When Code n Splode started in 2007, it was in response to an event at OSCON and discussions that followed. Several of the people who would become involved had attended a “women in open source” BoF that left them unhappy with how issues of women’s participation in the technology industry were being discussed. (I missed the BoF but heard plenty about it afterward.) In the conversations that followed that week, we came to a kind of consensus that we wanted less talk about the problem and more direct action, and that women feeling isolated because we didn’t know many of our female colleagues (as few as those might be) was definitely not helping. So Code n Splode was born in response.
The meetings have a similar structure to most user groups: there’s a technical talk or workshop given by one of the members, and afterward the group moves on to a local pub for the “splode” part of the evening, a general discussion of whatever we want to talk about from our professional and personal lives. The guidelines for men’s participation have changed over time; the current rule is that all women are invited to attend and participate, and men are welcome as the guest of a female participant. The goal is to create a safe space for women to talk about our technical work in a friendly and open environment.
Why safe space? It’s no secret that the technology industry can be antagonistic, heavily competitive, and hostile toward outsiders who don’t immediately prove their technical competence. While not all women have experienced problems with this, many women (and men) have, and being a member of a visible gender minority often only increases that sense of otherness and hostility. Creating a group that is officially women-focused and has clear guidelines for inclusive behavior provides support in that environment. Men in the industry are part of a majority group; there are no defined “men’s user groups” or “men’s software conferences” because in many cases, that’s already what happens by default. In the open source world in particular, women make up a very small percentage of participants, and I find that having space where I feel visible and normal and not weird for being female is extremely valuable.
Besides that, having a cross-technology group where we can discuss our work with our peers is exciting. I’ve used this to present topics that don’t fit into any single-technology user group, like text game programming or privacy issues in software design, and I’ve attended other topics that don’t relate to my own work at all, but are interesting because of the enthusiasm of the women who are presenting it. It’s also a great environment for women who have never given a technical presentation before, and might not feel like they have the experience to present at a conference yet. This helps us learn the skills to move on to bigger events, meaning that over time we can encourage better representation of the women who are already present in these fields.
The best thing, the part that really demonstrates why this group is important, is seeing the effect it has on the women who participate. We’re learning to negotiate for better salaries, to find jobs we enjoy, to present our work to a larger audience, and we’re building friendships we can rely on when the problems of our industry are hitting us personally. It’s not a “fix” for the imbalances of the technology world, but a support system that helps us continue to be a part of this industry and still have fun.