Getting in touch with the feminine side of open source (NewsForge)
Posted Aug 17, 2005 2:51 UTC (Wed) by roelofs
In reply to: Getting in touch with the feminine side of open source (NewsForge)
Parent article: Getting in touch with the feminine side of open source (NewsForge)
The meritocracy of OSS, combined with the fact that people with experience with the project are going to produce better work regularly than any newcomer's first attempt (although not necessarily their second try), means that the first impressions people get when trying to contribute to projects are generally pretty harsh. This is somewhat unfortunate, but I'm not sure what, if anything, could be done about it.
It seems obvious enough to me, and I never before considered that my own experience might be unique... Why work on "the project" in the first place? I started by writing my own utility programs and libraries, and later on I modified posted sources because I needed or wanted them to do something they didn't already. At no point in my first five years or so of "open source" coding (the term didn't exist back then) did I feel any particular urge to collaborate on a large project or even necessarily to share my newbie code. Was my approach really that unusual?
As for avoiding an overly harsh reception when the time does come, it seems to me that that can be accomplished largely by lurking for a sufficiently long interval (say, anywhere from a month or two up to a year) that one learns to avoid the worst pitfalls--and maybe also what the most critical holes are that no one else is addressing (i.e., what would be most welcomed as contributions). Just as you wouldn't travel to another country/culture and immediately start behaving in ways that are well outside the norm, neither should you expect to "travel" virtually to the geek culture without learning something about it first. (And note that this applies equally to coding and to posting to Usenet and/or mailing lists--lurk first, shoot off mouth later.)
I suspect that this effect is subjectively similar to the effect of covert sexism: someone you don't know, who[m] you don't see as a superior, treats you as an inferior.
That's a succinct way to summarize my point: culturally--that is, in the sense of knowing the culture--you are inferior. If you don't understand that, regardless of your gender, I suspect your education will be swift and brutal, and deservedly so.
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