Aside from the issue of community friendliness/hostility, there’s another set of structural reasons that affect who finds it easy to get involved in open source. At both BarCampPortland and RailsConf, I tried to pick people’s brains about why there are even fewer women involved with Ruby and Rails than with Java or Perl. I’ve also been poking around discussions on this online.
Many local tech events aren’t appealing or accessible to a wide range of people. By local I mean things you attend in your hometown, rather than conferences we travel to. A lot of these are most suited to people who are young, don’t have kids, and like to drink beer. That describes me. It does not describe my mother. Sometimes an event just needs to be publicized more widely, but often there are people who might be interested in the technology, but can’t go to a Tuesday night user group because there’s no one to watch the kids, or don’t have an interest in going because they anticipate a room full of socially-delayed young men. So if we want to build active, diverse tech communities, we need to create the means for a wider range of people to participate.
Not everyone can spend time learning new technologies when there isn’t support or compensation from their employer. It’s a pragmatic choice. If you can’t use it at work, why learn it? Especially if you have interests outside of IT, or family commitments and other obligations. Enterprise adoption of new tools and languages helps the diversity of the user base. Yes, there may be compelling reasons to learn new things even outside of work, particularly in the midst of outsourcing, but it’s not always possible to find the time, or scrape up money for books, workshops, etc. I think JRuby could be highly beneficial to the Ruby community in this respect, by allowing teams to deploy Ruby and Rails apps on top of their company’s existing Java setup. The attention from BusinessWeek and similar publications helps too. Unfortunately, many workers have to deal with IT decisions made by people who only read business & management publications, and have no personal involvement with any particular technology.
These things I’ve posted are really just a start, but I think we really need to get past arguing over whether lack of diversity is a problem (yes, it definitely is) and looking for the one true solution (let’s try some likely options and talk about the results), and actually get into action.