tim: A warning sign with "Danger" in white, superimposed over a red oval on a black rectangle, above text  "MEN EXPLAINING" (mansplaining)
In 2004, I attended ICFP in Snowbird, Utah. At the time, Paul Graham was on the schedule to give an invited talk entitled "Don't make the wrong mistakes: programming as debugging".

That might have been an interesting talk. The talk Graham actually gave was "storytime with Grandpa about the dot-com bubble" (which was all of three years ago, at the time.) I don't remember much about the talk, which was quite inane. I do remember the quotes I wrote down on LiveJournal at the time, which I approved of (shamefully... but it was ten years ago):

"It's no coincidence that I'm dressed like this... it's to make an important point. The coincidence is that I'm always dressed like this." -- PG
"Nerds dress informally as a prophylactic against stupidity." -- PG
"If you go to Google and search for 'nerd', I'm what you get." -- PG
"If your code miscalculates the path of a space probe, you can't dodge your way out of it by saying that your code is patriotic." -- PG


There is a liberally rewritten transcript of his talk on his web site. It still has nothing to do with the abstract he submitted to ICFP for his talk. (Full text for all you non-ACM-members out there. I'm pretty sure it's short enough to qualify as fair use.)

Anyway, what's not in the liberally rewritten transcript was the bit where, in the Q&A session afterward, someone asked him his opinion of outsourcing. And Graham said -- I'm paraphrasing -- that he thought outsourcing would be a self-limiting trend, because, "You can send things to India all you want, but eventually you realize you have to hire real programmers."

This is notable because while racism is thoroughly shot through Silicon Valley, it's rarely stated that overtly, that unashamedly, and by someone with some degree of social capital.

In any case, I guess Graham was namesearching on a Friday night, since out of nowhere, he replied to a tweet of mine that was about something else, giving me the occasion to post the tweet that is the pinnacle of my career.

Achievement unlocked: being told by Paul Graham that I should be ashamed of myself.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Dylan Wilbanks makes a really great point in this article about farmers versus laborers, as applied to the tech industry. It's a distinction that's been made before, but for the first time, something really clicked in my mind, something saying that I'm not worse than other people because I don't want to write code in my spare time.

And thinking about it, it occurs to me that the way we (as in young-ish tech workers) are being lied to is that our (collective) bosses demand from us that we behave like farmers -- like, in other words, people who own something -- without actually getting ownership in anything. That we take on all the risks of being owners, without actually owning a thing. That's true whether we're talking about expectations that people do open source work in their free time in order to be deemed worthy of a software job, or whether we're talking about expectations that employees work unpaid overtime to increase profits for people working 40 hours a week at best. When you put effort into a (literal) farm, you're getting something back -- you know it's always going to be yours, and if you do a good job, you're likely to gain economic security. What happens when you put effort into a company that someone else owns? How many businesses succeed? And what about working on an open-source project -- you could view this as contributing towards a collective good, but as Ashe Dryden among others have pointed out, the benefits of open-source work are grossly unevenly distributed.

It reminds me of what Lawrence Lessig wrote about socializing the risks and privatizing the benefits, and I'm sure there's a catchier way to put this, but I thought I should write it down.

And as far as the distinction that the article makes, I'm a laborer, and I doubt I will ever be anything else as long as I stay in the tech industry. (I'm a little uncomfortable using that word to refer to work where I get to be seated in an air-conditioned office all day, but there you go.)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Crossposted to geekfeminism.org.

The Empowermentors Collective is, in their own words, "a skillshare, activism, and discussion network for intersectionally marginalized people of color in the free culture and free software movement." Also from their Web site: "We see radical potential in free culture and free software (often marketed as 'open source software') to work against ableism, racism, cissexism, heterosexism, sexism, and classism."

I think this collective is a great idea, and while it's not something that is open to me, I'll do my best to spread the word about it. But one place I can't spread the word is on any mailing list, forum, or syndicated blog post associated with my company. Since I work for an open-source company, Mozilla, that might employ people who are eligible for and interested in Empowermentors, that's too bad.

Why is that? The Mozilla Community Participation Guidelines say: "Some Mozillians may identify with activities or organizations that do not support the same inclusion and diversity standards as Mozilla. When this is the case: (a) support for exclusionary practices must not be carried into Mozilla activities. (b) support for exclusionary practices in non-Mozilla activities should not be expressed in Mozilla spaces." Empowermentors is exclusionary: it excludes white people, like myself. I support their right to create a safe space so that people who are oppressed can have one place that won't be dominated by people in an oppressor class who may (even in a well-intentioned way) engage in derailing and silencing. So I can't mention the group in a work mailing list email, or a post on Yammer (if I used Yammer), or in a post on my blog that is tagged so as to be syndicated to Planet Mozilla.

This illustrates a problem with codes of conduct that don't explicitly acknowledge social power dynamics and call out the difference between a group that has a history of being oppressive doing things that reinforce the system of oppression in which it operates, and a historically oppressed group engaging in self-defense. Compare Mozilla's Community Participation Guidelines with the code of conduct for the Open Source Bridge conference: "Communities mirror the societies in which they exist and positive action is essential to counteract the many forms of inequality and abuses of power that exist in society." With this one sentence, the organizers of Open Source Bridge communicated that the purpose of the entire code of conduct is to protect people who are abused, not to protect abusers.

Exclusionary groups that are for oppressed people are a positive force, because they give oppressed people time and space to talk about their oppression and/or just live their lives without explaining -- or worse, justifying -- their experiences all the time. For example, programming study groups that are for self-identified women only are a great thing, because it's easier for women to learn when they don't have to worry that if they say something silly or admit they don't know something, the men in the room will hold it against their entire gender. As another example, when I was in college, I didn't understand why the Black students' organization had to exclude white students from participating. Now I understand that white people dominate almost every space, and having an organization where Black students at an overwhelmingly-white college can talk amongst themselves doesn't hurt white students and helps Black students succeed.

But the Mozilla guidelines lump together these socially beneficial groups with white supremacist organizations or the Boy Scouts of America (which excludes queer men from serving as troop leaders). That's a problem. As the Open Source Bridge code of conduct shows, it's an easy problem to solve, as long as the priority of the people writing the code of conduct is to promote justice rather than to suppress tension.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Here's a comment I wrote on a locked post by a friend discussing frustration (as a non-programmer) about being in conversations about programming where people talking about code weren't really making an effort to be understandable. I thought it was worth posting elsewhere.


I can sympathize with this because even though I've been programming for 17 years, I *still* get that "it might as well be Russian" (or Japanese in my case... I know a bit of Russian) feeling quite often when listening to people talk about code... and often, people I feel like I should be able to understand, like my immediate co-workers, or people at conferences (that are dedicated to the small, specialized area I used to focus on). I think part of it has to do with my difficulty processing speech (I can handle small talk just fine, but combine speech processing with any sort of difficult/complicated/abstract *content* and my brain falls over and dies), part of it is anxiety caused by impostor syndrome that ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy (when I can't understand something because I'm devoting too much effort to being worried that I won't understand it), and part of it is that CS and software are just so ridiculously specialized that even confident people with good communication skills just can't understand what each other are talking about if their specialties are different.

But believe it or not, I do know the feeling of alienation that comes from being in one of those conversations... and as with you, I hardly ever get it with any other conversation topic, even ones I know much less about than CS (well, maybe once in a while with physics or math, but most physics and math conversations I'm in on these days are people bullshitting and I'm well aware of that, so...)

Anyway, I'm not sure what the point of this comment is -- I don't think that my lack of confidence in my area of expertise should magically erase your lack of ease talking about an area you have no expertise in -- so I'm not sure what my conclusion is. One is that Bay Area tech culture can be really exclusive (when certain kinds of knowledge are used as a proxy for having had certain life experiences and *not* having had to deal with certain kinds of problems; I didn't have a computer when I was 5 and sometimes I feel like if I did, I'd be able to keep up with my peers). And another is that, well, often geeks just have a really hard time talking (or thinking?) about anything non-technical, and that's a flaw on their part, because part of being polite is to talk about things that won't exclude your conversational partners. I get the feeling people who sell insurance don't talk about it all night while hanging out at the pub. Why can't geeks extend others a similar courtesy? (And I think that also relates to my first point: privilege is *not* having to accommodate other people socially, and if you learned to talk about something besides code you might actually end up including people you'd prefer to exclude.)

ETA: I just came across this post on "technical entitlement", which overlaps with some of what I'm saying but says it more clearly.

Spot-on

Apr. 24th, 2012 04:37 pm
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Currently I’m struggling with the fact that what one needs is not just the ability to say “Fuck you”, but the ability to keep saying it for years and years on end, through ups and downs and uncertainties, in the knowledge that mostly what you get in return for this is the opportunity to keep having to say “Fuck you” for the rest of your life.

I don’t know where that struggle will take me, right now.

-- GemmaM, in a comment on a post about being a woman in tech.

I'm not a woman, but that's still how I feel in being in tech.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Are you running an open-source project? Are you looking for an example to look to as to how to make sure your users don't submit bug reports? Look no further than the OpenOffice community:
"SBA->Mrosin: And PLEASE make it short this time. We're here to work on a software [sic] and not to read books."
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
"Welcome to the SanDisk Community Forums!

SanDisk Corporation ("SanDisk") makes the SanDisk Community Forums available to you subject to the following terms and conditions. ENTERING A SANDISK COMMUNITY FORUM WILL CONSTITUTE ACCEPTANCE OF THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF THIS AGREEMENT. IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO ABIDE BY THESE TERMS, PLEASE DO NOT ENTER SANDISK COMMUNITY FORUMS (ACTUALLY, SOME PEOPLE PREFER "FORA" BUT WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY PERMITS BOTH). Use of the SanDisk Community Forum is limited to participants aged 13 and over."
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (ignorance)
Why I want to set the entire open-source community on fire sometimes: the comments on this post and this post. (The latter of which is from one of my ex-bosses although I ran into it randomly, w00.)

Apparently, if you suggest that using a picture of a woman's bare ass on the title slide of a technical talk might not be the best idea if you want to make women feel welcome in CS, that is ~censorship~. I also can't decide whether it's those comments are the most special, or the ones asking whether also including pictures of naked men in the slides would have made it OK. Also see: examples of more or less every tactic mentioned in the link to "Derailing for Dummies" I posted before this.

I guess it's another entry for the Male Programmer Privilege Checklist. Also, I feel like I need to burn some more reddit karma, brb.

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tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

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