Friday, 26 January 2007

Attracting women

After the LCA dinner, a friend-of-a-friend asked me that perennial question: how do you attract women to your FOSS group? Here are my ideas.

Getting women into your group

The best way to attract women to your group - is to have women in it already.

Particularly women that are great role-models: active women that contribute and organise, like Pia Waugh (LCA2007 "Seven team"). Unfortunately, for many groups this just sets up a chicken-and-egg situation. If you don't have women already, how do you get your first ones to come along? Luckily you can leverage women in other groups. Some ideas:

Start by asking your own members. Do they have wives/girlfriends or colleagues in IT? What about other local IT communities eg local businesses? This is just like any other FOSS evangelising: these women are already in IT, but maybe have never heard of FOSS (or never realised that it could actually benefit them to come to a group like yours).

Then ask groups like yours in that are in other regions. Do they know any women that live in your area that might be interested? Would they be interested in travelling to your area and bringing their friends along, to get the ball rolling?

Look into the local, regional and national "Women in IT" groups and advertise yourself there. Promote what it is that you do, and why it would be interesting - just as you would to any other newbie.

LCA's great success this year was the large percentage of women that attended (10%). This was fuelled by the work put in by Mary Gardiner and other members of the LinuxChix group. These groups exist to help women do interesting stuff in IT - your group counts!

Even if these groups don't serve to find you any members, consider asking the women to come and speak at your group. Especially on gender issues. The linuxchix miniconf was a great success with women speaking on issues such as negotiation and the gender pay-gap issue. Women are interested in these issues... and so are men.

Retaining your women

One of the broader issues for women in the corporate world, is that women and men have their own cultures. Be mindful that women's culture is likely to be distinctly different (though no less important) than the culture you already have in your group.

Obviously I am speaking broadly and individuals differ widely, but there are some common issues with women, and understanding these issues will help you integrate.

Firstly, don't assume that your culture is better. If you have a culture in which people brag about their exploits and the loudest shouter wins the floor... don't be surprised if women stay away in droves. Women come from a culture in which it is considered polite (and expected) to await an opening before speaking. They will not jump in and say their piece just because everybody else does. If an opening is not made for them, then they may never speak at all - to the detriment of everybody.

Female culture thrives off positive feedback and encouragement. If you notice that a woman in your group has done something you think is cool - encourage her to tell people about it. Do not be surprised to find that she thinks nobody wants to know. This is a place where it's ok to tell her that she is wrong. :)

Most women are self-deprecating (by inculturation) and will often down-play their experience. Poor self-esteem is common, even in those that have many successes behind them. You may need to treat your women like "the quiet kid" who needs some encouragement to speak up.

With the particularly shy and retiring - take them under your wing a bit. If she is too afraid to do it herself, promote her successes for her and show her how much her contribution is valued. Prompt her to talk about what she did and what she learned. When she sees that you're not all big, scary people that are going to laugh at her... she'll be more likely to stay.

Don't be big, scary people that laugh. ;)

Newbie women are afraid of the same things that any newbie is afraid of. They're worried that they will look stupid amongst all these shining gods of IT. They think their dumb questions and newbie mistakes will be laughed-at. It's up to you to make sure they know that it's ok to be a beginner. This also goes for experienced women with low self-esteem - who often rate themselves as a beginner even when they are an expert.

Share your own stupid questions and mistakes. Show them that you gods are really human too and were once a newbie with dumb questions (and, in many cases, still are). Let them know that everybody asks stupid questions and nobody thinks the less of them. Make them understand that what they are going through is not only normal, but expected. This can be as simple as saying "I'm glad you asked that", when they do pluck up the courage to ask.

Finally, support (or start) a women's chapter for your group. The intent is not to have a separatist group, favourable only to a minority. It should instead be a safe haven for newbie women to socialise and network with their peers as they adjust to a new and alien culture.

Getting women into your group (and keeping them there), is a Hard Problem. But there are lots of things you can try. The effort will mostly be in the initial stages - once the ball is rolling it'll take on its own momentum, and the results (I think) are worth it.

Want to know more?

Read Val Henson's article on encouraging women in linux. It's very thorough.

First contract

So I finished up my first ever contract yesterday. It was a good start. I had been hired for a week of work to implement a payment gateway to allow people to subscribe to the site.

It started out much slower than I hoped as I managed to get the bad luck of coming down with the flu on the day I was supposed to begin. I negotiated to take the first day off, but even after I started my head was pretty fuzzy. Not good for staying at the height of my game.

So I worked some longer hours than I would have done - especially in the later days of the contract, just to try to make up for the early slow-down.

Anyway, in the end the system was successfully subscribing and unsubscribing people. I was hired for a couple of extra days to do some other stuff, so the client obviously wasn't unhappy with my work. :)

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Linuxchix Rails talk

I gave my first ever talk at Linuxchix on Monday. It was an overview of Rails. I kept it informal as we're never sure of the venue or how many people will turn up. As it turned out there were around ten people and we sat in a fairly noisy area outside of Gloria Jean's at St Leonard's.

It apparently went quite well, given the location and the necessary informality. I briefly went over why Rails is so appealing to businesses and what it actually does to help a developer build a web app. I ended with a vague discussion about MVC architecture and took a few questions. People seemed particularly interested in the causes behind Rail's reported slowness: which unfortunately I don't actually know. So I'll have to research that for next time.

I had a few positive tips for improvement come out of it too. Mainly it was suggested that I tie the talk together with a narrative element - as people naturally respond to stories. It gives people a hook to hang onto as they follow the points you're presenting. Slides or a demo would have been good too - but that was a limitation of the venue.

Afterward, of course, we all headed off to SLUG and some interesting talks, including one on how AV was used during LCA, and another on the Google Summer-of-code project.


I haven't died - I've just been busy.

First with my new contract with I sadly fell ill on the first day, and left myself that day to try to recover. But I gave in and just struggled to work through the mild flu for the rest of the week - I can't sit abed for too long when there's work to be done. That filled in the rest of the second week of January.

Secondly was LCA - what a fantastic week! Keynotes and lectures from amazing speakers, cool shiny toys to play with and wonderful social evenings amongst the cool hackers that flocked to the con. I think I'll go every year from now on! I have yet to watch through all the amazing talks that I missed (while watching other amazing talks, of course). I also have some cool ideas for stuff I can contribute to Open Source... as well as several ideas for blog-posts that I'll type up - as my backlog.

The beginning of this week has been filled with the housework needed to get my house back into shape after a week of 8am-10pm days, followed by several more days working on my contract (which has been extended so I can do a few more things). In any case, I'll try to get down a few more posts in the next couple of days.

Thursday, 4 January 2007

File uploads

I wasted time today.

I didn't intend to - I was hopng to change an admin CRUD interface over to use AJAX scaffold - which is prettier than what I had before. But when it was all changed over suddenly all my file-uploading stopped working.

I checked to make sure all the file-saving code was still in place, the filenames were correct, everything but it kept simply not finding the StringIO that was clearly there in the form.

It took me way too long to discover that you Can't upload files with AJAX. It seems the JS doesn't accept the multi-part get/post data. :(

So I changed back...

but in the meantime (while I was checking all my code) I discovered the file_column plugin which is a neat little library that does all of your file-uploading for you. It even integrates with RMagick to let you do some speccy resizing etc. So it wasn't *totally* wasted effort... just not what I'd planned spending the morning working on :P