Being a woman sometimes sucks

Every so often I come across particular behaviours towards women that really make me feel uncomfortable, upset, frustrated or just plain angry. I just had a comment posted on an old blog post of mine about women in IT:

Wow-this iss uch a popular site.

Why is it however, that when you women do something that men have been doing for ages (without any fanfare or blowing our own trumpets), it’s such a massive acheivement????

Tht’a the problem these days-women are so up themselves, men don’t wamt to know them.Thats the REAL reason why women can’t find men..but of course, that’s not the womens fault…is it??

What a load of bitches.

The post was apparently from a “Hugh G. Rection”, which of course demonstrates the maturity and spinelessness of this particular individual. I was going to just ignore the comment, but it just irked me so I thought I’d write a blog post why.

The behaviour never ceases to surprise me, and in one way I hope I never cease to be surprised, because I would hate to think I’d ever just accept it.

I was talking to a male friend recently and he said he had accidentally offended a female geek by making a crass joke about “jugs”, and I spoke to him about how it isn’t about the crassness. I know many women (and I’m one of them) who can be very rude or crass at times. It is because things like my friend’s joke about jugs, or the comment on my blog above, or being avoided at geek conferences because I’m female, or the occasional death threats against women or women groups, or, or, or…. all these behaviours are constant reminders that I am a woman, when my gender really shouldn’t make any difference. This constant reminder of my gender is thrust upon me and most women I know in IT, and this differentiation unfortunately builds the foundations of some really negative (albeit much less common) behaviours towards women in IT. I am just another geek, the same as a male geek is just another geek. People will always have a reason to disagree about code, opinions, or whatever, but I am really sick of my gender being a reason to be targeted, something that has to be pointed out as being different or somehow weird.

I try to remain positive constantly, and am always saying that we can only improve the environment by coming together as a community to deal with negative behaviours (including sexism, racism, and any other antisocial and destructive perspectives). I usually try to live the change I want to see and I understand that a lot of sexism isn’t done with malicious intent and I myself try to refrain from sexist (or other negative) humour or perspectives. This isn’t a men vs women issue, in fact most men I know are wonderful people, and some are more upfront about smacking down sexism than a lot of women, for whom doing so would often enough incur unwanted attention. Ultimately there is a latent sexism in many parts of the world that I’ll have to deal with regardless, but I would like to ask the Free and Open Source community in particular to please be considerate of the people around you, and try to ensure that whatever project you are in, you are doing your best to make it an open and friendly environment for anyone to get involved. It is after all meant to be a meritocracy, meant to be about freedom and personal empowerment. Let’s try to minimise the impact of old world biases on our awesome community.

In response to the comment above, right now in many countries (including Australia) there is a mistaken perspective that there are no women in IT, that we’ve not really played much of a role, and as such IT is somehow a masculine thing to do. None of these perspectives are true, however the myths are turning many young people (and particularly young women) away from the industry. FOSS in particular is supposed to be a community where anyone can succeed according to their skill and effort. By allowing incorrect perspectives about the industry to flourish, we are not ever going to have a good cross-section of society participating in FOSS, and FOSS – like politics – needs to be openly participatory and representative. Also, we can see in various FOSS projects that gender, politics, religion and other potential barriers to personal interaction can be bridged through common base values and goals.

I believe until any person can participate in any FOSS project without their gender/race/religion being a thing of mockery, hatred, curiousity or any other differentiation, then we are not being true to the philosophies of software freedom or technocratic achievement. Being treated like a human being, and with some basic level of empathy and equality should be a reasonable base expectation for everyone πŸ™‚

Catch up, and what’s to come!

This last 3 weeks have been insane. So much cool stuff, and I keep thinking “I need to blog about this or that, and then not making the time! Below is a quite recap of the cool stuff I’ve done and been involved in over the last few weeks. I have a few lengthy blogs posts coming up to cover some of these in detail, but in the meantime, I AM STILL ALIVE EVERYONE! πŸ™‚

New Zealand trip
Jeff and I planned to take a short holiday, unfortunately on the day Jeff remembered he hadn’t got his passport renewed after it was stolen in Malaysia. Argh! I ended up going anyway, spending two days snowboarding at Mt Hutt near Christchurch with a friend (hi Glynn!), then a few days hanging out with Glynn and Jayne in Wellington doing Pilates, training with an awesome Shaolin Gung Fu master, and hacking on OLPC related work in preparation for an upcoming trip for the Aussie OLPC trial I’m helping rollout (more details on that later, so please don’t ask yet! πŸ™‚ I got to catch up with the Wellington “Friends in Testing” OLPC group and got inspired to start a regular OLPC usergroup in Sydney, to be announced at SLUG in the coming week! All in all a tiring but awesome holiday πŸ™‚

Aussie OLPC trial
I’m running Australia’s first serious OLPC trial which has been technically challenging, and has consumed _all_ of my time over the previous few months. It has been awesome and I’ve have just now finished the implementation. The documentation will be made publicly available (and put on the OLPC wiki) in the coming week or two. We’ve basically done a world first of focusing on the remote collaboration and child support element of what the OLPC vision and technologies can deliver, so I’m really excited to be involved in this, and hopefully the lessons we learnt will assist many others πŸ™‚ We connected up 3 schools, such that specialist teachers can provide support to children in remote areas. Very interesting and the children are thriving with the tools they are playing with. I did a trip to the two remote locations, and we had a film crew come with us who are making a short internal doco, which may hopefully be able to be publicly disseminated over the coming months.

Linuxchix Microconf
Today I’m participating in a Linuxchix Microconf, a bunch of awesome women from Sydney and Melbourne participating in a video conference where people in both locations are presenting to the combined group real time, and it has been great. My talk is in an hour (just finished my slides πŸ˜‰ and the day has covered a huge range of topics. All have been recorded and I believe will be made available for everyone. Awesome job by Alice, Mary, Sun-Hee and a huge thanks to Google for the resources. They provided the venue, videoconferencing, and a tasty spread of catering!

Coming up!

  • Documentation and publishing of all OLPC stuff plus kick off of bigger regional community project
  • Malaysian Government event on FOSS, and FOSS MY, I’ll be speaking about building FOSS community building and stuff happening in Governments. I’m really excited about going to Malaysia both to see the country, and to learn more about their approach to FOSS, which seems to be pretty cool. I’ll try to live blog during the event.
  • Open Education Workshop – ASK-OSS in collaboration with the NSW Department of Education is launching a workshop on Open Education to both share knowledge, and to start trying to understand the needs of the sector, and making a strategic plan for Open Education in Australia. This is meant to be broad to include FOSS, Open Standards, Open Knowledge, and open collaboration methodologies amongst much more. If you are in education and interested in openness, come along and participate!

Anyway, much more blogging to do, and I’ll try to be less slack even though there is so much going on πŸ™‚

Australian”innovation”: desires and reality

Last night was the Pearcey Awards, which in itself is always a great way to find out about up and coming leaders in the field and achievements in ICT, however they also created a national roundtable event called INNOVATION & ICT IN AUSTRALIA: A NATIONAL DEBATE. It was closely linked with the Federal Government’s National Innovation Review, released just a couple of days ago which has some excellent recommendations in around open publishing, sustainability, Open Source, open standards and patent reform, just to name a few. In fact chapter 7 of that review has many of the recommendations put forward at Senator Kate Lundy’s ‘Foundations of Open’ Local Summit back in March. There were two panels last night, one with entreprenuers (which I participated in) and one with larger organisations. Then there were speeches from Minister Conroy, NSW MP John Della Bosca and Dr Terry Cutler just to name a few. It was really a great evening and it was fascinating to hear many of the concepts we have taken for granted in the FOSS world be brought up as important to Australia’s future economic properity, ideas such as “open innovation”, “services built around shared content”, “searchable publicly available data sets [particularly publicly funded data]” and more.

On the panel I spoke about how we need to educate entreprenuers and small business how to stand on the shoulders of giants and better leverage tools like FOSS to build both cheap and scalable infrastructure (I mentioned an organisation I’m involved in where the ex-Deloitte employee assumed we would need $100k for a website!) as well as the ability to create new value and services by combining existing FOSS components in new and innovative ways. I spoke about the need for more focus on technical skills (every child should learn basic programming) to help all our citizens to better leverage technology in all circumstances. I also spoke about how we need to be not only recognising and encouraging ICT as an “enabler for all industries”, a term thrown around a lot, but we also need to focus on core ICT and being a world leader in bleeding edge technologies. We need to recognise that if we only see ICT as an enabler, then we are actually parroting the much disliked “Australia is a consumer nation” phrase with new buzzwords. The increased awareness of innovation at an organisational and infrastructure level is wonderful, however it can not be at the cost of innovation at an ICT industry or technologies level lest we be left behind in such a competitive global market.

Other panelists spoke about the need for Government to partner more with smaller innovative Australian companies rather than always going to safest road. Apparently the Australian Government already has a requirement to spend something linke 0.5% on piloting innovative solutions, so it would be great to see more work going into this. Several people mentioned how Government will often get a great idea from a small company (or from the many smart and innovative people in Government), which will go to tender and then inevitably be won by a large multinational who isn’t providing the inspirational and innovative solution initially proposed. A massive loss for those smaller companies with big ideas.

I was in the audience when IP came up and luckily had the microphone ready to ask the next question (one panelist said that the dropping number of patents recently was an enormous issue for Australia, argh!), so I spoke briefly about how Government and industry need to look at new IP models, new business models and realise that IP protectionism (patents, proprietary code) is not the means to open innovation nor an openly competitive market (particularly when we follow in the footsteps of the flawed US patent system), and ultimately we need to keep focusing on how to create world leading exportable services, which is where the industry has been heading for some time. This earned an applause which was interesting.

I was quite surprised throughout the evening the number of people who came up to me and said they were really impressed with my comments and observations. I didn’t think that I had said anything particularly incredible, but it made me realise that is because I’m so involved with the Open Source community which is full of people who are innovative, focused on openness and collaboration, aware of the practical implications of different IP approaches, often on the bleeding edge of new ideas and technologies and often successfully making a living with new business and IP models not yet in the mainstream. Our community has world leading innovators and thinkers who are miles ahead of the curve, so my expected level of comparison is quite high πŸ™‚

Education came up again and again. Education at schools/TAFE/University for students, technology education, entrepreneurial skills, information and training for small businesses, what skills are needed to meet the needs of evolving markets. It was great to have so much attention on this topic because ultimately there is no point having great policies and support around “innovation” if we don’t have any skills in Australia to innovate with.

Many people expressed a desire to enable innovation, but it was said several times that “innovation” is a term that is thrown around a lot without people necessarily being on the same page. I think that is has been overused and abused a lot, and it was Terry Cutlers speech at the end that really brought it together for me. Terry wrote the innovation report that was discussed, and in his speech he pulled no punches when it comes to the laughable reality in Australia at the moment (very, very low OECD rankings when it comes to investment in ICT and education, amongst other things). He spoke about the potential for Australia, about “open innovation” and I think the report has many excellent recommendations that will hopefully pull our public and private policy and practices into sharp evolution. I think in Australia we have the smarts and the desire to be innovative, successful and to be competing in the global ICT market, but achieving this success starts at home. Many Australian businesses and Government agencies want to see success overseas or great success locally before committing to even trialling new solutions and we need to figure out how to better enable local success which will feed into growing local innovation and global competitiveness. The Australian market is extremely risk averse and as such runs the risk of always being behind the ball.

Murali Sagi, who is an extremely clever and successful CIO and a great example of the innovators found in Government, put it most concisely.

Australians are innovative, but Australia isn’t.

Let’s try and fix that πŸ™‚

Indigenous Literacy Day and TechEd women’s panel

Today I went to a talk by a great man, Noel Tovey, a 64yr old Australian Aboriginal man who has been through some of the most awful experiences you will ever hear. He shared his story, and how he overcame extreme adversity to become successful globally. He wrote a book a few years back called “Little Black Bastard“, and he read a little from the book which I will absolutely be going out to buy now. Anyway, it was awfully sad but inspiring at the same time. I spoke at the event about the OLPC project and how it might be both beneficial to disadvantaged communities, but also a way to get Australian Aboriginal cultural content out to children through the project.

Straight after that event I went and spoke on a panel about women in technology at… TechEd πŸ™‚ It was pretty amusing to be there in a way. The other panelists were all Microsoft or Microsoft engrossed, and we all spoke about our careers, answered questions from the audience and just enjoyed being in a room full of women in the industry. It was good to get different perspectives particularly given how my experience is quite different from a typical IT career largely due to the awesome nature of the FOSS community, which went down pretty well. There were some good questions from the floor, and I spoke with one women from Malaysia afterwards for a while about the poor self-image of a lot of women in technology. It was a fascinating conversation and I learnt a lot πŸ™‚

Good day, now to work late to catch up :/

The Foundations of Openness

In March 2007 I went to Oxford University and worked on a paper about openness, a topic that had become vitally important as we were seeing more and more companies jump on the FOSS bandwagon with psuedo FOSS projects that were often not at all open. This had concerned Jeff and I somewhat and so we came up with a model that took into account 5 core themes – Open Source, Open Standards, Open Knowledge, Open Governance and Open Market.

A conversation with Dave Neary yesterday reminded me that I hadn’t published and needed to publish this paper. Many thanks to all those who contributed (attribution in the document) and to the Randy Metcalfe who worked very hard on this with me to bring it together, and of course Jeff for his enormous input and for coming up with the basis of this with me πŸ™‚

I have specifically blogged this, to gain feedback, create dialogue and hopefully inspire a raft of new ideas around this topic. People can also download a pdf here for printing purposes. I challenge people to apply the model to their own projects (FOSS and proprietary) to see how well it maps.

In March 2007 I went to Oxford University and worked on a paper about openness, a topic that had become vitally important as we were seeing more and more companies jump on the FOSS bandwagon with psuedo FOSS projects that were often not at all open. This had concerned Jeff and I somewhat and so we came up with a model that took into account 5 core themes – Open Source, Open Standards, Open Knowledge, Open Governance and Open Market.

A conversation with Dave Neary yesterday reminded me that I hadn’t published and needed to publish this paper. Many thanks to all those who contributed (attribution in the document) and to the Randy Metcalfe who worked very hard on this with me to bring it together, and of course Jeff for his enormous input and for coming up with the basis of this with me πŸ™‚

I have specifically blogged this, to gain feedback, create dialogue and hopefully inspire a raft of new ideas around this topic. People can also download a pdf Foundations-of-openness-V2-release.Β I have an odt file somewhere which I will try to find again. I challenge people to apply the model to their own projects (FOSS and proprietary) to see how well it maps. Have fun! Pull it apart! Update the document! πŸ™‚

UPDATE Jan 2015: The OSS-Watch crew took this paper and turned it into an app people can use to rate the openness of their software! Nice work guys! See the Openness Rating App by OSS-Watch, released December 2014.

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Foundations of Openness by
Pia Waugh & Randy Metcalfe is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License.

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TechFest, TechGirls, GeekGirls and Software Freedom

The last couple of weeks have been CRAZY! After getting back from my incredible Gung Fu week away, It was straight into everything. I flew back Saturday night, Sunday morning Jeff and I ran an OLPC TechFest in Sydney which had some amazing people come along, get talks about the OLPC server and XO projects, and then have some useful hacking time. In the middle of that I ran away to a wedding which was a big and wonderful Italian wedding, so Jeff was left holding the fort at the TechFest. There will be a more full report about the TechFest soon but there is a great write up by Sarah Maddox, so thanks Sarah! Awesome work by Martin Langhoff and Joel Stanley, who both totally rock!

A couple of days ago I spoke at a TechGirls event up at the Central Coast. I was the keynote speaker to about 200 girls aged 11-16 from the area, and it was fantastic! I got some excellent feedback (from girls and teachers alike) and I received this email which made it so incredibly worth it!

I thought you spoke extremely well and you have inspired me and my friends a lot. I aim to be a Graphic Designer sometime in the near future and you have encouraged me to follow my dreams. Up until today i was undecided if that was the career i wanted to pursue but after your speech today it has made my mind up. Thankyou very much for attending and sharing your views today. You have helped me choose my career.

Yes! I got a few other awesome emails and it was so exciting to have so many girls keen to get into IT.

Tonight was the third GeekGirl dinner in Sydney, which was awesome. Over 110 people (about 85% women) all getting together for an awesome evening of food, wine and talks. We had Claudia and another girl from Yahoo, and then Sara Falamaki, and all the talks were awesome. Then we played Guitar Hero for a while and it was a late night home. An awesome night and a major thanks to Damana, all the other organisers and to Yahoo for putting on such a great night πŸ™‚

I’m currently (and have been for a couple of years) President of Software Freedom International, the body behind Software Freedom Day which is coming up in September. This is an awesome day and we had over 330 teams from over 90 countries last year all taking the concepts of freedom, democratic software, and of course FOSS to the mainstream. All the teams generally do events that are locally relevant and you’ll see some teams have an entire village do a march, or a music festival, or, as Nepal did last year, a candle lighting ceremony πŸ™‚ It is a fascinating and exciting event and I’m so proud to be able to help make it happen. Anyway, we opened registrations for teams almost 2 weeks ago and we already have over 160 teams registered for this year! We are expecting around 500 teams. Check out the easy to browse map for teams near you, and register your event today! Only the first 300 teams get a team pack with shirts, stickers, badges, some CDs and more πŸ™‚


Lastly, one of my best friends Sue recently posted a whole schwag of photos on Facebook from our trip to China in 1999. It was one of the best trips of my life. I learnt a lot there and it reminded me how much I want to return! Below is a (kind of crappy) scan of one of my favourite photos!

Horseriding along the Yellow River (Huang He) in China

Yes, that is me with short, red hair and riding a young and very fast horse. The locals thought I was lost control but I galloped to the group in the distance and back again. It is one of my best memories πŸ™‚ There are also some photos of us at Shaolin Temple and more, but you’ll have to find me on Facebook πŸ™‚