June 2009

“Open source is not limited to “hackers doing it for love...”

Ted Leung

While there are over 60 names on the list of women in open source on the Geek Feminism wiki, there are far more than 60 women making their mark in open source. I work with talented people every day in my role as Vice President of Marketing and Developer Programs at the Linux Foundation, and see first-hand the contributions women make at the technology and business levels.

This article presents some of the techniques used by the Linux Foundation to encourage a culture of inclusion and to foster a wide variety of open source contributions.

Types of Contributions

The non-profit organization Women in Technology (WIT) reports that only 26% of employees in the computer and mathematical fields are women. We believe that this figure does not represent all of the women who contribute to make technology better. In the Linux and open source communities, women may not be employed by a traditional company included in the survey or have a job role directly labeled as a technologist. I work with a variety of women who enable technology but don't write code. While there are a lot of women writing code, it is important to look at technology contributions with a wider lens.

What constitutes a “contribution” in open source? This is a contentious topic, not just associated with gender roles. Many associate open source contributions only with code, discounting other roles such as marketing, writing, documentation, and conference organizing. Companies are often accused of not contributing if they don’t commit code, even if they provide other needed services such as branding, community building or documentation.

There is still work to do in regards to women in open source. There are conferences that still assume that a woman in attendance must be the partner of a developer. There are articles that stress that Linux is so easy to use, “even your girlfriend can use it.” What should we do to combat these issues? In one word: lead.

Culture of Inclusion

One of my job duties at the Linux Foundation is creating and leading Linux conferences. We stress the culture of inclusion, not just to women but to cultures, including the business culture which is often foreign to developers. At the Collaboration Summit and LinuxCon we foster inclusion. When we see non-inclusive articles, we comment and tell the author and editor that the tone of their article is damaging. At the news site Linux.com, we create and lead a culture that doesn’t abide discrimination or ignorance of inclusion.

Not everyone is in a position to create and lead inclusive conferences or online communities. Yet, open source is all about participation. Anyone can comment on an article or in an forum to combat discouraging or prejudiced items. By participating, you become a role model and can show women that they are not alone or under appreciated in those communities.

Some Linux Foundation Initiatives

We believe that non-development work throughout the Linux and open source ecosystems advances technology. A big part of my job is clearing the path to make it easier for development work and to connect people on common challenges and opportunities to drive important work forward. For example, the Linux Foundation hosts in-person and virtual forums throughout the year where people debate and surface resolutions on how to move Linux and other open source projects to the next level. This is specifically how we advance the Linux operating system to compete head-to-head with Windows. We believe in, and support, collaborative, mass development that takes place in person and online.

If you search the source for the Linux kernel, you will find my name. Not associated with code, but with a guide entitled How to participate with the Linux community authored by Jonathan Corbet. I saw a need for this guide and commissioned Jon to write it. Defining and commissioning the fulfillment of this need probably wouldn’t show up in survey numbers, but it definitely represents a contribution to open source.

We are especially excited about LinuxCon because it represents a "new generation" of event, where developers and users can collaborate on technical issues as well as network to build important professional relationships. This type of conference goes beyond the tradeshow format of yesterday to provide real value for the community. All too often, open source is viewed as an “old boy’s club,” and not just in regard to gender. At many events, business people, marketing folks, or users who don’t code aren’t made to feel especially welcome. There is often a hard core segregation between developers and users or business people. With Linuxcon, we describe the conference as a “big tent.” We are still looking for mini-summits or speakers who would like to participate, so contact me directly if you’re interested.

We see women participating in the Linux community through our newest project, Linux.com. Linux.com plans to host a "Women in Open Source" group where female colleagues can discuss and collaborate on work that is important to them.

The new Linux.com, which the Linux Foundation acquired from SourceForge earlier this year, also connects Linux users and developers. It provides a forum to collaborate on a variety of projects and topics while showcasing skills. For example, we the "Ultimate Linux Guru" point system recognizes active participation and significant contributions. This will be one way that women in the Linux and open source communities can surface their involvement and represent themselves to a broader group of people.

Invitation to Participate

We have provided a few examples of how women can become more involved in the community through the Linux Foundation. We encourage those interested to join the Linux Foundation as an individual member and to begin participating in our workgroups. We host a number of workgroups at the Foundation, including Moblin, FOSSBazaar and the LSB.

We invite all women participating in the Linux community, including beginners and veterans, to join our online Video Forum and to meet us at our events.

Recommended Resources

Amanda McPherson's Blog

Interview with Mitchell Baker of Mozilla



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