Michael Schwern: "Who else are we driving away? What ideas are we losing?"

Updated September 24th, 2013: Michael Schwern has been arrested on domestic violence charges, though the District Attorney declined to charge him. The Ada Initiative declines to work with Michael Schwern in future or support his ally work. See our full statement here.

We’re busy behind the scenes at Ada Initiative HQ, so today we’re bringing you some wisdom from Perl developer and ally Michael Schwern.

Michael G Schwern is a long time Perl developer, both in the sense of developing in Perl, and in the sense of developing Perl. In June this year, he gave the keynote address at YAPC::NA 2012 (Yet Another Perl Conference, North America), on the subject of diversity or lack thereof in the Perl community, and Open Source software in general.

As part of Schwern’s talk (from 04:52) he asks what the Perl community is losing, when it isn’t diverse:

And it really pains me to say this but our meritocracy is broken. And like I said this isn’t really about women, this is about us. This is about — demographic diversity is the canary in the coal mine. Gender is simply easy to track. It’s the most obvious thing in front of our face.

If gender is out of whack, if demographic diversity is out of whack,then there’s a good chance that other things are as well. And have we optimised ourselves for thick-skinned male library developers? And even now beyond that if we’re doing something to drive away women, who else are we driving away? What other sorts of people? What ideas are we losing? And what viewpoints and skills?

So who do we tend to have trouble finding in the Perl community? And what skills are underrepresented? Tech writers, mobile developers, Windows users, yeah how often do you need to fix something on Windows and you can’t find anybody? Grant writers, interface designers, community managers, GUI developers, new programmers, new to Perl programmers, conference organizers, graphic designers, teachers, trainers… young folks, old folks, marketing people, business people. All of these skills are needed for a healthy language community.

And when I talk about growing the Perl community I don’t mean just more of the same. I mean different kinds of people. Different ideas, different thoughts, different viewpoints. So we can adapt and change and grow and be healthy as the world around us. And technology changes. If we don’t change with it we just get left behind.

And the problem is not that we’re bad people or that we do awful things. The problem is that we’re so damn alike.… So it’s perfectly natural to want to make a community that you’re comfortable in. One that works for you and your friends. But if your friends are all like you and if the same things make them comfortable and uncomfortable, if you all want the same things, then you’re going to optimize the community for them.

If you — the more you optimize for you and your friends and people like you the less it will work for people on the fringes.

Who is your community leaving behind, when it lacks diversity? And how are you being left behind?


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