New to Open Source

Aquatic Park out to Angel Island
My good friend Sarah over at Ultrasaurus got me thinking the other day. I was diving into some open source code, testing it, playing with it, installing it, etc. And I’d bitch about little things that annoyed me. She’d reply, “well, that sounds a way you can contribute.” “That’s an area of improvement you can make,” and “You can patch that.”

I’m not sure when, in the private software world, I started thinking I was powerless and shut out of the process. I used to be a programmer- working on shrink wrapped, licensed software- and then I stopped, and got into managing developers, consulting, sales calls, until I was no longer building the tools but customizing them. I was helping customers understand why software was or wasn’t what they expected it to be. I left development- and returned to it as a hobby, making annaboka.com, movie haikus, other little pet projects. I’m not sure if that was out of a desire to focus on my own control freaky creativity, or because the stuff I wanted to do didn’t pay.

So now, having contributed, and finding gigs that help me contribute, is kind of awesome. Mostly, though, it’s a huge shift in attitude to being the powerless bitchy complainer, to being the “How can I fix it?”

I was talking about the open-source attitude to some colleagues, and how it takes initiative, to fix it and patch it instead of bitching. Here’s the question: could this be the reason not more women are in the open source community? Now, don’t go down the bitchy track, I meant, because we’re often shut out and powerless. So taking initiative and just doing it- with some diplomatic questions and testing out the waters, educating yourself on the lay of the land- but really, women take the initiative in lots of things. Is it the formless structure? The lack of face-to-face interactions? Nebulous rules about what is good style, whether it will be appreciated? Not sure.

Latest geeky posts I’ve written- on Blazing-Cloud, PostGres & MySQL Fixes for Drag Order Extension- Radiant CMS.

5 Comments »

  1. Comment by nike shox

    Posted on December 30, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    If a jewel falls into the mire, it remains as precious as before; and though dust should ascend to heaven, its former worthlessness will not be altered.

  2. Comment by agence de de communication

    Posted on January 12, 2010 at 9:08 am

    I think you partially explained why women are not more into the open source community.

  3. Comment by Tim

    Posted on February 20, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Personaly, although I'm a programmer and work with open source bits and bobs a lot, I don't contribute. I'm a guy by the way.
    For little changes, like we might want to make on some software, the time investment getting to know the code is far to great for the small improvement we'd see. It just wouldn't feel satisfying.
    At the same time, its rare to find projects that give you a “way in” to the main project, looking after and managing thier volunteers. Maybe KDE. Usually, the more interesting / important a project is, the more elitist it is about who's patches actually get added, and if your outside the core dev team, there is little emotional reward in terms of interaction which would coincide with what you are saying.

    I think that the low proportion of women in opensource has more to do with the low proportion of women in “hard core developer” jobs, where they would get the skills they need to contribute.
    There are a lot of things behind that – socialization, feeling intimidated to enter a male dominated field.
    Anecdotaly an ex girlfriend told me last week that she was leaving programming for an unrelated field. She had never felt accepted by her team, a little patronised, and unable to relate to car / scifi talk or banter.
    She was the only woman in her team. Where I work, in a group of 200 programmers, discounting support staff and manual testers, there are 3 women in developer roles. This is not typical of other industries in the UK, and lol not desirable for me a single guy.
    I would querry whether interaction is such a strong gender divider as you suggest. Female dominated fields such as admin, libary work, some production line work, involve the same amount of detail focused lone working.
    There is a lot wrong with the culture around programming, engineering.
    These things are often cited at reasons why women are not in the profession, opensource, whatever.
    Sure it would be nice to correct them, but I think that the reason there remain more men in that line of work, is that more men seek to enter it, and find it easier to progress because they do not meet discrimination.

  4. Comment by banane

    Posted on February 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Ah Tim, the point I was making is that the % of women in open source, compared to the % of women in technical fields, is far lower. Not of women in general, or people in general, but women *in* technology.

    I recently talked at a session at She's Geeky – a women's tech unconference- on this very issue, getting into open source. The women who attended floored me their hard-core, deep down tech skills. Basically, Linux kernal engineers. So uh, nope. It's not that women don't have the skills to contribute.

  5. Comment by banane

    Posted on February 23, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    Ah Tim, the point I was making is that the % of women in open source, compared to the % of women in technical fields, is far lower. Not of women in general, or people in general, but women *in* technology.

    I recently talked at a session at She's Geeky – a women's tech unconference- on this very issue, getting into open source. The women who attended floored me their hard-core, deep down tech skills. Basically, Linux kernal engineers. So uh, nope. It's not that women don't have the skills to contribute.

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