Part 1: Start In Person
Ascend had very few ‘rules’ but there was one which was non-negotiable: it’s an in-person program. We didn’t do distance learning, online coursework, or video-based classes. We did bring in a couple of speakers virtually to speak to the room of 20 participants but the opposite was never true.
This was super important in how we were going to build a strong cohort. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of remote work and global contribution as well as with people working from wherever they are. This was a 6 week intensive program though and in order to build the inter-dependent cohort I was hoping to1, it had to be in person at first. Those cruicial early stages where someone is more likely to ‘disappear’ if things were hard, confusing, or if they couldn’t get someone’s attention to ask a question.
It’s been over 5 years since I graduated from my software development program and over 8 years since I started lurking in IRC channels2 and getting to know Mozillians in digital space first. I wouldn’t have stuck with it, or gotten so deeply involved without my coursework with Dave Humphrey though. That was a once a week class, but it meant the world to be in the same room as other people who were learning and struggling with the same or similar problems. It was an all-important thread connecting what I was trying to do in my self-directed time with actual people who could show more caring about me and my ability to participate.
Even as an experienced open source contributor I can jump into IRC channels for projects I’m trying to work on – most recently dd-wrt for my home server setup – and when I ask a question (with lots of evidence for what I’ve already tried and an awareness of what the manual has to say) I get no response, aka: Crickets. There are a host of reasons, and I know more than a beginner might about what those could be: timezones, family comitments, no one with the expertise currently in the channel, and more. None of that matters when you’re new to this type of environment. Silence is interpreted as a big “GO AWAY YOU DON’T BELONG HERE” despite the best intentions of any community.
In person learning is the best way to counter that. Being able to turn to a colleague or a mentor and say what’s happening helps get you both reassurance that it’s not you, but also someone who can help you get unstuck on what to do next. While you wait for a response, check out this other topic we’re studying. Perhaps you can try other methods of communication too, like in a bug or an email.
Over the course of our first pilot I also discovered that removing myself from the primary workroom the Ascend participants were in helped the cohort to rapidly built up strengths in helping each other first3. The workflow looked more like: have a question/problem, ask a cohort member (or several), if you still can’t figure it out ask on IRC, and if then if you’re still stuck find your course leader. This put me at the end of the escalation path4 and meant that people were learning to rely both on in-person communications as well as IRC but more importantly were building up the muscle of “don’t stop asking for help until you get it” which is really where open source becomes such a great space to work in.
Back to my recent dd-wrt experience, I didn’t hear anything back in IRC and I felt I had exhausted the forums & wikis their community provided. I started asking in other IRC channels where tech-minded people hung out (thanks womenwhohack!) and then I tried yet another search with slightly different terms. In the end I found what I needed in a YouTube tutorial. I hope that sufficiently demonstrates that a combination of tactics are what culminate in an ability to be persistent when learning in open source projects.
Never underestimate the importance of removing isolation for new contributors to a project. In person help, even just at first, can be huge.
- Because the ultimate goal of Ascend was to give people skills for long-term contribution and participation and a local cohort of support and fellow learners seemed like a good bet for that to be possible once the barrier-removing help of the 6 week intensive was no longer in place. ↩
- By the way, I’m such a huge fan of IRC that I wrote the tutorial for it at Mozilla in order to help get more non-engineering folks using it, in my perfect world everyone is in IRC all the time with scrollback options and logging. ↩
- Only after the first three weeks when we moved to the more independent work, working on bugs, stage. ↩
- Which is awesome because I was always struggling to keep up with the course creation as we were running it, I didn’t realize that teaching 9-5 was asking for disaster and next time we’ll do 10-4 for the participants to give the mentors pre and post prep time. ↩
This just in:
Google, who recently announced their very disappointing statistics for diversity within their company are trying to remedy that with a $50 million dollar initiative targeting the usual suspects: Girls.
This is not just me pointing fingers at Google. I am actively working to create a program that targets adults and supports them getting deeply involved in tech without blinders to the realities of that environment as it stands now.
They have $50M to put into this? Great. They should, however, have enough brains in their organization to KNOW that ‘fixing’ the issues of lack of women in tech is demonstrably not done by just getting to more girls. Loss of women in tech happens with drop offs during CS courses & majors in college and then also out in the tech workforce because it’s a toxic and imbalanced place for them to spend their time and energy.
All this money thrown at adorable girls, creating projects for them will not help if they are being set up just to go into that existing environment. While we should do outreach and attempt to build educational parity for girls (but more importantly kids of color, kids living in poverty) so that there is exposure and understanding of the technology the REAL problem to solve is how to get adult women (and other underrepresented people) re-trained, supported and encouraged to take on roles in technology NOW.
While we’re at it, stop acting like only a CS degree is what makes someone a valuable asset on tech (pro-tip: many people working in tech came to it via liberal arts degrees). Make the current adult tech world a welcoming place for everyone – then you can send in the next generation and so on without losing them in the leaky pipeline a few years in.
Last year I approached Debbie Cohen, our C-level People person, and made a proposal. With all these Hacker School/Dev Boot Camp/Hackbright accelerator programs popping up, I had an idea to create an open source version and specifically target participants who come from underemployed, LGBTQ, Latin@, and African American populations – aka: people who are terribly underrepresented in tech but also very much more so in Open Source. The idea was that instead of people paying to come learn to become developers in the capitalist, Startup-focused, feeding-frenzy the Silicon Valley promotes we could instead seed other towns, other communities with open source and create an in-depth technical contribution training program that more mirrored the experience I had with Dave Humphrey at Seneca College. Imagine my surprise when Debbie clearly, and without hesitation said to me “Great idea! Do it!”. I’ve been building up to something that is more sizeable through running local events, hack meetups, participating in community building in several ways so I saw this proposal as the next step for me, as an organizer. This time I’m going to do something that is bigger than what I could do alone. I will have Christie Koehler working with me as well as several community building team members in advising and mentoring roles.
The populations I want us to reach out to have resulted in certain adjustments to the typical setup of those for-profit accelerators which I see as being key to the potential success of our cohorts. Attendees in the Ascend Project will benefit from taking this course in the following ways, which are intended to remove many barriers to participation in Open Source:
- a $50 per day honorarium will be provided to encourage regular attendance and help ensure participants can afford to focus on being present to learn & develop
- laptops will be provided to use during the course and upon completion, graduates will get to keep theirs
- food (breakfast and lunch) will be provided every day
- where needed, childcare stipends are available to participants who need additional care in order to put in the time this course will request of them
- transit passes for the whole 6 weeks
The purpose here is to not only acknowledge that we know we’re missing people in our open source communities but that we’re willing to put our money and time where our mouths are to go and explicitly invite people who like to solve problems to come and see what it is like to get to just focus on learning, developing, fixing a bug, getting hooked, being a part of a bigger community with a mission for global good. I see this as a solid way to counter the manner in which many of these populations are pushed away from participation in computer science and open source contributions.
We can’t expect every person who might be a strong, longtime, and impactful contributor to Open Source to find us based on passion alone. That leaves all the systemic issues in society to decide for us who gets here. If we can remove some barriers and provide an environment where participants in a program get a chance to feel confident, trusted, strong, and *wanted* then we can see how that might blossom their abilities to learn and contribute to an open source project that has a ton of pathways for potential input and impact.
The project is currently still in the kickoff phase so this is the first public post. Mostly I’m braindumping, trying to work backwards from September when the course will start, and getting my head around who will do what so we get everything ready in time. I’ve got a budget for the first pilot, which will take place in Portland, OR in the Fall of 2014, and it’s almost approved. Next up I will be designing the curriculum while Christie works on partnerships locally in preparation for our call for applications. We’ll be doing our best to reach far outside the typical degrees of separation to get word out and to attract applicants. I’ll be in Portland next week to meet with local orgs and gather information on where we can promote the project.
The first session, as a pilot, will have certain ‘training wheels’ on it. Mozilla has a great space in Portland. Portland has a wonderfully large open source community I fully expect to tap into for networking and partnerships. We’ll be using this first pilot as a way to test the participant selection process and the curriculum itself. I really want to be setting people up for success. This is measured by committing at least one patch to production code (in any area of Firefox) before the end of the course. Our first course will focus on Mozmill automated testing because we can get our participants to that level of success with independently-written JS tests for several of the Firefox products.
Following Portland we’ll be reviewing, updating, improving, and then taking the next pilot to New Orleans in January of 2015 where we can test “what happens if we don’t have an office, a large community already in place?” with our tightened up selection process and curriculum. The two pilots should give us lots to go on for how to scale up an initiative like this going forward and hopefully it can become something that happens more frequently, with more teachers, and in many more places (like in some of our Firefox OS launch markets).
That’s the gist for now. I’ll be posting more frequently as we hit milestones in the project and also am happy to take people up on offers to review curriculum.
Last night I helped hold the third local meetup of trans and genderqueer people who are interested in getting together to hack on our projects. This is the third event since the amazing Trans*H4CK Hackathon (the first one of its kind!) that took place in October 2013.
When I heard through the grapevine that there was going to be a trans-focused, trans-organized, local hackathon I was beside myself. Finally I would get the combination of identity and technology in one space that I have been dreaming of since going back to school as a mature student in 2004-5 in order to get a degree in Software Development. My lofty goals in going back to school can easily be summarized in two ways: 1. I wanted to get a better job than being a brunch chef or a non-profit artist-run center, contract employee with no job security or dental benefits and 2. I hoped that whatever I could learn about technology and software would become tools I could bring back to my queer/trans/genderqueer/arts community and help anyone who wanted it at whatever level they ask for. This has come to mean hosting websites for people, helping build websites for people and small orgs, and also doing some random consulting. It has also led, funny enough, to a certain amount of fixing people’s computers. That’s nothing I learned in school, it’s just something I seem to have the right combination of lucky and chutzpah to try — ratio of success lies at about 85-90% so far (some things are unfixable, by me at least).
Anyway, I got into tech and got through a grueling 4 years of school with all its associated stresses. No need to go into details because I finished that thing AND I got a pretty amazing job right out the gate. Health benefits (specifically the much-needed dental)? Check. Ability to help my communities with tech stuff? Yes….ish.
Turns out it’s not that easy to still be people’s go-to for tech help when you start working more-than-fulltime at a fast-paced company. Also when you move across the country from the majority of your closest friends and aquaintance community. I made that decision though because I wanted to take the opportunity that existed for me to come here, to SF, and be in the heart of it all. Little did I know at the time I was walking on stage at a very precarious time (that’s a whole other post).
Skip forward. I’m lucky enough to have one woman (self-identified to me as a feminist on our first meeting) on my team of 8 people. So I think tech is pretty awesome. Then she leaves, goes to another team. Then I go to my first PyCon and swim in a sea of homogenous men I don’t know. Then I meet a handful of really exciting people who put the words “Queer” and “Tech” on a scrap of paper for a DIY session in the basement of that hotel in Atlanta, 2009. That is one of the *big* moments. It’s when I started, with that group of people, to promote teaching Python to women. Based on the success of RailsBridge‘s workshops teaching Ruby on Rails to women (I went to one, Ruby and Rails are not my thing for now) and also the Boston Python Workshop which did a lot of the groundwork for adapting the RailsBridge-style weekend material to a Python version, I ended up starting PyStar with a few people. Our goal was similar: make it possible for more women to feel comfortable learning Python in a non alpha-male space. We had a few workshops in SF and Mountain View (Mozilla office space was easy to get and use for weekend workshops). There were groups creating workshops in Philadelphia (still, to this day, the most active city for this project) and in Minneapolis. I even threw one together in Paris for a night when I was living there for 3 weeks and working from the Paris Mozilla office.
I’m sharing this with you, reader, because this is the backdrop for what comes next. For me, teaching women to code was…OK. Don’t get me wrong – it’s important work and I’m glad it’s happening. For me though, I still felt kind of lonely. Since the majority of attendees were middle/upper class, young, heterosexual women I wasn’t really connecting on the levels that I do with people who share other similar identities and life experiences with me. Or at least ones I am more familiar with, if not my own.
I got a bit disheartened by organizing events that I no longer felt I truly connected with and I took some time to try and figure out how to best spend my time and how to be the activist I wanted to be. Enter GeekFeminism, having several of the people I met through that hired on at Mozilla, PyCon drastically improving its ratio of women attendees (speakers, still being improved), and meeting Leanne. Over the past couple of years, again keeping it short, I’ve managed to go to conferences and meet lots of people and dream big with them. The LGBT lunches at Grace Hopper have been fascinating. Getting to attend AdaCamp – huge boost. Finding people and connecting with them on all the things that are big problems we want to be a part of solving — the one is often comes down to is “How do we get more diversity in tech?”.
At Mozilla I end up making that a second full-time job that is not what I am paid to do (working on that). Instead I got discretionary funding that I could use to help leverage women in open source which eventually grew into supporting anything with diverse populations that were not prominent or numerically well-represented in open source. This looked like me being able to offer up the Mozilla office(s) if and when I could be there to hold the space. It looked like being able to sponsor a variety of events with amounts less than $2k who were promoting, retaining, or otherwise engaging people in tech & open source more specifically.
One of the events I ended up directing money towards was Trans*H4CK because, as I mentioned at the start – I was so frickin’ excited that this was going to happen and I wanted to help it happen. I reached out to Kortney and offered money, asked if (while I was planning to attend regardless) I could talk for 5 minutes about open source. I did that. I went and talked and gave my, now usual, talk about why open source is important (think: View Source on webpages and how you might have benefited from being able to do that). Then I hacked on stuff and met people and generally soaked up what it felt like to be in a space where I felt seen, whole, and just surrounded by people who were also being seen. We exist, in numbers more than the one or two at your day job! What a fun weekend.
Then I wondered – why just one weekend? This was in the Bay Area and while a handful of people traveled to the event most were local. In the style of user groups and meetups, why not continue to have a monthly get-together of this particular blend of nerdgeektransgenderqueer fabulousness? I proposed this to Kortney, offered up the Mozilla SF space to hold it, got food for the attendees, and we had one in November that was probably attended by about 20 people. Pretty sweet. There was a lot more socializing than actual hacking but that happens when people are still so new to getting to be around each other. With the success of that, I wanted to hold more but I think the holiday period got in the way so the next one I helped put on, this time at the Double Union maker space, was February 18th, 2014. It being closer to my house and not at the office I rarely go to anyway was awesome, btw. Also I bought snacks with my own money to bring. That night I thought: we need a regular night – say, the third Tuesday of every month, so that it can be something people just *know* is on and can show up to. No need for invites, mailouts, or headcount – keep it simple. I proposed this to the people at the meetup, and thought this was generally agreed upon.
With that in mind, and with a pretty busy schedule coming up, I wanted to get the March date on the Double Union calendar sooner rather than later so a couple of weeks ago I reached out to the membership list asking if the Tuesday night circuit class would be up for sharing the space with another trans hacking night (as that was the best date for me, as the organizer). They were open to it and all seemed fine but another email thread started up about whether or not the trans hacking nights would be trans-only or not (if they should, even). This is something, btw, that the TransTech community participants will be chatting more about so as to determine what guidelines and priorities to have when choosing space or setting up meetings. In that thread Kortney expressed concern about not being able to make the date and I said that I was trying to set up the every-third-Tuesday nights, as discussed at the February meeting. No further response came and I went ahead with booking it (circuit group moved to another night to give us the whole space, thanks!) and setting up an invite. Double Union still doesn’t publicize their address so the invite was needed to have a way to reach people who said they would attend. My goal was to use this next meetup to set up open communication tools that could be used by any member of this nascent “we get together and hack on stuff with other trans/genderqueer people” community. So we did that.
Last night I was at Double Union with some others and I set up a mailing list, a wiki, and IRC channel, and a Twitter account. I shared all the admin/login details with the others because this isn’t *my* thing. This is, to the best of my knowledge and experience in open source, how we start communities that are as free of bottlenecks on getting things done as possible. Then I put that information out there. The goals, again, are to have spaces where trans and genderqueer people who are in technology (or want to learn to be) can meetup to work on their projects or even work on each other’s projects. I hope we’ll also get to work on projects that help our communities, for example I’m trying to figure out how to help Homomobiles get an app as it drives me nuts to see people using Uber and Lyft when we have this opportunity to put even a sliver of our collective queer and trans money back to a queer and trans organization and help grow it.
All that to say: There’s always room for lots of ways to bring people together. This is my expression of how I do it. Mozilla, while being my employer, does not dictate what I do with my spare time and yet I am fortunate in being able to book our office space(s) when available for events.
I’m being told on Facebook and Twitter that this is stealing, that I’m stepping on Kortney’s toes and please believe me, I tried to do everything I could to avoid that. I intentionally sought another name out of respect for the way that I see Kortney branding and promoting Trans*H4CK and how he is doing great things with that. I see TransCode (teaching coding), Trans*H4CK (hackathons and speaker series), and then TransTech (local community building, mentor/mentee finding, getting things done in a room with people you have that certain connection with) as all being part of the building blocks for continuing a trajectory of making and taking up space in technology for those of us who are outsiders, underrepresented, or just plain want to put our efforts into working with other social justice activists in building trans & genderqueer focused space.
If you’re in the Bay Area and want to know about meetups, be part of shaping this community, or otherwise lurk about to see what might grab your interest down the road then please follow us on Twitter and/or join our mailing list: https://mailman-mail5.webfaction.com/listinfo/transtech-discuss
Let’s support each other in always leveling up.
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.
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.
Recently I was approached by a co-worker to add my name to a petition about restoring the parental leave for Mozilla’s US employees. At some point between 2009 and 2012 our leave plan changed without there being (to my knowledge) any formal announcement, transparency around the decision, or discussion of the impending change with employees.
As I was crafting my response to the request I thought this would be a good blog post since it states quite clearly what I hope Mozilla could strive for as a company with regards to how it provides benefits to employees.
Thanks for including me in this thread. I’ve given it some thought and I’m seeing two very distinct issues here:
1) That Mozilla cut a policy without explanation, it looks to be by accident, and I agree completely that the old policy should be restored until a new one is put in effect with intention (and hopefully transparency)
2) That Mozilla needs a competitive and progressive leave policy going forward – this is something I am happy to help champion with adjustment to the current parent-focused language
I have recently been working on improving our benefits from another angle – trying to get our benefits to explicitly cover transgender surgeries – and I see the issue of being able to take paid leave as being very helpful to that ask. Right off the bat, I wouldn’t want to support having gender-distinct parental leave durations, as this creates a problem for families who do not follow heterosexual patterns (eg: a man or men adopting a child gets less leave than a man/woman or woman/woman or even a single woman). However, I would encourage us to think bigger and propose that paid leave should be a benefit available not only to parents.
If we really want to support diversity, I recommend we ask for (and get a lot of people on board with) a leave benefit that can be used to care for an elder, undergo surgery, adopt/birth/foster a child, write a book, pursue education, renovate a home, or anything that requires undivided focus away from work and enriches your life. Imagine if your benefits at Mozilla allowed you 8 weeks (happy to shoot for more) of paid leave and the reason was up to your discretion. What a measure of excellence we could have above current plans offered by other companies by recognizing a wide range of life-altering events that demand our attention.
Pushing our company to be more appealing to, and welcoming of, women and other marginalized groups is incredibly important to me and I want to see us grow our benefits and company culture in ways that encompasses more diversity. We should appeal not only to women for whom maternity leave is a priority, but also to women whose lives follow other paths, and show that Mozilla cares about the overall health and growth of all their employees with flexible plans that benefit the widest possible groupings of people.
For the short term I’m happy to put my name on this request to reinstate the plan that was never publicly revoked and call out the poor process there (lack of transparency and no announcement of potential change, no input from employees) but I also appeal to you and to others who participate in this request to consider joining forces with me (and some others who put in the request for transgender surgery) to draft a request for 2014 to create a Personal Leave policy and provide a benefit that enhances the well-being of all employees at Mozilla.
That’s the long and short of it. I want us to be willing to discuss and consider our benefits in ways that do not single out certain choices or circumstances over others. It may be how 3rd party brokers and the benefit providing companies create markets for their wares (reminds me of pink/blue toy marketing) but if we want to really have an ‘enviable’ culture and we truly value diversity in our recruiting efforts we should think outside of the boxes that have been created for us by the profit-driven insurance sector.
Dare 2B Digital is an annual South Bay conference that brings 300 young women ages 12-16 together to encourage them to consider STEM fields in college by coming together for a full day of inspiring talks and workshops showcasing women’s work and relevance in technology. For the past three conferences I have signed Mozilla up as a sponsor and created a workshop that is run 3 times that day and reaches about 80-100 attendees. Last year I created kits for participants to learn about soft circuit hacking and lighting up felt foxes, the year before I taught Universal Subtitles and Popcorn before it was even a 1.0 product yet. I’m always trying to keep our workshops current and, if possible, on the bleeding edge of whatever Mozilla is working on. The participants get a taste of one exciting aspect of what is happening RIGHT NOW in open technology.
In the past year I’ve been really inspired by Mozilla’s outreach around web literacy and at the same time there’s been all this work done around our upcoming Firefox OS for mobile devices that will allow apps to be built entirely of the web and installed/sold/shared outside of the silo-structures such as Apple’s App Store and Google Play. At MozCamp Asia in November of 2012 I watched the Mozilla Taiwan reps showcase a fairly simple card matching game they had made of browser icons and they turned it into a Firefox OS installable app in only a couple of hours. All of these snippets and ideas led to my proposed workshop for the girls being about hacking their own version of the browser-pairs game and installing/playing it on a Firefox OS device.
Now this was all before the Firefox OS phones even existed, and it was also before I went away on a 3 week vacation to Vietnam over the holidays. I mentioned it to my co-worker Margaret before leaving and she said she’d be up for working on it with me but when I returned from vacation I lost about a week just on jetlag & minor flu-like symptoms then another on my birthday and having my family in from out of town. Next thing I knew it was February 1st, the workshop was on February 9th, and I had NOTHING ready and there was no public Firefox OS device yet, either.
So I called up Ruth who organizes the conference and tried to beg off this year. Would it be so bad if Mozilla didn’t do a workshop this one time? Thankfully Ruth very calmly returned my panicked email with a phone call and asked me what I needed to get this workshop on track. What did I need? Mostly just to buck up and finish what I started, me with my big mouth. The pieces were all out there. I had code (thank you Mozilla Taiwan!), Chris Heilmann had recently posted some inspiring slides about HTML5 and mobile for Firefox OS App Days, and Hackasaurus has plenty of youth-focused resources.
Hastily, I organized a couple of lunch time meetings during the week leading up to the workshop with Margaret and we hashed out who would do what. We made an exciting discovery in our first meeting, which was that we could host the game from a github page and this meant every girl in the workshop could hack on her own customizations of the game in github’s web interface code editor and see their changes reflected on a mobile device immediately. No need to deal with the minutia of web hosting, no server-side code, and minimal development setup – the freshly imaged laptops we borrowed from Mozilla IT would be good to go in minutes!
I drove to Redwood City on the day of the conference with: 20 laptops, 15 Firefox OS test driver devices (thanks to my co-workers who let me borrow their phones!), and some slides about why hacking HTML5 is the future of mobile apps. One thing we realized as we were setting up was that there would be some delay between when the participants created their GitHub accounts and when they would see their github pages live with our demo code. We ended up front-loading that and having them start right away as they arrived at the top of each time slot then going into the presentation after they had forked the repo which had the gh-pages branch set to default. We later learned (through Margaret’s chatting with GitHub support) that it was likely the delay could be caused by not having edited anything yet on the gh-pages branch so in later workshops we had the girls follow along with Margaret and change the <title> of their index.html and commit the change.
The presentation portion was about 10-15 minutes and started out with asking the girls to shout out what comes to mind when I say the word “HACK”. Answers included “death row” and things along the lines of breaking or sneaking into someone’s computer, mostly things associated with dark or criminal activities. A few did mention things like ‘nerd’ or ‘creative’ too. When I showed them my examples for the talk we had a brief discussion about not asking for permission, being curious, creative, and taking ownership. After that we talked about Apple/iPhone and Google/Android. Most of the girls had one or the other we explored how non-interchangeable they are, how much it might cost to be a developer for one or the other, the need to play by someone else’s rules in order to get your ideas out there. My favourite part of this talk is repeating over and over how using open web technologies and the web itself is all about NOT ASKING PERMISSION. You put your stuff up, tell people where it is, and they can go use it. It can (and should) be that easy.
After the talking was done the young women had about 45 minutes to hack on their github sandboxes and test out making customizations to their matching game. We modeled it after Mozilla’s Thimble project which uses comments in the code to explain various areas of the code and gives ideas on what to change. Our take was to suggest they try (in increasing levels of difficulty):
- changing the background color/images (of the page, game box, card backs)
- changing the images on the cards when flipped
- change the music (few got to this part in the allotted time)
We saved 15 minutes at the end to do demos of what people did to their code and to come up and tell us what they did to achieve their end results. Some of the customizations led to a newly themed game like pigs, magic, twilight, book covers, and other things the designers liked. A few girls went further and took snapshots of themselves on the laptop camera and used their own action shots in the match game, one girl had her own laptop and drawing tablet so she drew her own card faces and intro screen background, and another girl removed the card backs to make it look like the game box was all black – when I started to click during her demo and cards flipped I was surprised since I had thought the game was broken but she laughed and said it was on purpose. It’s hilarious to me that she made a simple match game into a much harder challenge by hiding the discover-ability of the game.
All in all the three workshops went smoothly, everyone got to do some hacking and see their results during the time we had allotted, and all the girls left with a new github account and code they can keep hacking and learning on over time. During the course of the workshop we went around helping and answering questions and taught them about commit history, rolling back changes, and also using “Inspect Element” to figure out where to look in the code to make changes. I should mention that at the beginning of every workshop I asked “Who here has touched HTML/CSS before?” and there were never more than half the hands in the room raised. This comes up every year in the workshops I run. Some girls are getting this knowledge from parents, friends, self-teaching, and now things like CoderDojo (as one participant bragged) but there’s no indication that any of them are learning this in school where they spend a majority of their time. The thought that some girls are being left behind on this is sad to me, and I want to do all I can to help change that. Every single one of these young women left our workshop with a new spark in their eyes having now had first-hand experience with the power of creating web apps that can run on ANY WEB-ENABLED DEVICE. It was powerful to see.
So, what’s next? I think this workshop should become another Webmaker and/or Hackasaurus project that can be taught anywhere, to anyone who wants to have a first-time experience with mobile app development. We’re 80% of the way there, I’d say what’s left to do is:
* Spend a bit more time, if you have it on basic HTML/CSS editing, using Inspect Element, and having cheat sheets printed up for participants.
* Have options for what to do next – getting off of github pages and hosting your own app, possibly with some server-side code.
It won’t take much to turn this into something more generic and useful for introducing people to the power of Firefox OS and HTML5 app creation and I look forward to continuing to develop this sort of material whenever I can. Thanks to the Desktop Support staff who prepped laptops for the conference, SF co-workers who lent their phones, and most of all to my coworkers who lent their time and their expertise: Margaret, Larissa, and Amy*. Without all of you this would not have gone smoothly and because of you it was the best day of 2013 so far.
* At lunch we had a little Q&A with the 30 or so girls from the first workshop. They got to ask all of us questions about what we do and how we got there. The four of us had such different paths & connections to technology. I love that we got to show these young women a variety of ways to engage with tech and to be in open source.
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.
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).
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.
[x-posted from Geek Feminism]
Michael Chabon, in “Manhood for Amateurs”, writes an essay telling the story of being at the supermarket with his child, feeling quite run-down and barely hanging on, with his toddler in tow on a Sunday morning so as to give his wife a chance to sleep in. As he’s in line to pay, a woman in line with him says something along the lines of “You’re a good dad, I can tell just by looking”. At that moment he has this epiphany that to be a ‘good dad’ in our society one must merely not be in the process of killing a child in public whereas a women can rarely achieve the status of ‘good mother’ in the public’s ever-shaming eye. If they ever do briefly get told that, it is all too quick to fade with the barrage of societal and internalized messaging women get telling them they are never good enough.
Michael Chabon’s take was this:
“The handy thing about being a father is that the historic standard is so pitifully low.”
As someone who did not have a dad, I have nothing in my upbringing about what it’s like to be a young female with a grown male caring for you, teaching you, or taking an interest in your life’s outcome. Chabon does sum up for me the conclusions I came to, quite young, about these creatures called ‘fathers’. Growing up with my lesbian, feminist mother my understanding of the odds was that netting a ‘good dad’ seemed so low and I was convinced I was lucky for not having to participate in that particular life lottery.
To folks who did have ‘good dads’, this story might seem familiar to you, but to many it may come as quite a pleasant surprise. Someone I am proud to consider a friend had their blog post picked up by ArsTechnica today and, yes, the title of this article is very unfortunate but the amplification of what Mike Hoye did for his daughter is such a ‘good dad’ moment that I hope there will be ripples of this for months as well as more hacking of games to do even just that simple binary flip that helps a young girl see something more like herself as the hero of the stories the games people play are centered around. Imagine for a moment if we could take this kind of hacking to children’s television and movies. Those are immutable objects for now, but video games? Well, Mike has proven that a bit of hacking can go a long way.
Because I am fortunate enough to know Mike through my time at Seneca College where he was a regular mentor to our zealous open source program, I asked him if I could interview him for a Geek Feminism post and he said yes so we hopped into an etherpad and had a talk.
LB: Hi Mike!
First let’s be clear, you didn’t give a fictional character who exists only as pixels in a video game a ‘sex change’ but you certainly upset the dominant males-as-heroes pattern in video games by simply flipping the gendered forms of address in the text of the game where the Hero does in fact have quite a gender-neutral appearance. Does it feel radical to you to do this kind of hack?
MH: It certainly felt… transgressive. I’m an inveterate gamer and Legend Of Zelda fan, and the Zelda series revolves around some pretty well-used tropes. You know you’re going to be the hero, that there’s going to be the Master Sword, a bow, the boomerang, the hookshot… Changing something, especially something as basic as the nature of the characters, feels like it should be a pretty big deal.
But at the same time, it seems like I’m just solving a problem that’s stubbornly refused to solve itself. That option should always have been there.
LB: You gloss over a bit in your post, will you put up more details (maybe another blog post) of step-by-step instructions to help people who have less technical depth than you try to do this at home with their kids? Alternately, is there a way to package up what you did and distribute it without getting yourself put in jail (or heavily fined)?
MH: The way I packaged it up – by making it clear that you’ll have to find the original material on your own, but here is the tool you’ll need to apply the following changes – is the best I could come up with. As for the step-by-step instructions… I found the game’s disk image, opened it up in a hex editor – I used http://ridiculousfish.com/hexfiend/ for that, because it works really well with extremely large files – but once you’ve done that, you just need to make a copy of the disk image, and work on that one; just page around the file until you find the dialog, and then start editing it. The important thing, at least as far as the approach I took, was that you need to be extremely careful to use phrases that are exactly, letter-for-letter the same length as the phrases you’re replacing and make sure you can see the difference between a space (one kind of whitespace) and a linebreak, that look the same in the text but have different numerical values.
It helped me to use a very basic text editor with a fixed-with font, so that I could copy the phrases I was replacing out and work on them for a while without committing anything back until I was reasonably happy with them.
LB: I wonder if you handed this hack back to the game developers/publishers, would they be receptive to putting out the alternate version, considering how simple the hack really is?
MH: It’s unlikely that my approach is well-suited for that – I’m not building in an option that a player would be able to toggle. You either change the whole game or nothing.
LB: That’s a good point. Advocating for more options in the game defaults seems like a great tactic here over asking for entirely different releases of games.
Any plans for other games that you play with your daughter where you might want to make this similar adaptation?
MH: I don’t know – it depends on what she’d like to play next. We haven’t started The Ocarina Of Time yet, so that’s a candidate. But so much of this depends on whatever holds Maya’s interests that it’s impossible for me to say.
LB: It will be interesting when she grows up and talks to others about playing the game, perhaps slipping in a female pronoun. The looks of confusion from other players will hopefully make her laugh and perhaps feel bad for them that their dads didn’t take these matters into their own hands. My mom did a similar thing for me with pronouns in Dr. Seuss stories on characters that were too gender-stereotyped with no bad side effects so far, to my knowledge.
MH: God, I can only hope.
LB: Obviously you’re an accomplished hacker, what is your approach to hacking with your child(ren) in terms of meeting kids where their skills are at?
MH: I don’t have fully-formed thoughts about this yet. I’d like to start by asking Maya what she’d like to create – not necessarily out of code, but starting with carpentry or paint, and then helping her work stuff through. The only overarching principle I want her to understand is that she can, if she puts her mind to it, make and change things.
LB: Have you had to deal with any sentiments from your daughter that suggest she might get messages telling her that computers are ‘for boys’ or that doing anything hacky or tech-related isn’t ‘for girls’?
MH: Yeah, that shit is pervasive. It’s not so much computers – there aren’t a lot of those in school yet – but “boys do this”, “girls do that”, that starts awfully early.
I quiz her on it, when it comes up – Why do you think that? And the answer is always, always that one of the other kids, usually boys, in her class told her. It’s… disheartening, but you push back when you can.
LB: That’s interesting that your anecdotal evidence is that the boys seem to be doing more of the gender policing. In my experience it was more the girls who seemed invested in protecting ladydom.
MH: My sample may not be representative (interviewer acknowledges that hers wasn’t either) (also, it’s certainly possible that I’m not getting a reliable story from Maya, who has in the last two weeks claimed to be a girl, a boy, a crab, a moose and, earlier, a pentagon. So she may not be the most reliable narrator.
LB: Starting kindergarten can be a time when the gender binary really hits home for kids and the positive messages a kid gets at home start to become overwritten by the massive mainstream’s – are you having to up the ante in un-learning?
MH: She is in preschool, not quite kindergarden yet – and I don’t really have a clear sense of how things get addressed there – I suspect well, but I don’t know. Having said that, I think the old lead-by-example tropes are important. Mom and Dad treat each other with respect, even when we disagree, and insist that Maya does so as well. When she uses some other kid’s misbehavior as a justification for her own, we don’t accept that as an excuse, and occasionally admit our own mistakes as well.
Mostly, though, we just try to avoid television and Disney movies, and try to avoid books where the women are either helpless NPCs or props or both. It’s not always a perfect approach, because frankly there’s not a lot of those books out there, but it’s an uphill battle. But so is all parenting, so hey.
LB: Should we talk about the “P” word? Are there inklings of wanting to be a princess? Even if it was Princess Leia (who is now owned by Disney) would this fly with you and your particular approach?
MH: I don’t really know. We’re not there yet. She’s expressed as much interest in being a princess as she has in being a moose at this point, so I’m not super-concerned about it.
We’ll go through that phase at some point, I’m sure, but I just don’t want it to be the only phase she goes through.
LB: Love the moose stuff – where is that coming from?
MH: She has a shirt where the moose has antlers, so she holds up her hands to her head like antlers and says “MOOSE” and charges. It’s pretty great, unless you’re afraid of moose.
LB: Have you broken the news to her that moose are really big and stinky? Also a menace on country roads in Canada?
MH: For polite situations, she’ll hold up only one hand, and be a half-moose.
LB: You’re doing a great job here
Are you aware of projects such as: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/16029337/goldieblox-the-engineering-toy-for-girls ?
MH: Yeah, I gave them some money on general principles.
LB: Can you speak to what works/doesn’t for you in terms of making technology feel accessible to your daughter and what seems to entice her or dissuade her from the things we technologists might be taking for granted?
MH: It’s too early to say. Right now, she’s surrounded by the tech Mom and Dad use in our day to day lives, watching us work with it. She understands very quickly how to use it herself. So far, to be quite blunt, “Accessible” means “stuff I can manipulate without needing to know how to read”, which basically means touchscreens with icons or hardware with big buttons, where interactions don’t generally have hard consequences.
LB: That brings up a good question – what does Mom do with regards to hacking or owning/customizing things in a way that teaches curiosity and exploration of creativity? Are you a one-man show, or is a love of technology, gaming, hacking something the whole family participates in to varying levels?
MH: Mom has almost no interest in technology per se. It’s not her thing, but her hobbies – more artistic, craftier in general – are complimentary, and also something Maya’s taken to.
LB: So your daughter gets balance then, between those many areas. I think it’s great that you take such responsibility for transferring your knowledge and sharing your passions with your kids.
MH: I’m not sure how they learn any other way.
LB: Final question:
What would you list as starting point for useful tools/skills a geek or geek-leaning parent might want to have at their disposal tohelp them alter the tech realities around us in this way and other ways that upset the defaults?
MH: I don’t think there’s one answer to that question, certainly not one that’s less than book length or applies to everyone. The thing that you ultimately need to do is to believe that not only can you look behind the curtain, but that if you’re a little bit smart and a little bit careful, you’ll be able to step up and operate the machinery there yourself. That’s what I’m hoping Maya takes from this – there may be an infinite number of things in the world you don’t understand, but there’s nothing that you can’t understand, and a little patience, a little courage and enough small steps. will get you there.
LB: Thanks for sharing your approach here, Mike, I think you’re an inspiration for open source geek parenting and I hope we’ll see more of these sorts of hacks in the years to come until they are no longer even “hacks” but in fact, defaults or built-in options.
MH:There’s a lot of work left to do, but we’ll get there.