Meet an AdaCamper: Stephanie Alarcon

Applications to AdaCamp DC are still open! (Last day!) We’re excited to introduce some of our accepted AdaCampers, to give you a sense of who you’ll meet if you come along.

Photograph of Stephanie Alarcon

by Becca Refford, CC BY

Tell us a little about your home community and/or your work.

I am a sysadmin, hackerspace organizer, and treehugger. I live in Philadelphia, where I work at an academic library keeping their Linux systems humming. I also help organize The Hacktory , a space for making, learning, and experimenting. My other big interest is electronic waste, which was the topic of my master’s thesis in environmental studies.

What is (one of) your key open techology/culture communities or projects? What do you enjoy about it?

I’ve always gotten a kick out of being part of the open source movement simply by choosing to work with open source operating systems and software. Though I don’t make these things, I do help them proliferate.

My early experiences with the open source philosophy completely clicked with the DIY mentality I grew up with, so it was an easy fit. The idea that you should be able to take your stuff apart and see what it’s made of has become engrained in how I think about everything. When the hackerspace movement took root in the US a few years ago, it too was an easy fit. I’d been hanging out with geek friends experimenting with fun things from fermentation to RFID to using iron filings suspended in oil to look at the pattern in a credit card mag stripe. So when the idea became more formalized into shared spaces where people could do this all the time, it spoke to me. Even more than that, I was drawn to the idea of using these spaces to learn and teach. I love helping people discover that tech stuff is way less intimidating than it looks. I like subtly ushering people to the realization that their fear is probably based more on someone else’s confusing explanation or investment in making it look difficult, than in the learner’s ability to grasp it. Open technology makes it easy, or at least possible, to open the hood and see how simple or complex a tool really is. That turns untouchable mysteries into puzzles to play with. That distinction is very empowering.

Photograph of Stephanie Alarcon using a soldering iron

by JJ Tiziou, used with permission

How has being a woman in your community changed during your involvement in it?

It’s hard to say what has changed for women and what has changed for me personally. Certainly it’s much easier to hold my own in a technical discussion than it was when I first started out, but that may have as much to do with getting comfortable in my own skin than any sea change for women in the tech world. The numbers of women system administrators haven’t budged much since I fell into it.

However, it’s undeniable that over the past 2–3 years, the collective voice of women in tech has gained a strength that I’ve never seen. It’s so refreshing to see woman-positive projects like PyStar, and simultaneously see incidents of sexism regularly recognized, called out, and addressed. There’s now a critical mass of people who are unwilling to tolerate sexist stupidity, and these days if you speak out against it, it’s easier to believe that you won’t be alone. This is a credit to women having the courage to stand their ground, and to our allies who are willing to face the problem, recognize that this is hurting everyone, and say enough is enough.

Outside of your involvement with open technology/culture, what are you interested in and working on?

I love working on bikes, recycled sewing projects, and old houses. I’d like to get into e-textile design, specifically from an environmental perspective. How can we make amazing washable technology that avoids the e-waste problems we already have? Last, I’m told that the bulge in my abdomen indicates that I should expect a tiny human spawn to emerge late this summer! It’s super exciting to think about greeting my little one, and working toward improving the childcare and education systems for all of us. My housemates have already noted that we’ll have to make some calculus textbooks available on our shelves for curious young readers to discover. :-)

Are you planning to propose any sessions at AdaCamp? What will they be?

Yes. My friends from The Hacktory and I are hoping to present a hands-on workshop that we wrote called “Hacking the Gender Gap”. You can read about it here:

The Ada Initiative thanks our AdaCamp DC sponsors for making the event possible.

Thank you to our Gold level sponsor the Wikimedia Foundation.

Thank you to our Silver level sponsors: the Linux Foundation, Intel, Facebook, Red Hat, Collabora and Yammer.