Thursday, March 21, 2013

The dangers of forking and dongles

Three days ago, Adria Richards published a blog post about an incident that happened at the PyCon conference last week. Two guys made a sexual joke during one of the lightning talks and Adria responded by taking a photograph of them and posting it on Twitter. In a separate tweet she asked the organizers to address the issue, which they did. You can read her blog post here:

Two days ago, one of the guys making the joke posted an apology and an explanation to Hacker News. It turns out he was fired from his job as a consequence:

There are several questions here that need to be addressed: Is making sexual jokes at a conference acceptable? If someone is breaking a code of conduct, is it acceptable to post their photograph to Twitter? What will this do to the developer community?

Is making sexual jokes at a conference acceptable?

No, it’s not acceptable. Frankly, I wouldn’t care if I heard someone make a sexual joke, but some people might find this offensive and therefore it’s a good idea to save your sexual jokes for a more private audience. As Adria states in her blog post, the PyCon conference had a pretty extensive Code of Conduct: “All communication should be appropriate for a professional audience including people of many different backgrounds. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks.”

If someone is breaking a code of conduct, is it acceptable to post their photograph to Twitter?

Absolutely not, and I find this to be a much bigger offence than making a sexual joke. Public shaming is never an acceptable solution, and as we’ve seen in this case it can have terrible consequences. As Adria points to the Code of Conduct regarding the jokes made, I’d like to point out that the Code of Conduct also states that “Harassment includes […] harassing photography or recording”.

What will this do to the developer community?

This is the question that worries me the most. There are a lot of people working very hard to make more women interested in technology, and they have identified the need for more women in the business. There are, however, an alarming number of skeptics out there, and by skeptics I mean men who prefer the business to be male dominated and who don’t actually want more women to take an interest in technology.

My fear is that Adria’s reaction to the jokes at PyCon will cause the number of skeptics to increase. One of the jokes she perceived as being sexual was in fact not sexual at all. Should a male developer have to censor himself in fear of a female developer overhearing and perceiving what is being said as sexual? If that is the direction we’re going in, I’m not sure I want more women to enter the business myself. No one, neither men nor women, should have to censor themselves out of fear for being publicly shamed.

I sincerely hope Aria will apologize for posting the photography, and delete the blog post and tweets from the conference so that the man will not be affected by this when he goes looking for a new job.


  1. Like your angle of it but one won't help deleting the blogpost or the is already spread all over.

    There is no undo on the internet.

    1. Unfortunately, you're right about that. But I would view the deletion of the blog post and the tweets more as a reassurance of her apology, if that makes sense.

      Some might even argue that the content should not be deleted as Aria will then be able to sweep the whole thing under the rug instead of taking responsibility for posting the photograph.

  2. It's pretty sad to see this. Ultimately, on examining the links you posted there was very little to be offended by and in the case of forking it seems Adria assumed sexual connotations here. I find that fact extremely disturbing as we are all guilty of childish naughtiness of this sort both male and female. The fact that Adria felt the idea of using forking was deviant enough to be offend leads me to believe that there was at least some calculation on her part about pushing an agenda, and because of this a person lost their job.

    I personally worry myself about what I say as I am a pretty liberal guy but I asked a good mix of people male and female and all felt that the bigger outrage here should have been against Adria for her part in attempting to demonize somebody and causing them to loose their job without having the sense to at least raise it with the speaker first.

    Finally I do think the original joke was in bad taste but I can't help but think it would have been much more helpful for Adria to raise this with the speaker privately before determining what further coarse of action to take based on this guys response.

  3. I should start by saying that I completely agree with your point of view. Besides the fact that what she did was morally disgusting, viewing it from a business point of view, the damage she did to all female engineers could be substantial.

    It is an undeniable fact that the tech industry is male dominated. After this episode consider this: All things been equal, a company will chose a male candidate over a female just because no corporation will take a chance of similar incidents, the enormous negative publicity and the potential lose of business. It might sound harsh but unfortunately that is still the way the corporate world (still) works.

  4. Hi Karoline,

    I like your post and I agree with it. I think there's maybe one other big point to all of this.
    I find it extremely strange how something so small turned into a giant unstoppable snowball.
    I don't think neither of them should have lost their job. I find this absolutely crazy..