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

Content warning: Discussion of violence against women, gun violence, death and rape threats, workplace harassment, suicide (and threats thereof as an emotional manipulation tactic), online harassment, abuse of the legal system to further sexual harassment and domestic violence, and neo-Nazis.

Italicized quotes are from Stephen Fearing's song "The Bells of Morning", which he wrote in 1989 about the École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.

It's All Connected

Donatenow

"Tonight I am speechless
My head is filled with pouring rain
As the darkness falls on Montreal
When violence is shrieking
The city streets will run with pain
Until the moon can shed no light at all"




"Gamergate": the word we dare not write on Twitter, for fear of a torrent of harassment. It started with a spurned ex-boyfriend doing his best to try to drag his ex's reputation through the mud. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, because she makes video games, and he -- as well as an army of supporters initially rallied using the 4chan hate site -- weaponized male video game enthusiasts' terror of women encroaching on their turf.

Why this fear of women? The term "witch hunt" is overused, but Gamergate is one of the closest modern-day analogues to a witch hunt. Teenage boys, frustrated in a culture that doesn't have much use for teenagers at all, were so dedicated in their zeal to spread lies and hyperbole that a major corporation, Intel, acted on the fear they spread. (I use "teenage boys" here to refer to a state of mind.) Like a toddler who has figured out something that annoys their parents and keeps doing it, and like the teenage girls of New England in the 17th century who figured out that they could set a deadly chain of events into motion, these boys are drunk on the power they have stumbled into. Their goal? Stopping a woman they believe to have strange powers: the power to pass off what they see as a non-game as a game, through bewitchment of influential men ("bewitchment of" here means "sex with"). I am being literal here. Read more... )

tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (not offended)
[CW: weight stigma]

Quoted verbatim from a comment I just submitted via the Salesforce intranet (Salesforce is the parent company of Heroku, where I started working a week and a half ago.)
I'm not sure who the right person to contact about this is, but I have some concerns about the content shown on the home page at http://www.getsalesforcebenefits.com/ . For example, right now, there is a panel encouraging viewers to "slim down with the retrofit program". Some employees have -- or are recovering from -- eating disorders, and do not need to see this content, which could be triggering to them. In general, intentional weight loss is not an evidence-based health intervention, and has harmful effects for many people.

The effects of weight stigma on physical health are well-documented and damaging -- I'm happy to provide more information and resources on this topic. http://www.fatnutritionist.com/index.php/why-diets-dont-work/ and http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/the-high-cost-of-weight-stigma/ are both good places to start. I would love to see Salesforce promote the Health at Every Size movement ( http://www.haescommunity.org/ ), an evidence-based, supportive approach to health, as part of its wellness program.

In addition, weight discrimination is illegal in San Francisco: the city's guidelines at http://sf-hrc.org/sites/sf-hrc.org/files/migrated/FileCenter/Documents/LBE_EBO/EBO/Height_and_Weight.pdf state, "Employers must strive to maintain a respectful, non-hostile environment related to weight and height.... Unsolicited comments, advice, or literature recommending weight loss or gain are inappropriate." I think that the content that appears on the Salesforce benefits home page qualifies as "unsolicited advice or literature recommending weight loss", and thus creates a hostile environment for fat employees.

If there is another way I should make this comment, please let me know.

Thanks,
Tim Chevalier

Edit: On July 18, I received the following response to my query:
Hi Ted,

Thanks so much for providing feedback on this communication. I appreciate your concern and candor. We strive to present broad-based wellness programs that help employees find happiness, healthiness and a sense of security. We can certainly take a look at the organization that you suggested. The banner on our benefits homepage has already been taken down based on the rotation schedule.

I'm happy to talk more about our wellness programs (and specifically why we chose to partner with Retrofit) on the phone if you'd like. Thank you again for taking the time to reach out.

Kind regards,
[REDACTED]

(No, I don't know why they addressed me as "Ted" either.) This isn't terribly satisfying, as it doesn't give any indication that the company is going to put effort into complying with San Francisco's anti-weight-discrimination ordinance.
tim: 2x2 grid of four stylized icons: a bus, a light rail train, a car, and a bicycle (travel)
Since it seems that a lot of people don't know what I'm doing (and writing this post won't change that since even if I link it everywhere, the vagaries of various social media software will make sure most people never see it, lol):

I just finished my first week working at Heroku as an engineer on the HTTP Routing Infrastructure team. While most of the first week was spent shuffling ssh keys hither and yon, from here on I'll be writing some Erlang.

I'm living in the Mission (two blocks from Tartine, Maxfield's, and Bi-Rite) for the rest of July, subletting a room in a friend's place.

Since I have the privilege of being able to work remotely, I'm going to take advantage of that privilege for a while (as nice as the Heroku office is). In August, I'll be moving to someplace with lower rent than San Francisco, but within North America (my job is so inflexible ;-) so I can pay off my $30,000 of student loan debt and $12,000 of combined medical and credit card debt more easily. Given my constraints, there are a lot of places in North America to choose from -- specifically, all of them, except San Francisco. Optimizing for relative proximity to people and places I want to visit, proximity to a city with population 100,000+, culture, and low cost of living, I'll probably be looking for a 2 or 3-bedroom rental house in Reno, NV, where I predict I'll be paying about a quarter of the rent that I would pay for a similar place in the Bay Area. Once my debt is paid off (barring anything unexpected, in 6-9 months), I'll probably move back to the Bay Area, but then, who knows what will happen?

It seems that housing is generally "available now", so rather than trying to find a place to live in advance, I'll probably just get in my car at the end of the month and go try to find someplace to live, then return for my furniture and stuff (currently in storage) and my cats (currently staying with a friend in Napa). I'm aspiring to adopt two more cats, assuming I can find a rental place that will allow four cats (and crossing my fingers that my other cats don't hate them).

I would love to hang out with people in the Bay Area while I'm still here, but since I lent my car to somebody for the month to avoid paying half my rent again for a parking space, preferably someplace transit-accessible. I've also been focusing on first-week-of-work panic and finishing-an-article panic, and thus have made zero plans for that yet.
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)
Edit: I've reached my goal of donations from 30 people, but don't let that stop you :-D

I had some grand plans to write blog posts as part of encouraging folks to donate, but over the weekend I caught a case of the creeping crud, and other stuff happened. Even so, at this point 22 people have donated, which means I just need 8 six five three more people one more person to donate by 23:59 PM Pacific time on December 18 in order to say that I achieved my goal of getting 30 people to donate to the Ada Initiative by my birthday!

In lieu of a longer post, here's a short one that connects two of the topics I mentioned earlier.

I'm male, obviously, so you might think I wouldn't care on a personal level whether or not the open-source community is 2% women (as the best estimates currently place it) or 50%. Sure, I used to be perceived as female, and for obvious reasons, that made it less comfortable for me to study computer science and to participate in open-source projects than it would have been if I'd been recognized as male all along. But, you might think, everything's okay now, right? I might still want the scene to be safer for women out of some abstract moral obligation, but it certainly wouldn't bother me on a personal level to not see any women in the room.

You would be wrong if you thought that, because when I'm at work or at a conference and notice that the people doing work on my level are all men, or almost all men, I wonder why. I wonder what else is going on, what I may not have noticed yet that is happening to drive women away. I wonder what I'm being complicit with without even knowing it. Perhaps more than any of those things, I notice the tone of conversations (both work-related and not) and how, in a strongly male-dominated environment, the tone reflects the lack of gender balance. No, I don't mean that guys at software companies are putting up Playboy calendars and sitting around scratching their crotches all day... not usually, anyhow. I'm referring to more subtle things, like whether a project meeting resembles a group of people cooperating towards a shared goal, or whether it looks more like a contest to see who can display the most knowledge and prove himself the winner. And I'm also referring to whether, during lunches or happy hours, people on a team are capable of talking about anything at all with each other besides just work.

It's not that I think women are intrinsically non-competitive or that they're less likely to be singularly obsessed with work. I do think that given the ways women and men are rewarded and punished for certain behaviors, women in tech are more likely to have interests outside tech and less likely to prioritize displaying how much they know ahead of getting a job done.

I find it depressing and toxic when the only people I work with are men. And I find that to be a distraction from getting my job done. Some people might see it as a distraction when I bring up sexism in my workplace -- for me, it's just something I'm doing in the hopes of creating an environment where I can do my job better, like getting an ergonomic keyboard or sitting near a window. It's not that women's place in tech is just to make guys like me happier, of course. Rather, gender ratios are something that can be measured and that are quite likely to be one proxy for a workplace that's functioning well. A company whose hiring process systematically excludes women is likely to be one whose hiring processes are broken in many other ways as well, and more broadly, that has a culture that's hurting productivity in more ways than just gender imbalance. (Gender imbalance hurts a project or company because it means that people who could contribute more are being pushed out in favor of people who can't contribute as much, just because they're the wrong gender -- and gender is a trait that's irrelevant to performance as a programmer.)

Nothing is going to change without concerted effort, because many men feel they benefit from a professional culture where they don't have to work as hard because they don't have to compete with women. And as I wrote before, one of the groups that's most likely to be remembered as having had an effect is the Ada Initiative.

Thanks again to the people who have donated so far:
  1. [twitter.com profile] Angry_Lawyer
  2. [twitter.com profile] josephcorcoran
  3. [twitter.com profile] ffee_machine
  4. [twitter.com profile] ArdaTisya
  5. [twitter.com profile] nerdonica
  6. [twitter.com profile] chrisleague
  7. [personal profile] cynthia1960
  8. [personal profile] nou
  9. [personal profile] substitute
  10. +n tung (gatoatigrado)
  11. [personal profile] miang
  12. [livejournal.com profile] anemone
  13. Eugene Kirpichov
  14. [twitter.com profile] scouttle
  15. [twitter.com profile] sixty4k
  16. [twitter.com profile] atombeast
  17. Eli Lebow
  18. [twitter.com profile] etrolleybus
  19. [twitter.com profile] aeolianharp
  20. Summer and Carl
  21. [twitter.com profile] acfoltzer
  22. [personal profile] nentuaby
  23. [twitter.com profile] sebfisch
  24. [twitter.com profile] Rohboto
  25. [personal profile] flippac
  26. [twitter.com profile] kowey
  27. [personal profile] gfish
  28. [profile] gwillen
  29. [twitter.com profile] ImreFitos
  30. [personal profile] pseudomonas
  31. [personal profile] yam
  32. [twitter.com profile] PerceptibleBlue
  33. [personal profile] callmesquinky
  34. [livejournal.com profile] rjmccall
  35. [twitter.com profile] musingvirtual
  36. [personal profile] karlht
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Reposting what I posted on Facebook and G+:

Reminder: for my 33rd birthday, I'm trying to raise funds for the Ada Initiative from 30 people. So far, 1213 (awesome) people have donated. (See my previous birthday wish post for the list of people.) I only have a week left till my birthday, so please don't hesitate!

On the off chance that you missed it, the Ada Initiative works to make it possible for women to contribute to open-source software and to free culture initiatives (like Wikipedia) of all kinds. In a very short period of time, their work has been critical in encouraging more technical conferences to have meaningful codes of conduct, which can be the difference between women realistically expecting that they will be harassed just for existing at any technical conference they attend, and harassment no longer being the norm. They also organize hands-on sessions to help women strategize about handling impostor syndrome, and help companies that want to hire women but don't know how. Especially if you are privileged enough to work in the tech industry, and if you recognize that part of your good fortune arises not from your own merit but from the unearned advantages that have accrued to you socially (such as male privilege, white privilege, cis privilege, heterosexual privilege, abled privilege, or all of the above), consider giving something back to help more people live the life you live. And if you do, let me know so I can thank you!

I intended to write an interesting TAI-related blog post every day until I reached my goal of 30 people donating, but you know what intentions are worth. Still, if I get to it this weekend, expect to see posts about some of the following:
  1. Technical confidence, overconfidence, and codes of conduct
  2. What I didn't say (at times when I've been told things like "your views are too aggressive" and "you're making people uncomfortable)
  3. Microaggressions at the Mozilla Summit
  4. Having to earn the right to criticize
  5. Why having every professional space be male-dominated hurts me, and why I'm probably not the only man who feels that way
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
If one wishes to promote the life of language, one must promote the life of the community---a discipline many times more trying, difficult, and long than that of linguistics, but having at least the virtue of hopefulness. It escapes the despair always implicit in specializations: the cultivation of discrete parts without respect or responsibility for the whole.

-- Wendell Berry, "Standing By Words"

Programmers, of all people, ought to understand the power of language. The desktop, laptop or mobile computer you are using to read this blog post would be useless without software, which -- uniquely among the various types of things engineers build -- is constructed solely from language. The magical thing about programming, the thing that drew me to it 18 years ago, is that it turns ideas into reality.

Yet a lot of programmers seem to have a selective lack of understanding of how ideas, as expressed through language (particularly gendered language), construct reality. I find that somewhat curious, given how much time programmers can spend arguing over whether a certain programming language should use a semicolon or a comma for a particular language construct.

When the news about the libuv gendered pronouns patch dispute broke last week, I was going to write a blog post about it. It was going to be a lengthy one, as is my style. But because reasons, I kept putting off actually writing that post. I also avoided reading others' posts about it, because I had some specific things in mind to say and I didn't want to confuse myself.

Today, though, I read Bryan Cantrill's post "The Power of a Pronoun". Bryan is the VP of Engineering at Joyent, the company that sponsors libuv. As Bryan points out, Ben Noordhuis -- the libuv contributor who reverted the patch -- was a volunteer, and thus can't be fired. (At least not straightforwardly.) And, in fact, Ben ended up leaving the project voluntarily after all of this went down. But, Bryan says

But while Isaac is a Joyent employee, Ben is not—and if he had been, he wouldn't be as of this morning: to reject a pull request that eliminates a gendered pronoun on the principle that pronouns should in fact be gendered would constitute a fireable offense for me and for Joyent. On the one hand, it seems ridiculous (absurd, perhaps) to fire someone over a pronoun -- but to characterize it that way would be a gross oversimplification: it's not the use of the gendered pronoun that's at issue (that's just sloppy), but rather the insistence that pronouns should in fact be gendered. To me, that insistence can only come from one place: that gender—specifically, masculinity—is inextricably linked to software, and that's not an attitude that Joyent tolerates. This isn't merely a legalistic concern (though that too, certainly), but also a technical one: we believe that empathy is a core engineering value—and that an engineer that has so little empathy as to not understand why the use of gendered pronouns is a concern almost certainly makes poor technical decisions as well.
In this post, Bryan Cantrill shows he understands something that's woven into the fabric of daily life for many of us: the little things matter, and as I've written before, the little offenses lay the groundwork for the big ones. (Thanks to Valerie Aurora and Leigh Honeywell for their insights in the posts that my own blog posts just elaborate on.) Assuming that Bryan's attitude displayed here is consistent and is part of the culture at Joyent, that means Joyent is a company I would be happy to work at someday.

Contrast this with my most recent former employer, Mozilla. While there are many individuals at Mozilla I could name who share a commitment to inclusion, I'm sorry to say that the company as a whole lacks any such commitment -- and I mean a commitment that is expressed through actions and not just aspirations. I wrote about one such example at great length. But a more recent one happened after I told one of the other members of the Rust team that I was considering leaving Mozilla.

I asked this person (who will remain nameless, since it isn't my intent here to single out individuals or to invite accusations that I'm starting a witch hunt, rallying a pitchfork-wielding feminist mob, or any of the hyperbolic cliches that people terrified of losing privilege use to shame people like me into silence) if there was anything he thought I should know before making up my mind over whether to accept my offer from another company. We spent some time first talking about issues that were (at least superficially) unrelated to the topic of this post. But then he told me that he thought I should know that other people on the team were "uncomfortable" with my "offputting" views about gender. He said that everybody on the team agreed with my views on feminism, it was just that some of them disagreed with how I expressed them. (This is a common derailing tactic.) I can't know whether he was speaking only for himself or whether several other people on the team truly do agree with him, since he didn't name any of the other people who he was citing to back up this statement. In any case, the sole concrete example that my now-former colleague gave of just what was "off-putting" about my views was that several times, I had asked people on the #rust IRC channel not to use "guys" to refer to the members of the channel collectively (as in, "Hey, guys, I have a question..."), since there are people of various genders who spend time on the IRC channel. He said that he felt this was hurting the community because it made people "uncomfortable".

This, by the way, happened not long after Lindsey Kuper, a long-time Rust contributor, wrote about her experience with harassment on #rust, as well as another woman who is a regular in #rust reported that she had received a sexual advance via private /msg from someone who was, presumably, scrolling through the list of users in #rust and looking for the first female-coded name to target for harassment. And so it was clear to me that when my former colleague said he was worried that asking people to use inclusive language would make them "uncomfortable", he was not speaking out of concern for the comfort of either Lindsey, or the woman who another #rust member hit on via private message, or for any other women who contribute to Rust, or for any women who might want to. Rather, he was speaking out of concern for the comfort of people who have male privilege and are so very sensitive about it that a request to think about how other people feel about the language they use would affect their desire to use a programming language.

On the one hand, Mozilla's stated mission is to "keep the Internet alive and accessible, so people worldwide can be informed contributors and creators of the Web". On the other, if we look at actions and not at aspirations, Mozilla's enforcement -- and lack of enforcement -- regarding appropriate professional conduct seems tailor-made for protecting wealth and privilege, for ensuring that even if anyone can contribute to the Web, a privileged few (those who are mostly white, mostly North American and Western European, mostly male, and mostly heterosexual) will retain control over it. I left. I couldn't manage the cognitive dissonance anymore.

In the world of open-source companies, are more of them like Joyent -- asserting empathy as a core value -- or are more of them like Mozilla -- too concerned with privileged programmers' comfort to carry out justice? (Note that if you're too afraid to ask for non-sexist conduct because of who you are afraid you'll alienate, you are implicitly saying that you believe your project cannot survive without the contributions of sexist and willfully ignorant men.) I really don't know the answer. But I do know that empathy won't spread by itself, and that social change takes sustained and diligent effort.

So, for a third time: it's my 33rd birthday in twelve days. If you have more than $1 to spare, you can make it a good one by donating to the Ada Initiative. I already wrote about why I think TAI has had an effect and will continue to have one -- with your support. You can join the ranks of those who have donated so far if you just let me know!

See a more recent post for the list of awesome folks who have donated so far.

Remembering

Dec. 6th, 2013 03:16 pm
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
In lieu of a longer post towards my birthday wish for donations to the Ada Initiative, I'll quote Leigh Honeywell on the 24th anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre:
While Montreal stands out in our timeline as one of the few acts of outright violence documented there, we must remember that the “tits or GTFO”s of the world exist on a spectrum of micro- and macro-aggressions, oppression, and violence that we must be vigilant for in our communities, online and offline.
Every active refusal to use language that includes women; every rape apologist who continues to be a respected leader in the open-source community; every time that men terrorize a company into firing a woman for protesting sexist conduct makes it harder for women to feel safe working in technology, in a way that is more complicated but no less real than the way in which a man with a gun did so in 1989 in Montreal. Every one of these instances is about men defending their turf and protecting the high status of their field from women whose presence might make it less comfortable and lucrative for gender-normative men with traditional attitudes about gender roles.

If you want to help make technology a safer industry to work in for everyone who isn't a white heterosexual abled cis man, then please consider making a donation to the Ada Initiative and letting me know that you did so!
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (computers)
Edit: I've reached my goal of donations from 30 people, but don't let that stop you :-D

For the second year in a row, I'm fundraising for the Ada Initiative (TAI) for my birthday. I'll be 0x21 years old on December 18 (that's 33 in base ten, but who's counting?) If you would like to celebrate with me, please make a donation and let me know. Since I'm turning 33, I suggest a donation of $33 if you can afford it -- but seriously, any amount matters, even $1.

My post from last year about why I support TAI still applies. The events of the past year have just strengthened that conviction. From the harassment and firing of Adria Richards for daring to be a Black woman in tech who spoke up against inappropriate behavior at a software conference, to last month's appalling dispute about whether or not software documentation should marginalize women, to the news that open-source community leader Michael Schwern committed domestic violence, to some stuff in my own life that I'm not quite ready to write about yet, it's been clear that there's a lot more work that remains to make it safe for women to work in the tech industry, especially intersectionally marginalized women.

The Ada Initiative is one of the few groups that exists solely to work on that problem, and they have been very effective at it so far. TAI "specifically welcomes trans women and genderqueer women" and "[strives] to be an intersectional social justice organization" (quoting directly from the About Us page).

As with last year, I'm asking that people donate directly to TAI, using their donation form, and then let me know. My goal for this year is for 30 people to donate (why 30? Last year, my goal was 20, but 27 people actually donated, so I think I can improve on that this year). If you don't let me know, I won't be able to know if I reached my goal, and I'll be sad. You can let me know by commenting on this post, tweeting at me or commenting on my Facebook wall, or -- if you prefer to be private -- emailing me (catamorphism at gmail.com) or sending me a private message on any of the services I use. Also, I will assume it's okay to thank you in a public post by the name or pseudonym that I know you by unless you tell me otherwise. You don't have to tell me the amount that you donated.

If you've donated to the Ada Initiative this year already, great! If you can, please donate a little more for my sake :-)

As with last year, I am going to try to post something on my blog every day until I reach my goal of 30 donors, even if it's a link to a post written by someone else or an older post of mine. I'll have the first installment -- my thoughts on the aforementioned libuv gendered pronouns patch dispute -- up either tonight or tomorrow!

To make things more fun, I'm issuing a challenge: write a blog post (doesn't have to be long) about anything related to diversity and inclusion in open-source, software more generally, computer science academia, or free culture (e.g. Wikipedia), broadly construed. Then, comment here with a link to it, before 00:01 Pacific time on December 18. I happen to have an extra Ada's Angel T-shirt that I will send to the person who writes the best post (in my opinion). Another option is to add a page to the Geek Feminism Wiki or improve an existing one -- in that case, leave a link to your edit. The T-shirt is black, size XL straight-cut, with the Ada's Angel design on the back and a smaller design at the hip.

Thanks!
ETA: Thanks to those who have donated so far -- see a more recent post for the current list.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
"I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.' Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

-- Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Content warning: discussion of rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and victim-blaming in linked-to articles.

I'm about to submit I just submitted a pull request to add my name to the Tech Event Attendance Pledge. Specifically:

  1. I will not attend any tech events where Joe O'Brien (also known as @objo) is in attendance.
  2. I will not attend any tech events without a clear code of conduct and/or anti-harassment policy.

For me, the first item is likely to be a moot point, since I'm not a Rubyist (although I play one on TVpodcasts). Even so, I think it's important for me to explicitly say that a space that's unsafe for women is a space that's unsafe for me. And a space that accepts harassers, abusers, or rapists who have not been held accountable or shown remorse for their actions -- whether we're talking about Joe O'Brien, Michael Schwern, or Thomas Dubuisson, just to pick a few out of many examples -- is an unsafe space.

The second item is more likely to affect my day-to-day activities, but fortunately, the two conferences I'm most likely to attend in the future already have anti-harassment policies. Open Source Bridge's code of conduct is a model for all other events of its kind. And ICFP (along with all other SIGPLAN conferences) has an anti-harassment policy. At this point, there's no reason for any conference organizers to not have already done the work of establishing an anti-harassment policy (and it's not much work, since the Citizen Code of Conduct is available and Creative-Commons-licensed to permit derivative works; it's the basis for Open Source Bridge's code of conduct), so there's no reason for me to speak at or attend a conference that doesn't have one.
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: protest sign: "Down With This Sort of Thing" (politics)
I read a tweet from Neil deGrasse Tyson that someone retweeted in which he says: "Advice to Students: When choosing a career, consider jobs where the idea of a vacation from it repulses you."

I like snorkeling. My job doesn't involve snorkeling. Does that mean I should quit my job and find one that requires snorkeling? I don't think so, because there aren't too many jobs that involve both snorkeling and computer programming, and I like programming too. Maybe there's some marine biology job somewhere that would require me to do both. Well, what about riding my bike? I still wouldn't be able to do that as part of my job. I like many things, and am unlikely to find a job that involves all of them. On the extremely rare occasion that I'm allowed to take a vacation that doesn't involve having surgery, I do things that I like to do that I can't do at work.

I'm poly, which means that when I have relationships, I prefer them to be based on informed consent rather than rigid rules that originate in cis men's need to control everybody else's bodies. That's not necessarily right for everyone, I'm just talking about me. One of the great things about being poly is that I don't have to find a single person who can fulfill all of my needs. I don't expect to be able to do that. So why would I expect one job to fulfill all of my needs?

A worker who doesn't want to take a vacation is a manager's dream come true (and in the Bay Area, it's said that companies like Netflix that have unlimited paid time off actually exert intense informal pressure on workers not to use any of it). Such a worker can potentially make management very happy. I've never heard of a CEO who never took vacations. The people I know who measure their job satisfaction by the number of hours they work are usually software engineers -- people who labor so that other people, generally not working 90-hour weeks, may profit. (It's true that in a startup, people may work long hours in the hope of profiting themselves, but this certainly isn't the norm.)

The US provides workers with the least amount of vacation time in the world. For middle-class Western Europeans, a job with three weeks of paid vacation time -- considered generous in the US -- would be shocking. Does that mean that Europeans who are scientists, engineers, teachers, and doctors love their work less than American scientists, engineers, teachers, and doctors love theirs?

Neil deGrasse Tyson might love his job enough to never take a vacation, but I don't love my job less than he loves his just because I sometimes want to do things that aren't in my job description. Different people are different; liking more things doesn't make a person less virtuous than somebody who likes one thing to the exclusion of all others. Just as we create unrealistic expectations by enforcing lifelong monogamy to the exclusion of all other ways to structure relationships, and teaching young people that they can undoubtedly expect to find just one person who can give them everything they need, we also create unrealistic expectations by teaching the young that they can expect to find one job that they love so much they never want to do anything else.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I stayed at the office until about 11 PM trying to git bisect this performance regression (that it's possible that only I am experiencing; perhaps the space-time continuum around me and my MacBook is just flawed; 20 seconds for parsing libcore instead of 8 seconds seems like a big deal, though, and that applies to other phases as well), got results that didn't make sense, started over, and left without finishing (each bisecting step takes 5 to 15 minutes, depending whether it's rebuilding LLVM). If I were cleverer, I'd have figured out how to write a script to automate it.

In any case, as I so often do, I left feeling like I was the worst programmer ever *and* hadn't even succeeded in doing anything that was just for me today. I'm way behind schedule on rustpkg, what I'm ostensibly supposed to be working on; I started bisecting performance stuff because that was blocking me on rustpkg, and I started doing other stuff in the background like bug triaging since I needed *something* to do while waiting for compiles, but still, there's something I'm supposed to be doing and I hadn't gotten very far on it.

But before I left, I read the news that the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River -- over which I would otherwise have been driving tomorrow night (I'm driving down to Seattle so I can catch a plane to San José so I can look for apartments on Saturday and Sunday, then fly back up to Seattle and drive back to Vancouver on Sunday for my last week) -- collapsed, because a truck driver ran into part of the bridge, which caused the bridge to collapse.

I started thinking about how it would feel to be that truck driver. If I make a mistake at my job, usually I just feel bad about it, or in the worst case, a few people get annoyed with me. This person made a mistake at their job and caused a bridge to collapse. All by themself! (Probably some of the blame goes to the civil engineers who designed the bridge, but even so, lots of other people managed to drive over the bridge and not make it collapse.)

When I get frustrated with my work, lately I've been thinking, "well, if all else fails, I could become a truck driver." I like driving and I'm happier when I'm in motion. There are lots of things that appeal to me about it, actually.

But the fact remains that as a programmer, no matter what I do, I know I'm not going to make a mistake that will immediately destroy a bridge.

So I think I'll keep my day job for now.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I've got a new blog post up at geekfeminism.org about structureless organizations and whether or not they are good for people experiencing marginalization in the tech industry. You can also read my past posts on geekfeminism.org.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
When I was a grad student at Portland State, during 2008-2010, I took a second job in addition to my research assistantship, doing scientific and technical editing for a company called American Journal Experts (AJE). AJE hires grad students to copy-edit academic articles written by authors whose first language wasn't English. The rates they pay are very low -- because the rates are based on the article length rather than on time spent, and because many papers were in seriously poor shape, I usually found it necessary to spend so much time on a single paper that my rate came out to minimum wage or below. But, it was a job I could do from home at any hour of the day, and because my research assistantship didn't come with health insurance, I had very little choice but to take a second job so I could pay the student health insurance premiums (which tripled in cost during the four years I was at Portland State).

Anyway, AJE hired grad students as independent contractors, and for all I know, they still do. However, in the US, "independent contractor" is a term with a very specific meaning. A company can't just hire anybody they want to as a contractor -- they have to follow certain rules for how they treat that individual. As AJE began to exert more and more control over how I did my editing work, I began to think that I was really an employee, so I filed an SS-8 form with the IRS to request reclassification as an employee. That was in April 2010.

I never got a reply from the IRS beyond the initial one saying my letter had been received... until this past weekend, when I happened to be at my former housemate's house for a party and she handed me a letter that had been sent to me there. The letter was dated January 2013 and in it, the IRS stated that I had indeed been an employee of American Journal Experts, as per the legal definition of what "employee" and "independent contractor" mean in the tax code. The letter also stated that normally, the IRS tries to get both sides of the case in an SS-8 reclassification -- the employee and the employer -- but that AJE never replied to their request. I guess this may have been why it took more than two and a half years for the IRS to process my SS-8. (I was surprised by the length of time, since in 2006 when I requested (and was granted) reclassification as an employee after I'd worked as a contractor for Laszlo Systems, I received a response from the IRS very promptly.)

What this means for me concretely is that although I paid self-employment tax for the years when I worked for AJE, I didn't really have to, because AJE should have been paying half of my FICA taxes. Unfortunately for me, the statute of limitations on tax refunds is three years (from when I filed my return), so I can only file an amended return for 2010; 2009 and 2008 are water under the bridge.

This means something for a lot of other people as well: AJE has hundreds of grad student contractors, or rather, employees, and because their jobs are no different from my former job, they can all file SS-8 forms as well. I don't know what will happen if AJE continues to hire new employees while misclassifying them as contractors.

To help anyone who might want to do this, here's a PDF link to my filled-out SS-8 form that I submitted in 2010. The form mentions an auxiliary letter, and here's another PDF containing both that letter, and the reply I received from the IRS 2 1/2 years later. The IRS really gets a bad rap, but both times I've gone through the SS-8 process, I've been impressed by the clarity and thoroughness of the letters I've received in response. My auxiliary letter mentions some supporting documents that I haven't included in the PDFs, but if you want to see the whole package for whatever reason, let me know.

At this point, you might be saying, "what's the big deal, Tim? Don't companies abuse independent contractor status in this way all the time?" Yeah, they do, but I think it's a big deal every time that they do, because every time that they do, it's one more reminder to all of us that corporations get all of the privileges of being people and none of the responsibilities. If people (specifically poor and working-class people and people of color) get punished when they break the law, corporations should have to follow the law too, whether or not they like the laws, and whether or not the laws are convenient to follow.

Feel free to pass around this link to people -- it's public -- either because they've worked for AJE, or because they've done similar work, or just because they want an example of a filled-out SS-8.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Over on geekfeminism.org, I wrote a reflection on Joseph Reagle's article "Free as in sexist?": "Open Source, Closed Minds?" I've written a few other posts on geekfeminism.org that I forgot to link to here:
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
"So, it's meme time. Describe-what-you-do-using-the-most-common-thousand-words-in-American-school-fiction time." [personal profile] pseudomonas pointed out that the corpus used here is a bit weird, but constraints are fun, so I'm going to roll with it anyway.

People tell computers to do things by writing words. To make it easier, they come up with different "word sets" for the computer. There are word-sets that are built into computers, which we say are "low". And there are word-sets that people use to tell the computer what to do, which we say are "high". I work on one of the high word-sets.

One of the things that happens when people tell computers what to do is that people can get confused. Then, the computer does the wrong thing. When that happens, cars might not want to stop, or an up-goer could burst into fire. To make people less confused, a high word-set can have "types". A typed word-set doesn't let you put one sort of thing where a different sort of thing is supposed to go. We say a typed word-set is "safe" if someone showed that if your words use types the right way, then your words will do the thing they stand for and the computer won't get stuck trying to do it.

When people tell computers what to do, they usually want the computer to do it quickly. Some of the high word-sets are safe, but not so good for making computers go fast, because the words in them are very different from the low word-set that the computer uses. Other word-sets are very close to the low word-set, but they make it easier to get confused when you're writing words. The word-set I work on makes it easy to tell the computer to do things quickly, and also easy to be less confused while using it.

Finally, a computer you buy now is usually made of lots of little computers. It's hard to think about what all of the little computers should do at the same time, because you only have one brain to think with. One way to think about telling all the little computers to do is to stop them from sharing memory with each other. Instead, you can make them talk to each other by sending notes to each other. The word-set I work on lets you use this "note-passing" way of getting all the computers to do work at the same time.

How do we turn the words we write into things a computer can actually do? The answer is that we write more words to tell the computer how to turn words from our high word-set into words from the computer's low word-sets. Those words we write help the computer turn a few big words into a lot of small words. I work on one of those "computer-help things" for our high word-set. I fix parts of it where people got confused before, and sometimes I help change it to handle new and different words.


I'll just make one observation here: "computer" is in the corpus, but "language" isn't.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
On January 2, 2012 I started work at Mozilla as a seasonal employee working on the Rust team. In March, I was offered and accepted a permanent position, and as of today I've been full-time (which is to say, not an intern -- sometimes "full-time" gets contrasted with "contractor/seasonal", in which case my one-year anniversary wouldn't be for 3 more months) for one year. Post-master's-degree, I've had five different full-time jobs including my current one, and three internships including Mozilla, but I've never stayed at any of them for more than ten months other than Mozilla. I guess that says I like it here?

This year was full of more heartbreak, fury, grief, and difficulty than I would have ever expected to experience in conjunction with a job. On the other hand, working with the Rust team has been as much of a pleasure and a joy as I can imagine any compiler engineering job being. There's a change that I'm hoping to make happen early this year that I'm hoping will help me contribute more fully, but in the meantime, I'm just taking a moment to remind myself that I made it. Especially after how I got pushed out of grad school, it's been a relief to work with people who support me. Thanks to Dave, Graydon, Patrick, Brian, Niko, Alon, Donovan, Andrew, Jesse, Lukas, Christie, and everyone I'm forgetting about for the laughs/lunch companionship/collaboration/help/advice/IRC conversations/etc. Also thanks to the summer interns -- Lindsey, Paul, Eric, Brian, Sully, Ben, Margaret, Stephen, Elliott, and (again) everyone else I'm forgetting -- for bringing needed enlivenment to the office :-D
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I was working on a post about impostor syndrome, but it got long, and it's not going to get finished tonight. So instead, a quick look into the geekfeminism.org archives: back in August, Mary Gardiner (the other co-founder of the Ada Initiative, along with Valerie Aurora) pointed out: "people love to support geek girls, they are considerably more ambivalent about supporting geek women." It's a great post, and you should go read the whole thing.

I think the issue of why adults seem more willing to support young female (or, possibly, just CAFAB) geeks while (for example) criticizing programming events for teenage or adult women as being "exclusionary" also relates to the issue of ownership that I talked about yesterday. A five-year-old who wants to take a Star Wars water bottle to school isn't a threat to adult male geeks' turf. She's not competing with them for jobs, and she's also not doing the same work as them and (in their minds) lowering its status by making it work that a woman could do. She's just a cute kid. Talking about the structural factors that exclude young adults and adults from working in tech and being part of geek culture (where the latter is often necessary for the former) if they happen to be socially placed as female is harder. It's less comfortable; it's more threatening to the systems that reinforce some men's notions of their value and worth, as well as giving them unearned advantages, like getting paid more than women for doing the same work. It's also hard to talk about how endemic sexual harassment and sexual assault are in supposedly "professional" spaces in the tech industry -- an issue that (we'd at least like to think) is not so looming for kindergartners. It's hard because talking about it honestly means beginning to acknowledge that rape and abuse happen because all of us get taught to accept and sometimes even encourage them; not because a few aberrant individuals are monsters.

Changing minds -- even just creating a space where we don't stop encouraging everyone who's not cis and male the minute they turn 11 -- is long, hard work. The Ada Initiative is doing that work, and if you support them, you'll be helping with it. And if you let me know, you'll be helping me get 8 more people -- for a total of 20 -- to donate for my 0x20th birthday! By doing so, you can join the ranks of the fantastic [personal profile] miang, [personal profile] yam, [personal profile] cidney, [personal profile] nentuaby, [twitter.com profile] leilazilles, [personal profile] pseudomonas, [twitter.com profile] davidcarr_2001, and [personal profile] pastwatcher! (Just to name the people who donated non-anonymously, in the past 24 hours.)

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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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