Author Archives: Mary Gardiner

Handling harassment incidents swiftly and safely

As anti-harassment policies become more widespread at open technology and culture events, different ways of handling harassment incidents are emerging. We advocate a swift process in which final decisions are made by a small group of empowered decision makers, whose focus is on the safety of the people attending the event.

Open technology and culture communities, which often make decisions in a very public way, can be tempted to also have a very public and very legalistic harassment handling process, a judicial model, but we advocate against this. It prioritises other values, such as transparency and due process, over that of safety. Alternatively, because many members of such communities find ostracism very hurtful and frightening, sometimes they develop a caretaker model, where they give harassers lots of second chances and lots of social coaching, and focus on the potential for a harasser to redeem themselves and re-join the community.

But neither of these models prioritise safety from harassment.

Consider an alternative model: harassment in the workplace. In a well-organised workplace that ensured your freedom from harassment — a situation which we know is also all too rare, but which we can aspire to, especially since our events are workplaces for many of us — an empowered decision maker such as your manager or an HR representative would make a decision based on your report that harassment had occurred and other relevant information as judged by them, and act as required order to keep your workplace safe for you.

A well-organised workplace would not appoint itself your harasser’s anti-harassment coach, have harassment reports heard by a jury of your peers, publish the details of your report widely, have an appeals process several levels deep, or offer fired staff members the opportunity to have their firing reviewed by management after some time has passed.

Like in a well-organised workplace, we advocate a management model of handling harassment complaints to make events safer: reasonably quick and final decisions made by a small group of empowered decision makers, together with communication not aimed at transparency for its own sake, but at giving people the information they need to keep themselves safe.

The management model of harassment handling is that:

  1. you have a public harassment policy that clearly states that harassment is unacceptable, and gives examples of unacceptable behaviour
  2. you have a clear reporting avenue publicised with the policy
  3. you have an empowered decision maker, or a small group of decision makers, who will act on reports
  4. reports of harassment are conveyed to those decision makers when reported
  5. they consider those reports, gather any additional information they need to make a decision — which could include conduct in other venues and other information that a very legalistic model might not allow — and they decide what action would make the event safer
  6. they communicate with people who need to know the outcome (eg, with the harasser if they need to change their behaviour, avoid any people or places, or leave the event; volunteers or security if they need to enforce any boundaries)
  7. they provide enough information to the victim of the harassment, and when needed to other attendees, to let them make well-informed decisions about their own safety

Further reading

The Ada Initiative founders on funding activism for women in open source

This week, Ada Initiative founders Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora wrote about Funding Activism for Women in Open Source in the Funding issue of Model View Culture, drawing on lessons from their first years raising money for the Ada Initiative:

We founded the Ada Initiative with the principle of paying fair market wages to anyone doing work for us more than a few hours a week. In 2010, this was a moonshot. In 2014, it’s increasingly how things are done. More and more diversity in technology initiatives are becoming paid activities, and a growing proportion of the technology industry recognizes this labour as something worth paying for[…]

[F]ull-time diversity activists who want to do effective, controversial, culture-changing work must often work out how to pay themselves, rather than taking existing jobs at tech companies or diversity in tech non-profits.

What follows is a survey of some of the most popular funding sources: corporate sponsorship, individual donations, and consulting and training.

Read the full article, The Ada Initiative Founders on Funding Activism for Women in Open Source, at Model View Culture to learn more about the rationale for each of these funding sources… and their pitfalls!

Ada Initiative to run Allies Workshop in Canberra, September 21

The Ada Initiative Allies Workshop focuses on what individual people can do to make their workplace or community a better, more positive place for women. The workshop teaches people how to respond to sexism in a productive way, whether online, in the workplace, or in person. Participants in the Allies Workshop will learn:

  • Brief, effective responses to sexism and discrimination
  • What responses don’t work or have a negative effect
  • How to choose their battles wisely
Front of Australian Federal Parliament House, Canberra

© Mark Pegrum, CC BY-SA

An Allies Workshop will be held in Canberra, Australia, Saturday September 21, from 2pm to 4pm, for members of the Make Hack Void hackerspace. Members of other open technology or open culture groups and communities are welcome to attend. The workshop welcomes people of all genders.

Registration is free although a contribution towards travel costs would be appreciated. For more information, and to register, please contact Brenda Moon as per her MHV event announcement. Please register no later than September 14, so that we can confirm the workshop has enough attendees to go ahead.

“Why don’t you just hit him?” — the worst possible anti-harassment advice

The example conference anti-harassment policy was announced on the Geek Feminism blog in November 2010 by Ada Initiative co-founder Valerie Aurora. Afterwards, hundreds of people suggested a “better” solution to sexual harassment: Knee him in the groin! This is a repost of what Valerie’s co-founder, Mary Gardiner, wrote about what’s wrong with “Just hit him!” in December 2010.

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You can help stop harassment. Support our work fighting harassment at conferences and online by donating to our 2013 fundraising drive today.

“Why don’t you just hit him?”

A woman smiling in front of a green background

Mary Gardiner

Valerie has had a lot of comments and private email in response to her conference anti-harassment policy post suggesting that a great deal of the problem would be solved if women were encouraged to hit their harassers: usually people suggest an open handed slap, a knee to groin, or even tasers and mace (no suggestions for tear gas or rubber bullets yet). I sent her such a lengthy email about it that we agreed that I clearly at some level wanted to post about it. What can I do but obey my muse?

OK. Folks…

This is not one of those entries I am thrilled in my soul to have to write, but here’s why “Hit him!” is not a solution for everyone and definitely does not replace the need for people with authority to take a stand against harassment.

And I know some people were joking. But not everyone was, you’ll need to trust me on this. Your “Jeez, guys like that are lucky they don’t get a knee in the groin more often… hey wait, maybe you should just have a Knee In Groin Policy!” joke was appearing in inboxes right alongside material seriously saying that all of this policy nonsense wouldn’t be necessary if women were just brave and defended themselves properly, if they’d just for once get it right.

Here are some samples:

  • Duncan on LWN: “What I kept thinking while reading the original article, especially about the physical assaults, is that it was too bad the victims in question weren’t carrying Mace, pepper-spray, etc, and wasn’t afraid to use it. A couple incidents of that and one would think the problem would disappear…”
  • NAR on LWN: “I’ve read the blog about the assault – it’s absolutely [appalling] and in my opinion the guy deserved a knee to his groin and some time behind bars.” (NAR then goes on to note that women should also wear skirts below the knee; which is very much making it about the victim. Dress right! Fight back!)
  • A comment on Geek Feminism that was not published: “…You also need to make it known to women that they need to immediately retaliate (preferably in the form of a slap loud enough for everyone in the vicinity to hear)… Women -must- stand up for themselves and report the guy, preferably after a loud humiliating slap immediately following the incident.”
  • crusoe on reddit: “You need to end right then and there. Its one thing to make blog posts, its another to call a jerk out for it on the conference floor, including stomping a toe, or poking them hard in the belly… Do not stew about it, do not run home and write a blog post about it. Just call them on it right then and there.” (As long as crusoe doesn’t have to hear about it…)

First up, one key thing about this and many similar responses (“Just ignore him”, “Just spread the word”, “Just yell at him”):

Harassment is not a private matter between harasser and victim, and it’s not the victim’s job to put a stop to it.

The harasser is responsible for their actions. The surrounding culture is responsible for condemning them and making it clear those actions and expressions of attitudes that underlie them are not acceptable. (See Rape Culture 101.) The victim may choose to go to the police, yell, hit, scream, confront, go to a counsellor, tell their mother, tell their father, tell their friends, warn people. They may choose not to. Whether they do or not, we are all responsible for making harassment unacceptable where we are. Harassment, and stopping it, is not the victim’s responsibility. (See But You Have to Report It!)

Am I against hitting a harasser in all situations? No. Am I advocating against it in all situations? No.

However, here’s a lengthy and incomplete list of reasons why victims may not be able or may choose not to hit a harasser and why it is definitely not a general solution for the problem of harassment. I even have a special buzzer on hand that will sound when the reasons are related to gender discrimination. Listen for it, it goes like this: BZZZT! Got it? BZZZT!

Important note on pronouns and gendering: I am largely buying the framing of the “why don’t you just hit him?” advice, that is, men harassers and women victims, for the purposes of this post. However, I acknowledge that people of all gender identities get harassed, and that people of all gender identities may be harassers. At various points in the post I will return to this point.

Conferences are a professional, or public hobby, environment. This is the point that applies to conferences most specifically. We are talking about an activity where people give talks with projected words and pictures, where people discuss and write computer programs or sci-fi or cocktail recipes, where people say things like “Oh wow, you’re Lord Ogre Face! Oh wow, everyone, I’ve known this guy online for years and we just met now for the first time ever! Oh wow!”

This is not, generally speaking, an environment in which physical conflict is considered appropriate. How are slaps and knees to the groin (gender note: not all harassers have testicles as this advice somewhat assumes) supposed to fit in again? Conferences should be places where people learn things and have fun… oh yes and every so often something bad happens to someone and they hit the person that did it?

Of course not. Conferences, in an ideal world, are basically an environment of mutual consent: people go to talks they want to hear, they are in conversations they want to have, they party as much as they want to party and so on. The solution to this underbelly of non-consent that we’re fighting against here is hauling it out into the light and making a public official stand saying “this is not OK”, not adding combat to the list of acceptable activities at conferences.

How, exactly, is this helping build a better, safer world? I’m not personally a pacifist. But the world I’m looking forward to living in is not one in which, in between conference talks, I walk down the corridor to witness any of the following:

  • Harassment
  • Assault
  • Some of the more fantastical suggestions that have come up privately, such as harassers being held down and beaten by multiple people

It’s hard to hit people. It requires training, not just to do it well, but to do it at all. Most people reading this, unless trained in combat, have very strong inhibitions about hitting people. To hit someone after a momentary touch or comment means leaping past “Did he really…?” “Did I deserve…?” “Was it that bad…?” to “YOU JERK” *SMACK*!

Getting angry at a harasser, let alone angry enough to hit them, takes many victims minutes, hours, days or even years. Going from incident to slap in seconds flat takes training or a particular type of self-assurance, and funnily enough women are specifically socialised out of that (BZZZT!)

Here are some Hollaback stories that illustrate the difficulty of summoning outrage responses in the moment:

Oh yeah, and then there’s doing it well. That means, presumably, enough pain to hurt the harasser, not enough to continue causing pain after a few minutes have passed. Get it wrong in the soft direction and you’re the butt of another joke, get it wrong in the hard direction and you’ve helped make a case against yourself. Speaking of which…

Hitting people can result in arrest and criminal charges. In jurisdictions I’ve been able to research, there is no “But he was being really jerky” defence against assault or battery charges. The person who who escalated to physical violence first is the person who is in the most trouble. I don’t think I need to explain in general why this stops some people hitting others.

But some people have reason to especially fear contact with the police. Examples include people who get disproportionately charged and punished (racial minorities, for example), and people who would have a criminal record used against them (eg in a child custody case) or whose career would be over (lawyers).

When you picture a woman righteously hitting her harasser, what are you picturing? A slender white woman of average height or below? What happens when you start changing those things? Consider me, for example. I’m 6’4″ (193cm). I’m relatively weak compared to many men of my height and I don’t train in combat, but does it all look so straightforward when you picture me spinning in outrage and slamming one of my enormous hands into the face of a man who is a foot shorter because he’d called me some slur? Or are you starting to think “Hey, steady on, he just…” What would you think about a tall, fat, muscled woman doing this? Or a big woman who is a military veteran, or a black belt?

Maybe you’d be fine with that, I don’t know. But I know that person has reason to think the police will regard what she did as a serious offence.

Not everyone can physically attack others. People who can’t quickly move over to the harasser; people whose hands need to be on their cane or crutches; people who can’t stand steadily or at all, let alone while reaching to slap someone’s face or while raising a leg to knee someone in the groin. People who are very short relative to their harasser (BZZZT!), who don’t have the reach to get a hand on their face or knee in their groin. People who shake and lose strength under severe stress.

Since it comes up in self-defence arguments: yes, some (not all) of these people can effectively use weapons such as guns or mace. But even in cases of life-threatening attacks, those require being armed with the weapon, being trained with it, and having special regular training on effective use when under stress. But right here, we are talking about harassment broadly, not serious assaults in particular. Attacking harassers with weapons isn’t under consideration.

Which brings me to cutting remarks, as a tangent. I’m hoping everyone is familiar with the phenomenon of thinking of the perfect cutting response… 12 hours later? Well, that affects victims of harassment. And it’s not just that. Speech impediments, for example, get in the way of getting the perfect cutting remark out in the perfect tone of contempt.

Back to hitting harassers.

It might make the victim more of a target. Maybe it was a weak slap and made a weak sound and the harasser smiled through the whole thing. Or the harasser caught the victim’s hand as it came up and is now holding her wrist tightly and grinning at her. Or the harasser pushed at the victim as her knee came up towards his groin, and she fell over.

Hitting does not necessarily make a situation end and it does not necessarily make the physical aggressor look strong and in control.

Hitting hurts. I’m not going to devote a lot of space to being sympathetic towards harassers, and this is a statement of the bleeding obvious but, you’re proposing hurting and possibly injuring people.

Onlookers are not sympathetic to the person who hits out. You might be picturing a conversation, I guess, where someone approaches a woman and is conveniently wired for sound and thus everyone hears him mutter that she’s a so-and-so and he’d like to such-and-such her.

In reality, here’s what you see if women hit their harassers:

  • A man walks near a woman, and she hits him across the face. Did he say something? No one heard.
  • A man is on stage giving a presentation and makes a joke about so-and-so women. It’s definitely an ew joke and you feel uncomfortable. You then watch multiple women run on stage and knee him in the groin one after the other. He falls to the ground in absolute agony, crying out in pain that is in no way lessened by some magic jerky-joke-maker insensitivity gene.
  • A man is standing there talking to you. He’s a moderately well known geek celebrity in local circles. You feel kind of chuffed to make his acquaintance. A woman runs up out of nowhere and hits him in the middle of your conversation, claiming that he assaulted her the previous evening at a party.

You might still be on the side of the women involved in those scenarios, most onlookers aren’t. They’re seeing violence.

We are arguing that you don’t want these men at your conference, especially if they are repeatedly offending at the one conference. We are not arguing or agreeing that you want them physically hurt at your conference.

The harasser might hit back. Or onlookers might step in. I know a lot of men are strongly socialised to believe that they cannot ever under any circumstances hit a woman. This socialisation is not shared by everyone, far from it. And of course, while this piece is gendered, recall that of course the victim might be a man, or might be a person whose gender presentation doesn’t match what the harasser thinks it should be. Those people don’t benefit from any real or perceived social stigma about hitting women.

This situation is another especial danger for people without combat training and with some disabilities. It’s also dangerous for the average woman (BZZZT!) who is smaller and weaker than the average man; thus rendering a solid majority of physical conflicts between men and women more dangerous for the woman. A martial artist I asked about this advised me that people who are at a weight-strength disadvantage need to, and this isn’t surprising, win physical fights extremely decisively and quickly before their disadvantages tell. It takes even more training, mental and physical, to do this.

Let’s get rid of the harassment and assaults that are already occurring, huh?

Women don’t automatically win by hitting someone. Some of this seems, frankly, to be playing into the idea that being hit by a woman is extremely humiliating (BZZZT! BZZZT! BZZZT!) and the harasser will be thus unmanned and shamed by the violence (BZZZT!) and that others will view him as lesser (BZZZT!)

This might be the true effect on some harassers, and if a victim chooses to take advantage of it to gain power in a particular situation good for her. In the geek feminist utopia, being hit by a woman wouldn’t be an especial humiliation; the problem is a dynamic in which men harass women with their humiliating harassment powers and women punish them with allocated women powers (BZZZT!).

In fact a great deal of this “Just hit him!” argument seems to assume that women’s violence is necessarily different from and lesser than men’s violence. Oh, women’s violence isn’t, you know, violence violence. No one will call the cops, or get in an extended fight or get seriously hurt! That’s a man thing. (… BZZZT!)

This is the kind of advice given by people who don’t actually want to help. Or perhaps don’t know how they can. It’s like if you’re a parent of a bullying victim, and you find yourself repeating “ignore it”, “fight back with fists” or whatever fairly useless advice you yourself were once on the receiving end of. It’s expressing at best helplessness, and at worst victim-blaming. It’s personalising a cultural problem.

You are not helpless in the face of harassment. Call for policies, implement policies, call out harassment when you overhear it, or report it. Stand with people who discuss their experiences publicly.

Revenge fantasies feel nice. Yes, they do. And they are cathartic. (This is one reason why Ender’s Game is such a popular geek classic.) But why are we getting hit with so many revenge fantasies from non-victims when we’re trying to build up a real solution? If you are angry that there have been, unbeknownst to you, harassers at conferences and in communities you know and love, indulge a revenge fantasy or two if you like. And then devote your energy to helping, rather than trying to convince women to enact your fantasy.

Here it is again for the road:

Harassment is not a private matter between harasser and victim, and it’s not the victim’s job to put a stop to it.

You can help. Support the Ada Initiative’s work ending harassment at conferences and supporting women in open technology and culture. Join over 100 supporters who donated to our 2013 fundraising campaign. Donate now!

AdaCamp news: when will I hear about my application? when do childcare requests close? where can I stay?

We are so excited to have received more than two hundred applications to attend AdaCamp San Francisco! Right now we’re deep in reviewing them and are sending out decisions and registration information as quickly as we can. We apologise to anyone who has been waiting for a decision. I’m basically working on nothing else until decisions are all sent!

If you haven’t heard from us yet

Applications are being reviewed progressively. If you haven’t heard from us yet, we have not reached your application in the review queue. (It definitely does not mean you’ve been rejected.) I apologise especially for the delay in notifying travel grant applicants.

We are working to the following timeline:

  • applicants who asked for international travel grants (applicants outside the USA, Canada and Mexico) will be notified today, May 1
  • applicants who asked for domestic travel grants (applicants from the USA, Canada and Mexico) will be notified by Friday May 3 at the latest
  • other applicants who applied before April 14 will be notified by Friday May 3 at the latest
  • applicants who applied between April 14 and April 30 will be notified by Tuesday May 7 at the latest, sooner if we can
  • applicants who apply between May 1 and May 6 will be notified by Tuesday May 14 at the latest, sooner if we can

Please contact if you were expecting a notification and have not received one by the dates above.

Childcare requests

AdaCamp is providing limited free childcare places for attendees. We need to finalise childcare numbers very soon, and therefore unfortunately need to close applications for childcare earlier than the May 6 deadline. If you want to request a free childcare place for AdaCamp, please apply by Friday May 2. After this, no more childcare requests can be taken.

If you have already applied and asked for a childcare place, our event planner will be in touch late this week or early next week to confirm your childcare needs.

Travel and accommodation information

If you have been accepted to AdaCamp, you may be interested in accommodation options and venue and transport information.

If you are interested in sharing a room with another attendee, and are willing for your name and email to be shared with other attendees for this purpose, please email

We thank our gold level sponsors Mozilla, Automattic and Google Site Reliability Engineering; and our silver level sponsors Linux Foundation, Red Hat, Intel, and Puppet Labs; for their support of AdaCamp San Francisco.

Applications for AdaCamp San Francisco travel grants closing this Friday!

The Ada Initiative is offering travel grants to selected applicants to AdaCamp San Francisco, our two-day unconference and summit for women in open technology and culture! In order to be eligible for a travel grant, you must apply by this Friday April 12.

Applications are open at the AdaCamp San Francisco website. Information on how we select travel grant awardees is available.

Applicants who do not need travel assistance have until April 30 to apply to AdaCamp, but places are limited to 250 attendees and are awarded in order of application. We encourage you to apply today.

Why AdaCamp?

Why is AdaCamp so important to women in open technology and culture? Because AdaCamp measurably increases women’s participation in open technology and culture – in an environment that more often pushes women towards the door.

Most women who attend AdaCamp “lean in” to their careers and community work after AdaCamp. In our post-conference survey, 92% of survey respondents said AdaCamp increased their commitment to open technology and culture.

AdaCamp also increases women’s professional connections: 100% of survey respondents said AdaCamp increased their network in open tech/culture. Several AdaCamp attendees landed new jobs in open tech/culture through the connections they made at AdaCamp, and at least two won prestigious internships with Code for America and the GNOME Outreach Program for Women. One of the benefits of attending AdaCamp is joining the AdaCamp alumni mailing list, which members use to recruit job applicants, advertise events, and share career advice.

AdaCampers learn new skills at AdaCamp as well. Past AdaCamps included tutorials in Wikipedia editing, Python programming, and other open tech/culture topics. The tutorials were so popular that we are expanding them this year, and adding a “hackathon” (for all open tech/culture projects, not just coding).

Apply to AdaCamp

Applications are open to attend AdaCamp San Francisco, to be held on Saturday June 8 and Sunday June 9 in San Francisco, California. All women who are interesting in meeting other women in open technology and culture, and learning and sharing about efforts to improve women’s participation in and the community environment of open technology and culture, are invited to apply. An allies track open to attendees of any gender will be held on Saturday June 8.

We thank our gold level sponsors Mozilla and Automattic; and our silver level sponsors Google Site Reliability Engineering, Linux Foundation, Red Hat, and Intel; for their support of AdaCamp San Francisco.

Meet and greet: BlackGirlsCODE, January 31, Washington DC

BlackGirlsCODE are having a volunteer meetup in Washington DC on Thursday January 31. BGC volunteers from multiple cities are attending, and current and potential BGC in the District volunteers are invited to attend.

The event will be held at UNCF corporate office located at 1805 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC, from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM. RSVP at EventBrite. General volunteer signup for BGC through the United States is also available.

Got open tech and culture news to share with women in the Ada Initiative’s community? Email

Tell us what your open tech/culture event did to assist carers and children to attend!

Several conference organisers have responded to our article about 2013’s childcare to offer other suggestions from their events about how to make child-carers and children welcome at their events. We’d love to share more ideas from past and upcoming events! If you’d like to explain your event’s offerings and stategies, please complete this form and we’ll compile your responses into an article about tried and true approaches to making open tech and culture events parent, carer and child-friendly! 2013: “The response to offering conference childcare has been overwhelming”

Conference childcare is one possible way to make attending conferences easier for women. Mothers are disproportionately likely to be primary carers for children, and, particularly for out of town events, may therefore be unduly burdened with finding and paying for childcare in order to attend events.

Australia’s premier open source conference,, is offering formal childcare for the first time at their 2013 event next week. To help share their approach with other conferences, the Ada Initiative interviewed Lana Brindley, one of the core 2013 organizers, about their childcare plans.

Lana: 2013 is offering free childcare, provided by qualified childcarers, for children aged 0-12 during the conference sessions. Children must be signed in and out for each session, just as in a normal childcare arrangement at at a centre. Care is being provided in a room close to the main conference, so that parents can come and go easily.

There’s more info on our blog and in postings to the parents mailing list.

Footpath through trees on the the Australian National University campus, by Stephen Dann CC BY-SA 2013 venue: the Australian National University, by Stephen Dann CC BY-SA

Why is LCA 2013 offering childcare?

Lana: We recognise that many of our delegates are parents. Parents that come to the conference don’t always have the ability (or inclination) to leave their children with relatives or other carers while they are travelling. By offering childcare at the conference, we are providing parents with more choice about how they would like to spend their time at With any luck, it means that parents can bring their children with them to conference, and both parents and children can enjoy the week much more.

Has there been strong demand for childcare?

Lana: This is the first time childcare has been offered at the conference, and only the second time that a parents’ room has been made available ( 2012 in Ballarat offered a parents’ room for the first time). Because of this, we really didn’t know how many parents would be interested in using the service. However, demand has been quite high, and we will probably be close to the maximum number of children we can comfortably look after.

How did you find room in the conference budget to offer free childcare?

Lana: We investigated a number of different options for providing childcare, and after some looking around we were lucky enough to find two qualified childcarers who were willing to provide childcare for the conference. The cost to the conference compared with our overall budget is relatively small. Most of the costs are associated with fitting out the parents’ room with appropriate equipment and entertainment for the children. If future conference organisers want to run childcare, then a lot of that equipment could be reused. The idea is that, by offering childcare, we enable more delegates to attend the conference, so the budget should balance.

How difficult was it to arrange childcare?

Lana: Once we had contacted the childcarers and they had agreed to come on board, we held a meeting where we went through a lot of the legislation related to childcare, and discussed what requirements they had to provide care for the week. We then set about making sure we could stick to those rules and regulations. It wasn’t difficult, necessarily, but there have been a lot of things to consider, such as making sure we maintain proper child:carer ratios if a toddler needs to go to the bathroom, and where to safely store formula and breastmilk.

Would you recommend other conferences make similar arrangements, or (having organised it once) can you suggest improvements to LCA 2013’s arrangements?

Lana: At this stage, I’m confident that our childcare will be successful, and after spending some time with our childcarers I have utmost faith that they will do a great job. However, this is something that is new to, and I have no doubt that we will run across things during the week that we can learn from.

I would absolutely recommend other conferences consider offering childcare (either for free, or for a nominal fee). The positive response to this initiative has been overwhelming, and hopefully if it becomes a regular feature of (and technical conferences generally), it will help to encourage parents, and especially women who are primary childcarers, to attend conferences that they might otherwise not have gone to.

Limor “ladyada” Fried: Entrepreneur of 2012!

Photograph of Limor Fried

Limor Fried, used with permission

Limor “ladyada” Fried, founder of open hardware company Adafruit Industries, is Entrepreneur Magazine‘s Entrepreneur of 2012. Fried founded Adafruit while in college, and has grown it to a firm of more than 30 employees shipping hundreds of electronic products a day. They also provide extensive electronics tutorials. Fried is an open hardware pioneer, having contributed to the authoring of the Open Source Hardware definition and she has keynoted the Open Source Hardware summit. She’s previously been recognised by Fast Company as among The Most Influential Women in Technology and been profiled in Wired.

We asked Fried a few questions about her career, and whether open hardware is a community where other women could build a career:

Q. How has the open in open hardware contributed to Adafruit’s success?

Limor: Adafruit was built on the idea you can be a great cause and a great business, from the start we’ve given away the “recipe” of how make things. From the actual files to publishing code on how our open-source shopping cart system works. We’ve found the more you give, the more you get back. Our customers and community have a lot of choices where they can get electronics and more, they choose Adafruit because they know they’re part of something more than a sale of physical goods. Because we’ve put value in, we get a lot of value back.

Q. Has starting your own business let you accomplish things that wouldn’t have been possible as an employee?

Limor: Running your own business allows you to take risks that you usually cannot take if you’re an employee. Not too long ago we decided to hack the Kinect. We wanted everyone to be able to use Microsoft’s Kinect on any hardware they wanted, and to be able to create amazing projects. One of my favorite projects is a sign language translator, it’s amazing to see what the open source community had done with Kinect now that it’s been made more open. There was a lot of talk of Microsoft suing us, they eventually backed down and embraced the maker/hacker community – but if I were an employee I would not have been able to take on Microsoft.

Q. Have you found the maker community welcoming to a woman leader? How would you recommend women get involved?

Limor: The maker community has from the start celebrated woman leaders, the open source hardware summits to littleBits are all led by women. It’s one of the best examples of women in tech leading and doing amazing things. To get involved, look to your local hackerspaces/makerspace and join in, participate on forums and mailing lists — my favorite quote is from Dean Kamen “We are what we celebrate” — we still still have a lot of work to do to get more women celebrated in many tech fields, everyone can help get some amazing women in the spotlight more and more.

In this video, Fried introduces her company and explains how the principles of open hardware contribute to Adafruit’s business and educational goals:


One of the really interesting things about the way we do business here at Adafruit is that not only do I design and manufacture electronics but then I give away the recipe of how it’s done. And I do this because I think it’s really important for people to not only understand how we make stuff but how they can make stuff themselves at home… I give away all this information so that people can learn, share and build their own businesses from it… I’ve found that the more we help people by teaching them and showing them how to be creative on their own the more they rewarded us by being great customers and also being part of our fun community.

Entrepreneur Magazine writes:

Limor’s and Adafruit’s efforts have shown it’s possible to not only have a goal of education, and to share knowledge freely, but how it’s possible to run a business doing so. There are hundreds of people and companies that have been empowered by Limor and Adafruit’s designs – they’ve gone on to make and share their own designs and start their own businesses, all using the hardware and software from Adafruit.

Limor’s goal is to make the world a better place by creating great products and showing how they’re made so others can learn and share. Adafruit has discovered the more we all give and share, the more we all get back.

Congratulations Limor!