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.
Fundraising is almost as hard for me as self-promotion. In fact, it’s easier for me to do the broadcasting I did around the Ada fundraising than I imagine it would be for me to do my own seed round for an idea I felt excited about. I express with regularity how grateful I am for the people who practice social work in our society, doing outreach to the outcasts & downtrodden. I am also ever so thankful for people who can ask more times than I for contributions to important causes. No matter how valiant the mission, it’s such redundant communication, keep-your-chin-up, bright-siding, and a task this introvert, who merely has bouts of extroversion, finds very taxing. So major kudos, fireworks, and many many pats on the back to Val Aurora and Mary Gardiner who held their own idea up and asked repeatedly for community contributions to support its very bright future. Thanks are due in advance for what they will continue to do now that there are some funds, to move forward and amplify the mission of getting more women, empowered women into all levels of Open Source communities.
I’ve observed that all these self-starting, entrepreneurial men act *entitled* to having people (often other men) throw (and put at risk) huge wads of cash on barely-developed ideas that appear promising on the surface. And don’t a huge percentage of them fail? And don’t many of those same men dust themselves off, move on to their next idea, and run the same game again?
Now, there’s some major class privilege here – these are generally very privileged men we are talking about. Men who have various safety nets, and often no dependents. Also they are the golden boys of capitalism (especially right now, and especially in the Bay Area) and that type of money lending/growing is not our game at orgs like the Ada Initiative.
When it seemed like the Ada Initiative’s fundraising goals wouldn’t be met, I found myself questioning the expectation of the Ada Initiative to get funds, to be a ‘we pay people’ organization. There is a lot of messaging out there that tells women who care about outreach and diversity initiatives that this work should be extra, volunteer, and passion-driven (and can’t you just eat passion for breakfast?) kind of work. I had to look hard to double-down my resolve to believe in (and broadcast) the opposite. We should be able to ask for this, expect it, drive this point home repeatedly WITHOUT SHAME. At this point I don’t care if someone thinks we’re asking too much, too often and I have not yet actually HEARD someone say that, I just made it up in my head. Then I had to notice it, and figure out how to tell that voice to shut the fuck up.
So here’s what I tell myself (and the other Ada Initiative advisers on our mailing list):
- What you’re doing matters.
- You should get paid for doing it.
- You’re creating tremendous value.
- It is fair to ask people to kick back a portion of their income (esp. earned in the tech industry) to help with outreach and diversity efforts.
The point of sharing my internal voice re-write here, and pointing out how others manage to do it without shame when working on capitalist models is to say:
As much as humanly possible (and your strength to do so will vary day to day, understandably) – please fake it. Fake that sense of entitlement. Pretend sometimes that you’re one of those guys who think people should give you millions just cause you made some little piece of plastic on a 3-D printer and you’re going to take your idea over to China and mass-produce more plastic for people who make too much money to buy from you in droves. Fake that confidence as much as you can until it’s real – because our mission sure as hell is and the value of this project is bigger than their million-dollar, landfill-feeding crap any day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Early 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
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.
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.