Tina K. Russell

October 1, 2008

Chicks dig custom kernels

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:52 am

Ten easy ways to attract women to your free software project
The gender inequality among developers and supporters of free software is stunning. Less than 2% of us are women, according to studies conducted for the European Commission. Why? The evidence says we’re driving them away. There are even some pretty good published guidelines on how not to drive them away. What’s missing is a practical implementation strategy: here I present ten relatively simple changes in how you run your project, to make it more attractive to would-be contributors—especially women.

These are some great pieces of advice. I think some of them really resonated with me personally: using high-level languages like Python and eliminating as many extraneous tasks as possible (no more “tweaking the tools”) has really helped me dig into a software project when otherwise I would have just given up. I’m not sure if that’s the lady-brain or the ADD, but when a programming project feels more like making adjustments to your car (or even a complete overhaul) than it does channeling the spirit of Henry Ford, founding your own institution for the study of the mechanical arts, writing a dissertation on the internal combustion engine, and then searching through man pages for hours to figure out how to start the ignition, something’s gone right. (The latter hypothetical example should be familiar to anyone who has mucked around with programming. In general, whenever I’ve tried to play with C, I’ve learned my lesson; double-checking my pointers or whatnot is not just lost time, but far more in lost concentration and lost productivity. Try to avoid a “boys and their toys” environment; if your code is low-level and convoluted for that last extra bit of performance, you’re going to have a program stuck in the past that is impossible for new contributors to improve upon.)

Lots of other examples are great! Use forums, not mailing lists! Forums are more open, and bad behavior is aired and identified quickly without draining resources from the project. Use wikis! Easy collaboration definitely appeals to us lady-folk, but it’s also where technology and, uh, the human race is headed (ask any marketer; the lone wolf is a dying breed). And for the love of all that is holy, recognize and thank your valued contributors. Men tend to be thick-skinned about getting jabs from people they’ve helped; for women, being insulted (even in jest) or ignored for your hard work tends to make us think, oh, well then, be that way. At least, that’s my experience. ….With me. Never mind.

And here, I need to toot my tranny horn. One of the grand blessings of being transsexual is that, yes, we’ve had experience living as men. We know how you work, beloved man-types! Seriously, it’s no coincidence that computer science is such a common field for the garden-variety transsexual woman (pah! like there is one); women are naturally analytical and collaborative, and nowhere better can we feed our collective problem-solving jones than in the field of computer science. (I mean, men are naturally analytical and collaborative, too, but you know, tendencies…) With our experiences under cover of faux-maleness (often for far too long), we get a tougher skin for the habits of you lovable man-folk. Since programming is an area in which us trans women have established such a strong beachhead, I hope we can use our places of power to ensure that all women, whichever side of the fence we were born on, get a chance in the bold new information economy.

Really, this list is just recommendations for bringing more diverse thinkers into your open-source project, and that’s something that always helps. And since I’ve basically just been elbowing men in the ribs this whole post, I want to say that men are wonderful, strong and compassionate, carrying, as the hero of I My Me! Strawberry Eggs puts it, “a great love in their hearts!” More women in computing and in open source would benefit women, but it would benefit men just as much. With our complementary skills, together we can make better programs, more fun working environments, and a better world of computing for everyone.

Side note: The Canonical Store brought back the “Linux for Ladies” shirt! Hooray! (I actually sent them an e-mail requesting its return; I guess they were listening!)


  1. Nice post! I agree that more women in open source would benefit everyone. For that matter, more people in open source, from kids on up, will be wonderful.

    Comment by Rikki — October 1, 2008 @ 4:37 am

  2. There should be a world wide “Open Source Writers Appreciation Day”.

    It’s about way more than free software.

    To me it is about better software that offers more platform choices that will always have a community to support it. It’s free too!

    The only reason I am still using windows is due to the lack of a decent CAD program for Linux.

    Thanks for doing what you do.

    Comment by John — October 4, 2008 @ 9:36 pm

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