Some Questions For Brian Carderella and Wicked Good Ruby

This is an anonymous guest post.

Today, the organizers of Wicked Good Ruby decided to cancel the conference. One organizer, Brian Cardarella, posted to the BostonRB list to explain his reasoning.

I have some questions.

Why was there no code of conduct?

Increasing numbers of tech conferences, both within Ruby and otherwise, are adopting codes of conduct. Codes of conduct protect attendees, particularly attendees from marginalized groups, and are an important part of making conferences safer. Codes of conduct also protect conferences and their organizers; having defined policies in place for what to do when harassment happens make the on-the-ground decisions easier to make and more legally defensible after the fact.

Ashe Dryden and the Ada Initiative, among others, have written extensively on why codes of conduct are important and on how to effectively write and implement them. There’s no excuse any more for not having one. Because of this, increasing numbers of people have pledged to not attend events without a code of conduct. Some companies have even decided to not sponsor events without formal codes of conduct.

This may partly explain your speaker-recruitment and sponsorship woes.

Why wasn’t your outreach to female speakers sufficient?

I’m glad that you read the advice that direct outreach to female speakers is often necessary to establish gender balance. However, you make it clear in your posts explaining the cancellation that you were primarily seeking female speakers to avoid “drama,” to not “get destroyed publicly,” to avoid “how crazy everybody gets over the gender issue in Ruby.” Nowhere did you say anything about doing it because it’s the right thing.

I have to wonder: did you read the widely available advice for how to do outreach to female speakers properly? I’m wondering this for two reasons: first, the lack of a code of conduct makes it sound like you weren’t interested in meeting female speakers’ likely needs; this may have contributed to their lack of interest. Second, the way you characterize your outreach makes it sound like you emailed people saying “Hey, I need a woman so the internet doesn’t fall on my head, and you’ll do. Wanna speak at my conf?” That’s not nearly as appealing a prospect as, say, “I really admired your work on [gem]; do you want to talk about it at WGR?”

Maybe I’m being too harsh on you with that assumption. But, still, I wonder why you only asked twelve women, given that you were trying to fill 24-36 speaker slots. (Were you assuming they’d all say yes?) I wonder when you started your outreach process, given that popular speakers are often booked months and months in advance. I wonder why you didn’t even let your CFP hit its deadline before snappishly assuming no women would apply in the last week.

Why did you blame women for WGR’s cancellation?

By your own account, the biggest reason you cancelled WGR was a lack of sponsorships. Why did you throw that frankly bizarre paragraph about lacking talk proposals from women? It’s a nasty little pit of nastiness, and frankly seems pitched to incite the “drama” you claimed to want to avoid.

Why did you want to blame women, instead of the people with the money?

I leave the answer to that question as an exercise for the reader.

7 thoughts on “Some Questions For Brian Carderella and Wicked Good Ruby

  1. Anonymouse

    If Brian’s response to Linda’s gentle criticism is any indication of how he approached potential female speakers (and I daresay it probably is), then it’s really no mystery why he failed to get any women on board. Most women in tech are pretty good at spotting misogynist dudebros from a mile a way, and it would be pretty obvious from the tone and wording of his outreach that if they attended the conference they would AT BEST be tokenized and disrespected. It’s no surprise that the women declined rather than waste their valuable time on that bullshit.

  2. timui

    I’d like to send a message of support to Linda Julien. The thread you linked to is closed, so I can’t write it there, but maybe she’ll read this.


    Your post was fair, and made excellent points. The fact that it was taken up so negatively speaks volumes.


  3. Linda Julien

    Hi all,

    A coworker just pointed me to this post. I’m glad someone other than me noticed, and thanks to all for the direct support.

    It was never my intention to criticize, diminish, or second-guess the hard work that the conference organizers had put in. Running a large event like that is a massive amount of work, and often quite thankless, and I fully understand this. I tried to pepper my responses with a decent amount of encouragement, though I may have missed the mark. After re-reading my initial post, which was written in haste, I sent an immediate follow-up apologizing for the fact that its tone was perhaps a little harsher-sounding than I’d intended. I can’t actually tell that anyone ever read this apologetic follow-up, though I do see it in the archives.

    I found it particularly frustrating, but also quite telling, that people seemed to entirely misunderstand what I was trying to say, lobbed a few attacks in my direction, and then locked the thread while I was commuting home from the office. This meant that there was no possibility for me to respond, to clarify, or to apologize for my tone. I find it difficult to interpret these actions as having any other intent than to silence my voice on the topic, and to ensure that others had the last word.

    This has happened to me before regarding the Boston Ruby Group’s claimed desire to increase women’s participation at events. I just tried and failed to find the logs of the conversation, so I think it might have happened on IRC rather than the mailing list. Nonetheless, the last time I responded with any suggestions about what I, as a woman, would find appealing or not-appealing about Boston.rb events, I was also told that I was wrong, and again, effectively beaten into silence.

    I will be the first to admit that what I want or what I find appealing for increasing women’s participation may not be in total alignment with what the majority of women in technical fields are looking for. However, given that I’ve been working as a professional software engineer for more than two decades, and I’ve spoken at my share of conferences (including big ones that sought me out, invited me, and paid me), I’d like to think that my thoughts on the matter have at least some amount of relevance. Apparently Mr. Cardarella disagrees about this so vehemently that he would prefer to keep me from participating in the conversation rather than consider (or even debate or refute!), my points.

    Again, everyone, thanks for the support.


  4. the OP

    Linda, I also found your email gracious and thoughtful. You expressed your criticisms very constructively – enough so that I was appalled when you were met with that much angry defensiveness on-list.

    I’m sad, though not entirely surprised, to hear that your past efforts to improve Boston Ruby’s community were met similarly. The impression I’ve been getting from these email threads is that people there aren’t interested in changing to attract the women in Ruby who’ve opted out of community participation; they’re just interested in doing the bare minimum so they don’t Look Bad to the people they care about not Looking Bad to. And, of course, the first requirement for real change is *wanting* to change…

    Sigh. Anyway, I’m glad you wrote your email, and you have my best wishes.

  5. Anonymouse

    Linda, you have absolutely NOTHING to apologize for! Your tone was way more respectful than anyone else’s (and certainly more than they deserved!!) and your criticisms were both gentle and constructively worded. Their misogynist pushback had nothing to do with what you wrote and everything to do with your being a woman who dared question how they handled their outreach to women.

    Frankly, I am pretty sure that if you had had a male sounding name they would have at least engaged with you on the subject. But since you have a female sounding one they dismissed you, and your valuable advice, outright. Which is exactly why I think all the women they talked to smelled the shit from miles away and were like “NOEP.”

    Anyway, you were awesome and you deserve so much more than some dudebros who lack self awareness making you feel like you did something wrong by gently giving constructive feedback.

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