Women in open source make a difference

I was incredibly honored to find out that I had been nominated for the 2018 Women in Open Source award (and even more blown away to learn that I am one of the finalists). I wasn’t familiar with the award, and when I looked it up to learn more about it, the finalist list for the last few years gives me some serious imposter syndrome! Aside from that, there were a few things that caught my eye – and one of them was a citation from a study that found that only 11% of people contributing in open source are women.

To me, this number both makes sense, and doesn’t.

Why it makes sense (to me): open source can be hard on women.

I’ve been doing things in open source since 2014, falling into it because of DIYPS and because of getting to know people like Ben who are passionate open source advocates. Because I was helped by open source work, it was a key driver for my own passion behind making our work with OpenAPS open source, and is why I’m currently working on developing a series of open source tools to help researchers working with diabetes data. I don’t know that I would have done anything open source had I not found the perfect series of projects that led me there.

While there are many great people in the diabetes open source community, in the middle of 2014 I wrote this blog post about being female and being discounted. It was a hard post to write. But I felt it was important, because one of things both Scott and I noticed is a lot of the attitudes behind this seemed to be subconscious: directing technical questions about our project to Scott only; refusing to direct any substantial questions to me even after Scott specifically would redirect questions to me, etc. The only way I saw to (begin to) deal with the problem was to address it head on.

And, for me, things have improved with time. But it hasn’t gone away, and it still requires active addressing about once a month or so. And yes – these are (relatively) minor problems compared to what some women experience in open source, or in tech. But it’s some of the most common, frustrating friction that can easily drive women away when they get tired of experiencing stuff like that. And when they go away, it’s a loss for everyone.

Why this number doesn’t make sense (to me): women contribute incredible value to open source, and are high-volume contributors, especially if you look beyond the narrow definition applied to open source coding.

Every where I turn, I see women participating in open source. I see Kate Farnsworth and Christine Deltrap, two incredible individuals who have made watchfaces used by thousands of families to remote monitor their children’s blood sugars. I see Katie DiSimone, who has written hundreds of lines of documentation, and answers hundreds of technical troubleshooting questions across several channels. I see Mad Price Ball, who leads the Open Humans Foundation with open source work (*and* is an amazing mentor to women like me, who have non-traditional development backgrounds). I see Karen Sandler, a fierce advocate for making software open source, who herself is a finalist for the WOS award, too!

I also see a lot of my own contributions in open source, especially in the early days when Scott was the one doing most of the committing to Github for the tools we were building. Those were part of why I was told I was discounted in 2014, because my work didn’t “count”. Today when someone goes and looks at Github, if they look at the wrong toolkit (or just one, for example), it gets said that “Dana didn’t do anything on OpenAPS”. (Heh).

So I know there are also other women out there whose work is being overlooked when counting who’s doing open source. However, this type of work is absolutely crucial to open source projects, and these contributors drive an incredible amount of value. I’m glad the Red Hat Women in Open Source Awards site acknowledged this, and made this list:

  • Code and programming.
  • Quality assurance and bug triage.
  • Involvement in open hardware.
  • System administration and infrastructure.
  • Design, artwork, user experience, and marketing.
  • Documentation, tutorials, and other communications.
  • Translation and internationalization.
  • Open content.
  • Community advocacy and community management.
  • Intellectual property advocacy and legal reform.
  • Open source methodology.

The list was partially to help encourage people to nominate women; and also to help women to recognize all of the activities they do that’s open source. And it was helpful to me, too. Because of that list, instead of a handful of key examples of open source activity by women, I can instead name dozens of women. I bet you can, too. There’s so much incredible open source activity and value that happens in places outside of commit history, and if we want to recognize and acknowledge the work of everyone in open source communities, we should do a better job of acknowledging *all* of these types of activities and not just recognizing individuals (male or female) who have a traditional code-based commit history.

So if you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re a supporter of women in open source communities. Thank you for that! But I’d like to ask you to do two specific things.

1) Actively recognize the women working with you in open source. The internet can be a hard place to be, let alone work, when you are female. Help lift women up; recognize their work; and help them grow their skills.

2) Ok, this one is optional :) But if you’ve read all this way, you might consider clicking here and going to the Women in Open Source Awards site and voting for one the finalists in each category. It’s one vote per email address. Thanks!

Acknowledging all contributions in open source by DanaMLewis

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