Category Archives: Interviews

Netha Hussain: “My dream came true! AdaCamp is coming to Bangalore!”

A woman wearing a shawl standing in front of tropical vegetation

Medical student, Wikipedian and AdaCamper Netha Hussain, CC BY-SA Netha Hussain

On the final day of our 2014 fundraising campaign, we interview our amazing long-time volunteer and soon to be three-time AdaCamp alumna, Netha Hussain! Netha is a Wikipedian, writer, and medical student, living in the state of Kerala, India. She attended AdaCamp DC in 2012 on an international travel scholarship from Google. She described her experience this way: “Yes, AdaCamp literally changed my life.” Now, two years later, she is helping the Ada Initiative bring AdaCamp to Bangalore!

AdaCamp Bangalore will be the first ever AdaCamp in Asia, and we hope it will be as transformational for others as it was for Netha! We talked to Netha about her initial experiences at AdaCamp and her hopes for AdaCamp Bangalore. To support future AdaCamps, donate now and help us continue to scale up our work!

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Ada Initiative: How has AdaCamp changed your life?

Two women smiling, one with a t-shirt that reads "I edit Wikipedia" and one wearing an Ada Initiative button

Wikimedians at AdaCamp DC
CC BY-SA Adam Novak

Netha: AdaCamp changed my life by giving me opportunities to network with the right people to begin new projects on Wikimedia. I attended AdaCamp in 2012 when I was exploring ideas which I would not have managed to execute on my own. While at AdaCamp, I got to meet many wonderful people who were thinking along the same lines as I was.

Tell us about AdaCamp Bangalore. What are you most excited about? What are your hopes for the event? What new possibilities do you see in holding an AdaCamp in Bangalore?

While at AdaCamp 2012, I expressed interest in bringing AdaCamp to India. Two years later, my dream came true! I am very excited that many South Asian women will benefit from AdaCamp. I am also excited about learning new perspectives and best practices in working with women in open tech from an Indian context, a unique takeaway which only AdaCamp can offer. I hope to see new projects shaping up and women’s communities getting more active in South Asia as a result of this camp.

How did you first become involved with the Ada Initiative and what is most important to you about this work?

I first got involved with the Ada Initiative when I received an invitation to participate in AdaCamp DC with a full scholarship. AdaCamp DC had many participants from Wikimedia, the organization I volunteer with. It would not have been possible to develop a lasting partnership with these people without the AdaCamp experience because of cultural communication problems involving communicating solely online.

How has your experience in medical school changed as a result of your involvement with the Ada Initiative?


AdaCamp sticker

After AdaCamp, I became more sensitive about privacy and medical ethics, which are integral for any medical practitioner. I gained contacts with participants who were working in the healthcare sector elsewhere in the world and learned about their work culture. The fun thing is that the kids at the pediatrics ward loved the Ada Initiative stickers I took back home after AdaCamp. :-)

What is the best thing about AdaCamp?

Two women smiling

AdaCampers in Portland CC BY-SA Jenna Saint Martin Photo

The “unconference” format! I thoroughly enjoyed that I could propose any number of sessions of my choice. The knowledge that I am welcome at any of the parallel unconference sessions and that my perspectives are valued by the attendees is an incredible feeling!

We are grateful for Netha’s vision, commitment and support in bringing AdaCamp to Bangalore! Because of our strong commitment to keeping AdaCamp accessible to all, the Ada Initiative loses money with each AdaCamp that we hold – corporate sponsorships are harder to get for many small AdaCamps around the world, but more we reach the women who need it most that way. Donate now to the Ada Initiative and help us continue to grow the reach of AdaCamp!

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Sue Gardner: "In Silicon Valley we have on-site hair-cut buses and dry-cleaning and celebrity chefs, but we don't offer daycare"

Photograph of Sue Gardner speaking at Wikimania 2011

Sue Gardner, © Martina Nolte, CC BY-SA

Sue Gardner is a fearless feminist! She is also a seasoned leader who works actively to promote the contributions of women in the Silicon Valley tech sector. Sue was CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation for seven years, and served as a Senior Director in public broadcasting for many years before that. She was a founding member of the Ada Initiative’s Board of Directors. We are grateful for her leadership, courage and support! Please join her in supporting the Ada Initiative, and donate now!

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“I worked in public broadcasting for the majority of my career at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and we had a lot of women in positions of authority there,” recalls Sue Gardner. “I had feminist role models, who invested in women. When I moved to the Bay Area to take over Wikimedia, I was astonished and honestly angry at the lack of women, everywhere!

Gardner recalls her initial three-month tour of the Bay Area, getting to know key contacts in the tech and open source community. “I had dozens of meetings and in that time I did not meet a single woman who was not bringing us drinks in the board room or scheduling our meetings. At one point I started trying to place the year culturally in Silicon Valley tech – was it 1967? 1972?”

A woman speaking in front of a laptop

Valerie Aurora, CC BY-SA Adam Novak.

Puzzled and disturbed, Sue began searching for relevant articles and literature to give her a wider perspective and came across “How to Encourage Women in Linux“, an article that Ada Initiative co-founder Valerie Aurora had written in 2002.

“It was so helpful to read because I could reverse-engineer out of it some of the main obstacles that were keeping women out of tech,” she says. “And it was fascinating to me because it both addressed why there were so few women in Linux and also how to encourage the women who were braving the difficult environment. It gave specific examples of things not to do (i.e. don’t tell sexist jokes) and also examples of pro-active actions to take (i.e. protest when others tell sexist jokes).”

Gardner was thrilled when Val and Mary committed themselves to working for women in tech full-time and founded the Ada Initiative. She was a member of the Board of Directors for three years and continues to serve on the Advisory Board.

The founding of the Ada Initiative was so special and important because, first of all, somebody was putting up their hand to actually do something. And because Val worked on the Linux kernel, she came from inside and brought true subject matter expertise to bring to the issue. She really knew the terrain and the culture. To have both of those things – the gender expertise and the subject expertise was incredibly unusual. I was excited and got involved.”

Mary Gardiner speaking with upraised hand

Mary Gardiner speaking at Wikimania, CC-BY-SA Alejandro Linares Garcia

Gardner brought the Ada Initiative in to help Wikimedia in a number of ways. “We asked them to help us design the Wikimania anti-harassment code of conduct and enforce it at the conference,” she says. “They also ran an AdaCamp at Wikimania in late 2012. And Val vetted many of our technical job descriptions, as well as our hiring process so that Wikimedia tech positions were friendly to the women we wanted to attract.”

When asked about her response to the tech industry’s dearth of women, Gardner responded with the broad perspective that comes with long-term experience. “I’m a boss. I run things. So I think a lot about effectiveness and efficiency and use of resources. From that perspective I find the situation offensive because there are only two things you can believe. You can believe that women are less capable than men or you can believe that women are undervalued. And that is wasteful. It offends me as a manager and a boss, that we would not make use of this resource, that we would stand by as women fall out of the pipeline.”

80 women cheering and wearing many different colors, CC BY-SA Jenna Saint Martin Photo

All AdaCamps offer free childcare, CC BY-SA Jenna Saint Martin Photo

She goes on to talk about the irrationality that is encoded in much of tech culture – the decisions made by men in positions in authority based on what they need and desire. “It would serve us well, as funders and bosses to try to catch ourselves when we are being irrational,” she says. “In Silicon Valley we have on-site hair-cut buses and dry-cleaning and celebrity chefs, but we don’t offer daycare.

She is grateful for the Ada Initiative’s work and the tangible impact and results that she has seen. “My experience with Ada is that they are doing really great work and it is long overdue and it needs to happen,” she says. “This is not the kind of problem that gets solved by one intervention, but they are a key piece. Part of the value of Ada is that they make it safe for women to have these conversations – the kind of conversations that second wave feminists had in the business world decades ago. They put the conversation on the agenda and make space for them to happen.”

We are so grateful for Sue’s expertise, good words and support! Please join her in supporting the Ada Initiative and help us reach our 2014 fundraising goal, so we can continue to scale up our work!

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Skeptic and scientist PZ Myers came for the Ada Lovelace jewelry, stayed for the Ada Initiative's anti-harassment work

Bearded man wearing glasses

Biologist and skeptic PZ Myers

We can’t say enough about PZ Myers, a proud feminist and Ada Initiative supporter! By trade, Myers is a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris. He is also founder and co-author of the popular Pharyngula science blog, and a well-known speaker and blogger in the skeptic and atheist community. Read more to find out why he raised $1878 to help us expand our work – and how you can help bring the Ada Initiative to teach an Ally Skills Workshop at Skepticon 7!

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One man and two women, two of them wearing mortarboards

PZ Myers and the scientists in his life

“I come from a very left-wing family that was into the labor movement and the like. So I’ve always been into being egalitarian, and giving everyone a chance,” PZ Myers remarks. “My wife is a Ph.D in psychology and my daughter is off at grad school and I just hate to see them being discriminated against.” Channeling his anger into activism, Myers speaks out regularly about feminist issues on his blog, Pharyngula, with both searing honesty and an unfailing sense of humor.

“I think in some ways it’s a personality trait,” he says. “I’m somebody who tends to be outspoken and if I see an injustice I will speak out about it. Racism and sexism are the great injustices of the American system right now. And I just can’t sit back and pretend it’s not happening. I have to speak out, and I believe that is everybody’s responsibility to fight this stuff.” That’s one reason he has many times over the years used his blog and standing in the community to amplify reports of sexual harassment and publish anonymous reports from people too scared to do so themselves.

Sticker reading "Not afraid to say the F-WORD: FEMINISM" on a colorful laptop skin

The pendants are gone but you can get a sticker instead!

Myers ran across the Ada Initiative when his daughter was in graduate school in computer science. “I remember there was a drive where you received a necklace with a little Ada Lovelace on it,” he says, “and I thought, ‘I should get that for my daughter!'”

As he discovered more about the Ada Initiative’s work his support became about his own beliefs. One of the things he appreciates most is the impact of our work in just a few years’ time: helping conference organizers adopt and enforce anti-harassment policies has a direct impact on women’s safety and attendance at skeptic conferences, as well as changed the conversation about sexual harassment throughout the entire community. “That’s why I like the Ada Initiative and your work,” he says. “You’re actually getting out there and making a tangible difference and that’s what we need more of!”

Myers notices this need daily in his own professional life. “I’m a college professor and biology is pretty good – we’ve almost got a 50/50 gender split,” he acknowledges. “But my daughter was a tiny minority in computer science. I think I can also speak for my colleagues who would also like to see more women in the field. It just strikes me as an area where we need to improve equality.”

Though Myers supports the Ada Initiative yearly, this year he has also become a successful fundraiser for our work! He has been collecting donations on his blog over the past month and as of October 1st, he and the skeptic community raised $1878 for the Ada Initiative. We are so grateful for his support and his activism! Please join him and make a donation today!

This brings skeptics more than a third of the way to their goal of $5,000 by midnight on Wednesday, October 8th. If they make it, the Ada Initiative will teach an Ally Skills Workshop at Skepticon in November! The Ally Skills Workshop teaches men simple everyday ways to respond to sexism in their daily lives, and is tailored especially for peer-to-peer communities like the skeptic and atheist movement. We’re excited too – after working with the skeptic community for so long, the Ada Initiative is excited to meet a few of you in person!

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Why Guido van Rossum supports the Ada Initiative, wears a "Python is for girls" shirt, and answered questions from only women at PyCon 2014

smiling man

Guido van Rossum isn’t afraid to say the F-word: Feminism! Join him in supporting the Ada Initiative and donate today.

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Guido van Rossum is the creator of the Python programming language, so it’s not surprising that he is a keynote speaker at most PyCon conferences. What is surprising is that during his PyCon 2014 keynote, he announced that he would answer questions only from women. “Through out the conference, I’ve been attacked by by people with questions, and they were almost all men, so I think the women […] are a little behind and they can catch up here,” he said on stage.

We asked how he came up with the idea. “I was slated to give the keynote on the final day,” van Rossum said. “The day before I had seen a keynote by Jessica McKellar, in which she painted a very bleak and well-researched picture of the situation of women in science in technology.” McKellar’s keynote inspired Van Rossum to acknowledge the women at Pycon more directly by only answering questions only from women.

Guido van Rossum wearing "Python is for girls" shirt

Python is for girls, selfies are for programmers

“There was one guy in the entire 2,000 person audience that made a tiny boo sound,” van Rossum remembers. “Everyone else went with it, and we could all see then that questions from women were just as interesting as questions from men, if not more so! We just had a really interesting technical Q&A session. At some point I even managed to sneak in something about Imposter Syndrome.”

Van Rossum also wears his famous “Python is for Girls” t-shirt at every conference keynote he can. He’s doing this to make a public statement: women and girls are welcome in the Python community. Some people seem most impressed by van Rossum wearing a shirt that includes the color pink. “The t-shirt itself is not pink. But the girl in the illustration is wearing a pink dress,” van Rossum notes.

This kind of consistent public leadership, in combination with hard work by many people across the Python community, results in a conference that is about 30% women – a level almost unheard of in large open source conferences.

Man sitting behind a laptop covered in colorful stickersSporting three Ada Initiative stickers on his laptop, Guido is a big supporter of our ongoing work to make the open source community a safer and more welcoming place for women.

Looking around me, it is so obvious that women don’t get equal opportunities in tech and there are so many things that lead to that. The statistics are very clear. If I look around in the café at work there are tons of women. But if I look around me in my little engineering team there is only one woman. And I think it is a shame that so few women choose tech and those that do have so many things to fight.”

We can’t thank Guido enough for his support, activism and leadership, as we all work together towards a more inclusive open source community!

If you’d like to join Guido in sporting Ada Initiative stickers on your laptop and supporting women in Python, it’s easy: Donate to the 2014 Ada Initiative fundraising drive before October 8, and you’ll get the Ada Initiative sticker pack, including 3 copies of the “Not afraid to say the F-word: Feminism” sticker!

Black and white sticker with text reading "Not afraid to say the F-WORD"

Portrait of Ada Lovelace in color


“As seen on Guido’s laptop”

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"Fix it or Feature It" – Mary Robinette Kowal talks puppets, fantasy and safer spaces

Mary Robinette Kowal © 2012 Rod Searcey

Mary Robinette Kowal is a Hugo award-winning science fiction and fantasy author with a history of fighting harassment in the science fiction and fantasy (SF&F) community. Mary is donating 10 signed hardcovers of the most recent novel in her Glamourist Histories series to the Ada Initiative, “Valour and Vanity” – as well a signed manuscript of the upcoming fifth novel in the series, “Of Noble Family, scheduled to be published April 2015, along with signed hardcovers of the entire series. Signed copies of “Valour and Vanity” are thank-you gifts for donations of $256, and the signed manuscript and series for donations of $1024. It will be hard, but we promise not to read the manuscript before sending it to you!

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“I come from a theater background and there is a mantra, ‘Fix it or Feature It,'” Mary Robinette Kowal says, speaking about her day job as a professional puppeteer. The idea is that if something goes wrong during a performance and you can’t fix it, find a way to turn it into a positive for the performance. This concept has proved important in her role as a writer and public figure as well. Kowal remembers well a classic online forum incident that was a turning point for her.

Smiling woman sitting cross-legged holding a wooden puppet

2010 Annaliese Moyer

“A guy in an online fantasy writing forum […] said a bunch of insulting things about me, including that I couldn’t possibly be a feminist,” she remembers. Initially, Kowal decided to ignore him, since he was speaking to an audience of no more than forty people. Then someone posted links to the discussion on Tumblr and the “audience” grew much bigger. Kowal decided that it was time to “feature it.” She wrote about the experience on her blog, he ended up apologizing to her, and many people learned a lot more about the harassment women experience in SF&F.

“In these cases, there is a larger narrative that you are part of […] When things go wrong online one of the things I am looking at is: ‘How can I use this to make the world a better place?’ I used myself as an example to talk about the larger issues of harassment and misogyny, and tried to bring attention to them.”

Kowal brings her sense of justice and truth-speaking to her writing as whole – one of the many reasons we love it so much! Her Glamourist Histories delves into the complexities of gender, race and class, and her heroines don’t shy away from the difficult. As a sought-after speaker and panelist, she is a big supporter of the Ada Initiative’s work on anti-harassment policies. She is also grateful for the many resources regarding harassment on the site, and the light that this work brings to the issue.

Valour and Vanity  bookcover

Donate $256 or more for a signed hardcover

“It is so important to talk about it,” she says, “and to have clear resources and guidelines. All of the conversations that the Ada Initiative sponsors and encourages are so important to shape what the world will be like for the next generation.

Kowal follows her own advice and uses an anti-harassment policy in both of her writing workshops, “Writing the Other” and “Writing Excuses.” She feels that it is particularly important in the more personal environment of a workshop.

“It is the kind of environment where people say ‘Oh, you don’t need one.’ We give a speech up front about the harassment policy and make sure the students know that it is taken seriously. A number of students have blogged and mentioned that it makes them feel safer.”

We are so grateful to Mary for her support, her writing, her activism and her courage. And that’s just the beginning of the list!

Donate now, and you may be the lucky recipient of a signed copy “Valour and Vanity,” as well as our new feminist sticker, “Not afraid to say the F-word: Feminism!” Don’t wait – these 10 copies will be gone in flash!

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Black and white sticker with text reading "Not afraid to say the F-WORD"

Our latest feminist sticker, yours for a donation of $128 or more!

Geek spaces must move beyond "Kumbaya" – Award-winning author N. K. Jemisin on why she supports the Ada Initiative

Book cover with the image of a huge red moon over a city on a plateauAt the Ada Initiative, we’re fans of N. K. Jemisin’s work – all of it! She’s an award-winning author, a powerful speaker, and one of the earliest and most eloquent voices in the fight against harassment of women and people of color in the science fiction and fantasy community. We are thrilled to offer a copy of N. K. Jemisin’s novel “The Killing Moon” to the next 36 people who donate $128 or more to support the Ada Initiative’s work fighting harassment in geek communities. The copies are all sold out now! Thank you, N. K. Jemisin!

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Smiling woman

Award-winning author N. K. Jemisin

I’ve been a black female geek all my life,” says award-winning author N. K. Jemisin, “and I have struggled with inclusiveness in geek spaces. I have heard the excuses: ‘There is no harassment, racism, or bigotry in geek space. We sit around singing “Kumbaya” and coding.’

What Jemisin actually experienced when she joined geek spaces was, of course, totally different: the racism and sexism were bad enough that she nearly did not pursue her career as a professional writer because of it. “Early on, I ventured onto Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine’s online forum, back before there was any moderation,” she remembers. “The bigotry and sexism were overwhelming. And here I am, dipping a toe in thinking these are supposed to be my people.

Book cover with the image of a huge red moon over a city on a plateau

Get your copy of “The Killing Moon” by donating $128 or more

Anyone who has read N. K. Jemisin’s books, stories, and blog knows how lucky we are that she persevered anyway, and became an award-winning professional writer and a sought-after speaker. Her debut novel, “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms,” set in the aftermath of a world-wide war between the gods, won the Locus Award and was short-listed for many other awards, including the Hugo. Her “Dreamblood” series explores themes of power and corruption in a fully-realized society inspired by ancient Egypt. Her Guest of Honor speeches at WisCon 38 and Continuum received widespread acclaim. Many of us are used to reading fiction while braced for throwaway racism or sexism and unimaginative, derivative retellings of familiar themes. Pick up a Jemisin book or story and you can enjoy yourself, braced only for new ideas and brilliant writing.

Having encountered harassment and racism in many conference environments, Jemisin supports Ada Initiative’s anti-harassment policy work and Ally Training Workshops which teach men simple everyday ways to speak up for and support women in their workplaces and communities. “Ally training work is essential,” Jemisin says, stressing that harassers in geek space are the minority, and empowered allies can speak up to teach them that they don’t run the show. “Harassment is a learned behavior. Bigotry is a learned behavior. These behaviors have to be unlearned.

A green card with a picture of N. K. Jemisin looking at a small green monster, with the text "N. K. Jemisin, PC Monster, Writes amazing, critically acclaimed, award-winning fiction despite being neither white nor male!!! Uses Guest of Honor platform to brainwash audience with her radical-socialist-fascist-PC message of treating all people as human beings. +5 cloak of Not Taking Any of Your Sh*t.On a lighter note, N. K. Jemisin’s work fighting racism and sexism in speculative fiction was commemorated in a tongue-in-cheek collectible playing card created by Jim C. Hines. The description mocks the hyperbole of the people trying to hang on to the racist, sexist old days, and includes “Uses Guest of Honor platform to brainwash audience with her radical-socialist-fascist-PC message of treating all people as human beings.” We’re honored to be working with her towards that reprehensible goal. :)

We hope you’ll follow N. K. Jemisin’s lead and donate to support the Ada Initiative’s anti-harassment work. If you don’t have a critically acclaimed award-winning novel to donate, perhaps instead you can give $128 and get a copy of “The Killing Moon SOLD OUT – and our new sticker, “Not afraid to say the F-word: Feminism.

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Black and white sticker with text reading "Not afraid to say the F-WORD"

Rikki Endsley interviews Ada Initiative executive director for USENIX ;login:

Valerie Aurora

Valerie Aurora

Rikki Endsley interviewed Ada Initiative executive director Valerie Aurora for ;login: magazine, a monthly magazine from the USENIX Advanced Computing Association. Rikki has written extensively on women in open source over the years, including a blog post many of our readers may be familiar with, “To my daughter’s high school programming teacher.”

Rikki interviewed Valerie about her career as a file systems developer, the Ada Initiative, and the on-going Linux kernel civility discussion, spearheaded by Linux USB developer Sarah Sharp.

An excerpt from one of Valerie’s answers in the interview about the Linux civility discussions:

I’m one of hundreds of Linux kernel developers, past and present, who agree with Sarah Sharp’s request [for more civility in Linux kernel development] — she’s just the person brave enough to directly call for change from Linus Torvalds and other community leadership. I was a little horrified to see how many top-notch kernel developers spoke up to say that this is one reason why they dropped out of kernel development. So I’m thrilled to hear this will be a topic of discussion at the next Linux Kernel Summit. I hope that other kernel developers will join her in standing up for a working environment without abuse.

I think Linus [insisted on the value of hostile discussion] based on the information he has. For example, he’s probably not aware of research showing that people’s intuition that performance improves after severely criticizing someone is wrong: any improvement in performance is due to random chance, what many people are familiar with as “regression to the mean.” It turns out that when you evaluate the effect of criticism vs. praise on performance scientifically, praise is the clear winner. We as computer programmers should use the same scientific logical approach to community management as we do for software development.

Read more at the USENIX web site.

Cross-post: My Family And The Ada Initiative, by Sumana Harihareswara

This is a cross-post from Sumana Harihareswara’s blog, Cogito, Ergo Sumana. She is Engineering Community Manager at Wikimedia Foundation, a long-time member of the GNOME community, and editor of science fiction anthology Thoughtcrime Experiments.

Please join Leonard and me in donating to the Ada Initiative. Why? Let me tell you a story, and then a surprise.

My parents came to the US from Karnataka, in south India, in the 1970s, and they were lonely. They spoke Kannada and English and Farsi and Hindi and Sanskrit, but Kannada was their mother tongue, and they arrived in Oklahoma and found no Kannadiga community to speak of. (Go ahead and groan. My dad passed on his love of terrible puns to me.)

An Amerikannada envelope and my parents' wedding photoI’m not saying they were the first Kannada speakers in the US. There were definitely already Kannadigas in the US in the 1970s. Indians had been immigrating here for decades.* There were letters and long-distance phone calls and occasional visits, a few families getting together, the adults laughing and swapping tips in Kannada while kids ran around. But the Kannada-speaking diaspora was scattered and had no central place to talk with each other. A bunch of people who shared a characteristic, but not really a community.

So my parents did some community organizing, in their spare time, in between working and raising my sister and me. How did they get Kannada speakers together? They started “Kannada Koota” local organizations (like user groups). “Koota” means “meeting” in Kannada. They basically started a grassroots network of Kannadiga meetups. How did they get these folks talking to each other, all across the country? They started a bimonthly magazine, Amerikannada, and ran it for 7 and a half years, until their money and energy ran out. It had great fiction, and articles from the literary magazines back home. And it included ads for those Kannada Koota meetups, “how I started a Kannada Koota” articles, and tutorial exercises for “how to learn Kannada”, for parents to teach their kids. My parents were sharing best practices, talking meta, inspiring people all over.

I didn’t really know that, as a kid. As my parents processed subscriptions, recruited articles and ads, wrote, and edited, my sister and I stapled, stamped, glued, and sealed bits of paper in languages we couldn’t quite yet read. We had a rubber stamp with the logo: a griffin-like creature, half-lion, half-bald eagle. I gleefully deployed those magical bulk-mail stickers, red and orange and green with single-letter codes, and piled envelopes into burlap sacks and plastic bins for the frequent trips to the post office.

An Amerikannada envelope, my dad's employee badge at a nuclear power station, and the Rajyotsava award he received for service to the Kannada languageIt was always my Dad who took the Amerikannada mail to the post office. He was strong in those days, heaving the great bags of mail like an Indian Santa Claus (mustache yes, beard no) alongside the blue-uniformed workers on the loading dock, the part of the post office most people never use or even see. My sister and I came along, not to help — how could we? — but to keep my Dad company.

At home, while toying with BASIC on a PC Jr, I overheard the shouted long-distance phone calls in mixed Kannada and English. Stuff like “Go ahead and give me the directions to the venue, and I’ll tell it to Veena.” or “Well you know who you should talk to? Raj is going to be over there around then….” Weekend after weekend I spent reading science fiction in some corner at a Kannada Koota.**

My father receiving the Rajyotsava award from the government of Karnataka. From Kannada WikipediaThe funny thing is that I thought I was rebelling against my parents by taking the path I did. I majored in political science at Berkeley instead of engineering, and fell in with open source hippies. I used AbiWord on Caldera Linux to write papers about nineteenth-century American political theory and naturalization rates among Indians in Silicon Valley. I fell away from coding and saw that other things needed doing more urgently: tech writing, testing, teaching, marketing, management.

And here I am now, a community organizer like them, finally appreciating what they did, what they made, what they gave up. My dad had to work to support us; he couldn’t edit Amerikannada full-time, even if that would have been a better use of his talents, and a greater service to the world. My parents couldn’t find enough ads and subscribers to pay for the cost of keeping the magazine going. I appreciate WordPress and PayPal all the more because I see that Amerikannada folded (partly) for the lack of them.

My momWhat if one of my parents had been able to bring in income from the community we were building? What if it had been sustainable?

Today, the community that I most identify with is that of women in open source and open culture. We’ve talked to each other in pockets and locally for decades – hats off to LinuxChix and VividCon, for instance – but in the last few years, The Ada Initiative has brought us more resources, a stronger community, and faster progress than ever. And this is possible because the Ada Initiative’s staff is full-time.

So, here’s the surprise: Leonard and I will match every donation to the Ada Initiative up to a total of USD$10,000 until midnight August 27th PDT, one week from today. Yes, again. And this time, if the community matches the full amount, we’ll chip in an extra thousand dollars.

The Ada Initiative’s work is useful in our own lives. When I needed an anti-harassment policy for my workplace’s technical events, and when Leonard wanted resources to advise his technical communities on diversity, we consulted the Ada Initiative’s resources. AdaCamp brings together, teaches, and inspires women from all over, including me. And the network I found via the Ada Initiative helped me write a keynote speech and respond to unwanted touch at a hackathon.

But more than that, we know that we’re improving our world and helping science fiction, open source, and Wikipedia live up to our values. We believe in inclusiveness, compassion, empowerment, and equal and fair treatment for all, and the Ada Initiative opens the doors for more women to get to enjoy those values in the places we love.

And my parents taught me that I should give back. It feels so much better to give back than to give up.

* One couple who moved from Gujarat to California in 1958 had a son who’s now a Congressman.

** Nowadays I get to be the only Kannadiga at science fiction conventions.

About the Ada Initiative

Mary and Valerie laughing

Co-founders Mary and Valerie (CC BY-SA Adam Novak)

The Ada Initiative is tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to increasing the participation and status of women in open technology and culture, which includes fan fiction and fan culture, Wikipedia, free and open source software, open hardware, open data, open education, and more. Since our founding in January 2011 by open source developers Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner, we have made hundreds of conferences safer and more welcoming for women, taught hundreds of women how to overcome Impostor Syndrome, and changed hundreds more women’s lives through the AdaCamp unconference for women in open technology and culture, among other things. Our work is only possible through the support of people like you. Read more about our programs, our progress in 2013, and our supporters.

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Interview with Alex "Skud" Bayley, founder of Growstuff and social justice activist

A woman smiling wearing a gardening hatAlex “Skud” Bayley is a social justice activist, software developer, and advocate for open technology and culture in all its forms. She blogs at Infotropism and can be found on Twitter as @Skud.

You recently founded Growstuff, an open source software and open data startup. What is Growstuff and why did you create it?

Growstuff is a website for people who grow their own food. You can track what you’re growing or planning to grow, get help and information, share seeds and produce, and connect with other growers in your local community. It’s all open source, and we also provide an API to access all our data under a Creative Commons license.

Screenshots of GrowstuffThe whole project grew out of the question, “Is there a free database of what crops you can grow and how to grow them?” There’s no such database available — at least not with worldwide data, though there may be some localised ones — but we can build it ourselves from the bottom up, by aggregating information about what individuals are growing all over the world.

Apart from wanting that open data to exist, as I gardener I also want a website for tracking and planning and learning, the same way I use Ravelry for my knitting projects — the classic “scratch your own itch” school of open source software.

You do a lot of pair programming with other developers using VoIP and screensharing. Why did you choose to do this? Is it good for recruiting?

We do pair programming for a bunch of reasons. The core reason is that we think pair programming produces higher quality software, by having two sets of eyes on the code and two people bringing their experience and ideas to every feature, and by reinforcing best practices like test-driven development — you’re less likely to “cheat” when you’re working with another person.

Also, pairing is good for the project at an organisational level: more sets of eyes on the code means I’m not the only one who knows what’s going on, and increases our bus number. Then, of course, pairing is a great way to share skills and bring new contributors up to speed. I started Growstuff with very little knowledge of Rails (the web platform we use to develop the site), but I learned a lot by pairing with people who knew more than me. Now, I share what I’ve learned with others, while learning in other areas — lately I’ve been picking up a lot of frontend skills at the same time as teaching backend stuff.

Pair programming is more than just a recruiting technique. Of course we do get some people who join us because they want the mentoring or the more social coding experience, but I suspect there are also people who don’t join, or who leave, because they don’t like the pairing discipline or can’t fit pairing into their schedules. That said, the way we work is probably more appealing to people who have trouble with the mainstream stereotype of the lone genius coder, slaving away by the glow of a warm terminal. That view of coding is very alienating to some people — unsurprisingly, often the same groups of people who are under-represented in the tech world — so I’m glad we can offer an alternative. This is very much a project for people who like collaborating, bouncing ideas off each other, and helping each other learn.

You are taking a somewhat different approach to founding an open source project and recruiting developers to it. What are some of the things you doing differently than the conventional wisdom, and why?

I’m not sure it’s that different. Basically I said, “Here’s a thing I want to work on. Anyone interested?” I set up a Github repo, issue tracker, mailing list, wiki, and all the rest. If you compare what we’re doing against most of the best practices, like in Karl Fogel’s “Producing Open Source Software” you’ll see that we’re doing most of the things that open source projects are meant to do.

Where we differ, I think, is that we’re trying to open the doors and invite in people who might not have previously participated in a software project. We specifically invite gardeners with no web development expertise to join our discussion list and participate, rather than having a separate “users” mailing list, and we try very hard to keep them involved at all stages of development.

Also, on a personal level, I’m trying to keep things very human and real. For instance, we talk a lot about problems and roadblocks we’re experiencing. I remember one time I was pairing with one of the other committers, and we just had a really bad day of it. We tried to work on about three different issues and failed on all of them. We ended up writing a pairing report for the mailing list, where we described our frustration and how we’d eventually given up, saying that we hoped someone else could have a shot at it and figure out where we went wrong. In the days that followed, I heard several “thank yous” from mailing list members, for having admitted that we’d had a bad day and shown our imperfection. You don’t often see that sort of thing, because so many people in tech are invested in proving how smart they are, or upholding their reputation as an elite hacker. I think it’s good for people to see that everyone, including experienced coders and project leads, has frustration and bad days and vulnerable moments, and that nobody’s code comes out perfect every time.

You are an accomplished social justice activist, co-founding the Geek Feminism wiki and blog, the My Name Is Me campaign to explain why requiring “wallet names” or “real names” can be harmful, and serving as key founding advisor to the Ada Initiative, among many others. How does GrowStuff fit into your activism?

I think a lot of activists go through burnout phases, and something I’ve heard from many feminists in the tech world is that sometimes they need to step back from overt activism (protesting, lobbying, public speaking) and spend some time focusing on their tech work, and on being a example/mentor to people in the field.

To some extent, this is what I’m doing: taking time out from regularly blogging and speaking about social justice, to put those ideas into practice and building a the sort of project/business that I want to work on. It’s glib to say “be the change you want to see in the world” but I can’t think of a better way of putting it. Plus, it’s giving me some space for healing and re-grounding myself after a few rough years.

You won a seed funding competition from Pinboard, the popular bookmarking service. The actual funding was only $37, yet hundreds of promising startups competed fiercely for the 6 investments. Why did you apply, and what did you get out of it?

Maciej, the founder of Pinboard, is one of the indie tech people I really admire. He’s written some great blog posts about the problems with tech business models, he demonstrated a really great attitude when fandom arrived en masse on Pinboard, and he published spreadsheets of his expenses for his first two years of operation and lots of other really useful information for the solo/indie startup founder. I already wanted him as a mentor. So when the $37 investment thing came up, and with it the opportunity to actually spend more time talking to him about how to do this stuff, I jumped at it. Plus, of course, his original announcement had been very widely linked, and I figured there’d be a bit of publicity in it. I think that’s why he got so many hundreds of applicants, some of whom really didn’t get it, if Maciej’s tweets were anything to go by. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the $37.

How can people use or support GrowStuff?

Well, you can sign up right now at and start tracking what you’re growing. We need information about all kinds of food gardens, from a few herbs on your windowsill to self-sufficient rural homesteads, all around the world. Tell your friends and family too! Growstuff is supported by paid subscriptions, so if you like what we’re doing and want us to keep doing it, please consider buying a membership.

If you’re a developer, or you’re a gardener/foodie/etc who’d like to take part in the development of the site, check out our wiki or mailing list. We’ve also got an API if you’d like to build apps with Growstuff data.

What do you think open source software and startups can learn from GrowStuff and Geek Feminism?

If technology is going to change the world for the better, it has to involve all kinds of people. That doesn’t happen by accident. You have to work at it.

You can change the world for the better by supporting women who found and build startups using open source software and open data. Donate now to support the Ada Initiative’s programs, like the AdaCamp unconference that brings together women in open source and open data to create new projects. Our fundraising drive ends August 30th, 2013.

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Author Jim C. Hines on fighting harassment in SF&F and writing librarian heroes

A black and white photo of Jim C. Hines, smiling with his arms crossedJim C. Hines is the author of several fantasy series. He also posed for a series of gender-flipped book covers, seriously endangering the health of his back. His latest book, Codex Born, is about a secret society of librarian magicians working to save the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @jimchines.

The Ada Initiative asked Jim about why he created a list of resources for reporting harassment in science fiction and fantasy (SF&F), the upsides of being named an official “PC Monster” by disgruntled fans, and why he chose librarians as the heroes of his Magic Ex Libris series.

[Trigger warning: Discussion of reporting sexual harassment and violence]

In 2010, you started collecting and publishing a list of resources for reporting sexual harassment in the science fiction and fantasy community. What inspired you to do this?

I’ve been writing about sexual violence and harassment for a long time, but what triggered that particular blog post was attending [SF&F convention] WorldCon and talking to three different women who mentioned having been harassed by the same editor. These were separate conversations, and I wasn’t actively seeking out stories of harassment.

Basically, that post came about because I was pissed off. I strongly believe everyone gets to make their own choice about reporting, and not having witnessed anything first-hand, I wasn’t in a position to report this guy anyway. But I wanted to do something that might help those who chose to do so.

One of the first things you say in that document is “If you’ve been sexually harassed, it’s your choice whether or not to report that harassment.” Why did you emphasize this point?

I emphasized it because so many people seem to not get it. I am so tired of hearing people say, “Well, if you didn’t immediately report it to the police, then you have no right to complain about it now” or “You have to report it or else it’s your responsibility if he hurts someone else.”

Bullshit. The responsibility falls on the person doing the harassment. And there are so many valid reasons someone might choose not to report. Have you seen how our legal system treats victims of sexual violence? I think it takes a great deal of strength and courage to report harassment, and I’m glad when people choose to do so, but the instant we try to take that choice away, we become part of the problem. Instead of trying to force victims to report, maybe we should be working harder to support people who choose to do so, and to address the problems that make reporting so difficult.

One of the reactions to the movement to end sexual harassment in SF&F was the creation of a Twitter account called PC Monsters of the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America). Besides creating a handy list of feminist SF&F authors to follow, what other effects did it have?

A green card with a picture of N. K. Jemisin looking at a small green monster, with the text "N. K. Jemisin, PC Monster, Writes amazing, critically acclaimed, award-winning fiction despite being neither white nor male!!! Uses Guest of Honor platform to brainwash audience with her radical-socialist-fascist-PC message of treating all people as human beings. +5 cloak of Not Taking Any of Your Sh*t.

Card for author N. K. Jemisin

Aside from bringing laughter to the folks on the list? I’d say it served as a reminder that there are still some very hateful people in our community. It also prompted someone to create PC Genre Monsters cards for some of the folks on the list, which was tremendous fun.

From what I’ve seen, everyone on that list also got a significant boost in Twitter followers. I think it’s safe to say the original account did not have the effect they intended.

How does your work opposing sexual harassment and assault inform your writing, and vice versa?

I try not to preach or lecture in my fiction. I’m telling a story, and that’s always the priority. With that said, I try to be aware of and avoid the multitude of sexist tropes, clichés, and stereotypes that permeate the genre. I absolutely refuse to use rape as a random plot twist or a way to motivate a female character to go out and seek vengeance. I’ve written about rape in a few of my books, but I try to do so with an understanding of rape and recovery, remembering that rape is traumatic, but it doesn’t define who someone is.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to write different kinds of strong women characters. They may not all be strong enough to go toe-to-toe with a wendigo, but they’re all people. They’re not plot devices or rewards for the hero or helpless damsels to be rescued.

Basically, after working against sexual harassment and violence for so long, I’ve come away with the radical notion that women are people, and should be written as such.

What advice would you give to other communities looking to put together a list of resources for reporting sexual harassment?

Reach out to people and ask for help and suggestions. I was amazed at how many publishers responded to my emails asking for contact information. They took it very seriously and seemed to genuinely want to help. They were also able to offer suggestions and information I hadn’t considered.

Also, a project like this will need to be updated. Companies change policies, individuals move from one job to another, and so on. [Editor’s note: We created a publicly editable list of contacts on the Geek Feminism Wiki.]

Book cover with the words "Codex Born" and a smiling woman standing straight and holding a sword

Magic! Librarians!

Your new book, Codex Born, features librarian magicians saving the world. What inspired you to write about librarians?

I wanted to write about a character who was passionate about books and magic and genre, one who was well-read, and who would be able to use research and intelligence against the bad guys. Along with laser guns and light-sabers and whatever else he pulls out of his books, I mean.

And also because librarians are just cool. I hung out with some of the library students during grad school, and they were some of my favorite people in the world. Even if they did always whup my ass in Trivial Pursuit.

Do you like attending conferences with anti-harassment policies? The Ada Initiative was a leader in the fight for strong, enforceable anti-harassment policies at geeky conferences. We need your help to keep doing this work! Donate now and support the Ada Initiative’s work fighting sexual harassment at conferences and in Wikipedia, fan fiction, and open source software. Our fundraising drive ends August 30th, 2013.

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