Audrey Eschright is a well-known figure in the Portland, Oregon tech scene, and for good reason: her open source project, Calagator, has been connecting Portland techies with local tech and user group events since 2008. She also co-founded Open Source Bridge, a tech conference that has raised the bar for inclusiveness, diversity, and volunteerism in technical conferences.
Audrey’s newest project is The Recompiler, a feminist hacker magazine that will be launching in summer of 2015. Given Audrey’s successful track record, The Recompiler promises bring something wonderful and valuable to the lives of many technically-minded people. I wanted to learn more about this project and what she hopes to make of it. Our conversation follows; if you’re interested in helping make The Recompiler a success, don’t forget to become a subscriber – a subscription drive is currently underway.
What’s your vision for The Recompiler?
I want to create a community of learning and inclusion for people working with technology, via a print and online magazine, and other media projects. I’m very interested in exploring the diversity that already exists in tech, and connecting the dots to show people pathways into areas of tech beyond the webdev bootcamp –> tech startup job model that seems to be the primary way we’re talking about creating a “pipeline” for under-represented groups to engage in technical work.
I’m at a point in my career, the pipeline isn’t the thing I think about the most anymore. I’m thinking about creating a platform for people to continue to live and work in this space, especially as we find ourselves to be no longer raw beginners, but people who have experience, competence, and yet still need to continue to learn more, keep building our skills.
I’ve also been asking myself: what am I even doing diversity work for? What is geek feminism for? The work of promoting and explaining diversity needs can completely swamp you, take up all your time and energy. If there isn’t still a space to do tech, to build technology that we need, by us and for us, there’s no point.
What sort of content are you envisioning for The Recompiler? Who’s your ideal audience, and what value should subscribing / reading expect to get? How about those who might not normally consider themselves in the readership of a feminist hacker magazine?
I’m looking for a range of content on technical topics: tutorials, articles, personal stories, and also art and illustrations. I’ve been really inspired by zine culture, as well as newer magazines like Lucky Peach that take a topic (in their case, food) and explore it from a variety of angles: factual, creative, work, play, at home, and traveling all over the world.
My ideal audience is people who are working with technology and just starting to be aware of the bigger range of unknown unknowns (I don’t know what I don’t know). And also people who are in other places in their learning progression, but want to continue to expand their knowledge in a fun, playful way. I think that by combining tutorials and technical articles with personal narratives and art, we can build a map of possibilities together.
I hope that for people who see themselves as being outside that audience, it will give them a greater awareness of the real breadth of activities and kinds of participation that are possible in technology. Part of my process as I started working on The Recompiler was to ask myself, what inspired me when I first started to learn to program? What encouraged me to want to be involved in computing? So much of that was about exploring possibilities, building things that hadn’t existed before, and connecting with other people through new kinds of communication tools. I hope that everyone who reads The Recompiler will feel a little of that spark.
Tell me about the history of this project. What inspired you, and what led you to the point where you decided to make The Recompiler happen?
Well, one of the most direct inspirations was Amelia Greenhall’s “Start Your Own B(r)and” post. Around December, January, I was looking at my job and career options, and trying to decide whether to stay where I was, move to another startup, or do something else. I made a list of what I thought I was looking for, and talked to a lot of people, and then Amelia’s post really hit me at the right time.
After that, I talked to a lot of friends about maybe doing a “feminist hacker magazine”, and everyone from Women Who Hack, and people were really into the idea. So I spent some time writing down every idea that came to mind, working out a budget, figuring out what I would need to make it work, then I quit my job to focus on this at the end of March. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about starting a business and going to work for myself, but having so much information about what I needed to learn, and friends who could give me referrals and business advice, that made a huge difference.
The promotional video for your subscription campaign includes cameos by your three cats and a blue puppet I’m familiar with from your 2010 Open Source Bridge talk, “The Fine Line Between Creepy and Fun.” Tell me more about them!
My cats Sputnik, Kirk, and Yuri were all very obliging participants in the video. Sputnik (with the tuxedo) is getting to be a “senior”, but he’s still the most athletic: if he can see where he’s going, he can jump on top. Kirk (the tabby) is a snuggle bunny, sometimes he gets a little *too* enthusiastic and starts to head butt people. And Yuri is the baby, and the softest cat I’ve ever met.
It’s hard to keep Creepius from inviting himself to things like this. The weird little blue monster thinks he’s the star of everything.
Thanks for telling us more about The Recompiler, Audrey! The subscription drive continues for a couple more weeks.
A tech magazine influenced by zine culture — cool! I appreciate learning more about it from this interview. It convinced me to contribute to the subscription drive :)
One interesting thing about The Recompiler that didn’t come up in this interview is that they pay contributors (http://recompilermag.com/participate/).
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My household has now funded this campaign and I hope to attend the launch party. :) I particularly loved seeing (via the video on Indiegogo) that 2600 is one of the inspirations for The Recompiler. 2600 has many virtues, but it pays people in a free t-shirt or a year’s worth of issues of the magazine. I am looking forward to seeing The Recompiler pay people to write “you can totally do this, here’s how” high-quality technical articles.