free time feeding toddlers. Some people spend their free time working a second job. Some people spend their free time in night school. Some people spend their free time volunteering in soup kitchens.

    It is great that you, working your way through school, have the time and the energy to commit to open source. That’s a good thing. There are equally valuable people who don’t have that time and energy, and who aren’t spending that time and energy on $8 cocktails.

    1. Dani

      It smacks of unexamined privilege to me. Even if we adjust for inflation $15,000 is several times more than the gross income I had total for my entire life before my first job. I’d have loved to have had $8 to spend for my school years and the time to spend it in a way as the commenter apparently imagines everyone must have. That was then unimaginable luxury to me!

      My time outside of the classroom back then? Spent running diesel tractors for various tasks, mostly mowing or baling hay and spreading manure, 10-12 hour days of this in the summer – no cabs so out in 100F heat, sub-0F cold, rain, snow, and blazing sun. Also milking cows, and doing various tasks necessary to maintain equipment and buildings ranging in age from 20 years to over a century. My gross pay for it? $0. Sometimes, work done for a family business is considered valueless by your family, particularly when a relative in position of (legal) authority over you decrees it so. Free time? Hell no; there was no time for that for there were more farm chores to be done.

      1. spz

        I wonder what people who -do- happen to have the good luck to be talented and educated (like eg Mackenzie) and are in life circumstances that allow them some free time are supposed to be doing, sit in front of the TV or party all day so they avoid inadvertently to do something useful and make someone else envious?

        I’d say that there are enough who do that anyway, and people who find ways to benefit the greater good, even if it’s -just- in software (because that’s an area that they are excellent at) should at least not get beaten about the head for the effort.

        I cannot imagine that the solution to some people being overtaxed and downtrodden should be that everyone should be. You need surplus strength to dig yourself through snow drifts; with a bit of luck those that do create a path that others can follow more easily.

        1. Jayn

          I think you’re missing the point, spz. It’s not that they shouldn’t be doing those sorts of things in their spare time–it’s that other people perhaps don’t want to (maybe they want to spend time away from a computer screen), or don’t have that time to spend (family, work, whatever), so requiring that your hirees spend time they don’t want, or don’t have, to spend on something outside of work is demanding more than you, as an employer, should.

        2. Jonquil

          This is an utter strawman. Nobody has suggested FLOSS contributors be penalized. Far from it. Many of the contributors, our hostess included, spend much of their lives contributing to FLOSS.

          We aren’t talking about forbidding people to contribute to FLOSS. We are talking about requiring people to contribute to FLOSS as a condition of getting a job. And when you require that, as quite well documented in that posting and thread, you are excluding people who have already found themselves excluded from FLOSS, for reasons having nothing to do with their coding skills.

          “I was able to contribute to FLOSS” isn’t a rebuttal to “Many [women, POC, mothers, working-class people …] feel unwelcome in/can’t contribute to FLOSS”. It’s just a statement about your own circumstances.

      2. Mackenzie

        Where does “Even if we adjust for inflation $15,000 is several times more than the gross income I had total for my entire life before my first job.” come in? I didn’t say I had $15K just showing up before my first job. This is my income from my job.

        My point is that even $15K (1/4 the avg income here) is a livable wage. It’s not “high fives” like Jonquil said, so the supposition that *only* wealthy people can spend their free time being productive without getting paid for it is wrong. The $8 cocktail comment was to point out that plenty of not-wealthy people spend their free time being completely unproductive.

        And yes, I get that not everyone has free-time. However, I think that is *much* more correlated with responsibilities outside of work than with monetary income (ie, children, church groups, etc.)

        1. Jonquil

          “High fives” is Kim Lim, not me.

          ” so the supposition that *only* wealthy people can spend their free time being productive without getting paid for it ”

          Actually, the supposition is that free time is a kind of wealth. That, in fact, it takes a kind of wealth to be able to even talk about free time. “Wealth” is more complicated than “money”.

        2. Mackenzie

          Sorry about the misattribution, Jonquil.

          That then leaves me confused about why income came up /at all/ if we’re talking about intangible wealth not money-wealth.

    2. Brenda

      or they spend $8 a day on medication. $5 on heating so they don’t get asthma in the night and $2 on petrol because their is no bus to the only rental house they could find that wsa int heir price range wasn’t damp enough to make them sick.

      People come in wide varieties. Health is one reason people are poor. Looking after eldery relatives is another. Dealing with crime against themselves.

      Good hardworking people are poor, and have bad things happen to them.. So the original statement in the blog post stands, that requiring open source contributions means requiring spare time… spare time requires many things, including wealth. Spare time is also something women continue to have less of than men.

      1. Mackenzie

        I’m not saying anything at all about why people are poor! Why do you think I am? I’m talking about how people spend their outside-of-work time. Taking medicine, turning on the heater…those aren’t exactly time-consuming activities, so they’re not relevant.

        I’m trying to say that it is completely unreasonable to posit that only people who earn whatever “high fives” means ($50K? $75K?) can “afford” to spend their outside-of-work time on FOSS, because how much you make and how much time you have are not correlated. You might make $300K/yr and work 70hr/wk to do it if you’re the CEO of a company. Plenty of money, not so much time. You might be like me and make $15K/yr and have a moderate amount of available time because you lack other large responsibilities, like childcare or eldercare but have somewhat smaller ones like a couple hours of classes a day. You might be a high school student whose responsibilities are no more than “mow the lawn and take out the trash” and so have plenty of time.

        Brenda, you said on your blog that you had plenty of time until you had a baby. Your class didn’t change, just your list of responsibilities/priorities.

        Whether you can work on FLOSS depends on what other priorities are vying for your time, and that is not class-related or income-related.

        I will not argue against the idea that in heterosexual couples those priorities may be gender-related, because I know the second shift exists. I don’t think there’s much of a way to fix that other than going “honey, we need to talk. I’m only one woman, and I have a full-time job. You need to do your share of the housework.”

        1. Mary Post author

          There are three separate points of dispute here:

          (1) that no one sensible would “develop code for free that is not in their own fiduciary interest”. Only Kim Lim raised this, I think everyone else understands the various motivations (fun, learning, good cause, etc), they are objecting to your “$8 cocktail” swipe and similar things that imply that you think not contributing is purely a choice between various different hobbies or pursuits, as opposed to being unavailable to some people because they don’t have hobbies or pursuits.

          (2) that you need to be earning “high fives” (which is I guess, >USD50000 per annum) to contribute to Open Source. This is not true as a blanket statement, but I think it’s distracting attention at this point and we should probably leave it be. An income that can be earned in, say, 20–40 hours a week and be sufficient for someone’s basic needs varies wildly based on area, age, dependants, health and debt load among other things.

          (3) that ability to contribute to Open Source is a class issue. I honestly can’t see how you can seriously argue otherwise. Ability to contribute to Open Source requires or is strongly helped by all of the following: access to a computer which you can use for a lengthy period of time, access to an Internet connection, literacy, fluency in English (ideally, or another major world language), leisure time of at least a few hours a week, the energy to spend that leisure time on cognitively intense activities, living arrangements where you have at least potentially uninterrupted time of reasonable quiet, family or housemates who don’t regard you as their personal on-call servant, health enough to have the ability to concentrate enough, education or self-education equivalent to or past Western world high school level, the list goes on.

          The fact that some of the things in (3) intersect with other issues (like race, ethnicity, geographic location, parenting/caring, etc), and the fact that they also apply to a great number of other geek hobbies (including participating in this argument in the first place) doesn’t mean that they aren’t a class issue.

        2. Mackenzie

          Everybody has something that they do outside of work other than sleep (unless they sleep all weekend and work 16hr/day, I guess…). But yes, I do think that how people spend their out-of-work time is wholly dependent on their priorities. Their top priority might be “raise a family” or “have a fun social life” or “get straight As” or “become America’s Next Top Model” or “have the loveliest garden in the neighborhood.” Or it might be “make software Not Suck.” People have different priorities, and that’s a good thing, but are you really denying that priorities are how people allocate their time?

          OK, I’m being ethnocentric, sorry.

          Speaking just from the urban-to-suburban USan perspective (because I’ve never lived any others), quiet-internet-time can be found in a library, for free. Literacy and knowledge of English are generally expected by the time primary school is done (and schooling is free). I don’t think high school education is a requirement (I know a handful of FOSS hackers in the area who’ve been at this since their first year of high school), though it’s also free. Like I said, I don’t think leisure time is class-related, and I’d categorise “family makes me do chores” as one of those responsibilities-that-wreck-free-time (I never said responsibilities were a choice).

          So, in the microcosm of the not-rural US, I don’t think class factors in a lot (way out in the boonies, libraries are likely few and far between though). On a global scale, you’re right that it does.

        3. Brenda

          QUOTE:”Brenda, you said on your blog that you had plenty of time until you had a baby. Your class didn’t change, just your list of responsibilities/priorities.”

          You reckon? Half the income, significantly increased expenses, almost no spare time, unable to pursue many opportunities that arise… something changed.

        4. Mary Post author

          Even allowing for the sudden limitation of the discussion to “urban-to-suburban USan perspective” (which may limit the conversation to just you for all I know, certainly you’ve just ruled out anything Brenda and I have to say) I’m still having trouble taking this seriously. People have already brought up things like using ‘free’ time and cognitive energy for second jobs and night school, which are more likely (yeah, not exclusively, but…) to be needed by people who have relative long-term economic disadvantage. As best I understand the word ‘class’ as being used in this conversation means something like “long-term relative economic and educational disadvantage.”

          It’s possible for some people to make room for Open Source in their life around their two jobs, their kids and their education, yes, but it’s much much harder. Thus if you require it for job applications you are knocking them out of your pool, or near enough to.

        5. Mackenzie

          @ Brenda:
          OK, sorry. I thought you said Calum was getting family-leave money or something though? And I was thinking of class in the rather rough low/middle/upper designations. I have the impression you’re not impoverished… But anyway, the baby causes the income/expenses/spare-time issues. The income doesn’t cause the expenses/time issues, right? Maybe I’m being too erm…anal… about root causes of issues.

        6. Brenda

          should have added some smileys to that reply :-)
          (sorry, i’ve only had 3 hours sleep, and not in one block)

        7. Mackenzie

          I only said US because I have no idea how libraries work in AU/NZ/UK (since I listed them as a source of free internet). I sort of expect that childhood schooling, literacy, and language are pretty similar.

          And I absolutely do not understand why “I have to take care of a child” keeps being lumped in as a class issue. There’s no max income level to have sexual intercourse :P

        8. Mary Post author

          Having children is not a class issue in and of itself, but it intersects strongly with class issues (as well as gender, obviously). Children increase the minimum income required to meet a household’s needs, they interfere with the education and employment history of mothers in particular, they consume parents’ cognitive resources and energy especially when young and/or sick. If relatively disadvantaged already in those regards, caring for children is a major addition to existing difficulties.

  8. S.P.Zeidler

    I agree that it’s not fair. Alas, it does make perfect sense for the employer to select for this.

    At least the employers are up-front about it, so one could prepare for that expectation and get some Open Source experience while one is a student and likely doesn’t have all that many family obligations yet.

    I’ll note that this Google Summer of Code, again, “my” project did not receive any proposals by female students. If they won’t even take the opportunity if they get paid for it, how is the situation ever going to change?

    1. Jonquil

      “If they won’t even take the opportunity if they get paid for it, how is the situation ever going to change?”

      “The door’s open WHY WON’T YOU WALK THROUGH IT” doesn’t work with cats, far less people. Google itself has acknowledged that focusing on to hiring women in software after they’ve graduated from college is too damned late. Google is putting money into encouraging young women to go into science and engineering from elementary school onward, in hopes of widening the funnel.

      In any case, no female applicants to one particular SoC project is hardly “Why isn’t anyone taking the opportunity???” I’m pretty sure that Dreamwidth, for instance, is seeing women applicants for SoC.

    2. Skud

      SPZ, your project’s GSOC ad here on GF was pretty unfriendly, explicitly saying “we don’t have a diversity statement” and “don’t expect special treatment” to prospective female applicants. Perhaps you should look at the way your project communicates to potential GSoC students before blaming them for not applying.

      (Edited to add: to be clear, I don’t think that female students should necessarily *get* special treatment, but saying outright that you won’t give it suggests a kind of defensiveness that could turn people off.)

      1. spz

        “We have a writ that you may join” is supposed to be better than “you will be welcome”?
        And who actually wants affirmative action in a volunteer project when genuine fairness and respect is offered instead?
        I have the impression that what you are reading is not what I (think I am) writing. Or your world is vastly different from mine.

        1. Mackenzie

          “Don’t expect special treatment” sounds defensive like “and if we’re all jerks, well, suck it up, you’ve been warned.”

        2. Mary Post author

          FWIW (and I was never a candidate for SoC, both because I’m on leave from my PhD and caring for a very young child, and when I wasn’t I do not have a SoC-length vacation at any time and certainly not in the southern winter) to me it’s more about the signalling. I’m not intending to imply anything about your intentions, but “don’t expect [affirmative action|special treatment|any favours]” and similar language can be deployed as a code for:

          (a) we, the project, are assuming that unless explicitly warned you, members of minority/disadvantaged groups, will expect special treatment
          (b) we are not interested in changing our project culture, you need to fit it
          (c) if you have any experience of discrimination in our project, don’t expect us to do a lot about it (this is almost a corollary of b, since public discussion of discrimination almost always makes people very angry and is perceived as a threat to the existing culture, it’s very seldom taken as “oops, that was rude and jerky, we’re sorry!”)

          I realise you didn’t say all that, and I’m assuming didn’t mean all that, I’m talking about the way that your words will be read as shorthand for it due to the factors talked about in Being Inclusive vs Being Exclusive.

          Diversity statements and similar sorts of things are less affirmative action (which is actual discrimination in favour of qualified members of minority/disadvantaged groups when in competition with another qualified individual) as they are an attempt to send alternative signals:

          (a) we are interested in your participation to the point of designing/changing our project’s culture around it (up to a point, obviously, projects do have goals to accomplish after all)
          (b) we recognise that you may have experienced discrimination in similar environments and may experience it in ours. We’re open to talking about it, we hope, and acting on it.

          Now it’s true that not all women read the signals this way. “Don’t expect affirmative action” does read to some people as “no fuss will be made over my gender, this project plays by rules of fairness that I know and like.” I think that would be a numerical minority of women reading here though (because of the explicit feminism of the site, which pretty much by definition includes ‘fuss about gender’).

        3. Skud

          @spz: Also note the language used. Your ad doesn’t mention, for instance, that you are happy or pleased to hear from applicants, or that applicants would be welcome. You don’t provide details of how to get in touch with mentors (other than “on irc”, without providing the name of the channel or server). You don’t describe what your project (NetBSD) is, nor what the projects (kernel space, userland, packaging) involve. You say “you need to be a C programmer” and don’t offer alternative skillsets that might be welcome or offer training for those whose C might be shaky. Other projects who advertised in our classified ads did all these things. These, along with mentioning a commitment to diversity, are things that might have encouraged more women — who may have been burned before, or have greater levels of impostor syndrome — to apply.

        4. Brenda

          @spz the “no special treatment” statement is definitely going to filter out people. And it’s not because they wanted “special treatment”. Can you imagine if your local car repair shop, or barber, or restaurant said “no special treatment” in their adverts? how attractive would that make them?

        5. Leigh Honeywell

          “We have a writ that you may join” is supposed to be better than “you will be welcome”?

          Yes, yes it is, in environments like Free Software which have a history of saying “you will be welcome”, or more usually “all are welcome” … in theory… and being hella unwelcome to women in practice. And practice is what counts. Consensus and running code, right? This code ain’t running.

          Because it’s not just a writ that we may join, it’s an explicit acknowledgement of the systemic issues around women participating, and an explicit effort to make sure that those issues, be they discrimination, harassment, whatever get dealt with if they happen.

          I’m curious whether aside from posting here you made any effort to recruit women students? For example, I’ve been encouraging a bunch of people I know to apply over the past year, and made sure that I specifically talked to all of the women in my CS program that I’ve been in touch with. Several applied! As did several of the dudes I talked to! That’s not affirmative action. That’s casting a wider net.

          Sorry if I come off as cranky in this post, but your original comment totally got my hackles up.


        6. spz

          (replying to myself because the comments don’t have Reply buttons)

          Ok, major mis-communication on my part then.

          Let me try again:
          My project doesn’t (can’t really afford to due to manpower limits) do much in the way of bringing newbies up to speed besides the work we put into GSoC, so making someone a member who is going to need hand-holding for the long haul is not something we realistically can do, even if they are an underrepresented minority. A woman joining being greeted with enthusiasm by the women already there, sure, but she’d still need to be able to contribute on her own “soonish”.
          If someone gets accepted it’s not a hand-out, but because they are genuinely good enough. If they are not accepted it will -not- be because they are a minority (“fair”). Under no circumstances will someone be insulted or pestered about anything but their code (depending on the deservingness of said work :), and definitely not about any features of their person (ie things like horizontal or vertical (lack of) expansion/skin or hair color/country or culture of origin/sex/orientation/handicaps/whatever), without the offender being talked to, or being terminated if they are a member and talking-to doesn’t help (“civil”). Remember that this is the project that kicked out one of its founders because said founder couldn’t get his homophobia under control (nor repair his visible behavior with manners).

          Is that clearer? Can one express that in less than novelette length? :}

        7. Jonquil

          SPZ, I keep reading your definitions as though you’re contrasting yourself to some other project.

          A project that says “We welcome women, people of all ethnicities and religions, and with all backgrounds” is saying “Some projects have historically been hostile; we aren’t like that.”

          Your statement reads “If someone gets accepted it’s not a hand-out, but because they are genuinely good enough. If they are not accepted it will -not- be because they are a minority (“fair”). ”

          That tends to imply that you think there are projects where somebody is accepted as a handout, or projects where people are accepted because they’re a member of a minority. If you didn’t think that those projects existed, why would you be mentioning them?

          I’m serious here. When I see somebody saying “We won’t accept anybody just because they’re a minority” it tells me that that person believes there are software projects out there that do accept people just because they’re minorities, that do give out jobs as handouts; in short, that person believes that minorities get an unfair advantage.

  9. lsblakk

    Slightly tangential, but I get miffed at the “get ’em younger and younger” mentality – so Google has scrapped the idea of trying to hire adult women and is instead pouring (how much?) energy into programs for girls? Sounds like a way of not having to do the work now – the work of hiring a woman who might be mature, on her second career, super eager but rough around the edges.

    Is this open source requirement in job positions going to alienate people who are new to programming period? It seems like it can take a while to really ramp up your contributions to an open source project and if you haven’t been doing it since you were 10 years old, you just won’t be able to match up to the other (possibly younger) candidates you go up against.

    I consider myself lucky that the program I took as a returning student had a professor who created classes for us specific to working in open source. This gave me an immensely beneficial opportunity to work on open source projects for credit, which led to an internship, which led to a job in open source.

    Without that chance, I doubt I would have made time to do any significant contributions because open source projects seemed too hard for my student-level skills. Any free time I had outside of class, homework, and a part time job (another bonus for me, that I had some financial support to be able to do full time day school) was usually spent participating in my community, making art, or being with friends and trying to have some balance in my life.

    Not $8 cocktails, but not some monastic coding-centric existence either. I’d like to think that my time spent participating in arts & culture and keeping myself and my dog healthy are valid ways to spend my non-working time.

    I’ll be honest though – if not for the sideways moves that took me down the path I’m on, I doubt I would be working in open source or having more than a cursory interest in participating in projects that I found interesting. No matter how much I believed in them, making time would have definitely stood in my way.

  10. Jonquil

    “so Google has scrapped the idea of trying to hire adult women and is instead pouring (how much?) energy into programs for girls?”

    I’m not sure what part of my statement gave you this impression, but it is not the case. Google is working at all levels from elementary on up, most definitely including hiring. Google offers the Anita Borg Memorial Scholarships to college and graduate-level female students. If you go to Google’s Diversity page, which is linked directly from the Jobs page, there are many, many pictures of women engineers, and a strong and clear emphasis on the importance of hiring people from all backgrounds.

    1. lsblakk

      “Google itself has acknowledged that focusing on to hiring women in software after they’ve graduated from college is too damned late. Google is putting money into encouraging young women to go into science and engineering from elementary school onward, in hopes of widening the funnel.”

      You’re right – on re-reading I realize that you didn’t say such a thing. I suppose my knee-jerk reaction was more “Why doesn’t Google put money into helping women re-train for jobs in science and IT? Why only the focus on youth?”. There are lots of grown women out there who could benefit from assistance in achieving a new career path.

      1. Jonquil

        lsblakk, I don’t know anybody who’s working on ageism in software, and it’s another serious problem. (Most people I know over 40 immediately drop the dates from their resumes; many people report that their callbacks on interviews drop after 40. ) I don’t see Google or anybody else encouraging people to retrain in to software.

        1. Melissa

          Ageism really isn’t limited to the elder members of the community. While no, Google doesn’t launch programmes like GSoC for 40+ folk, it does do stuff for a fairly specific age group that is typically relegated to student incomes and hiring departments that have age minimums. Sure, it’s not covering all bases by a long shot, but I think it is unfair to say they do nothing.

  11. spz


    I do have the impression (maybe I’m wrong) that some other projects are indeed “accepting” women and then putting them in a playpen (“since she only got accepted at her present stage to increase the number of women you can’t expect her to actually have the necessary skill already” is a literal-if-translated remark I read, by someone who doesn’t usually engage in sexism), doing lip service to diversity instead of being fair.
    I would not be happy (upset? insulted? infuriated? sorry, missing the right word at present .. being considered 3/4 of a member because of the way I (might have) got in?) being the woman cited, -especially- if the observation was true.

    1. Leigh Honeywell

      I’d love to know where you’re getting that impression from. I certainly haven’t heard of any orgs “putting women in a playpen”.

      Does the person you’re translating know for a fact that someone was accepted specifically because she was female? Have they personally assessed the merits of her application, and do they know the extent of her qualifications first-hand?

      Because really, “omg she was totally just accepted because she was female” is like an awful How To Suppress Women’s Writing flashback to me.

      All that said – I was a GSoC mentor last year. We didn’t only assess applicants based on their current state of coding 1337ness. And I know that a lot of projects use other metrics as well – communication skills, a clear project plan, etc. Applicants needed to have a clear understanding of what they were getting themselves into – even if they didn’t know how to accomplish their goal right from the start. That doesn’t have any gender. Given that you didn’t manage to attract a single female applicant let alone participant to your project… I just have to call {citation needed} on what you’re saying.

      1. spz

        as to how much the guy actually was informed: no idea.

        > Because really, “omg she was totally just accepted because she was female” is like an awful How To Suppress Women’s Writing flashback to me.

        But it wasn’t that, it was a “don’t kick her she’s greener than we usually take and it’s not her fault”.

        Re GSoC: I tried, not all too well considering how my attempt at attracting other women was received. Next year I’ll leave the marketing attempts to the native speakers again.

        1. Jonquil

          ” “don’t kick her she’s greener than we usually take and it’s not her fault”.”

          That actually strikes me as taking responsibility. We took a chance on this developer, it didn’t work out, we’ll know better next year.

          Here’s the thing. Each of your contributions to this thread has expressed your fear that people (and specifically, in this context, women) will take advantage of your project, will expect unfair treatment. Your job offerings, all of them, express that fear.

          Here’s a writeup that focuses on getting qualified people, without the subtext of “Women expect special treatment, and we don’t do that.”

          NetBSD welcomes developers to the Summer of Code; we’re delighted to see applicants of all backgrounds, including women, people of color, and other nontraditional applicants. [this bit needs wordsmithing, obvs.] Unfortunately, because of the nature of our work on the kernel and other close-to-the-metal projects, we don’t have time for handholding. We need our applicants to show up with a basic understanding of [] and ready to code. However, if you’ve got the chops, our existing diverse team will greet you with open arms (and a lot of work!)

          You can say “We don’t have the cycles to teach you to do this work” without saying “I bet you want special treatment”.

          When you put out an ad and get no women applicants, you can respond in any of three — at least — ways:

          1. Given the workings of chance, *some* project is going to get no women applicants, even when they reach out to the community.
          2. I wonder if there was something about our project statement that made us less inviting to women than other projects?
          3. Women didn’t apply to our project. Why won’t they even bother to take the opportunity?

  12. spz

    > Each of your contributions to this thread has expressed your fear that people (and specifically, in this context, women) will take advantage of your project, will expect unfair treatment. Your job offerings, all of them, express that fear.

    You can’t really take unfair advantage of a volunteer project by joining it (not talking about GSoC but the general case). It mostly means you get to do work for “just” enjoying it (or at least deriving satisfaction from it). The worst that can happen is that you don’t enjoy it, and wander off disappointed, and I wanted to avoid that. It would be nice if we -could- give talented but inexperienced newbies the start-up training that got them to repair all the “not for you, go away”, I just don’t see how.

    Re why, (question 2 and 3 differ?) besides my ad having rather the reverse than the intended effect, from comments of other members of my project that work at universities, their female students advanced enough to tackle our suggested GSoC projects (typically second year CS or related field and later) have had their summer internships lined up long before GSoC. They’re just too employable (and organized). :}

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