It was profoundly sad to read Sarah Sharp’s blog post today that she’s leaving the Linux Kernal development team. The sort of it is that she just had it with the caustic social atmosphere maintained by that group, most famously exemplified in the well publicized rantings of Linus Torvald himself.
This to me is a universally bad sign for everyone not just in IT but everyone touched by it, which is everyone.
The chief damage of poorly socialize and highly aggressive communities in IT is that they develop a mono-culture. They mistake a specific way of arguing and reasoning as the ultimate means of making progress in IT and thus limit the progress that can be made by those groups to those with that specific way of arguing and reasoning.
This closes what should be an open market place of ideas and limits progress in the field to people who can pass particularly personality tests or have their ideas recognized by people with a demonstrably limited ability to recognize or appreciate the worth of other human beings.
We have entered a phase of human history where conceptual models are the basis of or economy. Cloud computing, iphones, kickstarter, service architectures, snapchat and most of the 1/3rd of the global economy driven by IT is entirely the product of conceptual models. Communities like this ensure only a small number of socially compromised individuals will be able to bring their ideas to market, which limits the possibilities for all of us.
I understand this. I passed a phase in my career where I had to step away from something I loved because the politics of it all left me burned out and I couldn’t see a way to recover.
I wish Mrs Sharp good fortune and happiness, selfishly I hope she takes a break to recharge and that I’ll see here like again driving IT forward. Right now though, all I can feel is a deep sadness that it had to come to this.
Adria Richards posted some very disheartening experiences she had at the recent PyCon, dealing with some awkwardly sexual bro-grammers in the audience. I think everyone with an interest in developer communities or management should read it as it’s a great expression of what I think could be a too common experience.
I don’t want to rehash the whole issue here but there are a few things that specifically jump out at me as I read her experience that I think are worth noting.
I was struck by how much energy she felt she had to put into the descriptions of the incidents and her perception to feel she was justified in feeling outraged and how utterly draining that has to be to women in the development community. This seems like one of those things that people should just get intuitively and wouldn’t require more than a tweet to illicit the appropriate WTF reaction I think it should. This poor women has to essentially open a veign and bleed out all over her blog just to get to the point of feeling justified and from the reaction around the twitterverse, even then some people still have their doubts.
That people can act so inappropriately in large groups without some trigger for regulating it always a chilling thing to me. In this instance a trigger did work in terms of the wonderful PyCon staff but the threshold for activation was just too high to call ourselves and inclusive community. Active triggers are almost always a last resort option and form a more inclusive community we’re going to have to aspire to more passive triggers to become a self regulating community.
Why is this important to me?
As a profession, our job is essentially to make conceptual models real for people to use. We have too much of a mono-culture in programming and that hurts our ability to create better conceptual models. Diversity of background, thinking and personalities is an important tool for improving our set of conceptual models to solve problems in a diverse world. Anything we do to increase diversity and break the monoculture improves the profession. Do more of that and don’t want for someone else to ask you to.