Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Community and Responsibility

Rails is a great technology, but great technologies don’t succeed on their own. The recent dustup in the Rails/Ruby Community unsettles me greatly. Beyond the misogynistic undertones, which are terrible, I fear a pattern is starting to emerge.

Over the last few years, there has been:
The DHH Fuck You presentation

The Security through obscurity incident
Obie Fernandez Java Sucks Ass

Now the response (1,2) to Matt Aimonetti debacle

Though not Rails specific, the Vlad the Deployer people attacked Capistrano when they came out. Capistrano? Jamis Buck? I don’t know the guy, but from the hard work, excellent projects, and good advice he offers, why attack him or his work.

When seeing DHH’s response to the flap, my though wasn’t "Oh no." It was "Oh No, not again."  This is all off the top of my head.  

The Rails Community is not just DHH and the Core, or the Illuminati, there are lots of in the trenches coders and this crap cuts us off at the knees. I work in a heterogeneous technology environment (a university to be specific) and how can I justify using Rails for a project if a manager gets whiff of Mr. Aimonettis presentation or any of these other incidents. Unlike pure IT environments, there are women here who have earned power and will out of hand dismiss Rails. So this response by DHH is a double Fuck You. First to people who disagree with the misoginistic undertones in Mr. Aimonetti presentation and second to people who still struggle to justify a technology choice that makes them happy.

To sell a Rails project I now have to hope the managment doesn’t read Reddit or Digg. Because this isn’t occurring in someone’s table at the bar, it’s out there for everyone to see.  God forbid I have to compete with someone using a stack where there isn't this churlishness, and they're willing to bring it up.  To lay people, they have two technology experts adovating competing technology which do almost the same thing.  But associated with 1 technology  are profanity and misogony.  I wonder which will get the nod?

Django is pretty powerful technology as well. It started around the same time, perhaps someone more conversant in both can point me to the corresponding social gaffes in that community. A quick Google search couldn’t reveal anything, but that may be my limitation.

Rails is no longer that far ahead that you can make an argument that it’s the only well constructed MVC web application stack in town. Merb was hot on its heels in Ruby and there are lots of other languages. There will be other Merbs, and not just in Ruby people. Why push people away? Why piss them off when you don’t have too. Rails, as a tool, is no longer dealing from a weak hand. Stop acting like petulant teenagers.  

The Rails community is built primarily around code, do we want to build it around social exclusions as well?  What does that net except that people who are only interested in good code go else where.  It's an opportunity cost with little gain.  You want to be edgy, be edgy in your code. That is the real reason Rails stood out in the first place.  


Anonymous said...

IMHO non-issue. Anyone who wants to take their toys and go home is free to do so. If you look at all the female coders who have commented on the issue, it appears there was only a perceived infraction, and not an actual infraction. This is a classic case of men rising up to defend women who did not ask to be defended. When the devchix take up this issue and state that it was offensive to them, then I will rally behind them and agree. To date, this appears to be a fabricated outrage by people who are offended on behalf of the opposite sex.

Every female coder I have talked to who looked at the presentation said they were not offended by it. Some of them joked and offered suggestions for how to make it better. It must be a slow news cycle if people are getting bent out of shape over an issue that doesn't appear to offend anyone but over-sensitive idealogues.

planetmcd said...

Here is one link from one female attendee.
AnotherAnd then this from another female rubyist.
Seeing their posts I think in the spectrum from completelty pleased, amused, neutral, annoyed, angry. the reactions are all at or south of annoyed.
While the devchix may or may not take this up, do you really defend off color racial jokes by saying that my black friend thinks they're OK.

Has it occurred to you that women who are tolerant of this type of behavior either 1) they say its OK, because that is the path of least resistance, or 2) they've been forced to develop a think skin. The key word here is tolerate. What choice is there if they want to code? This is the same crap Doctors and Lawyers had to stomach a generation or 2 ago. They certainly would not put up with this at a professional conference, and few male doctors would lack the sense to try it, let alone CONDONE it (can't speak for lawyers).

planetmcd said...

Anonomous, to touch further on this. Read those three blog posts. There's incontrovertible evidence that at least 33% of the women at the talk did not find it appropriate. Is that not enough for you? Their voices don't matter. Is it that you need more more to complain? What is your threshold? Is it a flat number or a percentage? I understand that sometimes people get offended when a larger point is made, but what is the contravening principle that makes it OK to off put these 3 women. If its such a non issue, and in the face of clear evidence that it was to put it mildly, not resoundingly received by female ruby coders, why are you writing blog comments defending the talk?

They don't need men to defend them. But neither do men need to be silent when someone says or does something inappropriate.

Try using the same images in a presentation to a non IT crowd in the US. Lawyers/Doctors, Teachers, a community event, etc. See how far that gets you and report back.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - you're suffering from extreme selection bias. Very few people will admit to a weakness or being vulnerable if asked.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should look at linus for some humdinger quotes. In fact open source has always had its share of e-peen measuring and ego bashing. If people think open source is driven by some altruistic principle, then they are missing what primarily motivates open source contributors. There is a reason the term rock star began to be associated with some of our more accomplished contributors, and it isn't an accident. In fact it explains the motivation behind a majority of the successful open source projects.

As far as the issue with the presentation, if female coders as a whole felt offended, as the links above suggest, then it was out of bounds and tasteless. I am certain it was not the first tasteless presentation at a technical conference, but it deserves an apology given the muck it appears to have stirred.

I think ruby has been in a bubble. The ruby community has traditionally been very helpful and friendly. Exactly the opposite of what you would find in most open source projects. The fact that the ruby community is now more reflective of the open source community in general probably is a testament to the success of the language.

Anonymous said...

Oh my! all this bickering taking my attention away from the Bacon Flu.
Having watched the slides and considering the title of the presentation I ask, what were people expecting? I don't see how someone who chooses to attend a talk partially titled "Perform like a pr0n star" gets to complain about sexual references and the objectification of anybody.
I never liked the adolescent attitude of the Rails demigod but this is downright silly. Get back to coding.

planetmcd said...

If its no big deal and the title implies that there is porn, should there have been more?

But the point isn't that the presentation was inappropriate. It was, though it obviously could have been worse.

The point is not that Mr. Aimonetti crossed a line, its that so many deny the line exists. Often, like yourself, hiding behind anonymity. Mr. Aimonetti made a mistake, and a small one at that. But when people refuse to acknowledge the mistake or encourage the mistake, that does say something about the community. You don't see this in other professions.

If this is so acceptable, try using these images at your work or with your clients. Unless you work in the adult industry, I suspect you'd either have the good sense not to or would be reprimanded or fired.

As I said before, when you have to sell a technology and a project, this is the kind of crap that makes rails hard to sell. For no good reason.

Tim Kadom said...

Anonymity can sometimes get you the most honest answers. Claiming that people are hiding behind their anonimity makes you sound kinda sanctimonious. Do you have a problem with a secret ballots as well? People may feel more open to express themselves in an anonymous fashion. Additionally, when i post I don't always feel like leaving my footprints. why enter more text if you can just post?

for your record, and because I am not ashamed to say it. my post was the first and the 5th. I also went on to sarah's post to read it and thanked her for sharing her viewpoint. I was much more influenced by a female coder post than I was by all the other blog entries combined. Jim Neath put out a great post with lots of quotes from female coders, I agree with his sentiment, and found his treatment of the subject to be the most informative of all.

planetmcd said...

Mr. Kadom,
I agree that anonymity can be a useful tool and a vital tool, and I think you'd agree that the same tool can be abused. For that reason, I've left the ability to reply anonymously on (not that I post much or get much traffic when I do, so as an aside thanks for reading).

I don't think were far apart on our spectrum of general belief. And I would certainly concur that others have exhibited far greater clarity and insight then I have. I have not seen Mr. Neath's piece yet but I saw something similar from _why.

I do think that where there is an imbalance of power, it is incumbent upon those in a majority status to recognize and condemn injustice when they see it. This may not be a large injustice compared with some of the truly awful stuff in the world, but it is close to home. I don't think my personal apprehension about the situation = that of many of the women who were off put by the presentation and its defenders, but silence is not the answer.

You approached the discussion in a rational manner, seeing evidence evolved your outlook. What if there were no loud dust up? Many, like yourself, wouldn't have thought twice, and the relatively voiceless women would go on being pissed off or marginalized, and the pattern might continue.

A look at Josh Susser's response show's how Rails Leadership could have handled it well.

tim kadom said...

whoops my bad. it was the post from _why_. I must have had neath on the brain...