Tagged: women

Women Hacking Glass – First SF community meetup

I’ve created an event for the first meeting of Women Hacking Glass in SF at the Mozilla public space.

Since I posted in G+ a few weeks ago things got busy and I didn’t have time to lean on Google like I’d planned to ask for hardware but then a pair of Glass practically fell in my lap when a coworker decided he didn’t want to be an Explorer any more so I wrangled a ‘donation’ to get his Glass in order to use them for community hacking with other women in the Bay Area.  I’m curious to see how the first meetup goes – what will we be able to create?  What kinds of feedback will we provide to the GDK developers who are working on the first version of a release?  What kinds of barriers will we hit with Mirror API?  I look forward to learning about everyone’s hopes and dreams for this exciting hardware and finding ways to hack our way to making them a reality.

Copy from the event invite:

Are you interested in learning how to make apps for Google Glass?  Don’t have the access to the hardware?

Come out to Mozilla SF and meet with other Glass Hacking gals to experiment with Android Studio, creating simple apps, getting access to Mirror API, and trying out your hacks on an actual pair of Glass that will be made available during WHG meetups for testing on.  Since there are very few people out there with the hardware, and few of those early adopter/explorers are women let’s work together to increase the numbers of women getting in on the ground floor for development (as well as being able to provide feedback to Google GDK developers) on this revolutionary new hardware.

There is a small (non-refundable) fee to prevent no-shows from taking up space – all money generated from this event will be donated to Mozilla Foundation via http://www.mozilla.org/donate

Prepare ahead of time:

* Have a google account

* Read https://developers.google.com/glass/quickstart/index and do as much of the pre-installation of tools/IDE that you can

* Think about your first app and what you want to learn to build

* Dream big, show up

For people who are interested in applying pressure to Google and showing them there are women interested in developing for Glass (the current Glass Developers group is easily 95% male) – go to http://www.google.com/glass/start/how-to-get-one/ and submit your request anyway, even though they say the waitlist is full.  My coworker can’t be the only person returning his pair and I trust Google will open more spots when they see a lot of interest.

Mozilla’s got projects for GNOME OPW Summer 2013

We’ve got 2 projects right now for GNOME Outreach Project for Women to apply to: https://wiki.mozilla.org/GNOME_Outreach_Summer2013 thanks to Liz Henry and Selena Deckelmann

If anyone else at Mozilla has a project that can be done in 3 months time (or at least give the contributor a sense of accomplishment and get them very engaged as a Mozilla contributor) feel free to add a project (and a mentor) to the wiki. Applications are being accepted via GNOME until May 1st.

One of my favourite things about this program is that it allows someone to ‘intern’ with Mozilla without the requirement of being a student. If you can help tweet/share the project, that would be much appreciated too. This project has been growing exponentially every session and is making a significant impact to FOSS community and culture.

https://live.gnome.org/OutreachProgramForWomen

OPW Call

Release Management gets an Intern!

Thanks to the GNOME Outreach Program for Women, we’ve got ourselves an awesome January intern who will be doing her first Open Source contributions all the way from Australia.

Lianne Lee stood out as the strongest of several applicants to the Release Metrics Dashboard, which was one of the two Mozilla projects that Selena Deckelmann and I threw together in order to try and lure people to our devious schemes for moar metrics. Lianne’s application was thorough and used all the technologies I wanted our intern to have familiarity with (python, git, javascript, creating data visualizations)

Firefox 17 triage over 6 weeks

She did a great job of showing one of the things release managers do over the six weeks a Firefox version is in Beta. The spikes in the above graph align with our constant triaging of tracking-firefox17? flags and how the number of bugs flagged for tracking decreases after the first few betas have shipped. When we get to beta 4 we’re starting to get more reserved about what we’re willing to track (it usually has to be pretty critical, or a low-risk fix to a many-user-facing issue).

Firefox 17 Tracked Bugs

This next graph shows us what we already know – but it’s very nice to SEE: our bugs tracked for a particular release continually go down over time, gradually.  Remember, this is while new bugs are being added to tracking regularly, so the fact that the trend keeps going down helps us know we are staying on top of our work and that engineers are continuing to fix tracked bugs as we close in on a 6 week ship date.

Now that we know Lianne has got what it takes, we’re going to set her on a more ambitious project – to create an engineering dashboard both for individuals and for teams, that would give them this sort of info on demand.  Want to see where you’re at (or where your team is at) on a particular version?  The engineering dashboard could show you in priority sequence what should be top on your list and also what bugs your team has unassigned that are tracked and should be assigned pronto (or communicate to RelMan that the bug should not be tracked).

This will be a huge improvement over email nagging (don’t worry, that’s still going to be around for many more months) because it will give us some quick, visual cues about how we’re doing with Firefox priorities and then we can also keep these measurements over time to compare release-to-release what the temperature of a particular version was. We hope this will allow us to keep fine tuning and working towards more stable beta cycles as we move forward.

Lianne will be with us from January 2 to April 2, 2013 and in her first week she’ll be evaluating a bunch of existing dashboards we know about to see what the pros and cons of each are and to do reconn on the technologies and visualizations people use.  We’ll use that to help us develop the v1.0 of this project’s deliverable and make sure it’s left in a state that RelMan intern 2.0 can pick up next summer.

Please comment if you have dashboards you like, you loathe, or you just want us to know about.

Isn’t “hack” a bad word?

This past weekend I led another soft circuits 101 workshop as a Mozilla Rep at a women’s music festival near SF called Fabulosa. I had one hour to teach people really basic electricity, circuits, and how to ‘hack’ their clothes/sculptures/lives with a 3V battery and some LEDs.

The reason I love to do this workshop is because I find it gives participants a physical representation of the hacker spirit Mozilla aims to embody for the web.  Learning soft circuits is just the tip of the iceberg and I always stress that the web has much more info for them to continue exploring, learning, being curious about how to create and modify technology in their lives.  In one hour, I just show them how to make light.

This workshop was smaller than the ~80 girls who came through at Dare 2B Digital.  The festival setting meant there were more conflicts of interest so I had 6 participants instead of the 20-25 I had planned for. The 6 participants were all very enthusiastic though, and we started off with a go-around to hear why people were interested in learning soft circuitry.  One person was hoping to learn how to light up her clay sculptures, another wanted to make art for Burning Man, and a few had costume ideas in mind.

I spent the first 10-15 minutes explaining electricity, how a circuit works, and what kind of circuit they would be creating with their 3V batteries and LEDs – their circuits would be made using conductive thread sewn into felt (or some other material if they brought it).  With only 40 minutes left, we got to work – everyone started in on their first circuit.

While we were casually chatting during the building time, one woman said “I thought ‘hack’ was a bad word” (I had written a large “HACK” on the whiteboard to inspire).  I’m so glad she brought this up and we had a chance to discuss the very reason for workshops like these, and for Mozilla. I explained to her that while it might once have been a vilified term, it has now been largely reclaimed as people work to make sure that they have full ownership of the things they buy, or make.  Encouraging people to open their minds up to the potential of hacking their lives – whether on the web or in the physical world – always feels great.  I was happy that even in this small gathering, we got to discuss this very key issue for technology going into the future, and that there are now 6 new hackers in the world.

More reasons to support the Ada Initiative

This week there’s been a tremendous amount of tech community churn with companies being called out for blatant sexism/women-as-sex-objects in their company promotional material.  Sqoot organized a hackathon in Boston and made a very big mistake in their call for participation which kicks off with the assumption that hackers would all be men, then continues with a misguided attempt at an apology that only suggests they are sorry I don’t have the same sense of ‘fun’ that they do (they have updated the apology to this, which I still find lacking).  This morning I woke up to the delightful twit-splosion about Geeklist.  I notice that I had never heard of either of these companies prior to their exposure from feminists calling them out which leads me to think about the long term impact for these kinds of internet altercations.  Much like how having what goes into a MacDonald’s burger exposed or seeing video of how WalMart treats its employees has shaped my physical world consumer habits, I suspect that hearing about/experiencing sexism (or a multitude of other poor behaviours) from a particular company will help steer my internet participation whether I’m already familiar with them or not.

What these events should remind us of is that there are people working on this stuff. Individuals, to be sure, along with bloggers and the tweet-verse but also actual companies like, for example The Ada Initiative.  They are experts at working alongside organizations, tech conference organizers, and open-source communities to help set up training, hiring processes, and organizational policies that would have helped both Sqoot and Geeklist avoid this kind of publicity in the first place by addressing their assumptions at a lower level.

If your company hasn’t got a Code of Conduct (and Mozilla is currently hard at work on creating ours this week after our own conflict a couple of weeks ago), if things are just being brushed aside right now or your employees are told to ‘lighten up’, then trust me: you’ve got a ticking time bomb in your organization’s future.  Not having something in place is not the way to deal with the tricky details that come with the admirable goal of a diverse workplace/community.  Sure, getting those things in place, making sure policies have teeth, and organizing some sensitivity training may not end all possibilities of people getting hurt or ending up in confrontations but I believe that setting the tone and getting a few ducks in a row is a wise undertaking for most companies with more than 2 employees and it most certainly won’t HURT. Once you have something in place, consider future occurrences of conflict opportunities to iterate.

Get in touch with The Ada Initiative today and figure out what your company doesn’t have in place yet that will give it the future you really want.  I’m pretty sure avoiding having your brand dragged through the mud in the eyes of approximately half your potential market isn’t in your business plan.

PyCon 2012 and a second wind for PyStar

Pystar flaming 160 150px

Yesterday when PyCon concluded (and I sadly did not win a NAO robot), I drove home with a sense of renewed energy for continuing to work on building the python community I want to be a part of.  I had a tremendously good time at this year’s PyCon. It continues to become a more diverse space and a place where I feel connected with people who inspire and motivate me.

I was happy to (finally) meet Dana face to face, and thrilled to see several women who had attended PyStar events also now attending PyCon. It’s one of the reasons we left last year’s PyCon with the dream  of PyStar in our hearts.  After the talk about the Boston Python Workshop (which was wonderful and thanks to Asheesh for the shout-out) I was thinking about what makes PyStar unique and whether there is a need for PyStar now that many other alternatives exist.  Hard to believe that only a year ago it felt like there was nothing for women in Python and now there’s shirts stating “Python is for Girls” for sale at the expo hall.

So, with all these groups springing up (and the BPW continuing to grow) do we need PyStar? My gut says immediately “yes” because the more groups focusing on bringing women into geek/programming space and having it be safer and comfortable the better.  There’s more to it than that though.  The groups are all doing great with their various organizers and events.  PyLadies, Ladies Learning Code, and Women Who Code are all holding sold-out events, getting lots of attention, and we’re all working hard to get more women connected to a community of programmers where they can learn and develop skills in a ‘safer’ space than historically has been available to women. The Boston Python Workshop is doing a great job of promoting Boston (as well as Python and Workshops) but I realized that for me, the reason I got excited (and am excited again) about PyStar was exactly because it was non-geographically named and because the name itself is for “all”.  I’m very happy to be in the mix with all those groups and yet I recognize that I still want to try to nurture and shape PyStar into its own thing.

I am interested in continuing to explore how to work on this project with a distributed team and to have PyStar events spring up in various communities and be customized to specific needs. Just because SF is heavy into startups and web apps doesn’t mean that San Antonio, Texas will be – maybe they’ll be more into big data and hardware hacking.  I like the idea of PyStar developing and hosting a wide variety of curriculum for python-driven projects in a central repo that can be cherry-picked as needed by anyone in any city who wants to lead a workshop day/weekend/afternoon. I especially want to figure out how to repeat what I did in Paris last summer, where I managed to organize a PyStar for when I was going to be there visiting. That certainly required some existing connection to the town (Mozilla/WoMoz) but the idea of traveling and setting up shop anywhere a hacker group/women’s community/library can host – that’s exciting to me and carries forward the DIY/punkrock way I’ve always known how to get things done.

In the talk at PyCon, one of the BPW’s stated goals is to try to build up within existing user groups. I see their logic, and it’s sound, but I was not a member of the BayPiggies (the Bay Area PUG) when I first was inspired to start running PyStar events in the Bay Area and I still don’t see the need to be. There are several places where I can announce upcoming workshops, Baypiggies have a mailing list I’m on, and I can promote PyStar events and make sure other groups are in the loop about what we’re doing.  I think this more than satisfies being eligible to be part of the larger Python community, and yet there’s room for more than one Python-loving group in any community. I’m not always looking to insert myself into an existing group – there is something to be said for creating new things and building them with a certain tone/mission in place at inception. That’s what I get out of PyStar, it doesn’t have a legacy or a way things have always been done – the spirit of PyStar is one of distributed organization, shared responsibility, and communal education.

Here are my specific goals for this upcoming year of PyStar:

1. More curriculum on the PyStar site – workshop material that is discoverable by level (beginner, intermediate, pro) and by time commitment (half day workshop? full day? multi-week?). A new person  interested in organizing a PyStar event should be able to see an easy-to-follow list of what to do to set up their own event based on time and level. This can be accomplished through more research on finding existing curriculum and adapting it, more events where we can test and fine tune those curriculum, and also having curriculum hack nights with PyStar organizers and volunteers (multi-city) where we focus on developing material to fill gaps in our topics

2. Have PyStar SingPath tournaments both locally and with other PyStar outposts. While the one I did at PyCon 2012 was a nerve-wracking experience, it was ultimately a confidence-boosting event for me. I encouraged a few women to come try it and it seems to be a pretty fun way to maintain the energy as well as test your new skills between workshops. We can tailor the tournament to be _very_ friendly (prize/badge for all, just for participating). I read/heard something recently about how leaderboard style of competition is not that motivating for women and that beating your own previous results is much more fulfilling.  We can definitely work that into our tournament styles by awarding prizes for most improved and other metrics that a person can get by just doing better than they did in previous tournaments.

3. Incorporate Open Badges into the PyStar curriculum so there is measurable outcome for completing projects and implementing the handing out of badges through the PyStar site. Gregg and I are already talking with Mozilla about their Open Badges project and will continue to keep an ear to the ground on how to implement this into the PyStar site. It would be nice to have a meeting with all interested PyStar organizers to brainstorm on what our badges could be.

4. Find non-profits who need small projects (simple website, automation) done and have no budget – match them with PyStars who would like to learn. Possibly have a connection section on the PyStar site?  Have PyStar leaders be ‘project managers’ and bring a project to fruition through regular PyStar meetups? This is a longer term goal, but one I like to keep floating out there and gauging people’s reactions to. Usually the reaction is “great idea! lots of work!” :(  My vision here is something along the lines of a a template for ‘how to build a (info, fundraising, blogging) site for a small non-profit with a newbie webdev team’ curriculum.

5. A stronger focus on intermediate level programmers. Not to the exclusion of beginners, but to be sure there is room to grow within PyStar This comes up a lot in SF/Bay Area and I know it’s different in each city.  In SF/BayArea it seems really important because there needs to be something to hook in the women who have programmed in other languages or who are CS majors who seem to lack the confidence in themselves now that they are out in the workforce – with many of these participants, it doesn’t take much to remind them how far they are from a newbie – I would like to focus on them a bit more because a) no one else seems to do so b) it provides more volunteer potential and alum/badges c) mentoring opportunities for newbies and job networking for the intermediate level programmers among each other

6. Continue to develop strong connections with PSF, BPW, PyLadies, and __insert_group_here__ organizers. – I should have proposed a BOF at PyCon for organizers to get together and share plans — I would really like to work alongside these other groups in a sustainable way, we all have admirable goals and could share some resources and people-power.

7. PyStar gear & promo materials, fundraising. Set up a cafepress store to sell some PyStar goods and also try to get a few donations to set up an account for PyStar that would allow us to a) pay for the domain name I just renewed b) potentially buy other domain names for side projects we come up with when we work with non-profits  c) cover the costs for creation of handouts, cards, other promo materials to give out at events promoting PyStar

Get involved!  The project currently lives in github and organizers/contributors can reach each other through our mailing list.  If you want to host an event, help with curriculum, or otherwise work on making safer spaces for learning Python happen in your own community, get in touch.

Dare 2B Digital 2012 – Wrap up post

Fox with firefox logo

Better late than never, I will recount Mozilla’s participation in the 2012 Dare 2B Digital conference back in February down in San Jose.  This year we were hosted at the eBay campus and instead of being out in a hallway demoing and playing with open video and universal subtitles (2011) this year Mozilla was all about making, in a large space shared with Microsoft, encouraging the girls to work with a variety of hardware, circuitry, robotics, and creating 3D printer designs for a MakerBot.

Before I go into the details of the kits and the day of the event, there are some very important people to thank:

Tremendous amounts of props must be first given to Emily Lovell whose soft circuits teaching guide I discovered at the 2011 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.  Her exercises, diagrams, and lists of resources were at the core the kit I designed to teach the girls about parallel circuits through assembling a felt fox and attaching LEDs to the eyes that are powered by conductive thread and a watch battery.  Thank you to Mozilla for sponsoring the Dare 2B Digital conference again this year, it is such an important space for us to be in as it gives us a chance to promote open source to a young audience that is still undecided about college majors and it’s our chance to encourage them to at least consider a technical career path. I hope that having an early, positive, creative experience with Mozilla and open source technologies provides the girls with an awareness of alternative ways of engaging with technology. Mozilla Reps provided the budget for these kits to be made – not only for the workshop attendees, but also enough kits to put one in every take-home bag for all conference participants.  It is certainly my hope that many girls who couldn’t make it to the workshop due to lack of space will still attempt to make their foxes at home with a parent or sibling.  Finally, I cannot thank enough the various Mozilla employees and other friends who helped me assemble 350 kits for the actual event – my vision for this event could NOT have been done without their generous donations of time and their assistance on the day of the event helping the girls complete their kits. Thank you especially to day-of volunteers: Kate, Vicky, Alex, Christina, the Super Awesome Sylvia and her parents James and Christina,  and the add-hoc assembling factory workers: Mariko, Heather, William, and the entire UX team at Mozilla.  My girlfriend Jenny also helped me assemble some of the first kits at home while I cut all the felt sheets into smaller sizes for the foxes. My most sincere gratitude to you all, it went off without a hitch…except for the handful of batteries that exploded…but that was my fault :)

Now for some detail about what was involved in this project in case you want to replicate or improve on it.

A lot of felt foxes

The idea was pretty simple. The kit would be a takeout food box that contained everything needed to make a parallel circuit on a felt fox.  I ended up designing the felt fox myself after attempting to make something work with Lisa Higuchi who does amazing work but as I found myself running out of time I just created a simple pattern that could be held together with felt glue and then sewn/wired up in about an hour – which was the length of the workshop.  The soft circuit guide had the information needed for ordering supplies so in the end the kit’s component list looked like this:

  • 100 9×12 sheets of copper brown felt (400 fox faces)
  • 100 9×12 sheets of white felt (400 fox eye areas)
  • 30 9×12 sheets of black felt (450 nose/eye/inner ears)
  • 10 spools of conductive thread from Adafruit
  • 400 3v batteries
  • 400 battery holders
  • 800 yellow LEDs
  • 400 red takeout boxes
  • 5 bottles of felt glue
  • 400 small ziploc bags
  • 400 needles
  • 1200 pins (intended for holding the felt pieces together for sewing, they ended up being superfluous because of the glue)
  • 400 manual/pattern sheets

 

Shot of the pattern and instructionsThe felt firefox kit contents

I literally threw together a manual and a pattern at the 11th hour, as the UX team was coming to help me assemble the kits one night after work.  The manual leaves out a lot of the detail as to HOW to make the felt fox. Fortunately it includes a picture of a completed fox, so hopefully a resourceful teen at home can determine how to make her fox kit work. I have definitely learned from this experience to make creating the instructional materials a much higher priority next time.  The pattern was done in haste with a sharpie, me tracing around the parts of my prototype fox, I’m actually pretty OK with how that part turned out. When we assembled the kits we put all the small components into a ziploc bag and put said bag, one square each of white/brown/black felt, and a folded up instruction sheet into each takeout box.  The takeout box was a really robust container for kits and yet kept things light. I had no trouble carrying the 350 kits, in various bags and boxes, to my car to take down to SJ on the day of the conference.

The kits are in the bag stuffing lineEarly in the morning on Saturday February 12th, 2012 I drove the 350 kits down to the eBay campus and kept ~70 kits in our Maker room, leaving the rest with the D2BD volunteers who were stuffing bags with swag for the girls: Make magazines, usb bracelet, stickers, notebooks, a water bottle, and (among other things) a Mozilla felt fox circuits kit.  Then back in our room I had two of the Mozilla volunteers for the day make their own foxes so they’d be ready to help the girls when the first round arrived a few hours in.  Kate and Christina did a wonderful job of creating their first parallel circuits and spent the rest of the day being professional felt fox makers :)

Helpers make their foxes

As with last year, I found that out of the three workshops we did that day the first was a bit rough, the second quite smooth and the third was a cakewalk.  We can learn so much in one day about how to improve the process and the set up.  The first thing learned was that we had a bottleneck situation on scissors and glue.  5 bottles seemed like a lot to me but when split between two tables with at least 10 girls at each that was no longer the case.  I had brought in all my scissors from home, which turned out to be a lot (6) for a home, but not enough for the workshop.  We did scare up a few more pairs and optimized for workshop two by keeping the pre-cut paper pattern pieces for the next group of girls to minimize scissor time needed.  Another surprise: some girls did not know how to sew.   This was something I hadn’t thought of ahead of time since I learned to sew at a pretty young age.  This fact leads me thinking that because of time constraints, 1.25 hrs per workshop, using ‘squishy’ circuits might have been a stronger learning experience here.  The sewing is probably more appropriate for a half-day workshop or even full day if possible.

Customization of the fox pattern

Customizations happened.  I loved that girls immediately took to hacking the fox pattern as designed by me; adding bows, crowns, and eyelashes to their foxes.  It made me glad I hadn’t found time to pre-cut the fox parts.  The back of the fox head is easy to draw a circuit path on and see/experience polarity – using sharpies on felt was a great way of going over the concept of a circuit, right on the material about to be used.  I am really happy with the overall teaching experience here.  Several girls showed incredible tenacity in the face of adversity.  One young woman in particular, having a very hard time with the sewing, went out and got her lunch and then brought it back to the table to continue her work – she re-did the sewing and managed to get it working.  The whole time she was silent and focused and I really wish I had pointed out to her that her attitude was the most impressive, hire-able skill I can think of.  I’m sure she’s going to do well in whatever field of study she pursues.  One young woman cracked me up when she became frustrated with threading her needle, exclaiming “This is why women revolted!”.

In conclusion – the event was a tremendous success – both the conference as a whole and the Mozilla workshop flourished this year. The conference does a great job of pulling feedback from participants, as they must hand in a form to get their swag bag at the end of the day.  We see in the feedback that we did a wonderful job of getting the young women excited about and considering career paths in technology. In the summary from the feedback forms “87% thought the robotics workshop (Mozilla/Microsoft) was great or good”. Also 100% of respondents would recommend this conference to a friend or another parent.

I really look forward to dreaming up something next year to top this.  I have no fixed idea yet because part of the fun of doing this conference/workshop is waiting and seeing what exciting new open technology would be a good fit at the time. I’m definitely going to keep the issues from this year in mind when formulating a plan for next year, and pay attention to minimizing participant wait times in order to increase overall satisfaction with the project.  When I initially came up with this idea, I was worried that it didn’t have a strong tie to Mozilla’s mission, but as I continued to develop and finally executing it I felt more and more like the way we work on projects like this is such a product of how we work on keeping things open on the web.  It was thanks to the web that I found the guide which helped me with planning, it was thanks to the spirit of the open web that people I work with (and some with whom I don’t) came out and volunteered to help make this happen. Getting your hands on a building block of technology, modifying it to make it your own, sharing the results – that too is the open web, and it’s what the day provided for all the young women in our workshops. I look forward to seeing what the future holds with these potential hackers in it.

Group shot with completed foxes

Lukas helping with fox making

 

 

 

 

OccupediA – Women Contributing to Wikipedia (the first of many such events)

Last Thursday night about 8 women arrived at Noisebridge to learn how to contribute to Wikipedia.  Several things led to this gathering:

  • An article in the New York Times back in October drew attention to the lack of women contributors to the Wikipedia knowledge base and that got me thinking.
  • Having organized other spontaneous “women get together and learn stuff” events I figured I could take the same approach to Wikipedia contributing, get some women together to create accounts, generate content, learn how to stop vandalism and see what would stick.
  • Recent participation in activism around the Occupy Wall Street movement also inspired me to try and reach out to communities I am in who are not as technical, to encourage people to come first with knowledge and interest in topics Wikipedia could benefit from and let the tech come second.
  • A month ago Elsa and I were talking casually about all the the above mentioned things and we decided to just go for it and pick a date, throw it up on the Noisebridge (local SF hackerspace) calendar, and see what we could make happen.

We took over a small makeshift classroom space at the back of Noisebridge. It had one lamp as the primary source of light because the fluorescent holders above were missing their tubes.  A man was near the back working on a dress for fashion school, several other hackers were up front working on their various projects.  Noisebridge was a wonderful place to have this event. It feels like anything is possible in a space like that.

I was happy with the turn out – we had a mix of artists, educators, and tech workers. Also as a bonus one of the attendees, my coworker Boriss, was a seasoned Wikipedia contributor who was able to really detail the ins and outs of the different levels of participation.  I can’t stress enough how amazing it was to have her and her knowledge there because there are lots of misconceptions about Wikipedia (I definitely had some) and her first-hand knowledge was inspiring to me.

So the beginning of the meetup went well enough, and as you might expect.  We introduced ourselves, talked about why we had come to the event and what we were hoping to get out of it. We started in on learning how to set up an account if one didn’t already exist and we looked at discussion/history/edit and other basic navigations of Wikipedia space.  There were a lot of questions about what belongs in Wikipedia, neutral tone, citations.  The conversations were lively and I found them quite enjoyable.

Here’s what I didn’t expect: Getting folks interested and excited about Wikipedia becomes REALLY HARD in practice.  Unlike learning Python where the participants can hammer out some code on their own computers in minutes and feel accomplished, there is a lot more complexity to Wikipedia.  There is a lot of confusion about their UI, their purpose, who can do what and when. Very quickly it seemed that the women who had come to the event feared adding anything new to the knowledge base and they were also incredibly intimidated by the UI of the site. It wasn’t even clear enough how one would create a new article when none existed.

From this event I learned a lot about organizing and about the intentions of future events like this and I did a little braindumping while we were meeting so I could remember to list them later in this very post.

Things that would help newcomers:

  • Having a “new to wikipedia” moniker next to their nickname for the first N activities on the site (we have this on our Mozilla bugzilla) so that hopefully older and wiser participants would be extra nice to them
  • Find a way to make some of the simpler tasks that help Wikipedia (typos, reverting vandalism, categorizing articles) into a game that a new arrival could play that would start easy and then move more toward the real-life workflow of working on Wikipedia – as a way to warm them to the UI
  • Encourage newcomer to write a straight-up article and have a place for these things to be dumped for inpection/linkage/categorization and otherwise Wikipedia-fying the knowledge dump.  My partner is an English professor and can certainly write good content for Wikipedia but everything about the site is intimidating. There should be a page where she could copy/paste or upload a document of her article and then let people who know wiki syntax and the other requirements an article needs come along and finish it up
  • Make it way easier to find the “adopt a user” program that I hear exists but no one would know to find that from the Wikipedia home page

I will continue to organize these events, perhaps once a month. More reports as they happen.

Want more women in Open Source? Donate to Ada Initiative today!

Short version: If you love women, or even like them just a bit, go right now and donate to the Ada Initiative to show the women in your life that you value their contributions past, present, and future to the wonderful world of Open Source. I’m going to make a donation in my grandmother’s name this year and I know she’ll be happy to have supported such a valuable project.

Long Version

I love Open Source.

When it first came to my attention, in the first year of my degree in software development at Seneca College, I knew we’d be a good fit.  There’s something about the spirit of Open Source that instantly clicked with my existing guerilla activist sensibilities.  The way that you just take what you want and make it happen.  That you create and give away. That you work with other passionate people to make cracks in the surfaces of monopolies that only want you to be able to do things through their (usually financially) gated communities.  It reminded me of how I had approached being a filmmaker – taking $50 of Super 8 film and developing it myself in 16L bucket in a dark bathroom then submitting the results to a prestigious film festival and being accepted.  Having my work shown alongside films with budgets bigger than the cost of a house was an amazing experience and taught me that not everything has to be polished to be valued.

Open Source is like that to me, the diamond in the rough.

While I was working on my degree I of course noticed (and was not surprised by) the lack of women in my classes.  I was surprised when I started to get involved in Open Source to discover that there were less women in FOSS than in proprietary software companies. That seriously BLEW MY MIND.  I mean, if Unlocking the Clubhouse is to believed (and it is very thorough research) then technical women want to do work that is meaningful and helps people.  Why that sounds a lot like Open Source doesn’t it?  So why aren’t there more women in Open Source?  I’ll let you Google that question to your hearts content, there’s a lot written on the subject and so much more could be.  The point though is that the Ada Initiative is a new project that is here to take on that very question through ACTION.  They will DO things to get more women in Open Source.  Women don’t have to be dragged into FOSS kicking and screaming.  Trust me, after seeing the overflowing wait list for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing’s FOSS day, there are a ton of talented and smart women interested and able to do work in Open Source.  We (all of us who have already drank the Kool-Aid) need to help them get integrated and feel comfortable staying in FOSS.

When I first met my future team at Mozilla in April of 2008 there was a woman on my team (!) and she self-identified herself to me as a feminist within the first 5 minutes we were together.  As someone who was coming in as a student with zero experience in professional tech workplaces I was so thrilled to have an immediate feeling of relief, trusting that if she was respected there I would be too.  She also introduced me to wonderful internet properties such as GeekFeminism and Sociological Images both of which helped me start connecting with other feminists in tech fields.  Almost three years later I am starting to feel like I’ve been successful in building the community in FOSS around me that I want to be a part of.  It’s a wonderful mix of the talented people I work with at Mozilla, the folks I’m working on planning the next Dare 2B Digital with, the programmers I organize PyStar workshops with, the Women Who Code, the Women 2.0, and of course – The Ada Initiative.

I’ll leave you with their own words about why you should go straight to the donation page:

We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished already.  Since our founding in
early 2011, we helped over 30 conferences and organizations adopt an
anti-harassment policy, organized the first AdaCamp unconference,
provided free consulting on high-profile sexist incidents, wrote and
taught two workshops on supporting women in open tech/culture, and ran
two surveys, among other things.

http://adainitiative.org/what-we-do/

We need your help to achieve our upcoming goals.  The Ada Initiative
is funded entirely by donations.  Without your financial support, the
Ada Initiative will have to shut down in early 2012.

http://supportada.org/donate

Your donations will fund upcoming projects like: Ada’s Advice, a
comprehensive guide to resources for helping women in open
tech/culture, Ada’s Careers, a career development community, and First
Patch Week, where we help women create and submit their first open
source patch.  You can learn more about how the Ada Initiative is
organized and operated on our web site and blog:

http://adainitiative.org

Whether or not you can donate yourself, you can help us by spreading
the word about our fundraising drive.  Please tell your friends about
our important work.  Email, blog, add our donation button to your web
site, and tweet.  Here’s how:

http://adainitiative.org/support-us/spread-the-word/

You don’t have to stand on the sidelines any longer.  You can help
women in open technology and culture, starting today.

My First Startup Weekend: Women 2.0 Startup Weekend

On November 18th, 2011 I jumped into the deep end of the Bay Area startup culture I have been lurking on the periphery of for the past two years of living here. After going to my first Geek Girl Dinner at Microsoft a month ago, and preparing to talk about women in open source at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, it seemed very much up my alley to sign up for the Women 2.0 Startup Weekend held in SF at The Hatchery.  Originally Angie had asked me to be one of the mentors which, while incredibly flattering, seemed beyond my current skill set.  I do always have ideas for new projects/apps though and I’ve been trying to get even more full on development experience under my belt so it seemed like a deal to get to spend 54 hours working on a startup idea for $50.

[tangent]

I love the immersion-as-classroom experience, btw.  I made my first Super 8 film in 1999 at G.I.F.T.S under similar conditions where I lived with my other new-to-filmmaking cohort in a couple of trailers-turned-bunkhouses over on the beautiful island of Galiano and for one week we did nothing but eat, sleep, and breathe guerrilla filmmaking.  We shot, hand-developed, transferred, and then edited our work, cranking out an entire short film in just one week.  I left that experience filled with confidence that I could make a movie a week for the rest of my life!*

What I was hoping for out of my first Startup Weekend was an up-to-your-armpits code-a-thon and what I got was…very much NOT that. Here’s what I got out of Women 2.0 Startup Weekend instead:
Pitching 101
Some people had come prepared.  They had read an email I missed, knew what was supposed to be in a pitch, perhaps even had some code or a site name or some idea of what they would need to take the next step into their imagined company.  I had none of these things.  I had 2 ideas, one of which had occurred to me the week before on a bike ride.  I jotted down my ideas quickly and ‘pitched’ them to a couple of women I knew from other local events (like my CodeChix pal, Vicki).  Both of my ideas seemed to get people interested and with the help of a few very kind listeners, I chose which one I would officially pitch and worked on naming the imaginary app as well as figuring out what salient points I wanted to get across.  It seemed wise to me to get into the early round of pitchers, little did I know that there would be about 67 pitches.  I was #6 and so it took a long time to get to the point of being able to move about the room chatting people up, which I am sometimes not so good at.
  • What I did: I pitched it, was too shy to really reach out to strangers and try to woo them to my idea, I hid my sign for a while only taking it out when people asked me about it, I got 7 sticky-note ‘votes’ for it (which was amazing to me), but I already knew that I would not be working on this project over the weekend and I was shopping around for a team that I would be excited to spend my next 54 hours with.
  • What I will do next time: Work more on my pitch ahead of time, have a clear idea of WHO I would like to join me, go around the room and find people who match those roles, have more research about my ‘market’ ready to help with the business side of things.
  • What I wish Startup Weekend organizers could improve: Help people match up by roles – so have all the designers go to one corner, all the marketing folks, all the developers, etc.  Give us a visual of who’s there looking to do what so that we can more easily go around and network.  It seems less efficient to me that I would have to go chat up 10 people and perhaps discover that none of them are a match for what I’d be seeking. Even putting this info on people nametags would help – especially for folks who have multiple skills they want to highlight.
A Team is Formed
The eliminations were happening and I already knew I was going to put my idea aside for another time, so I had to figure out where I would lend my energy for the 54 hours to come.  I’d been interested in a project called Safe Steps whose goal was to help independent women set a timer on their travel to ensure safe arrival at their expected destination. I spoke briefly with the woman who pitched it, and I had already learned from a conversation with a volunteer that the pitcher was a seasoned pro at marketing.  I felt like I would learn a lot in that team but I was still checking around for other ideas.  In the chaos of the eliminations I ended up behind a pillar with 4 people (one is a coworker at Mozilla) and two of them I had met briefly when they accosted me, they were looking for people who could program in C (and though I did it in school 4 years ago, I was not about to claim any proficiency). I asked if they had found what they were looking for and inquired about what they were planning.  Judy explained her pitch about doing an educational project with the Kinect to teach language to children. I have experience teaching technology to both youth and adults, so working on anything that helps make educational materials accessible to all types of learners, as well as the possibility of doing hands-on Kinect-hacking for the first time, was all it took to sweep me up into this team that was bouncing off the walls and repeating those magic words: “Kinect” and “education”.
Team Roles
We had 54 hours to come up with a demo of our ‘company’ for a panel of judges to evaluate based on marketability, creativity, and feasibility so when we got our workspace assigned to us at 9:30pm that Friday night we went straight to work. Introductions all around, describing our experience and what drew us to the project, came first and then we divided up into the technical team: James and I, and the Business/Strategy/Research team: Judy, Elsa, and Jen.
Our technical idea seemed simple at first – Grab the Kinect motion data and send it to
Processing.js so users could interact with a language learning flashcard game that was one of many ‘decks’ our ‘platform’ would support. The initial deck would be a simple game with a bear where the bear calls out a verb, enacts it, then waits for the user to imitate both the motion and the word.  I really did go into this thinking that was simple.  Am I crazy?  Turns out none of that was within our reach in a 54 hour period. The challenges are too many to list completely but here’s a few: both James and I were completely new to Kinect-hacking. While open source Kinect hacks exist there were lots of library conflicts, documentation gaps, and finicky
installations that led to failure on several frameworks we were trying and build on. I could get the Depth.js example to work in Chrome for a second (but never again for unknown reasons), but couldn’t compile the native google plugin from the depth.js
project so couldn’t write new code for the extension. I couldn’t build the OpenNI Sample-NiUserTracker after altering
it to add a network tunnel so that it would report data to a
node.js server (though I’m happy to have now touched Node.js even just a bit!). By Saturday late evening we had nothing to show except an intimate knowledge of library linking errors and compile failure messages.  There still isn’t a ton of material online about how to work with the Kinect data in a usable way.  This actually gets me excited for future projects but at this point in Startup Weekend, we had to get ourselves a demo for Sunday’s judging.
We decided to move on to the Kinect SDK that Microsoft provides, we installed Visual Studio 2008 Express and an open source gesture recognition library which allowed us to capture a movement and assign it to a saved gesture namespace.   In the end, our demo was created in a few hours by James using those tools (and a bit of C#) while I came up with some very quick animations objects and put together our landing page.
Needless to say, the weekend was nowhere near being a code-a-thon.  It was surprising to me how long it took to try and get a development environment setup and what I take away from this experience is that when the time comes to work on my own idea, if I bring it to a Startup Weekend, I should have the beginnings of an implementation already and have settled on a framework to build on that I am familiar with so that I can spend more time being creative about the idea and less time fiddling with configurations and installations of unfamiliar code.
Oh ya, but we won!
I should mention that the whole time we were having our ups and downs with the technical side Judy, Elsa, and Jen worked hard at analyzing all the angles of language learning by doing.  I listened in at one point on a very helpful discussion with Cindy Alvarez who asked great questions about “what next?”. Sure, verbs and kids are easy and lots of language-learning stops there – how would we push the envelope and take people to other levels?  We had lots of mentors come by, and all of them poked and prodded at the research and story-shaping that the business end of the team was doing. At the end of the weekend our team won first place with a demo that had very little custom code in it, but I think we did well because we told a great story and had an extremely well thought out marketing strategy. When our demo was complete the judges were silent at first.  Finally one of them asked the question we had prepared for “so, after learning verb with bears- what next?” to which I answered that we could build a platform for AI interactions in WebGL 3D space with the Kinect.  Yes, I like to promise technology that doesn’t really exist yet.  It sure is exciting to imagine it though.
Some final thoughts
Startup Weekend, to me, felt a lot more like a school project than ‘real life’.  This is most likely due to the fact that I have a really great full time job right now and am looking at startup ideas mostly as learning and hobby and not necessarily something I would do for money for a few more years (at least). All the reading I have done about startups gets me thinking that I would likely go the way of bootstrapping and working on my scalable project in my spare time instead of trying to get a big VC investment and leave a steady job for the unknown. In terms of working during the weekend there are lots of ways to fall down rabbit holes and lose focus when you are working on something that is completely new. I love getting to learn about new technologies but there was this time pressure that kept us coming back to a general goal of having something to show at the Sunday evening presentations. The Startup Weekend environment isn’t one for coding/development efficiency. It’s distracting to have other people and their ideas/surveys/questions coming around a lot and to be working out in the open with your entire team instead of under noise-cancelling headphones as I normally do.  It’s not bad, it’s just not a focused environment and it’s good to know that for next time.  I think it would help me set my expectations differently.  It was important for me to learn that the goal of Startup Weekend is not necessarily to have a working application at the end but to have a really well thought out idea and story about your company’s goal.
Speaking of story, come on out to TEDx Women next week where Elsa from Words With Bears will be presenting ours! Most importantly,  I want to say that Words With Bears was a great team to work with. I heard stories of teams falling apart or losing team members, none of that touched us at all. We started strong and we ended strong. We’re continuing to stay in touch and aim to develop this idea
into something bigger.
* This is not what ended up happening, but I will always carry with me the knowledge that with little else than enthusiasm, a couple of rolls of film, and willing friends, a tremendous amount of creative output is possible in a short time with no budget.