Category Archives: Interviews

Rebecca Watson of Skepchick: "Why would you want to hang out with those jerks anyway?"

Rebecca Watson with red hair on a black background

Rebecca Watson of Skepchick

Rebecca Watson is a well-known feminist and skeptic activist, as well as a sought-after public speaker. She leads a team of activists who write for the Skepchick network of blogs, which covers science, skepticism, feminism, atheism, secularism, and pseudoscience. You can watch videos of Watson speaking on YouTube, like this talk about pseudoscience about women, and follow her on Twitter at @rebeccawatson.

We asked Rebecca Watson about how she got started as a public speaker, why she only speaks at events with 35% women speakers and an anti-harassment policy, and what her dream speaking engagement would be.

Q. You are a popular speaker! Tell us a little about how you became a sought-after speaker and what sort of invitations you get.

That one continues to baffle me, actually. It’s not something I pursued – I would just deliver a talk whenever someone was nice enough to ask me, and I guess people liked them and invited me to give more. Having a popular blog and podcast helped, too. I enjoy speaking on a variety of topics, so I get invites from skeptic groups, science advocacy groups, atheist groups, and now feminist groups as well. Pretty much everywhere I go, I meet amazing people and have a blast. I’m a very lucky lady.

Q. Popular speakers usually have a list of requirements for speaking at an event (a.k.a. speaker rider). Yours includes two unusual requirements: an anti-harassment policy, and 35% women speakers. Why did you add these?

Anti-harassment policies just make sense. I’ve heard from many women who have told me they’d feel safer at a conference that has one; the only people I’ve heard who hate them are the people who harass me online, so it seemed like an easy call. I want to support conferences that are inclusive and welcoming to women and minorities, and that’s one very easy way they can do that.

I’ve also seen that the more women who speak on stage, the more women show up in the audience. People feel more at home when they see people like them in prominent positions. Because the conferences I attend are usually heavily male-dominated, having a minimum of 1/3 female speakers is another easy way that conference organizers can show they place a high value on diversity. 35% is actually ridiculously low considering women are 51% of the population, but then, I’ve always been pretty easy-going. Despite the rumors. Next year I may up it to 40% and add a “non-white” percentage for fun.

Q. What usually happens when the event inviting you doesn’t already have an anti-harassment policy or 35% women speakers?

So far, every conference organizer has leapt at the chance to institute these things. Often it’s something they were considering anyway, but maybe they needed a little push and a little help. I offer to help them (or find them someone more qualified to help them) if they need. I have a thick Rolodex (not actually a thing anymore) full of smart, funny, entertaining women who can sell tickets so it hasn’t been an issue.

Q. How has your speaking career changed since you added those riders? Do you think it has hurt or helped you professionally and/or personally?

It doesn’t appear to have changed at all, actually, except for that it’s a bit more satisfying to know for sure that I’m supporting the right organizations. Only one organization has not responded after I sent them my rider, and they ended up canceling their event, anyway. It’s possible I destroyed their event with my mind powers (but not likely).

I knew it was possible people would stop inviting me places because of it, but I figured then I’d have more time for video games.

Q. What is your dream speaking engagement?

I like speaking in pubs, because everyone is relaxed and there’s beer. So I suppose my dream speaking engagement would be on a panel with Hillary Clinton, Lucy Lawless, and Amy Poehler, in a pub full of sloths, and also we’re on a spaceship.

Q. What advice would you give to other pro-women folks who speak at events regularly?

If you’re speaking at the right events, then the organizers care about diversity and reaching out to new audiences. Don’t be shy about asking them to find a good representation of women and minorities, and offer to help if you can. If you’re a man, you could refuse to speak on a panel that doesn’t have a woman on it. The worst that can happen is that you get disinvited, at which point just imagine what your mom would say: “Why would you want to hang out with those jerks anyway?”

Like this interview? Read more of Rebecca Watson’s writing at the Skepchick blog.

Graydon Hoare: "I donated because I'd like to see the culture change."

Photograph of Graydon Hoare

Graydon Hoare, used with permission

Q. Tell us about yourself

I’m a tools and language engineer, currently at Mozilla and working on the Rust language. I was at Red Hat before, and a few other places. I’ve worked primarily on lower-level things: compilers, crypto tools, version control systems, profilers, simulators, debuggers, diagnostic systems, etc. Not usually all that successful, but I keep myself busy. I’m Canadian: grew up in Toronto and live in Vancouver.

Q. Why did you donate to the Ada Initiative?

Because I’d like to see the culture of Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) communities change. I’ve long found it demoralizing to watch the community fail to talk sensibly about racism, sexism, economic injustice or other forms of systemic oppression, especially its own practices. Denying that the culture has any exclusionary practices and yelling at marginalized people to “grow a thicker skin” is not ok; we can do better. So I was happy to see the Ada initiative form, and I’m hopeful that having full-time people advocating, educating and organizing for change to such broken norms might help. If they can influence things in a positive direction, I’m on their side.

I’m also interested in the larger effects FLOSS culture has on various “open culture” communities inspired by FLOSS, taking cues from it and also taking it in new directions as new people become involved, new projects open up. Wikimedia, OCW, OTW, OSM, IA, OAI, PLoS … there are a lot of pieces of our future culture watching and learning from each other, sharing techniques, knowledge and norms. That interplay is interesting and I know it’s something the Ada Initiative is trying to play a role in shaping the discourse of, I’ve talked to them a bit about this and it’s part of their long term ambition. The society I’m going to be living in over the next few decades seems likely to be heavily populated by open culture movements, and I think those have the potential to be a lot more socially progressive than they currently are, if they can do the necessary work reflecting on, talking about and correcting existing patterns of exclusion.

Q. How did you decide how much to donate to the Ada Initiative?

At the suggestion of an old friend, a few years ago I started taking the question of charities seriously, and considering whether I was actually donating to charities an amount commensurate with my salary: 5%, 10% a year, you know, substantial chunks, not just pocket change. Software folks are well paid, especially for our generation. When I reflected on this — and how little I was really giving, charity-wise — I started to make a much more serious habit of supporting things that mattered to me.

The Ada Initiative needs your help to continue our programs supporting women in open technology and culture. Support us by becoming an Ada’s Angel donor today!

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Jesse Ruderman: "I wanted to atone for years of That's What She Said jokes"

Jesse Ruderman

Jesse Ruderman

Jesse Ruderman (@jruderman) works for Mozilla, where he finds creative ways to break Firefox. He’s our largest individual donor, giving $4096 $5120 to the Ada Initiative, so we wanted to know more about him!

Q. Why did you donate $4096 $5120 to the Ada Initiative?

Several fellow Mozillians I admire and trust had already decided to back The Ada Initiative, so I checked out their site. This bit in an early version of their FAQ struck a chord with me:

Open technology and culture are shaping the future of global society. If we want that society to be socially just and to serve the interests of all people, women must be involved in its creation and organization.

I hadn’t thought of this, but it’s completely right. And reading this told me a few things about the Ada Initiative:

  • They’re in this for precisely the right reasons, even if I’m not.
  • They’re great at identifying multiplier effects — something I consider important in deciding where to donate.
  • They have an optimism and tone that I think will be effective at making men want to help, regardless of their initial opinions on women and feminism.

I’d like to have more women in my field, for the usual selfish het-guy reasons.

I’d like to have more people in open source communities, because I want more awesome open source software to exist. Focusing on women makes sense to me for a few reasons. First, we don’t have to speculate about whether barriers to participation are real, because the barriers that disproportionately affect women (impostor syndrome, sexualized environments, etc.) add up to a very measurable effect. Second, the skewed gender ratio itself creates barriers. Third, success will be easy to see, making it easy to keep momentum.

I wanted to atone for years of That’s What She Said jokes (most of which weren’t really that funny) and any negative side effects of Pornzilla.

Q. How did you decide how much to donate to the Ada Initiative?

It seemed to make more sense than donating smaller amounts over time, especially since they were just getting off the ground. I didn’t realize this would cost me a chance to get various shirts and stickers. ;)

The Ada Initiative needs your help to continue our programs supporting women in open technology and culture. Support us by becoming an Ada’s Angel donor today!

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Courtney Stanton: "If you don't have women in your speaker lineup, it's because you don't want them there"

Courtney Stanton wearing a Magneto helmet

Courtney Stanton wearing a Magneto helmet

Courtney Stanton is well-known for her tireless work to increase women’s participation in the computer gaming industry and audience. She has worked in the industry for many years as a producer and project manager and currently lives in Boston.

Recently, she organized a game conference, the “No Show” conference, which had 50% women speakers. She wrote up her techniques for attracting qualified women speakers to conferences, which were recently successfully reused by a programming conference, JS Conf EU to get 25% women speakers. In an era when conference organizers are increasingly criticized for all or mostly male speaker lineups, Stanton’s advice is vitally important for conference organizers to read and implement.

In this interview, Courtney gives advice for other conference organizers wanting to increase women speakers at their conferences and talks more about how 50% women speakers made “No Show” a better conference.

What motivated you to start the “No Show” game conference?

I got tired of complaining about the same problems at conferences I was going to. Sometimes it’s easier for people to understand your point if you have an example of what you’re talking about, and so No Show Conference is my example of one way to have a content-rich event for game development professionals without it being a cesspool. I kept thinking, “this stuff cannot be that difficult to fix,” so I tried doing it myself to see if I could do it better.

You wrote about how you got 50% women in the speaker line-up at “No Show.” How did the conference itself go?

The conference was amazing, but of course I’m a little bit biased. I feel like the quality of the talks actually achieved a “zero-filler” event, which was one of my goals. What’s interesting is the sort of audience you get when you have an anti-harassment policy and you’re up front about trying to do something a little bit different. I saw multiple people knitting in the crowd during talks which…is not a thing you see at game dev events. Ever. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive across the board, with the one theme being that they wished more of their friends or colleagues could make it out. I’m trying to fix that for 2013 by booking a larger, cheaper event space, which should make room for more folks and bring the ticket prices down.

The JS Conf EU programming conference got 25% women speakers using your advice. What does this mean for tech conferences in general?

I think it means that if you don’t have women in your speaker lineup, it’s because you don’t want them there…but I thought we all knew that already.

What would you say to other conferences considering using your techniques but worried about how much work it takes?

If you want to put on a conference without doing a lot of work, then you’ll have a shitty conference and the lack of diversity in your speaker lineup will be just one of the ways you advertise said shittiness. Events take work, good events take more work, and really exceptional, unique events where you’re breaking the mold are a second job. (Yes, even if your job is running events in the first place.) I understand it’s possible that some conference organizers are just holding events to make money, but assuming that they’re actually doing it to add value to the industry/community/etc, then I think on some level they know it’s necessary work. Otherwise, you end up with a narrower and narrower slice on stage (and in the audience) of who your community really is, and that way is death.

The Ada Initiative works together with conference organizers to help create more women-friendly conferences and attract women speakers. If an anti-harassment policy made your life better – as someone who attended a conference, or as a conference organizer – please consider helping us support women by donating to our on-going fundraiser (ends October 31, 2012). We literally can’t do this without your support!

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Alex Payne: Why I donated to the Ada Initiative

Alex PayneAlex Payne (who goes by al3x online) is a well-known software engineer, author, and investor. Alex was one of Twitter’s first employees, CTO of Simple, and a co-author of “Programming Scala.” Alex is also an Ada Initiative donor and the fourth person to become an Ada Initiative Seed 100 funder in 2011.

We interviewed Alex in August about why he thinks the Ada Initiative is important, his interests in open technology and culture, and why having more women in open tech/culture is vital.

If you agree with Alex’s opinions, will you join him in becoming an Ada Initiative supporter today? We literally can’t do our work without your donations!

Why do you think the Ada Initiative is relevant today?

There have been organizations that have worked on behalf of women in technology for some time. What’s particularly relevant about the Ada Initiative is their focus on women in open technology and culture. The last decade-plus has seen the open approach become increasingly dominant in startups, enterprises, and even non-profits and academia. Getting more people involved in creating an open world is a timely and crucial endeavor.

What are your key open technology and culture communities or projects? What do you enjoy about it?

I have a strong interest in the design and implementation of programming languages. Thankfully, languages have largely become open source projects over the past few years, and now it’s easy to participate in their development, or just observe from afar. I’m particularly interested in the Scala and Clojure communities, in part because they’re both languages with strong but fairly divergent designs and philosophies. Watching them co-evolve is educational, as the debates that inform their future directions tend to be passionate and detailed.

What benefits do you see as a result of having more women in open technology and culture?

The overarching benefit is that open technology and culture are becoming representative of the broader population in a way that more closely mirrors the world that’s benefited by that technology and culture. As producers and consumers of technology and culture reach a kind of demographic parity, I think we’ll see solutions to problems that less diverse groups of producers are more likely to overlook.

What’s the most awesome outcome of a more diverse and equitable community?

Having a balance and plurality of perspectives and opinions. Products, services, and projects of all sorts are richer for being produced by teams that are not homogeneous. As above, I think that a diverse and equitable community will yield solutions to oft-overlooked problems, and that the form of those solutions will embody an attention to detail across multiple facets.

When you need inspiration, or need to inspire others, are there any particular stories from open technology and culture that you tell?

Honestly, the history of open technology is filled with as many cautionary tales as inspiring stories. I sometimes refer to various “flame-outs” or mishandlings of open projects when speaking with people about how to grow developer communities and approach customer service. When you get a diverse and enthusiastic group of people together, friction is an inevitable byproduct. A little healthy conflict is fine as long as it’s handled with grace. Where grace is lacking, communities become exclusionary, biased, and cold. Thankfully, an open world means that we can readily learn from the mistakes of our peers.

Tell us about a woman in open tech and culture that inspires you.

I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with Amber Case of Geoloqi over the past two years. Amber is a fascinating example of a person with a strong academic background who’s parlayed her big ideas into an actual working product in a relatively short period of time. She’s friendly, inclusive, driven, smart, honest, and generally an absolute inspiration.

In your view, how can allies best support women?

I’ve been lucky enough to work on teams with women since my very first programming internship, and that first job shaped my expectations and standards. A woman was one of the lead engineers on the team. She was treated with the utmost respect for her technical skill, but was otherwise just another team member. To my mind, that’s a healthy approach. Nobody made a fuss about having a talented female programmer on the team; that’s simply how it was, and how it should be in many more organizations.

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"Conferences are not intended to create bad memories, only good ones" DeepSec organizer René Pfeiffer

DeepSec logoDeepSec is the second hacker conference to adopt a public, enforceable anti-harassment policy in response to the Ada Initiative’s article about pervasive harassment of women at several hacker conferences (which called out DeepSec’s existing reputation as one of the most welcoming conferences for women).

We interviewed René Pfeiffer, one of the organizers of DeepSec about the conference, why they adopted a policy, and what they are looking forward to at future DeepSec conferences. It sounds like a great conference from all reports!

Tell us a little about DeepSec.

DeepSec’s full name is “In-Depth Security Conference”. The focus is on information security, and we like to present content which is not purely driven by marketing purposes. We are not a simple tradeshow with a “IT security” sticker slapped on the schedule. We try to be a platform where members of the academic community, governments, industry and (underground) hacking community meet in order to talk about security and exchange ideas. We believe in keeping an open mind and tearing down artificial barriers between groups that have a lot to talk about, but can’t in their normal environment. Most security related problems get worse if communication breaks down, so talking to each other is an important aspect of dealing with security breaches. This is what CERTs are preaching and what DeepSec tries to implement on conference-level.

The advantage to meet in person and talk and discuss certain issues from each perspective will give everyone involved a brighter understanding about needs and topics in the vast field of IT security, combined by interesting talks and new business opportunities.

The DeepSec event itself consists of two days of trainings followed by a two-day conference. We organise a dinner for all speakers and staff, and we have a party at the Metalab, a local hacker space, after the conference.

How did DeepSec get started?

In 2007 Paul Böhm created the DeepSec conference from scratch because he felt that a security-related conference where everyone can attend and talk openly was missing. He selected Vienna, Austria, as location which has been traditionally a bridge between different regions. Paul put a lot of effort into the first DeepSec and did a terrific job to kick-start it into existence.

What made you decide to adopt an anti-harassment policy?

There were two motivations. The first one were the experiences from other events participants wrote about. While we don’t feel that conferences and events turn into places of harassment in general, we like to do our part to work against this. It really doesn’t matter if there was a case already or not. The second motivation stems from the place DeepSec wants to be. We have a very international audience with roots in four different continents. If we want to create an atmosphere where everyone feels relaxed and is treated with respect, then we have to actively maintain this environment. Trust, respect and safe places do not automatically exist, they have to be created; you need people who care and who make sure an event stays hospitable.

Fortunately our staff cares, so our anti-harassment policy is really a statement of what we have been doing and trying to create since the first conference anyway.

What would you like to see at the next DeepSec?

We would like to see more people holding presentations and workshops who are not sure if their skills are “in-depth” enough, or who are not sure if they can handle speaking on stage. We actively support students with bright ideas with our under 21 category, and we will maintain a mixture of seasoned security experts and those who like a chance to become one. Everyone needs a start. Fresh perspectives never hurt, and we will actively support you if you let us know about the work you have done or are doing.

And for all the companies that are listening, please do not always think in leads when dealing with IT security. Be part of the community instead and show this proudly. Companies can have open minds, too.

Anything else you’d like to say?

We are well aware that small conferences have a lot of advantages compared to big events when it comes to publishing and enforcing an anti-harassment policy or protecting all attendees. If you are part of a team organising one of these big events, please consider to signal everyone thinking about attending that you want everyone to enjoy the talks, to have fun and not to be harassed for any reason. While you cannot control every single situation and second of your event, you can clearly state what you expect from everyone being there, and you can instruct your staff to do the same. It’s a simple step. Conferences are not intended to create bad memories, only good ones.

The DeepSec and BruCON anti-harassment policies would not exist without the Ada Initiative’s work. We are a non-profit funded primarily by donations from people like you. If you believe more women should attend hacker conferences, please become a supporting donor today.

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Ada Initiative board member Rachel Chalmers: "Open technology saved my life"

The Ada Initiative is governed by a six person board of directors, comprised of women with expertise in open technology and culture, women’s diversity issues, and non-profit and for-profit businesses.

Today we introduce you to one of our directors, Rachel Chalmers, Vice President, Research – Infrastructure Management, The 451 Group.

Rachel Chalmers

Q. What interests you about open technology and culture?

Open technology saved my life.
In 1993 and 1994 I was a graduate student in literature at Trinity College, Dublin. It was the first time I had ever left Australia. I was wretchedly lonely and very cold. I stayed away for a year and a half, and the Internet was my lifeline. This was when the Web itself was newfangled so I’m talking about email and Usenet, accessed from a CLI on a dumb terminal talking to a DEC VAX; and later, after I graduated, via a secret account on a Unix box belonging to some computer science students who took pity on me.

I’d fooled around with computers long before that, writing text adventures in CP/M Basic on an Osborne 1, but connectivity made the computer itself melt away, leaving only the conversation: text in green or amber on a phosphor display. I’m still friends with a couple of women I met on Usenet that year. (I still haven’t met one of them.) When I moved back to Australia at the end of 1994 it was my familiarity with the Net, and not my shiny new Master’s degree, that got me my first job.

None of this would have been possible without open standards and protocols and a culture of sharing technical knowledge. I could email my Dad in Australia because the Internet was deployed and accessible all over the world. I was given the resources and taught how to use them because volunteers thought that would be a good and worthwhile thing to do. I had an excellent formal education, but my informal education was even better. It felt then — it still feels — as if I had groped my way through a dark cave holding onto a rope, and come out blinking into a lighter place.

Q. What’s the greatest change for women in open technology and culture you’ve seen in the last 5 years?

I think some of the communities we work in have started to maintain state. For my first ten or twelve years in the software industry, every feminism conversation was a review of Feminism 101. Whether it was Larry Summers pulling out the gender essentialism in 2005, Telsa Gwynne shutting down her blog (that I loved) in 2006, or Kathy Sierra getting death threats in 2007 – the reaction was always the same, people standing around gasping like goldfish: “WHAT IS THIS UNDERCURRENT OF CONTEMPT FOR WOMEN IN OUR COMMUNITIES GREAT HEAVENS I WAS NOT AWARE.” And it always seemed to be the same activists having to explain the same basic facts over and over again.

What’s changed isn’t the frequency or intensity of incidents (if only! If anything, they’ve gotten worse.) What’s changed is the existence of the Geekfeminism Wiki’s Timeline of Incidents. The Timeline makes it much more difficult to write off individual incidents as “isolated”. It’s harder for offenders to plead historical amnesia, and it’s easier for defenders to take lessons learned from one incident and apply them to the next. I see the conversation continuing, rather than tapering off and getting reset to zero every time. And I am seeing this as far afield as the skeptical and fandom communities. New people are picking up the threads, which is great news for those of us who are interested in preventing activist burnout.

Q. What do you bring to the board of directors?

Ironically for a person with two literature degrees who has made my living by writing for twenty years, I am the board’s voice of fiscal discipline. The other board members are brilliant and influential visionaries and I feel honored to serve with them. I am the bean-counter adding up our expenses and dividing them into our remaining capital to calculate how long we will stay solvent. This reflects the many years I have spent working for a scrappy little startup while writing about hundreds of other scrappy little startups, most of which have sunk without trace. God knows I never imagined I would be a corporate executive with a cold eye for the bottom line, but it’s nice to have the opportunity to use those powers for good.

I’ve also always been one of those people who embody institutional memory. My job is putting technical innovation in historical context, for profit! My family members come to me for the contact details for other far-flung family members. This is probably why the Timeline of Incidents resonates with me so well. I’ve been lucky enough to be with TAI almost from the beginning, so I get to be the one who says “You know what? We started this for a reason. Let’s focus on that.”

We did start it for a reason: because open technology is a lifeline, and because sharing knowledge is a good and worthwhile thing to do. Because informally-acquired technical knowledge is as useful in the job market as a formal education. Because women and everyone else who isn’t male, white, straight, cisgendered and able-bodied have just as much right to that lifeline and that knowledge. That’s why we’re here.

The Ada Initiative needs your help to continue our programs supporting women in open technology and culture. Support us by becoming an Ada’s Angel donor today!

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Karen Sandler: "I was astounded by how many articulate amazing interesting women there were"

Yesterday, we posted an excerpt of an interview with Ada Initiative advisor Karen Sandler in March, focused on the GNOME Outreach Program for women, and the ways that women support each other and advocate for the GNOME community.

Today, a further excerpt in which Karen talks about her involvement in the Ada Initiative and her experiences at AdaCamp Melbourne in January, beginning at 15 minutes 41 seconds in the video:

Karen Sandler: So, I’ll skip to the Ada Initiative, which is ­— so I’ve just become an advisor to that because I went to a conference in Melbourne when I was there for Linux Conf Australia []. They had this — it’s called AdaCamp and I was astounded by how many articulate amazing interesting women there were who had so much more information about women in technology than I ever had.

I’ve been interviewed as a woman in Free Software in the past and [laughs] — following the old axiom that in order to be an expert about women in Free Software you just had to be one.

Jeremy Allison, interviewer: [laughs with Karen]

Karen: Yeah. So they — but these women had statistics and they had real knowledge and they had amazing recommendations of things that… Free Software projects and software companies can do to make sure that they’re actually encouraging women to participate.

And so that’s why I decided to affiliate with them, and to support them. Their work is incredible. They’ve helped create codes of conduct for conferences, they’ve helped deal with problems as they arise, they’ve helped draw attention to the issue in the field, so it’s great, the Ada Initiative.

Jeremy: That’s really good, so that’s the search term if people want to find out more about it. Because we could do with more women in engineering, and in the Free Software communities.

Thanks Karen, your help has been really valuable!

The transcribed part of Karen’s video has been subtitled using Amara. Help subtitle the rest of the video!

More about the Ada Initiative’s work

Karen introduced you to two of the Ada Initiative’s projects: AdaCamps and conference anti-harassment policies.

AdaCamp is a series of small unconferences bringing together people interested in women in open technology and culture from across many different communities. We hope it will spark new ideas, spread best practices, and be a catalyst for change. We have held two AdaCamps in 2012, in Melbourne and in Washington DC.

Inspired by multiple reports of groping, sexual assault, and pornography at open tech/culture conferences, the Ada Initiative co-founders helped write and promote an example conference anti-harassment policy for modification and reuse by conference organizers. See the Ada Initiative’s Conference policies page for more about our work supporting conferences in creating a safe environment for women and others.

The Ada Initiative relies on donations and sponsorship to fund our important work. Find out how to support us!

More from Karen

Karen’s keynote at in January focused on her advocacy for available and freely licenced source code to life saving medical devices — like her pacemaker!

Karen Sandler: "We've created ways that we can talk about it that allows women to cope"

Our advisor Karen Sandler, Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation, was interviewed in March at LibrePlanet. The Open Source at Google blog recently published the interview, in which Karen talks about the GNOME Foundation, free software in medical devices and other free software advocacy.

In the video, Karen talks about the GNOME Outreach Program for Women (beginning at 12 minutes, 19 seconds), and how it has created a community where women not only become advocates for GNOME and its community, but can support each other:

Jeremy Allison, interviewer: So, the other thing that you’re very interested in is women in computing and I believe that’s the Ada Initiative that you’re associated with. Could you tell our viewers a little more about that?

Karen Sandler: Yeah I’d love to and it’s actually two things and I think one led me to the other. The first one is the GNOME Outreach Program for Women and Google is a sponsor of the program and we’re so grateful that Google sponsors interns in our community because what our program does is we specifically invite women to apply and take on — it’s inspired by Google Summer of Code actually — and it encourages them to come into projects. They don’t need to be [into?] development although many of them are: we have marketing interns, design interns, you know, documentation interns.

And what these women do is that they come in, and in order to apply you must have made contributions already into the project so basically it specifically invites women to come and participate in our community and tells them how to get started. And in order to even submit the application, you need to make contacts with people, talk to them, figure out, you know, what the needs are in the project and make a real fix.

So the program’s been really successful and what we’ve done is basically systematically addressed all of those reasons why we think women are excluded or have traditionally not been present in the Free and Open Source Software community. And at GNOME it’s been tremendously successful: a very high percentage of the women that participate in our programs stay in our community. I think, there’s a number that — I think it’s something like 40% of the women who participated in, uh, two rounds ago and the round before that — not only stayed in our community but were active in outreach. So they were mentors, they were speaking on behalf of GNOME to get more people involved because they had such a good experience.

And so it’s this kind of thing and the GNOME community has changed so much since I first became involved in it many years ago where now I go to a conference and there are women there. And not only that, there’s a supportive community where, you know, sometimes when I have a bad day — I posted a blog recently where I had spoken on a panel at South by Southwest [SXSW] and my discussion was so intellectual and high level — but I posted a photo of me and the others I’d come with and someone commented on a specific part of my anatomy and it shocked me and I remembered —

Jeremy [speaking as Karen speaks]: That is gross.

Karen: “Oh! That is why I don’t post photos of myself generally!” But it was like “I’m already a seasoned member of our community, one bad comment isn’t going to turn me away.” But five years ago, I maybe would have just gone away. But I knew that I could go to the women’s outreach forum on the GNOME server and I — you know, on the IRC channel — and we all talked about it and three other people said “I had that happen to me last week” and it’s unfortunate that it’s so common but we’ve created infrastructure, we’ve created ways that we can talk about it that allows women to cope and understand that our community is more valuable and not just represented by the few bad actors.

So the GNOME Outreach Program which is the fantastic — and Marina [Zhurakhinskaya] is at Red Hat and she does this and she’s amazing, she’s the one who spearheads this effort, it’s incredible. You’re laughing?

Jeremy: No, I’ve actually interviewed Marina, if people want to look you can find an interview with her on exactly this topic.

Karen: Oh OK, so I’ll skip to the Ada Initiative.

Jeremy Allison’s 2010 interview with Marina Zhurakhinskaya is also available on Youtube.

Tomorrow we’ll post more of Karen’s interview, focussing on the Ada Initiative and her experience at AdaCamp Melbourne.

The transcribed part of Karen’s video has been subtitled using Amara. Help subtitle the rest of the video!

Interview with BruCON organizers, winner of hacker conference anti-harassment policy challenge

BruCONWe have a winner to our hacker conference anti-harassment policy challenge! BruCON, a computer security conference in Belgium, designed, adopted, and publicly announced an anti-harassment policy within 5 days of our post. A close second was DeepSec, another European computer security conference.

BruCON sounds like a great conference run by thoughtful people who are focused on attendees getting a lot out of the conference, technically and otherwise. We wanted to know more about BruCON and why they adopted a policy, so we asked the BruCON organizers for an interview. Wim Remes kindly answered our questions.

Conference organizers will be especially interested in reading Wim’s answers, as he describes his thought process around adopting a policy. “[…] My first reaction was “we don’t need this”. Being a […] white male that is obviously a very easy conclusion to make so I challenged myself. […] As we are growing we will gradually lose control about who attends our conference and how they behave themselves.

Q: Tell us a little about BruCON.

BruCON is an annual security and hacker conference providing two days of an interesting atmosphere for open discussions of critical infosec issues, privacy, information technology and its cultural/technical implications on society. Organized in Belgium, BruCON offers a high quality line up of speakers, security challenges and interesting workshops. BruCON is a conference by and for the security and hacker community.

The conference tries to create bridges between the various actors active in computer security world, included but not limited to “hackers,” security professionals, security communities, non-profit organizations, CERTs, students, law enforcement agencies, etc.

We are a registered non-profit organisation and our main goal is to create a bridge between security professionals and “hackers.” “Hackers” being “persons who delight in having an intimate understanding of the internal understanding of a system, computers and computer networks in particular”, not the criminal kind you might think of!

Q: How did BruCON get started?

The idea about BruCON developed in 2009, mainly driven by Security 4 All together with about 5 other core people. The security conference landscape in Europe looked pretty grim as almost all events were very commercial and focused on products rather than knowledge. The only real exception being the Chaos Computer Club conference, the group felt there was room for another forum where geeks could converge and share knowledge through presentations, workshops and trainings. With help from some very generous sponsors and an awesome group of volunteers, the first BruCON materialized and, as they say, the rest is history.

Today we attract about 400 attendees from all over the world for 2 days of trainings and a 2 day conference all focusing on information security and hacking.

What made you decide to adopt an anti-harassment policy?

When I first read about the idea, I honestly had to give it some thought. We have, to my knowledge, not received any complaints about harassment at BruCON and my first reaction was “we don’t need this.” Being a (slightly overweight ;-)) white male that is obviously a very easy conclusion to make so I challenged myself and there were two main factors that influenced my decision to do this:

  • As we are growing we will gradually lose control about who attends our conference and how they behave themselves. The “social fabric” that is woven reasonably tightly right now will loosen and if that ever happens to a degree where people see opportunity to harass others, we want to have a formal policy that is enforceable. We have that now.
  • Being inclusive is at the core value of BruCON and while there doesn’t seem to be an immediate need to adopt such a policy, I think it emphasizes the spirit of BruCON extremely well. It doesn’t matter who or what you are, if you come to share knowledge, you have a spot at BruCON.

Q: What would you like to see at the next BruCON?

That’s a difficult one as we are in the awesome position of not making are conference about the conference itself but about its attendees and speakers. We draw a lot of students and persons testing the waters of information security, we also draw seasoned researchers that find a forum to collaborate. If we receive one e-mail that tells us one of those new persons has started a career in information security or a few researchers come up with some kick-ass research after they met at our con, that’s all we really need to keep doing this.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say?

We are really looking forward to working with this policy and hope that we will not need to enforce it. As we seem to be the first to do this, we will also carefully gather as much data as possible on reactions, reports and other things we experience along the way. I will personally follow up with an analysis post-con and I’m looking forward to share that with you as well. Finally, we would like to thank Brian Honan for bringing the policy to our attention and David Mortman for helping with adapting it for our conference.