Money for Nothing, and the Chicks (work) for Free

Ada Initiative reached its goal fundraising banner

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.

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

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

Long Version

I love Open Source.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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