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.