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Why Brit Ruby 2013 was cancelled and why this is not ok (gist.github.com)
134 points by seanhandley on Nov 18, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 222 comments

Hey Influx.

Every community has its dramas. Ruby just likes to make ours really really public :P

Ruby folks like to talk about passion for coding, so unsurprisingly controversies in Ruby are equally passionate.

One thing that is very much worth noting about the Ruby community is that when controversies happen, things change. Sometimes they're things like Zed Shaw flaming out of the community (which i'm still kinda bummed about), sometimes it means organizations like Railsbridge (http://workshops.railsbridge.org/ ) are formed.

But these are not needless controversies with no results. This stuff matters.

Passion is great, but why couldn't this have happened in e-mail instead of Twitter, perhaps the OP could have e-mailed the conference organizers with some names of some great Rubyists that had been overlooked, but would give a great speech. Win-win. Instead, the conference is canceled, and no one wins. :(

Even if we had perfect gender and ethnicity equality, probability tells us that we would still expect there to be some proportion of conferences where the best available speakers are all white and male.

In this case, there is self selection too. Britain is still predominantly white. And even as I accept that there must still be factors which make women feel less welcome, I remain convinced that even if no factors of unfair discrimination existed, more men than women would self-select technology careers.

These factors mean that we would expect even more conferences with all white and male speakers, still without unfair discrimination.

To pick out a single conference in our industry with this property is textbook selection bias [1] and doesn't demonstrate any kind of discrimination at all.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selection_bias

There is an old Russian joke about this:

Professors of a music school gather and try to figure out who to enroll ethnicity-wise. One of them says they should accept jews for every opening because they make perfect violinists. Another one tells they should accept russians only because it's a russian state after all. Then someone offers to to accept them evenly: five jews, five russians. But then there is an argument that jews only make up ten percent of citisens and therefore for nine russians they should accept one jew.

Finally, some rogue professor blames them all for being racists. What would you do!? They ask. Who to accept?

"We should accept those who are the best at playing violin!"

The same thing applies here, plus innocence until proven guilty. As long there are no facts that those speakers were selected by foul play, they should not cancel the conference. Anything else is racist.

Regarding sponsors who pulled support: who do you think gave them this idea? I have an answer you won't like.

I don't know, who did give them this idea? I'm brave enough to hear an answer I might not like.

People who occassionally consider race and sex of a person over everything else this person does.

Hey white dudes. I see you're pretty worked up. Non-white dude here to explain.

When you're white, and you're male, technology (as a career field) is pretty accessible. And here's why. You can open up a newspaper or a tech blog or whatever, and many of the major important people in the photos staring back at you basically look like you. And that's nice, because you can be reassured that someone with your background and origins has a place in technology.

If you're not male, or not white, you have to look a bit harder. Sometimes a lot harder, indeed, to find people who both look like you and are doing what you want to be doing professionally.

Now, you'll give me an argument that looks just shouldn't matter. That we should look at people's minds and ideas, not their skin color, in evaluating their contributions.

And while I'm sure such an ideal feels reassuring – it's bunk in this context.

Diversity of "race" is really a proxy for diversity of background, experience and origins. For maximizing the varieties of life story represented.

It's useful to do this because diversity of experience leads to diversity of solutions. Diversity also breeds further diversity, as people with wildly different backgrounds feel more welcome into the fold.

So when we see people helping to lead a community, and some of those people aren't like the majority, that's encouraging. It says that even though a given person is "different" from the norm, they are welcome, they may be successful.

Star Trek is lauded for this reason. Actor Nichelle Nichols was thinking of leaving the show. None other than Dr. Martin Luther King implored her to remain – he believed a black professional woman on television would be a crucial role model for young people. (In her childhood, Whoopi Goldberg is said to have screamed, "Hey Mom! Look! There's a black woman on the TV and she ain't no maid!")

And you may argue, well, why should diversity matter? Let some people do some stuff and other people do others. And I'll tell you that position, on top of being lazy, opens us up to many missed opportunities. In technology, we want as many different sorts of humans as possible all working on our hard problems. If STEM is a country club for white guys, that leaves out a huge chunk of the population who might otherwise make great contributions.

One last thing. When you say stuff like "Wull, shucks, what were they supposed to do? Find a token [non-white-male] to fill the spot?" you make it sound like you don't believe there are any people but white guys with useful things to say on the subject of the conference. Careful with that.

The barrier to entry to becoming a Ruby programmer is as low as can be: all you need is a laptop and internet access. You can become a celebrity without people even knowing your name, let alone your face: why_ (or _why or whatever) was at one point the biggest name in Ruby (AFAICT from outside), and he might have been a cat with a keyboard for all anyone knew.

On top of that, there's plenty of famous and powerful non-white engineers. And if you don't want to look at the top, look at your peers: in my university in America, whites are the minority in most gradute CS classes.

By all objective measures, this is the last industry where people should be subject to a witch-hunt and have their conference cancelled because of their speaker lineup.

> The barrier to entry to becoming a Ruby programmer is as low as can be

This isn't a conversation about being a programmer, however. This is a conversation about being part of a programming community. Successful assimilation into a community has numerous benefits for one's career prospects, social life and overall success. Exclusion can be correspondingly damaging.

As a result, programming communities all over the place are having a tough conversation: is this community sufficiently inclusive? Some are indifferent to the cause of inclusiveness. What's unfortunate is that those most indifferent seem so consistently to be those most already included.

So in this case, some people decided they were uncomfortable with the level of inclusion. That's a fair conversation to have.

(As it happens, while _why's true identity may have been a secret, his membership in the racial and gender majority group for his field is not:

https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q... )

> So in this case, some people decided they were uncomfortable with the level of inclusion. That's a fair conversation to have.

Certainly. But when the conversation turns into accusations of racism and a boycott (or feared boycott?) that ends with the sponsors running away and the conference being cancelled, it's a sign that the conversation has gone astray.

In fact, it's hard to even have a rational conversation on inclusivity in CS if we're already at the point where such things happen. We really need cooler heads to have a rational debate.

"If I was a poor black kid I’d use the free technology available to help me study. I’d become expert at Google Scholar. I’d visit study sites like SparkNotes and CliffsNotes to help me understand books. I’d watch relevant teachings on Academic Earth, TED and the Khan Academy. (I say relevant because some of these lectures may not be related to my work or too advanced for my age. But there are plenty of videos on these sites that are suitable to my studies and would help me stand out.) I would also, when possible, get my books for free at Project Gutenberg and learn how to do research at the CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia to help me with my studies."


The author of the linked Forbes commentary touches but fails to understand that most poor black kids in urban areas do not have convenient or easy access to a computer. If they're lucky, they'll have access to a working computer at their school. If they're really lucky, they may even live close enough to the public library to use those computers.

The author fails to grasp that a kid from Oakland, Cleveland, or South LA, has never heard of TED, or Academic Earth, or Khan Academy. He has no idea that there are free resources available online, and no reason to expect such.

But what can you expect? The Forbes article is written by a very wealthy, middle-aged, white man who had both parents and lived in a wealthy neighborhood.


They didn't "have their conference cancelled". They cancelled it because they felt pressure from their sponsors. Without more example or explanation, we have to take them at their word that the pressure was on level with a witch-hunt. If that's the case, that is indeed a poor state of affairs in terms of open debate and civility.

They cancelled it because they felt pressure from their sponsors.

I'm skeptical about this. The company I work for were the only sponsor formally announced on their site. We were behind them 100% and didn't have a clue about the controversy or the cancellation until we found out after they made their decision. It doesn't add up. If financial strain was a reason, why not contact us to see if we could help?

If I organised a conference, and failed to attract a single female speaker, especially in a community where sexism is a sensitive issue, I would immediately decide to cancel it of my own volition. I don't want to contribute to the type of things that make women feel excluded.

So if women choose not to be included on your activity, you would cancel it, because women would feel excluded? OK....

If I never took part in anything that didn't attract females (that were not family), I would have never learned anything, or seen any movies, or eaten any food...

That's a bit of a disingenuous comparison. Organizing a conference that should be representative of a very large, diverse community is not quite the same as organizing personal activities.

Doesn't that make the speaker lineup even more peculiar?

That's a good point, but keep in mind three things:

1) It's a process. We already have non-white people in top positions (both in the industry and in academia), so there's no lack of inspiration, but it takes time for those who have inspired to make their way through school and immigration. Right now there are multitudes of Indian and Chinese students in American universities: in a few years you'll see them at conferences. And that is already going to happen: they're certainly not going to drop out of their degrees and go home because some Brits were not diverse enough with their conference in Manchester.

2) From what I've seen, many of those students are more interested in enterprise or research applications than in doing web development with Ruby, so you might see them at slightly different conferences.

3) This particular conference was in the UK, not in America or in India or in China or in France. Let's be careful not to call the entire country racist just because it's mostly populated by whites.

The conference speakers, though, were not limited to being British.

I agree with #2, but Ruby is a fairly special case, in that its creator, and still one of its main contributors, is Japanese. So you can't make the argument "if only non-whites stepped it up in Ruby dev"...(but the argument that none of the Japanese speakers could make it/were affordable/wanted to come is still legit).

It's true that the speakers were not limited to being British, but it's more expensive for someone outside the country to attend (even with compensation, they'd still expend more time, undergo more stress, etc.). Also, it was a new conference, not a large and established one, so it seems natural that it would have mainly a local draw. They may have even made the choice to invite more local speakers, to promote the Manchester/UK tech scene, which would be a worthwhile goal for such a conference, although it's directly at odds with the diversity goal.

It's true that Ruby is a Japanese invention (I wonder if all these racists are aware of what they're bringing into their good ol' boys' club ;)), but as you note, Japan is so far away that there are still difficulties in participating in a little new conference in Manchester. Also, Ruby got its big break with Rails, which was developed in Chicago, I think, so the Japanese community might not have gotten as much of a headstart as one would expect. Or maybe they are using Ruby for far more interesting things than web development. I don't know.

Rails was developed when David Heinemeier Hansson was still in his home town, Copenhagen, Denmark. He was working part-time for 37signals, but it was several more years before he moved to Chicago.

Wow. Does anything of value get invented in an office environment?

> Also, Ruby got its big break with Rails, which was developed in Chicago, I think, so the Japanese community might not have gotten as much of a headstart as one would expect. Or maybe they are using Ruby for far more interesting things than web development. I don't know.

And I think that's the heart of the matter...The Japanese (or any number of non-European/American Ruby communities) could be doing something amazing...and we would have a hard time knowing, because of the inherent geographical and language barriers. That's why it's not just the "moral" thing to make an effort toward diversity, but it is a potential creative and intellectual boon.

In any case, the OP should've just included a statement saying, "we asked speakers x,y,z, for example, but each had a previous commitment, etc. etc. etc.". In fact, that's a point they should've made more prominently in the debate before canceling the conference.

You bring up good points as well, although I would disagree with one of your main assumptions:

"so there's no lack of inspiration" --> Really, can you point to the numbers?

Like I said, in my university in America I see a majority of non-white students in CS. I really can't see them thinking "can I really do this? should I be doing this? why is my face different from all the other computer guys' faces?". Heck, a huge chunk of the professors are also non-white.


It's cool. Everything is totally cool.

I haven't had a boss who wasn't a white male in nearly a decade, women are still harassed at conferences, and we can only find white guys to talk at a conference about a language invented by a Japanese guy.

But Camillo's class has foreigners in it, so everything is completely okay now.

There's a big difference between the composition of your university class and the social makeup of a professional community. Let's talk when you're out in your career.

anonymous was asking about a lack of inspiration. The fact that there are so many students shows that they are definitely being inspired to enter the field.

That last line is interesting. You lead up to presenting a scenario where one might rightfully expect a conference to naturally reflect a diverse speaker lineup, reflecting the diversity in the industry overall. I agree with that.

But I am not sure what you mean by the last line. Do you mean: 1: "This is the last industry where it should be necessary to criticise or cancel a conference with an all-male lineup [so the fact that this conference does in fact have an all-male lineup, in the context of this particular community having problems with sexism in the past, raises a huge red flag, and probably should be canceled]".

or do you mean: 2. "This is the last industry to have issues with sexism because we are so diverse, so when one conference comes along where this diversity is not represented, it shouldn't be an issue".

I find both reasonable I guess. Although considering the fact that this topic is already a sensitive issue, I lead more towards opinion 1.

FYI: I don't think the OP was talking about physical barrier to entries. That's all the more reason why such a big disparity between privileged males and all other minorities in programming should be frightening!

Please see my reply to hmahncke, it should address your point.

We are pretty sure _why is a white (afai can tell?) dude from France.

"Hey white dudes. I see you're pretty worked up. Non-white dude here to explain."

I'm a white dude whose biological parent is non-white dude who grew up in a disadvantaged socio-economic background, and I got to tell you that is probably one of the more offensive lines I have read recently. I am white and male and technology was not pretty accessible.

The only part I got lucky with was that the late 80's and early 90's had a class of entry computers that were wiped out by video game consoles and Windows. They were available and my Dad made one hell of a good decision. Schools who cannot afford vocational programs were not going to afford computer programming. If I had been born 10 years earlier or later then I would not be in a technology field.

I have seen too many people make assumptions based on race that should have been made on wealth and location. Using race as a proxy is wrong.

What opportunities does a young boy or girl from a disadvantaged background have to get into programming? Libraries and schools are not the answer. They have locked computers to keep people from being problems. There are programs to buy kids musical instruments but not computers. OLPC is basically a foreign aid program as you cannot go an buy a kid one.

You want some diversity, skip looking at what-is and look at the next generation. The C64 died in 1994, what was the replacement on ramp to programming. It sure as heck isn't the web browser. Our field is not diverse because of socio-economics. It costs almost like a young hockey player to be a good programmer.

// someone going to make that stupid inflation argument again and I would point to how the under $200 price point is still important (look at tablets)

I agree 100% with your point that coming from financial disadvantage keeps anyone out of technology, from any race. And that this is a big problem that we should solve.

But this is a conversation about existing technologists. About people being welcomed into a community as leaders versus being held at arms' length as outsiders. About the disproportionate representation of a single demographic in tech.

As to the race thing, I get it. It's an uncomfortable conversation to have. People work hard in their careers, it's uncomfortable for someone to come over and point out that they got there with the help of a ladder they didn't know they had.

Growing up poor sucks no matter how you look, no matter who your ancestors are. But let's also be real – growing up poor versus growing up poor plus the additional disadvantages that stack up when you're not part of the majority, those can still be very different experiences.

Look, the creator of Ruby is non-white, and if you think any conference wouldn't welcome him then I don't know what to say.

The existing technologists are by and large under 30 at these conferences (I won't go into the ageism to go with economic problems of computing), so they are a result of the no cheap entry barrier I talked about. Fixing the current demographic is long past solving.

I think your last line is presumptuous. I didn't get a +1 because of race, far from it actually.

> I think your last line is presumptuous. I didn't get a +1 because of race, far from it actually.

It's not about you.

It's about the many people, who because of race or gender, get a -5 or worse.

> Look, the creator of Ruby is non-white

All the more damning, I think.

> It's not about you.

There's the biggest problem. You only consider two criteria and leave all the rest. If you care about community and people, you care about raising all ships. We have a huge problem in computer programming that the financially well off are going to be the only ones who can put the years in to be very good. The kid whose parents cannot afford the piano isn't going to become a virtuoso without help and computer have been there since the late 90's.

I wonder how many people arguing only for those two criteria use the word "fly-over" or talk about middle America like everyone is mentally deficient.

I was refused an internship because the area code of my high school and the area code of my college were the same. That's socio-economic, because the state has one area code, no local help or guidance about getting scholarships (no internet either), and state school had scholarships & recruiters. Opportunities are not lost only because of two attributes.

Racism and classism are often interlinked, but they are both struggles in their own right.

There's a multiplicative effect. See the concept of intersectionality.

I think this argument falls flat on the face when people just do things they enjoy, like they might just enjoy programming. Do you really need permission to get into programming? I don't think so. On the internet, nobody even knows your skin color. If you like programming, just do it. When most of us started, it wasn't a trendy thing to do, we just did it because we enjoyed it.

What I find particularly vexing here: just a couple of years ago everybody was deriding the geeks hacking away on their computer, and didn't want to have anything to do with them. Now that they officially seem to have some fun, suddenly everybody wants in and the same people who made the nerds life hell 20 years ago by bashing them for their nerdiness now start bashing them for their alleged sexism and racism? What is wrong with people simply doing their thing? Why not leave such people alone, or join them if you enjoy the same things?

Edit: another thing, it seems this conference was simply organized by some Ruby developers who decided to give it a go. If people have a problem with it's structure, why don't they simply start their own conference?

  Do you really need permission to get into programming?
If this is the only factor that you think is stopping people from entering programming, then you're seriously mistaken.

A quick Google search brings up this: http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/hdh9/e-reserves/Williams_-_The_glass_...

Maybe also try watching this: http://www.missrepresentation.org/the-film/

A lot more happens behind the scenes than you seem to know (as indicated by your post.)

For me personally (working at a ruby startup in Toronto), this is the breakdown of people currently working in dev

1 white female 3 chinese canadian males 1 japanese canadian male 1 korean male 1 russian male (guess he counts as white) 3 white males 1 cuban male

We have 5 founders, only one is white, all are male. 2 are on the dev team, one is chinese (CTO), the other white

We have interviewed many, many people in the time I have been at the company, to my knowledge only two have been female, one of whom we hired.

This is normal in my experience with good shops. If I walk in the door, and it is wall to wall white guys, you are going to have a much harder time selling me on your company. This is regional, anecdotal, etc. I am not saying there is no problem, obviously there is one if we have only ever had 2 women try to get jobs at our company. But here at least, it isn't backroom racism. My guess it has a lot more to do with the boys club feel at pretty much all engineering faculties in north american universities.

I am not an expert on all the issues involved - who is? I think a lot of those studies are quite interesting and might not always say what they seem to say. I only skimmed a bit, for starters, your study seems to be from 1991 (or the women were interviewed up to 1991). Then I only glanced one text snippet where a man says "perhaps because it is so rare for a man to go into that profession, they think I am so special and think more or me". Note that your study is about men in typically female professions. For all I know, the reverse could be true for women in typically male professions. From my own anecdotal experience I think women in IT would get preferred treatment most of the time. Also (anecdote again), we actually chose the kindergarden for our son because they have a male kindergardener in it (I guess that makes me officially sexist), so I confirm the study...

Another study that made the rounds recently showed that even women seem to prefer to hire men over women. Sadly it didn't explore possible reasons, and references to motherhood diminishing "work value" were dismissed out of hand.

Sorry, no time to watch a movie.

Also, I agree that gender issues are complicated, but not necessarily that women get the worse cards. Men and women both face their challenges. Just an example, I happen to think that it is rather cruel that men are automatically expected to work while women raise their kids - it deprives men of one of the most joyful aspects of life. Also, men tend to die 10 years earlier than women on average. Just genes? Or perhaps more pressure and stress?

But that is not the main issue for me. I have to say that personally, I have little patience for the woes of employment. That is, I really don't care who gets promoted to what. At least in IT, if you don't like other companies, you can start your own. And 50% of the world are women (more, in fact), so even if men don't want to deal with you (which I doubt), there should be plenty of customers. (That's of course all over simplified...).

I don't doubt that there is inequality, but I think there are plenty of ways around it, that are open to everyone.

You don't need to be an expert to know that there's more to the situation than:

  On the internet, nobody even knows your skin color.
I agree with a lot of your points (Google's first search result wasn't the best study I guess :), but I don't think you've spent enough time researching the area to make broad statements:

  But I think there are plenty of ways around it, that are open to everyone.
Is that really true? I'm essentially trying to drive the same point home as anu_gupta.

I am just making this up on the spot, but as I explained here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4801900 I don't think wage discrimination can be the reason for fewer women/race x people in IT, because discrimination would range across all jobs, so the relative attractiveness of jobs would remain the same.

Edit: OK I have to clarify, I think there are certainly situations where you are fucked up. I am glad that I am not living in some dictatorship in the 3rd world, where my best option would be trying to flee the country with a 20% chance of survival.

I don't think circumstances in the western world are quite so bad, though. I think there are certainly a lot of jerks, but the place is big enough to avoid them and there are enough non-jerks to do business with. Just my guess, though, obviously I haven't done any studies on it. Also I only know Europe, not the US - but it's supposed to be a free country?

I am 100% sure that if you are a woman who can code, you can find employment in this economy.

> When most of us started, it wasn't a trendy thing to do, we just did it because we enjoyed it.

Actually you most likely started because someone you liked or admired, were friends with, were inspired by, or simply thought was cool, was doing it.

And that's sort of the point.

Well somebody had to be the first, though? And if it is just about seeing famous people in the media, why not get over yourself and admire somebody who has a different race or gender than you and follow in their steps?

I suppose it is more likely to be exposed to it if you are in the right neighborhood, although I don't want to invoke reverse stereotypes? Like I could say "in other neighborhoods people would perhaps be more likely to play basketball than to code", but that seems stupid and also racist?

Although I wonder about Playstation reach across communities?

At least white girls would seem to have the same odds for being friends with a white male nerd as other white boys, though? So perhaps they were much less likely to admire the nerd, which again was sort of the point I was making, I guess.

Don't know much about interracial friendships, where I grew up (Europe) there were not many non-white people when I was young.

Again, I am not denying that there might be statistical reasons why some people are more likely to be exposed to computers than others. From that it is a far step to call for affirmative action, though, because over time, those uneven starting points should fade away - at least when we talk about coding.

Also, it is nice to worry about, but I have to ask, why should I personally (as an example) have to worry about some kid somewhere else getting into programming? What if I am busy enough with my own problems? I think it is great that some people care about such things and take steps (establish special courses, conferences, advertisements, sponsorships and what not), but I don't think it should be expected from everyone.

> Well somebody had to be the first, though? And if it is just about seeing famous people in the media, why not get over yourself and admire somebody who has a different race or gender than you and follow in their steps?

Because not being part of the majority can make it feel as though you do not belong in a given career or sphere of human endeavor. Is that really so hard to grasp?

As I said, when many of "us" started, it wasn't yet the cool thing to do either. No, I don't understand what you are trying to say? What ARE you actually thinking when you make your career choices? Do you really think "I probably won't get a promotion because I am black(?), so in the long run I'll probably make more money as a garbage man? OK, garbage man it is..."?

I mean, I'll spontaneously zero in on that one argument: suppose people of race/gender x are known to make less money in a given career than people of another gender/race. Does that really explain why there would be less of those people in the given profession? Seems to me that for that to be true, there would have to be other professions where the disadvantaged people would earn more.

Is that really the case for IT? As a black(?) guy, are there other (legal) professions where you are likely to make more money than if you would go into IT? Presumably discrimination would range across all jobs (even white garbage men might make more money than black garbage men), so it should be cancelled out as a reason for choosing a career.

Sorry if I don't understand you, but when I got my first computer I was 12. I really wasn't thinking about my career. All I knew was that I liked computer games and that it was cool that I could make the computer do things (actually make things appear on the TV). How would your gender or race change your reaction in the same situation? I really don't get it. And by the way, at the time the computer games of the day were Pong and Pacman, so nothing violent that would drive away girls.

Edit: sorry for my extreme examples (garbage men), I just like to use ridiculous examples to make things clear but often people take that the wrong way. I mean I use them for the sake of logic, not to offend.

> As I said, when many of "us" started, it wasn't yet the cool thing to do either. No, I don't understand what you are trying to say?

No, you clearly don't understand anything that anybody who doesn't share your experiences is trying to say about this subject. This isn't about "coolness".

This is about whether or not something even seems like it's a possibility for someone. When I wanted to be in software, growing up, I didn't question whether or not it was something that "someone like me" could do, because everyone I ever saw, in magazines or books or on TV, was already like me. When I told relatives and strangers alike what I wanted to be when I grew up, they didn't discourage me or tell me that "people like me" couldn't be programmers. They didn't tell me that programming was a job for the other gender and that I was being silly for wanting to violate norms; they were supportive and encouraging, because everybody they knew of in software was like me.

Women grow up today, in 2012, being steered away from software because it "isn't for girls". Black kids grow up today, in 2012, being told that software isn't for people like them. White boys are statistically bought their own computer much earlier than minorities or girls, because it's seen by people as a logical career to encourage them in, thereby perpetuating the structural disadvantages that gave rise to the white male programmer as "norm" in the first place.

And every damn time someone dares broach the subject and advocate for putting a more diverse public face on the field so that it might actually stop being such a toxic monoculture, the white male majority roles its eyes and complains that they haven't experienced any of the problems that minorities are experiencing in the field, that they wouldn't have even noticed that a speaker line-up at a major conference was all just like them.

Of course you wouldn't have noticed that. That's the privilege that comes with being in the majority.

You went from "there are no role models" to "being actively told that you are not made out for x". Of course I understand the latter. This article was about a conference where by accident no minority group ended up on the speakers list. That is not the same thing as telling minorities "no, you can't do that".

But sorry, I am a white male, so I guess my very existence tells every woman and non-white person on the planet that they can not be a programmer? That just doesn't make sense. It's not my fault that black parents tell their kids not to go into computing, or that parents in general discourage girls to use computers.

I repeatedly said in my comments that I understand the statistical likelihood of people being less exposed to computers in their youth. But of course, you didn't read that. You only read what you wanted to read, which is "hey presto, here is another one I can vent my accumulated rage to".

Thank god people like you understand so much. You make the world a better place.

Also, who exactly tells black kids computing isn't for them? Any citations? The media? Parents? Gang members? Peers? Teachers? They really do that, they actively say "computers are not for you"?

> But sorry, I am a white male, so I guess my very existence tells every woman and non-white person on the planet that they can not be a programmer? That just doesn't make sense. It's not my fault that black parents tell their kids not to go into computing, or that parents in general discourage girls to use computers.

You're personalizing this as an attack on you when it's nothing of the sort. Nobody is claiming that anything is your fault. Unclench.

All anybody is saying here is that it'd be nice if, in addition to you and me and every other white male with a similar upbringing, there were a visible number of people of other people with dissimilar backgrounds to serve as inspiration to other groups of people. And that takes some effort on the part of community leaders and conference organizers to actually try contacting some of the brilliant speakers out there who come from diverse backgrounds, instead of just reaching out to a bunch of people like them and then throwing their hands in the air and hijacking the narrative with cries of tokenism when nobody is calling for anything of the sort.

You're a frequent, angry voice in gender-related discussions on HN. You really need to walk away from the computer and start asking yourself some hard questions about why it is that people talking about this issue is making you so angry and defensive when it is in no way, shape, or form an attack on you.

> Also, who exactly tells black kids computing isn't for them? Any citations? The media? Parents? Gang members? Peers? Teachers? They really do that, they actively say "computers are not for you"?

Yes. Yes to all of the above. People really say that. All of those groups actually send that message to kids. If you really don't understand how systemic this is, why do you feel so strongly correct in your opinions? Danilocampos gave his account. Another in mentioned briefly here: http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/11/tech/innovation/black-tech-ent... . There was a linked blog post on HN not too long ago of a black woman giving her account of how she came to be in the industry, and the push-back she received from her father, who didn't feel it was a sensible career for someone like her. I cannot for the life of me manipulate the search function into turning it up for me, though.

I don't think BritRuby had to be cancelled because "it would be nice to have more diversity". Of course this is an attack - and since I am a white male, it is also an attack on me.

I would actually welcome more diversity, I just don't think people should be blamed for not making the extra effort. It's nice that some people have figured out how to attract women to IT, and I am sure more and more people will learn from them. In the meantime, the people who don't know how to do it yet are not evil, they just were more concerned about other things.

And I am sorry, but laws that prefer a specific gender or race just seem unfair to me (that is what is bein pushed in Europe), so that makes me angry.

As for black parents and so on discouraging their kids to go into IT: how about educating those parents then, instead of blaming "white males"?

Thank you so very much for making this point in this way. I wasn't sure how else to explain something so seemingly obvious.

Well you seem to have made it into IT against all odds. Must have been quite the battle.

People are trying to discuss this seriously, and all you have is passive aggressive sarcasm?

This isn't a personal attack on you and your lifestyle and your people. It's a call to broaden the church.

The problem is many of them take it as a personal attack, as evident by the comments here, and they can't even see how that is the problem.

I'm really proud of some of the comments like yours, danilocampos', and msbarnett's. It's just a shame you're being met with the same crap most of these conversations have in the programming community.

"many of them"

Oh the irony...

Of course it is an attack. A conference was shut down. If in the future all conferences have to make an effort for diversity, it is a tax on all of us - so it is an attack. If somebody gets my job because they are female or black, it is an attack. If I get blamed for not making an extra inclusive effort, it is an attack.

Actually I think what makes me angry is that notion that white men have handed everything to them on a plate. That is very far from reality, and dismisses a lot of human experience. Life is much more complicated than the height of your paycheck.

(I'm going to take your disrespectful sarcasm for the challenges of my career at face value.)

It's funny you say that.

Despite the fact that all my talents were related to computers and technology, I never thought to pursue an actual career there. I did briefly, when I was 12, but as time went on, it looked less and less practical because:

My mom had no opportunities to interact with people in that industry and knew nothing of technology herself, so there was no clear path to my making a career of it.

With no one in tech I could point to whose life background seemed similar to my own, I had no confidence I could forge such a path on my own.

Eventually I did forge that path and got where I needed to be. But how nice it would have been to align my education properly with my career direction. How nice it would have been to see some hispanic people in a more obvious, prominent position to assure me there was a place for me there. How nice it would have been to ease into this career with internships instead of credit card debt. But that's not the way it is. And that's okay. I'm doing great now. But I want to make sure it's better for the next guy.

My parents weren't in IT either. I just went through high school like any other kid. I only decided in the last minute to then go to university to actually study maths.

Sure, it would have been nicer to be surrounded by math people, but I think you overstate the challenge you face just because your parents were not in IT.

It is normal for kids to not have a lot of confidence in all sorts of things. That is why you get to be kid for quite a while before you have to make serious decisions about your life.

Sure, it would be nicer for some things to work in another way. I am very interested in how to properly support kids. But I think you overstate the factor of race in your case.

Actually, just a theory, but I think one problem of racism is that people who are discriminated against end up attributing more of their problems to their race than what is actually true. "Boss didn't trust my opinion? Must be because I am a woman" - but perhaps she was just new at the company so the boss preferred to ask somebody he knows he can already trust. And so on...

Actually you most likely started because someone you liked or admired, were friends with, were inspired by, or simply thought was cool, was doing it.

Do you have any evidence to back that up? Most people I know who program started because they were fascinated by it. Certainly when I started coding on my C64 I didn't know anyone else who programmed. Not everything has to be social.

Just like women were so busy playing with barbies and learning where the best tanning salon is to go from their mothers, right?

Stop generalizing. What do you think racism is?

I know of a handful of non white male programmers who are vocal and prominent members of the community, they exist, but they are hugely in the minority. That is the problem, what you see at conferences is a manifestation of THAT problem.

I do not know the organizers at this conference, but I know people who have been put in a similar situation, even when as organizers they are non white males. For example, Rebecca Murphy getting accused of sexism when she organizes a conference. Even when she has done way more for the cause then the people calling for her head.

As a conference organizer, you ARE put in the position of either finding token minorities, or facing a backlash. Who talks at a conf is based on who submits talks. If you end up with a situation where you have no submissions from minorities, or going on merit, the few minority submissions don't really make the cut, what do you do? It sucks for the organizers, and it sucks for the people who are asked to speak, since they never know if it is based on merit, or based on the fact that they aren't white men.

I agree that it is easier to envision yourself in a role if you have role models to look up to, but I don't agree that its mandatory. The counter example is sports, it stayed white until the strictures were removed and then became talent driven. The goal of a sports team is to win games which is a wonderfully crisp way of prioritizing recruiting.

The goal of startups (and a lot of companies) is to ship code and so talented people get hired regardless of their race, religion, or sexual orientation. In fact tech has something of a reputation for hiring "weirdos" as really talented technical folks are valued even if society at large discriminates against them. Just as true for the LGBT folks as it is for the non-white folks.

So the barrier to entry for becoming a Ruby star is essentially zero, laptop and a free AWS instance. And the market is demonstrably talent driven not 'class' driven.

You will have a hard time trying to convince me that the lack of non-white guy talent/leadership in the Ruby community has anything to do with race.

Non-white Ruby programmer here to explain:

There aren't that many Ruby (or Python) programmers compared to say Java, PHP, or C++. There are even less Ruby programmers who want to make a 30-60 minute presentation on Ruby, let alone have the time to travel to some city in the UK. When you add a requirement for race in addition to skill, experience, and motivation; at this time you're probably not going to get anyone.

The main reason people go to programming conferences is mainly all about what's being specifically presented. Most people in tech don't care about ethnic group; they care about results. As someone else already posted, even when programmers go to see someone; it's really really rare that they even know what they look like unless their last name gives it away.

Star Trek references and all I have a feeling you will like this keynote from YAPC::NA 2012, "Perl: The Next Generation". Like he says, demographic diversity is the canary in the coal mine.


You couldn't be more right but I still don't see how it makes shutting down Brit Ruby okay. White guys like me have white privilege and though white dudes like me sometimes know this intellectually it's easy to forget because no one is reminding us of it. So yeah, you're right about every last thing you said but you didn't really address this particular conference.

There are ways to go about this sort of thing and while the issue deserves attention and the situation needs to be addressed, shutting down a conference over it doesn't do anyone any good. I don't think its really an issue of minorities being excluded so much as is it an issue of minorities not being included. There's a subtle difference.

Thank you for this.

Well put!

I really hope the responsible trolls (e.g. John Susser, James A Rosen) on Twitter reflect on what they have done with their careless and frankly ignorant comments, and also that Brit Ruby 2013 finds new sponsors as soon as possible.

I still believe there must be a chance Brit Ruby 2013 is going to be reality. Don't give up, guys.

I can't fathom any definition of trolling that would include any of the comments that John Susser made about this issue (there's a grand total of 6 of them).

I have no doubts that once the ball got rolling, people were quick to throw around all kinds of accusations of sexism and racism (which to be fair, I don't think characterizes the Brit Ruby organizers at all.)

Pointing out that an otherwise interesting conference is less interesting because of a lack of diversity of the speakers isn't trolling.

Why is it less interesting, why does skin color matter? Would be it be less interesting if all speakers wore plain white t-shirts too? Why do you care at all about anything other than the content/experience?

Your comment implies that you think that content/experience is orthogonal to a diverse speaker group.

I strongly disagree. I think a diverse speaker group leads to overwhelmingly better content and experience.

I think this extends much further than gender or race, however. I think this extends to the totality of human experience. I have a great interest in seeing the technical community encompass as wide a range of people as possible.

I want this partly for reasons of equality and fairness, and partly for purely selfish motivations (plainly that I want to work in an industry made up of people with a wider range of experiences, it makes me happier).

I think conflating a desire to see a diverse population of speakers to people's t-shirts probably means that you and I aren't going to see eye to eye on this subject. Which is fine, as I don't think you're a racist, or sexist, or a terrible person.

I do feel pretty confident betting that in 200 years, we'll see a much more heterogeneous makeup of both speakers and conference attendees, regardless of whether an active effort is made to make that so (it'll happen eventually).

Some might say if that's the case eventually, than shouldn't people just pretend that it's the case now (in which case drawing attention to gender and race is actually doing more harm than good).

I'd argue that if people agree that that's what the future is going to look like, and by most accounts, that seems like a better future, than why the hell aren't we doing more to turn the present into that future.

A diverse population doesn't necessary mean different skin colors. In this case diversity, to me, would mean people that work on different technologies, proprietary vs open-source, web/mobile/enterprise etc, small studios vs big co vs freelancers; it's a software conference. I don't give a damn what a speaker looks like, and also don't have any reason to assume they share anything besides being british and liking Ruby. And what about women, why did nobody complain?

I do support pro-activity measures in education/work, but I don't think being conscious (or "pro-active") about inequality all the time does much good for equality either.

A diverse population absolutely means different skin colors. And different genders; and different income brackets; and different religions (including lack thereof).

The world is an incredibly diverse place. Full of people, all with different experiences. I argue that the more all of those people get exposure to one another, the more we can all learn from one another.

And I don't mean in a "everyone has an interesting life story to tell" way. I mean that our experiences absolutely inform our thoughts and decisions. This is as true for thoughts on technology as it is for any others.

Everything that you (and by you, I mean all of us) have to say, everything that has shaped your outlook on the world (including but not limited to technology) is inexorably linked to the sum total of things which have happened to you.

And if I grew up somewhere else, or am of a different gender, or have a different religion, than that's less total perspective that I have to inform my decisions.

So I don't care what specifically a speaker looks like; but I do care that huge sections of the population are way less likely to be sharing their experiences.

And if you read the tweets which seemed to cause all of this, the overwhelming majority are people complaining about a lack of women, including numerous ones listing groups and people the con organizers could reach out to if they wanted help in trying to make the speakers more diverse (advice the organizers seemingly took to suggest that they should select some woman speakers to "balance out the male-heavy selection"; which isn't what was offered).

I can appreciate that you don't think every situation should be an excuse to rail against inequality, but I think it's important to be conscious of these things.

Well, we don't seem to be talking about the same thing; I was talking of a diverse population in the context of a technology conference. Despite personal contact being a huge part of it, the focus for presentations is on technology, not people. Selecting for cultural diversity is not a goal - it could be, but it shouldn't be a crime if it isn't.

Can someone provide links to the trolling and the careless and ignorant comments and the accusations of sexism and racism that you're all talking about?

The worst I could find was this from Josh Susser that apparently started the ball rolling: "Nice speaker lineup for @BritRuby. Except for the 100% white guys part."

Did pointing this out drive sponsors away? Or were there some stronger statements I missed?

I saw many tweets offering helpful advice on diversity to the organizers. I saw a lot of discussion about whether and how it is possible or desirable to have a diverse set of speakers. I still haven't seen any accusations of sexism or racism but I have seen a lot of complaints about those accusations which I can't find.

Can someone provide links to the accusations?

This is all I could find. The @britruby account has deleted some of their tweets too.


I'd suggest a kickstarter project for this. That way nobody is out any money until the conference is a fact. Conference goers would be given their ticket as a pay-off for sponsoring the project.

Assuming that kickstarter would allow a construction like that.

Unfortunately it is hard to impossible to organise a conference on that basis. You need to have money down to pay for venues, etc. well in advance.

Oh please. These guys had no reason to believe their criticisms would lead to Britruby's cancellation. Many events get criticized for many reasons and the event orgs don't run away and cancel the event. If the sponsors pulled, then blame the sponsors.

Looking at the "trolls" I can't see any trolling. I see people criticising the conference for fair reasons that they care about, and trying to be helpful after initial snarky tweets.

This is not trolling. And I absolutely agree with their criticisms.

So, from the outside looking in knowing this is a tough subject to "sum up" in a few paragraphs ...

What's the end goal? I find it incredibly more insulting, demeaning, and counter productive to include someone JUST because they are white, black, female, asian, etc. It's just as discriminatory as excluding them.

In fact, in my opinion, it's far worse. It's discrimination masquerading as equality.

You want everyone treated equal? Awesome. The best speakers get in, period. You vary from that in either direction, and you are embracing inequality.


I think HN needs to read Garann Mean's kickass blog post on "meritocracy" again:


Thanks for this link, hadn't seen it before. Made me go and find:


Which was the only freely available on line copy of the original essay I could find.

I don't know what to make of this. I tend to feel that if you want to accuse someone of racism or sexism then you have to be sure it was deliberate. The accusations can be so damaging that it's irresponsible to sling them about freely without due care or thought.

I don't think that playing the discrimination card before getting your facts straight is the best way to encourage improvement. In the case of the accusations made, the people making them have contributed nothing. What they have done is deny the minorities they were supposedly defending an opportunity to speak at a large conference, because the whole damn thing has been cancelled as a result.

A commenter on the OP said:

> This is awful. The accusations are a disgrace. Have considered suing for libel?

This may be actionable on Brit soil where libel laws are tougher, but not as likely in the U.S., which is a good thing. As far as I can tell from the OP, the circumstances were:

1. The lineup was indeed all white and male 2. People alleged that the organizers of being racist and sexist.

The OP used the word "allegations"...and if every allegation based on the reading of the facts were grounds for libel, then most of HN discussion would be shut down.

(Think about every time Zynga, Groupon, or even Apple, is discussed.)

It's disconcerting to see the hacker community so blithely call for the courts to step in when freedom of expression infringes upon their viewpoint.

Github comments are getting closer to YouTube in terms of quality— especially when an issue or gist is linked on reddit. You'll see a flood of image macros and memespeak derailing any meaningful conversation.

It doesn't surprise me to read such comments. It just saddens me.

Dear God! As if it wasn't hard enough to arrange a conference, apparently you have to make sure to invite every minority as a speaker at that conference too. I'm not even in the ruby community, but judging from the python/django community, assembling a team of good speakers is hard enough already.

Having only white male speakers is a sign that something _might_ be wrong, but it seems that a number of people took it as a sign that something _is_ wrong. If there was evidence that action was taken to avoid having minority speakers, then sure, throw a tantrum. But saying there might have been bias, so it needs to get shut down - that's not fair to anyone.

It is not ´careless words´ that caused this. After all, everyone is entitled to express their opinion.

What really caused this is the climate where it is ok for women to meet without the least danger of being accused of sexism. It is the climate where it is ok for blacks to meet without any danger of being accused of racism. It is the climate where it is VERBOTEN for white guys to meet, even if the topic is something totally neutral like Ruby and the attendance is self-selected.

Please tell me more about how awful it is to be a white guy in Western society.

To all of you trying to justify this, I only have this to say. I am sorry to have to repeat the obvious but it is true and it needs to be said.

The best test for injustice in all these situations, if you are unable to see it staring in your face, is just to turn it round. Imagine the best rubyists just happened to be all black and their conference was cancelled because they were all black. If you still think it was justified, I have nothing more to say except: `Please, beam me up, Scotty!'

Every group is concerned about their own problems. You can say the same thing to women who are fighting for gender rights "Well, you have it great, think of how bad black people have it. You have no right to complain."

How racist of you.

Greetings. As an active feminist and a Python programmer who may organise this sort of thing in the future, this is a fascinating discussion. On one hand, diversity is exceptionally important for a multitude of reasons, and there must be an effort made to make people of other ethnicities and genders feel welcome and represented. On the other hand, personally I know that "white dudes" significantly outnumber everyone else in the tech scene here in the UK. There definitely are, for instance, women who are fantastic programmers and would give amazing talks, but they may not be able to make the conference. It is also, I think, a difficult line to walk between encouraging diversity and tokenism.

I think what I'll do is bring this up as a point of discussion at our next meeting (interestingly, our feminist group meets at the tech community "hub" in Brighton) and see how our members feel the best way to approach an issue such as this in a constructive and positive manner.

I don't get this. What should be in focus is not your gender, nor your race. It is the talk you are going to give which should be the focus. I don't care if you are a man a woman, an indian, a japanese and so on. But I deeply care about the talk being interesting.

That said, I would much prefer having diversity in the speaker lineup - it makes for more interesting talks in general. I am also for biasing toward the minority: If you have, say, only one woman who applied there should be a good reason to reject her.

The problem is statistics. If there are only a few women who are applicable - simply due to the sad fact that there are so few women in the field - then there will be a lot of conference where random selection will mean there are no women in the lineup. That is, you have to weigh the chance of an all-white-male lineup to occur at random toward the fact that people where chosen to be all-white-male.

What this tells me is that a significant part of the Ruby community is racist and sexist.

The proper approach is to utterly ignore the race and sex of people. Anything else is racist and/or sexist.

There's a ton of literature on the topic if you care to look, but in short: this simply does not work due to societal assumptions and levels of privilege.

It's a non-starter to "not care", because privileged groups automatically get their foot in the door.

That's just utter nonsense.

(You haven't even defined what you mean by "working" and "not working." But let's assume you mean that certain groups have an advantage in society.)

I'm a white male. I'm not particularly attractive. I am not able to exhibit certain class indicators. I am not very sociable or "cool." And I don't agree with mainstream ideology. Also, I don't have many social connections.

All of these are a pretty big disadvantage compared to, say, a black person with relevant social connections, or a handsome and suave white male, or an attractive female.

But at the end of the day, meritocracy still rules, and if you're good enough, you can get by just fine on merit.

That's just reality, and it "works" just fine.

And if there is any correction I want to advocate for publicly, it's certainly towards merit and away from any other factor. Any other factor ought to be irrelevant and is just going to change the balance of unfairness rather than improve the situation.

And, fortunately, in a free country (and even a semi-free country like the USA), merit is an absolutey overwhelming advantage.

That doesn't mean reality is fair. It's not. It will never be. Forget "fair." What we want is for things to be just.

And when you start discriminating based on race or gender, for any reason, you stop being just.

Can we all please get over this ridiculous idea that we are perfectly rational agents in some free-market meritocratic utopia? People are irrational, biased, accident-prone, living things. That alone precludes unbiased judgements of another person's "merit".

I mean, come on. We're programmers. We have jobs because of how much people screw up.

I don't disagree with anything you're saying.

Racism and Sexism are not bad because they involve race and/or sex. They are bad because they imply that you are judging a person before first knowing that person well enough to pass sound judgment.

The real lesson here is that the internet is an echo chamber for context free judgments.

It's rather clear through their actions and words that the organizers didn't have the goal of diversity when choosing the speakers. That was their mistake.

No, that doesn't make them sexist pigs. But that's a pretty serious oversight to make for the people who are curating a Ruby conference for England in the year 2012. Their sponsors are right to pull out for such an error.

>It's rather clear through their actions and words that the organizers didn't have the goal of diversity when choosing the speakers. That was their mistake.

Why is diversity a noble goal in choosing speakers? Like he said, would it have been better to choose 90% of their desired lineup and then seek to fill the remaining 10% with minority speakers just for the sake of diversity?

You may want to consider how your second sentence reads. It seems to imply that minority speakers would not be part of the desired lineup to begin with, and that they could only possibly be included "just for the sake of diversity".

Anyway, it's not about saying "gee, we better pick an Indian or two to meet our quota." It's about including minorities in the pool to be considered in the first place. That few or none were chosen indicates that that probably wasn't the case.

And this isn't about calling people out as big fat racists. Hardly anyone believes, in their heart of hearts, that people unlike them are inferior. But we all have unconscious biases like that[0], and many folks are starting to demand that people account for that in their decisions.

[0] Plenty of people are great at lying to themselves about it, too. Search for the phrase "I'm not racist, but" on Twitter sometime.

That still doesn't answer the question. Your response seems to suggest, as did Luigi's, that the organizers should have made a conscious effort to include women and minorities on the panel. The question is, why?

Because they evidently were unable to make an unconscious effort?

This is why I (sadly) consider myself a feminist -- we're still far away from equal opportunity -- where making an effort to overcome cultural bias in the form of sexism isn't needed. The number of commenters here and on the linked article that assume that a selection that includes only white males, clearly must be the correct one filled with all the most qualified speakers from England illustrates this point.

I'm not really supporting the idea of shutting down the conference over this -- I do see why someone might have raised the issue on Twitter. I don't quite see how it could (reasonably) go from there to cancellation of the event.

This sounds a lot like a tempest in a teapot to me -- the real issue seems to be that their sponsors were spineless twats. But then again, that seems to be what you get for trusting the invisible hand to help you get things done.

The question that needs answering is not how they should have gone about selecting a diverse group of speakers, but if they should have. What's the value of diversity on a technical panel?

I'm not saying that diversity has no value, or that the speakers were the best possible speakers who just happened to be white men. I'm saying that, if you're going to claim that the speakers should be diverse, you need to justify that claim. Is it better to have diversity in speakers than the most technical accumen, or is it your argument that the best group of speakers will likely be diverse? What about when they're not? Why is diversity important?

Now, for what it's worth, I believe the best group of speakers probably would be diverse, but only by virtue of the racial and gender composition of the set of experts, not because diversity itself has any significant value in this case. That the selected speakers were white men may be evidence of a suboptimal selection process, or it may be simply a statistical anomaly. What it isn't, is a problem in its own right.

> Because they evidently were unable to make an unconscious effort?

What evidence? If they choose speaker based on purely technical factor and ended up with all white-male, why must they change the result?

I think the assumption is that given that other successful conferences have had speakers that were good (technically), that were non white/male, that if such speakers had been considered for this conference, the organisers wouldn't have ended up with a lineup of 100% white & male speakers.

You're right though that we have no real evidence for this, this is just a natural assumption to make given the evidence we do have (the lineup).

As a poster said above me, this could have possibly been mitigated by publishing who they considered and possibly even selected that were non-white/male and couldn't make it. (this would give us some of the evidence you mention).

You didn't answer the question.

It was not my intention to come across that way. The person I was replying to took the position that diversity should be a huge focus when choosing the speakers.

I don't know whether or not minorities were considered in the first place, but if they were and none were chosen we would still be sitting in exactly the same position. I have no doubt that there are loads of great minority Ruby developers, but that doesn't necessarily mean they live in London, are available on the given day or are interested in conducting a presentation.

I don't think it's entirely implausible that the hosts chose their speakers fairly and ended up with this selection.

luigi is not talking about filling some gender/race quota, but infers from the tone of the OP that representation of race and gender wasn't something remotely important to the organizers.

It makes them indifferent to the question, not hostile.

I think languages like Ruby and Python have reached a point where they are so popular and accessible that it's time to get as many people engaged in using them as possible.

  > It makes them indifferent to the question, not hostile.
Or ignorant of the issue. Which isn't necessarily the same as indifferent.

Nice blaming of the victim, buddy. It seems that you are coming from a very loaded position here.

It's one thing to say "you must not discriminate because of race or sex". That's racism and sexism and we all find it abhorrent (or at least, I would hope so from HN's readership). But is the fact that they had a non-diverse lineup of speakers proof that they explicitly excluded non-whites and non-males from participating? From what we know, that's not really the case. Ending up with a lineup of white male speakers, at a Ruby conference in England in the year 2012, is not at all an unlikely outcome for a selection process that ignores race and gender. I think you understand this.

But you're saying something else. You're saying that they should have made it a goal to have a diverse panel, by specifically taking into account race and gender to override other factors and get the diversity makeup you want. Don't immediately think of merit, either: it could have taken something such as offering a larger subsidy to get that one female speaker they wanted who had initially declined, or to fly in someone from Japan. Whatever it took, they should have done it, because the race and gender makeup has to be what you decide.

That's not being non-racist and non-sexist. That's positive discrimination, or affirmative action. It's a somewhat controversial policy that might have its place to rectify situations of long-ingrained oppression and prejudice, but it's certainly not the required standard for being non-racist and non-sexist in all situations. Certainly not at a conference for Ruby programmers in England in 2012!

Mind you, explicitly aiming for a diverse panel is still a fine goal for a conference organizer. But that's not to say that it should be the primary goal of all tech conferences in the world, and that any organizers who fail to put it at the top of their agenda should be publicly tarred and feathered as racists and have their conference boycotted and cancelled.

As well-meaning as I'm sure all people involved are, some parts of the tech community have reached a level of paroxistic politicization that will be detrimental to the community itself. We're going to lose conferences, and we're going to lose people who feel uncomfortable with this forceful imposition of ideological attitudes.

Why should that have been their goal? This isn't a conference about racial issues or gender issues.

Should they have also made it a goal to include a token gay speaker? But then they're discriminating against people who don't fit into the standard classification of gay and straight!

There's no reason it should be a goal of a conference organizer to have a diverse collection of speakers, just to put on display how not-racist and how not-sexist they are. They should of course not discriminate against a speaker for those things, but to make it a goal to seek out diversity is perverse.

"monochromatic"? Har har.

Ha! Didn't even think about that.

To play devil's advocate for a moment--would you rather go to a conference with diversity as its goal, or one with quality speaking?

(And I'm not suggesting either is the worse choice, or that they are mutually exclusive!)

Then why are we speculating about counter-factuals?

There are women in the Ruby community, and they are interesting speakers who have done interesting work. There's no need to ask folks to prevaricate about whether diversity or quality are at odds.

Yes, there are women in the Ruby community who fit that criteria. But the question isn't whether there are women, it's how many of them are there vs how many men are there with similar qualifications? If there are 100 men for every 10 women (which doesn't seem too far off based on my experience), then it isn't unrealistic to have a panel of 6 composed entirely of men with no gender discrimination taking place.

Both quality and diversity of speakers should be goals when curating a tech conference. And I think it's quite achievable, and has been achieved. Here's one example, just to the north:


>> "Both quality and diversity of speakers should be goals when curating a tech conference"

Absolutely not. It should be based purely on merit in exactly the same way academic conferences are organised.

So they shouldn't be arranged along the same lines as academic conferences? Please.

I know of two interesting data points here, actually. In the state of Maine, there were 3 programs which allowed high school students to simulate the state government (write bills, hold committee hearings, etc).

Boys State / Girls State: Open to the two best students from each high school in the state. Had a reputation for being incredibly boring, largely because there were few differences of opinion.

Model State: Open to any student who wanted to come. This featured intense debates and was generally awesome.

Similarly, the best programming conference I ever attended was Lightweight Languages 1 at MIT. There were about 30 attendees who worked on major open source programming languages and on academic research languages. The Perl people and the Python people and the Scheme researchers got into some really intense and amazing debates, because they came from intellectually diverse backgrounds.

Given these experiences, I actually favor diversity of opinions and backgrounds over speaking ability. Of course, I'd rather have both.

What makes you think women and men will have different opinions about software development based solely on their gender?

I interpreted angersock's question to be about diversity in general, and not specifically gender diversity.

For me, this is more of an observed relationship (with an overly-small sample size) than any kind of well-formed theory. Diversity of background seems to be correlated with diversity of ideas, which in turn seems to be correlated with fascinating discussions.

Counter-devil's advocate: Yeah! Let's have a real conference, not one with all those minorities-who-aren't-very-good-at-ruby...

This sounds remarkably similar to "women are too hysterical to vote", doesn't it?

Why can't the goal just be to get the best speakers available? They know what their local community is most interested in and I assume would be inviting speakers based on that, not any type of racist or sexist agenda.

If your goal really is to get the best speakers available then you should find a way to do the selection without knowledge of the reputation and demographic details of the applicants. The classic study is from orchestra hiring:

"Using data from audition records, the researchers found that blind auditions increased the probability that a woman would advance from preliminary rounds by 50 percent. The likelihood of a woman's ultimate selection is increased several fold, although the competition is extremely difficult and the chance of success still low." http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/A94/90/73G00/

The question to ask is whether the conference organizers made any efforts to do something like this, or whether they assumed that because they are nice people all their decisions must be completely unaffected by any consideration other than the most objective judgment of presentation quality. Many naive people believe their motives are pure but inevitably they're not for any human who actually exists in the real world. We all have to do some work to compensate for that.

That can certainly be their goal, but finding sponsors for a conference that is seen as exclusionary is going to be tougher. Another insiders club meeting isn't something I'd want to sponsor, with or without the bad press.

This is going to be a long reply. I hope people take the time to read it before responding, because this issue comes up a lot in many walks of life, and there's no easy answer.

I spend some of my free time doing international recruitment for my alma matter. One question I get asked occasionally is about affirmative action, which is effectively what we're talking about here. To be honest, I don't find the post-mortem being linked to particularly productive or helpful: if anything, it shows a lack of empathy:

> "It doesn't matter who speaks at a conference, as long as they're capable, interesting and relevant. That's what matters: content, not style"

This is a frequently made argument against affirmative action. It's based upon the assumption that the only purpose of college (or, in this case, a conference) is to learn. However, that's not true. Conferences provide social opportunities, and a chance to interact with your peer group. Some people argue conferences are primarily networking opportunities first, learning second.

Because of this, you ideally want to attract as wide a group as possible. Organizers can attract this wide base by providing a diverse group of speakers.

There have been in the past several posts here on HN about women being treated very badly at conferences. We know that sexism (and racism) can and does happen. Ensuring that your conference audience is diverse can help mitigate this. To have a diverse audience you need to consider what barriers might exist: perhaps an all-male caucasian panel is one such barrier.

> "Turns out, a lot of the famous Rubyists are white guys and all of the ones who said they'd like to come were, indeed, white guys."

This may well be true. But perhaps the pool of speakers was rather self selecting. Colleges like the one I went to spend a considerable amount of time and money actively engaging with minority groups, because those minorities might not otherwise consider applying. The same is true for conferences.

If you're organising a conference, or any public event, you need to be aware of these. In the UK you're required by law to have a disability access policy for your public event: why not spend the time to put together a diversity policy as well?

This whole situation is very sad. I don't think the conference should have been cancelled. People could have approached the organisers with their concerns in private first - it doesn't look as if this happened. Stuff snowballs on Twitter. Nobody comes out smelling of roses here.

However, it does also seem that the conference organisers didn't give particular thought to diversity at their event. The bottom line is these are very sensitive issues. There is no right answer. This sounds like a cop out, but it's true: if affirmative action has taught us anything it's that somebody will be unhappy with whatever approach you take. That somebody may not always be morally or ethically right, but they will be vocal.

Diversity is a problem in all of computing; to make it out that it is solely the problem of conference organizers is to miss the point and to over-concentrate the blame.

The act of organizing a conference makes one a leader for their technical community. We all know we have a diversity problem. And conference organizers are responsible for helping address that problem. Leaders should lead.

The technical community has a diversity problem, but they are a victim of the problem, not the cause of it. Even when I was 13 years old, girls were choosing to not engage in technical subjects - my 7th grade elective programming course had 23 males and 1 female.

Are you going to blame the technical community because 13 year old girls don't like it?

> The technical community has a diversity problem, but they are a victim of the problem, not the cause of it.

I think that's a false dichotomy. By doing nothing, we help foster the problem.

Personally I think quotas is one good way of helping solve the problem. The idea being that they counter the existing bias against some groups.

If there is no existing bias, quotas are indeed "unfair". If there are existing bias, quotas will be unfair to individuals. I still think quotas can do good overall.

If there is bias, and you cannot see it: you will perceive quotas to be unfair.

Leadership doesn't happen overnight - it comes from trying, failing and learning.

This was a few Rubyists trying to do something for their community - not interviewing for McKinsey.


Arguing by pointing out fallacies is incredibly annoying. Having said that, I will temporarily make a hypocrite of myself to post the following:


Why not address my argument directly rather than sidestepping it with a cute list?

Sorry, "fallacy bingo" is not automatically a trump card. One must cogently point out how something is a fallacy if they wish to be considered intellectually honest.

Diversity is a problem in society. You're blaming the victim by implying that it is "computings" fault for the lack of diversity.

Even in my 7th grade programming course(back in the late 90s), there were 22 males and 1 female.

And thankfully that is changing -- we at least see higher recruitment into computer science (and other engineering disciplines) for girls in Norway (and higher number of boys to teaching colleges) -- finally.

That did not come about without a lot of different people and organizations working actively towards changing the ideas of what and who kids would "allow" themselves to aspire to be.

It's not clear at all that diversity wasn't one of their goals when choosing speakers. It is clear that diversity wasn't their primary goal, and considering that this is a conference about technology, and not a conference about diversity; I'm not sure, as are many others, why anyone would consider it relevant.

Don't people "organize" tech conferences? Or "put them together", or "run" them, or something? Since when have they been "curated"? Since it was a buzzword?

I agree that they are not sexist. However I don't think diversity needs to be an explicit goal of choosing a speaker lineup.

Having said that, being aware of the diversity in software development, if I were to organise a conference, and only managed to attract male speakers, I would think "oh shit, something has gone very wrong here", and I would not hesitate to cancel it and try and address the serious issue.

Were they using a speaker selection system designed to try and increase equality in the line up like for example JSConf EU have in the past?


TL;DR "kicking up a shitstorm on Twitter these days is easy"

"Please: think before you speak. Investigate before you judge. And look beneath the surface before you retweet."

This is the problem I have with "free" speech. Yes you can say anything you want, but the problem is that those with the audience take no responsibility or apply any judgement to the effect. Someone yelling racist epithets on their doorstep to an audience of no one is free speech. Bill O'Reilly calling for vigilante justice on Dr. George Tiller and taking zero responsibility for it is not the intent of "free speech."

"And if I could get my hands on Tiller -- well, you know. Can't be vigilantes. Can't do that. It's just a figure of speech." - Bill O'Reilly (2006)

In a similar way, this John Susser takes no responsibility for stirring up this particular storm but the effects are real. No one got killed over it but its huge disservice to an already very contentious issue. With ignorant comments like those of John Susser we won't be able to make much forward progress.

I wish you could sue the muppets slinging mud around on Twitter etc.

It's tricky. I know most of the people involved on both sides and you may be surprised to learn almost all of them are decent, every day people, and not brogrammers, militant feminists, or typical 'argument on Twitter' types.

There have been a lot of crossed wires, misinterpretations, and faux pas here which probably wouldn't have occurred in real life (or even video). Online communications, especially on Twitter, is so woefully inadequate when dealing with social issues :-(

"It's tricky. I know most of the people involved on both sides and you may be surprised to learn almost all of them are decent, every day people, and not brogrammers, militant feminists, or typical 'argument on Twitter' types."

But the net result is loss of coding/development related activity in Manchester, sponsor getting wet feet, loss of credibility for future events &c Seems a shame.

Note for US readers: UK is small island(s) and most of the fun stuff happens in London (my perception).

> Note for US readers: UK is small island(s) and most of the fun stuff happens in London (my perception).

Yeah, the UK really needs events like this, because it has (in my perception, as an American) been bypassed by a lot of the latest technological advances, in terms of business opportunities. The only big British technology company I can name off the top of my head is ARM, and that's not one that your average consumer would be familiar with anyway. And ARM was founded 20+ years ago - I can't think of any recent British startups or software companies that have achieved worldwide fame.

Umm, isn't last.fm younger?


Oh, totally. But I think those are separate issues.

The curious thing is it was the first serious attempt to have what I'd call a 'full scale' Ruby conference in England (other events like Ruby Manor do a great job but are unique experiences or unconference type events). Scotland Ruby Conference has done pretty well, but it's very odd that England (and London, in particularly) hasn't had any success with a large Ruby event given the huge market.

One of the advantages of belonging to such a cosmopolitan city as London is that you really don't have to care about branding your events as "local" -- most European cities are a cheap flight away, you can easily meet many "big names" in whatever scene you belong to just because they'll often be in town, etc etc. The proof is the other comment saying there have, in fact, been many fairly large-scale Ruby confs in London already.

It's not a coincidence that a conference outside London would in fact require a "British" branding in order to attract recognition.

Note also how it was supposed to be a "British" conference as opposed to Scottish or English or North-West or whatever -- the organisers really did try to cast a very wide net.

This is orthogonal to the main point of this thread, but since Ruby Manor has been mentioned, and Peter doesn't read my blog (which is fair enough): http://interblah.net/ruby-manor-is-not-an-unconference

Just for completeness sake, there was also a successful RailsConf Europe in London, and a well-received Rails Underground too. I therefore assume that 'full scale' must mean something quite specific. Anyway, as I said, orthogonal.

I'm aware of and not fan of the gravitational well that London influences, and definitely agree that it would be great to have events all over the UK. It's a shame that BritRuby isn't going ahead, whatever the reasons.

I subscribe to almost no Ruby blogs anymore! :-) But I had seen your post once before. In my defence I said "or" and Ruby Manor has seemed to me, wrongly or rightly, to be in the "unique experience" group (where I'd also include JSConf and RubyFringe).

By 'full scale' I did mean something reasonably specific, yes: a typically annual multi-day event with at least a few hundred attendees, a large numbers of sessions (or a very strong single track) focused on the topic at hand, a commercial presence or influence, and a sizeable number of well known speakers or attendees.

RubyConf, Scotland Ruby Conference and RubyKaigi would be examples of events like that.

I don't have anything against smaller or more creative conferences (and frequently support them!) but they tend to emphasize socializing rather than business. With a family and a business to run, by necessity I go to conferences 50% for business and 40% for networking, and 10% for socializing. So if I can't do business there, it's a really hard sell in terms of time and leaving my wife stranded with the kids.

This might be unfair to Ruby Manor, and sorry if it is, but I got the impression Ruby Manor would be more like a fun day out for my personal enjoyment than one I can justify to my wife, daughter, business and the tax man. That's really the line I'm drawing.

(I had forgotten Rails Underground so thanks for bringing it up. It did tick a lot of boxes - just a shame it didn't run again(!))

I wish you couldn't sue anyone for anything they say or any information they distribute. May it be a bullshit opinion or nuclear launch codes. Free speech is under attack enough. We don't need to start suing people because they voice their potentially oversensitive concerns about equality. If that happens, we soon won't be able to say anything without fear of being suit!

I guess I don't see why a conference like this even exists in 2013 anyway. If you're not trying to educate someone about some product, all these events do is serve to stroke the egos of everyone involved (see SXSWi). You don't really learn much, you pretty much network with people you already know.

Just ditch this ridiculous format and the pretensions to academia or "professional" events altogether. Have a star keynote for each day, a planned, fun social "mixer", a hackathon, and space for organic groups to get together and for attendees to find them without much friction.

All of this nonsense about planning for diversity is irrelevant when the activity is driven by the community and not community "leaders" (unless of course the community is actually racist which I seriously doubt in this case and which in any case disappears in the sunlight of a public event anyway).

"Yes, gender equality and racial equality are important. But the team's motives were to get the best speakers who were able to make it to Manchester. Turns out, a lot of the famous Rubyists are white guys and all of the ones who said they'd like to come were, indeed, white guys.

... It doesn't matter who speaks at a conference, as long as they're capable, interesting and relevant. That's what matters: content, not style."

Why do the speakers have to be famous? Frankly, probably a lot of what they've said and think on subjects is already known - they're famous already. Why not have that be less of a factor? It would probably have reduced costs some, assuming there was financial travel costs covered, and perhaps been able to focus on 'content', without respect to the fame of the speaker.

"Why do the speakers have to be famous?"

To get people to go.

Well, then they should be able to sell enough tickets to cover costs. You can't have it both ways - we want "famous" people to attract crowds (who generally pay for a ticket) but also want sponsors to cover the costs.

EDIT: can't

Famous people draw crowds.

Also, famous people use these conferences to talk about new interesting stuff that has not been revealed before.

Also, discussing stuff with famous people one on one is much more interesting than doing it on a mailing list.

Do people realise how offensive it is when they say things of the form "we shouldn't include a speaker who isn't a white male because that would just be tokenism, and tokenism is bad"?

That's not what they're saying.

What they're saying is: "We reached out to the best, and it turns out that the ones who accepted our offer were white males. People complained about that; but we don't want to go out of our way to find a non white male just to tick a box".

we don't want to go out of our way to find a non white male just to tick a box

See, they should have gone out of their way to do this. Not just to tick a box, but because ticking that box is a kind of due diligence towards building a more inclusive community. Unless they're ready to claim that there's no interesting non-white, non-male speakers able or willing to speak at their conference, then the failure is theirs to make any effort at all. But if they did make the effort and failed to attract someone, then they can say "we actually tried, and couldn't do it." The effort need be no more than to send a bunch of emails, and if that fails, it demonstrates a deeper problem in their community than they can fix.

I wish for the OP's sake that they had included examples of non-white people they asked to attend (but who apparently couldn't make it). It'd at least give a little more insight to who they think is a good panelist. But turning the detractors' argument from "Hey, there's just white guys on this panel!" to "Hey, please include a minority so that no one's feelings are hurt" was probably the least useful way to counter the detractors.

I'm kind of skeptical that they even tried to reach out to diverse people. For example, Keavy McMinn indicated on twitter they never asked her. She's a very well known and liked speaker in the Ruby community and lives relatively close by. If you largely reach out to white guys, of course that's who you'll end up with.

I'm not sure I like this argument. Because one woman (who from your comment I presume everyone should know about - I don't know her) said they were never approached, this means the organisers intentionally selected (using your words) 'non-diverse' people?

Their argument was that there were only white guys available from the list of popular ruby presenters. I'm saying they may not have tried very hard to reach out if they didn't even ask a closeby popular presenter (yet they asked a ton of white guys from the US). There were others that also weren't approached - I mentioned Keavy specifically because she spoke about it publicly.

I said 'of this form'. They didn't say it literally, but look at the values implied by their claim.

Why don't they quantify who 'the best' that they reached out to where?

Here's my point: frequently, people say 'the best people just happen to be white males' or 'we can only hire white males'. In reality, this is often because there's been no effort made to reach out to other segments of society.

The tokenism excuse is then deployed - but that isn't the point. No-one likes tokenism. The argument we're making is that there are talented people who get overlooked or are made to feel excluded (often accidentally) because they aren't white men.

I find it incredibly offensive when people deploy the tokenism argument against this criticism because the implicit claim is that there aren't enough talented members of minority groups. This isn't the case.

Moreover, it's part of the continuous passing the buck you see in sectors like tech. Businesses say they don't hire more women because there aren't many women with CompSci degrees. CompSci programs say they don't get more women because women aren't interested. And yet companies and faculties are still willing to have woman-unfriendly cultures, because women don't want to work there.

To be specific to conferences - if every conference says "we reached out to good speakers but there weren't many women" then there never will be - because women won't get their shot.

To be fair, I don't know the specifics. Maybe this conference did make efforts. But given that they haven't quantified what effort they did make, their defence is extremely weak.

To be sure, they don't say who they reached out to.

Far less offensive than including a speaker who isn't white male simply because they aren't white male.

This isn't clear cut, or black and white, it's hovering somewhere in the grey in between, in all honesty, if you were a minority would you rather be told "we were told we had to get a middle aged, homosexual black woman because we have a bunch of racial and sexual checkboxes we need filling or we can't go ahead"?

In this case the only options left to the people running the event were cave under the ridiculous pressure put towards them or press ahead and get a load of bad publicity and branded as racist, sexist ass holes instead.

It's all well and good to promote equality but when it falls on the other shoe and it's doing it for doing it's sake instead of actually trying to make a positive effect, what you end up with is everyone feeling uncomfortable and putting them in such a poor position that this event (that I'm sure as hell people of all ages, races and genders would have attended) got cancelled is downright wrong and actually shows one of the nastier sides of promoting equality, which is when it digresses in to mindless anarchical bitchyness.

They clearly didn't say that they rejected non-white males because it would be tokenism. They said they accepted the most qualified speakers based on content and irrespective of race or gender. They weren't making a political statement by having a nearly-all-white-male lineup.

Either way, being offended isn't an argument.

Agreed. Thankfully, the author made a somewhat subtler point--that being included because of some identity instead of skill is to be avoided.

It's a small, but important, difference.

That was actually the point that I was making, thanks. When white men say "we shouldn't include people just because of some identity" the reality that lies behind it is often that they've made no attempt to reach out to people who aren't white men.

It's a perfectly reasonable argument - but it is frequently made inappropriately in an attempt to counter criticism that it doesn't really offer a valuable defence against. It's an attempt to shift the terms of the debate. I don't like it.

As a white guy, I think any conference struggling to attract female speakers, probably should be canceled.

It doesn't mean the conference itself or its organisers are explicitly racist or sexist, but there has to be some reason why either the topic, or the community or whatever seems so hostile to women wanting to participate. Essentially it is a symptom of a deeper issue.

The fact that no women wanted to speak at the conference is a fairly clear indicator that something is sick in the community. It is just not normal. In Saudi Arabia maybe, but these days any healthy community in a modern western country should be able to attract a couple of female speakers.

We have known for a while now that parts of the programming community have issues with sexism, especially the ruby community, and if it takes a few conference cancellations to get the issue discussed than that is all good.

Here is an idea: The organisers should organise a Ruby Girls event or something.

Main thing is, lets not pretend there is not a serious problem here, and lets do something to address it!

OK I'm going to play devil's advocate here.

The OP says:

>...Turns out, a lot of the famous Rubyists are white guys and all of the ones who said they'd like to come were, indeed, white guys.


> Making an issue out of that is, frankly, misguided. Adding a token minority speaker is offensive to that speaker, it says "You're here because you tick a box - not because you're skilled." It doesn't matter who speaks at a conference, as long as they're capable, interesting and relevant. That's what matters: content, not style.

The second point is a strawman argument (and doesn't reflect well on the OP, unfortunately). Unless the detractors were complete reprobates, I doubt their reasoning was "You guys should include a non-white female for balance's sake!" I would hope that the line of allegation (and maybe it got muddled up in tweets, as oft is the case) was: you guys did not look hard enough to find alternative viewpoints, or: you guys have a narrow viewpoint on what makes for an interesting Rubyist.

Which brings me to point 1: Ruby was invented by a Japanese national. And last time the the Ruby 2.0 announcements were posted on HN, it was in Japanese. So in terms of pure white vs. non-whites, you most definitely can't say that all of the pioneers in Ruby are white, as you might be able to with other languages.

That said, I don't think (again I was only playing devil's advocate) that the organizers' intentions were bad. It's within the realm of possibility that every "minority" candidate they wanted could not make the conference. Yet it's also possible the organizers have a mostly-white circle, and without prodding, are prone to select from that group...not because they're racist, but because they happen to follow these people more and thus are more aware of their achievements. That most of these people are white males is a symptom of this natural tendency to look within your clique, without racism playing any influence at all.

Case in point: if you asked me to assemble a panel of top Rubyists and if I were unaware of the language's origins...I would most likely pick mostly white males and no Japanese at all. Not because I'm racist against Japanese (FWIW, I'm Asian), but because I don't speak/read Japanese, have never been to Japan, have never met other Japanese rubyists...and thus their accomplishments don't even enter my head when brainstorming top rubyists because I'm just unaware of their existence.

In that case, I'd welcome people to call me out for not ever looking up who this "Matz" character is. But I'd still probably be insulted if someone just called me a racist. So maybe in the OP's case, it's true that their circle is not large enough...and yet it's not right at all to just call them racist/sexist. The end result, I'm afraid, is that despite the well-meaning parties in this fight, the problem and problematic judgment of "tokenism" will just increase.

* One more point: The OP says:

> Please: think before you speak. Investigate before you judge. And look beneath the surface before you retweet.

I'm not going to argue whether it's fair or not to expect this: but if an organizer is facing these kinds of allegations, then they can help alleviate the issue by writing a substantial post on their criteria for selecting the speakers and some examples of people they asked but who could not make it. If all outsiders see is the list of speakers as it stands, then they have to give the organizers the benefit of the doubt...which is not always going to happen...

That isn't a strawman argument: the point that the detractors were making was "This is not the correct assortment of speakers because there aren't enough of X race or Y sex."

They are arguing against speakers only because of their race and gender. Would more diversity be welcome in the Ruby community? Absolutely, but judging a speaker based on their race and gender is idiotic - it says nothing about what they'll bring to the table.

Imagine if people were criticizing a lineup because there were too many women? We would flip a shit - and rightly so! Pointing out verbally militant discrimination that causes a conference to be cancelled isn't a strawman, it is a reality.

> That isn't a strawman argument: the point that the detractors were making was "This is not the correct assortment of speakers because there aren't enough of X race or Y sex."

Was that the detractors' point? I can't tell because the OP doesn't link to any. But just to be clear, I think there is a difference between:

1) Why is this panel completely made up of white males? 2) There aren't enough of people of x/y category

Argument #2 is, I think everyone here agrees, is not a strong one, since this wasn't a conference to discuss diversity issues.

Argument #1, however, could be countered with examples of people they asked but who could not make it. And I for one would completely understand if they wanted to invite Japanese Rubyists, but could not because of schedule conflicts or costs. I don't know enough about Brit Ruby to see if it's meant to be just a local gathering of all-Brits...and even if that were the case, the U.K. strikes me as a very diverse place where it would be odd to see any group that was just all of one demographic.

i don't think the OP's intentions are bad and I don't think it's right to fault someone for being a poor debater when their heart is in the right place. But Argument #1 does not equal #2 (though obviously, the two are somewhat correlated)

To your point: > Imagine if people were criticizing a lineup because there were too many women? We would flip a shit - and rightly so! Pointing out verbally militant discrimination that causes a conference to be cancelled isn't a strawman, it is a reality.

Well, unless the conference were depicted as "The Women of Ruby", I most definitely would question a general Ruby conference in which all the top panelists were females (or Japanese. Or Japanese females), especially given the demographic of computer science. This same demographic makes it more likely that an all-male Ruby panel could be selected, but doesn't automatically invalidate questions about its makeup.

> I'm not going to argue whether it's fair or not to expect this: but if an organizer is facing these kinds of allegations, then they can help alleviate the issue by writing a substantial post on their criteria for selecting the speakers and some examples of people they asked but who could not make it.

I just want to call attention to this, because it's hiding at the end of a longer post and it's a really good, constructive suggestion of how to approach this entire matter in a reasonable, non-polarizing way.

Sometimes the institutions technologists create really do reflect the less than ideal social and economic history that technological progress has been embedded in. If someone calls you out on that, think about how you can grow something different, don't just get defensive.

There are lots of creative ways to address the problem, and a conference dedicated to technological evangelism and celebration is a particularly great place to do it. Maybe the sponsors could purchase attendance for some interested high schoolers that maybe don't have the funding for the best IT/CS class.

Sorry to make a different thread than the two others I've made, but FYI, here's was the proposed Brit Ruby 2013 lineup:


It was important to see this list, for those of us who have never been, to understand if Brit Ruby includes only British speakers or Rubyists from all over. (it at least includes a few Americans)

FWIW, here are a few other speaker lists for comparison:

Ruby Conf 2012: http://lanyrd.com/2012/rubyconf/speakers/

Ruby Midwest: http://lanyrd.com/2011/ruby-midwest/

Ruby Madison (Wisc.) http://lanyrd.com/2011/madison-ruby/

It should be noted that all of these conferences feature at least more than one non-"white guy"...but all have more speakers than did the announced lineup for Brit Ruby 2013.

As a 60-year-old, I'm glad to see Jim Weirich in the Brit Ruby lineup :-)

https://gist.github.com/4106776#gistcomment-602103 is relevant, and everyone involved in this discussion should read it. The argument so far has been presented as a false dichotomy - either take the best speakers (who all happen to be white men) or accept lower quality proposals in order to ensure some token degree of representation. Those aren't the only options. It's entirely possible to obtain a larger number of speakers from minority groups in your community without compromising your conference's quality. You just need to care about things like outreach, the way you write your CFP and the presence of policies to reassure people that harassment won't be tolerated. Do that, and you'll suddenly find that you have a high quality conference with a more diverse panel of speakers.

This is a nice example but I doubt this skill is transferrable, and anyway I don't think ruining a conference will make anybody happier. Barring a few trolls who didn't care much about Ruby in the first place.

The person who originally complained about the speaker lineup on Twitter is an organiser of the Golden Gate Ruby Conference. That conference successfully attracted a far more mixed speaker demographic. Are you implying that he was attempting to ruin the conference?

To me much of this whole thing boils down to differences between the UK and the US and there respective approaches to equal opportunities and affirmative action.

Similar factors were are play in the reaction to Faruk's .net article and Laura Sanders response.

The US approach to diversity and equal opportunities isn't right for everyone and some people perhaps need to remember that.

Well, that's what he did cause. So now he is an organiser of one conference and the ruiner (not sure English has this word) of another one.

Maybe he didn't mean to. But maybe guys at the British conference didn't mean anything either.

These HN comments are some of the most disconcerting that I've seen in a long time. The amount of ignorance displayed in some of them makes me--a white male--question this community. I could only imagine what message they would send to a minority.

Here's my take on a few comments in this thread. (I don't mean to single anyone out.)

>>Imagine if people were criticizing a lineup because there were too many women.

If our society treated males and females equally, then this hypothetical would make sense. But in a society where females face discrimination their entire lives and barriers can often prevent from reaching their potential, I think such a hypothetical is silly to bring up.

It is everyone's responsibility to try to adjust for this inequality in society. That might include going out of your way as a conference organizer to encourage more qualified minorities to apply as speakers. As some HN'ers have brought up, quality will not be jeopardized in the process.

>>To pick out a single conference in our industry with this property is textbook selection bias [1] and doesn't demonstrate any kind of discrimination at all.

If you notice, no one (as far as I can tell) explicitly called this discrimination. There will always be people who question the validity of things like these, and why shouldn't there be? Conferences, if they did their share of work, should be able to hold up against arguments like these (if they're invalid).

Yes, statistically some conferences might have gone out of their way to find minorities and failed to do so. Looking at any single case, though, such a scenario is unlikely. One should not just say, "Oh, statistics show that this might happen by chance, and therefore no one should question the validity of the selection process."

>>The problem is statistics. If there are only a few women who are applicable - simply due to the sad fact that there are so few women in the field - then there will be a lot of conference where random selection will mean there are no women in the lineup.

Like before, the problem cannot be blamed on statistics. I don't believe that there will be a lot of conferences where no qualified women could present at. If they couldn't be found, I'm guessing that--most of the times--the organizers didn't look hard enough. This is just a guess, but I'm not going to assume the utopian society that others on this page have and say that everyone tries their hardest to attain diversity.

>> Dear God! As if it wasn't hard enough to arrange a conference, apparently you have to make sure to invite every minority as a speaker at that conference too.

Misunderstanding the issue at hand and making outrageous claims like these does not improve my opinion of HN.

>> I really hope the responsible trolls... [emphasis added]

Enough said. Calling people who raise valid concerns trolls (or muppets, like someone else did) is not respectful. The fact that such an ad-hominem attack on HN got upvoted to the top is shocking.

>>Why should that have been their goal? This isn't a conference about racial issues or gender issues.

Taken from the BritRuby's website:

  Our mission statement was to encourage Ruby developers to unite and
  create a community, which would allow such to network, exchange ideas
  and provoke innovation for the future of Ruby.
Britain has 51% women. Women are underrepresented in the Ruby community, but there is no reason why it should stay like that. Is not anyone's job to increase the percentage of female coders. It is everyone's.

HN user luigi says it better than I ever could:

  The act of organizing a conference makes one a leader for their
  technical community. We all know we have a diversity problem.
  And conference organizers are responsible for helping address
  that problem. Leaders should lead.

If I were pg, I would close this thread before we make a fool of ourselves even further. People are seriously questioning this community and its views on gender imbalance in technology, minorities, etc. This is not an isolated case.

Britain has 51% women. Women are underrepresented in the Ruby community, but there is no reason why it should stay like that. Is not anyone's job to increase the percentage of female coders. It is everyone's.

To my knowledge, it has never been established that women and men share identical dispositions towards all things. In fact, to me it seems unlikely that it should be so.

Given this, I'm not sure how you can claim that it's everybody's responsibility to push for more female coders. How would we know what the 'natural' split should be?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but men and women are not that far apart. We are all humans who love solving problems.

The ratio of men graduating with CS degrees to women is around 8:1 or 9:1. Do you honestly believe that our genetics are that different?

>> Given this, I'm not sure how you can claim that it's everybody's responsibility to push for more female coders.

Ok, since we can't prove identical dispositions and--who knows? maybe women are 8 times more unlikely to want to solve computer science problems--let's just disregard the imbalance and do nothing. Is that your philosophy?

[1] http://www.cra.org/uploads/documents/resources/taulbee/CS_De...

My position is that I don't know how the percentage of men who are interested in coding and the percentage of women who are interested in coding compare. I have no way of knowing.

In fact, the reasons people pursue a particular career are undoubtedly more complex than you or I realise. For example in vetinary science, a field once dominated by men, women are now the majority. No quotas were required to achieve this reversal.

So I am naturally cautious about the idea of enforcing quotas when we have no way of knowing what the natural balance should be.

> If I were pg, I would close this thread

Why is it that those who scream discrimination and the like are also first off the rank when it comes to shutting down free speech?

Why is the converse also true? I hear people spout off the most racist and sexist crap imaginable then complain their "free speech" rights are being trampled when others call them out on it (also see any administrative policy ever implemented by Reddit). It's so embarrassingly prevalent it's become a meme within the social justice community.

Here in Canada we have the hate speech restriction. It works out well. No slippery slopes has been slid down, and also no Westboro Baptist Church. I for one happily take that tradeoff, if you can even call it that.

> Why is the converse also true?

That those people who don't scream about discrimination don't rail against free speech? I dunno, maybe because they don't feel the need to deprive others of the right to voice their opinions in order to advance their own cause.

> I hear people spout off the most racist and sexist crap imaginable

Then stop listening!

> then complain their "free speech" rights are being trampled when others call them out on it

I don't think they complain when others "call them out" - that is just called debate. I think their complain when they are censored, persecuted, jailed, or killed by the state for the crime of expressing their views.

> It's so embarrassingly prevalent it's become a meme within the social justice community.

By "meme" I assume you are talking about the lampooning and ridiculing of - and gasp even inciting hatred - towards those who stand up for free speech. I think you will find this is a fairly standard modus operandi of these insular, circle-jerking, agitating communities, but the fact these "memes" don't really escape to the wider world says a lot about the general palatability of these views...

> Here in Canada we have the hate speech restriction.

Good for you, although it would probably be more accurate to call it a free speech restriction...

> No slippery slopes has been slid down

In Britain police are rounding up people who say mean things on Twitter. In Australia, being a bit too flippant when commenting on certain racial issues will earn you a day in court. Maybe you Canadians are a bit more open-minded, or gulp, American, than you realize.

> and also no Westboro Baptist Church

And after you eliminate all the people who espouse views you disagree with, what do you have left? Some kind of super Canadian master race?

> I for one happily take that tradeoff

And I for one hope your own views do not one day become categorized as illegal by your state and subject you to censure and punishment.

I view free speech absolutism as nothing more than intellectual cowardice. Why deal with all the grey areas when we can just declare it all permissible and move on? Boom, done, next. Absolutes are so simple.

I'm your average white boy from the suburbs. There's not a lot people can say to bring me down. That isn't the case for a whole lot of people in this world, and I fully support the use of legislation as a tool for inhibiting those who would use their position in society to inspire hatred against others.

Oh, and ignoring people spouting racist and sexist stuff doesn't help. I have the privilege of ignoring it; others do not. So no, I won't "stop listening". This is see no evil, hear no evil crap.

If I'm taking any side in this debate, it's that the conference organizers should have put more effort into finding speakers from different backgrounds. That said, I feel obligated to step in and defend free speech.

If we didn't have strong protections for free speech, it would have been far simpler to shut down the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, and feminism. Because back then everyone "knew" those things were wrong. <sarcasm>What was the point of even allowing people to spout such dreadful nonsense like letting women and black people vote?</sarcasm>.

Do you not understand that the powers you want to use against people you disagree with can be used against you? I get your point that it hasn't happened in your country yet, but history is rife with examples where suppressed speech eventually leads to atrocities. So yeah, I think "free speech absolutism" is a worthy cause. Do you think you can change the mind of a hateful person by arresting them for talking about what they believe? If you want to combat hatred, maybe you should just speak up.

These are good points. In practice in Canada, nobody seems to be running around criminalizing speech on contemporary issues; we as a society seem to be pretty sure that horribly racist stuff doesn't fall under the category of legitimate opposing views which deserve a platform. Who gains from that? I honestly haven't ever heard a good argument for it apart from the slippery slope.

So when we have Rob Anders, one of our most prominent MPs, stand up in the house and essentially label trans* people wanting to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with as sexual predators, nobody throws him in jail. That's something which could someday be considered hate speech, but likely won't for quite some time. As far as locking up people for "dangerous political views", like we're under some kind of regime or a black-bag spy novel, well that just doesn't happen.

I do understand it could someday be used against me. This is a spectrum, and I come down more on the permissive side than not. With regard to your last point, the very crux of the matter is it is not their viewpoints I aim to change - they are the only ones who can do that. It is the bystander, the person who hears it and sees those ideas are normalized, accepted. It's how hate groups spread. It's not like a bunch of people independently arrive at the conclusion they hate people of a certain race, then organize. It's something that spreads through rhetoric.

I understand what you're saying, which is that nothing bad has happened yet. But the laws you're talking about are relatively new (circa 1985?) and during a period of relative peace, prosperity, and lack of political turmoil. So right now, there's no real incentive to criminalize the opposition. You can't possibly extrapolate that out to mean that this proves the concept works.

Back to one of your earlier points. I think it's obvious who gains from being able to say racist things without fear of arrest: racists do. I don't think anyone else does. But your conceit is to say "Hey, we all think you're wrong. In fact, we think you're so wrong that you can't say what you've been saying anymore." That's what I think is immoral. You can say "We think you're so wrong and we're going to explain exactly why you're wrong" or "We think you're so wrong that we'll reject you socially for your bigoted views" or "I think you're so wrong that I won't hire you". But what right do you have to say "I'm going to throw you in jail because you believe something and then you said it"? Because guess what? You're guilty of the same crime. You believe something (maybe you even have some unpopular beliefs), and you've probably spoken up about them before.

I fail to see how not arresting someone = giving them a platform. I'm all for not publicly funding racist, bigoted people. But why does not criminalizing someone's speech indicate that you endorse what they're saying? Further, if you, as a society, so strongly disagree with hateful speech and don't want anyone to feel like that's a commonly held or accepted view, why don't you just show them that? If there are more of you than there are of them, drown out their voices with your own. Be a model of equality.

Finally, you mention future evolutions of hate speech laws - where exactly do you think they'll land? You mention transphobic people. Do you think hate speech laws should cover that? What else? Where's the line? Would you advocate for speech laws that cover something you believe? What if you're a communist or socialist and everyone thinks that's completely immoral and wrong? Should you be unable to speak up about it?

It's very true I cannot extrapolate out into the future. I suppose it's a value judgment; which do I value more - being able to live in a society (relatively) free of hate speech, or being able to live knowing the government will not someday censor my opinions? I place more value on the former.

A digression: if the government wants to do something, they'll do it. The U.S. constitution didn't stop warrantless wiretapping by the NSA, and if you want to cast the whole Wikileaks thing in the light of free speech they arguably compromised their values there. However, I recognize that the principles of these laws mean a lot, hence this being labelled a digression.

With regard to using my own voice to fight hate speech, I do indeed do that. It's not like these things go straight to the authorities. Here's the problem - their speech is so powerful, so loud. It's so easy to slip into hating people and scapegoating them. What do I tell the person who was rejected from college? "Sorry, guess you aren't up to snuff"? Contrast that with hate groups. They have a whole arsenal lined up on the evils of affirmative action & quotas and how that potential student is the REAL victim of the system. Which is more appealing at face value to the potential student?

On the whole not arresting someone = giving them a platform thing: I previously mentioned the principle of having laws. In Canada people know that there is opposition to racism at an institutional level, and I believe that is very powerful. I also believe that if you have the means to stop an atrocity, and you do not, you are complicit in its execution. This of course is a moral problem for the ages, and given the seemingly high number of objectivists on HN I doubt it's very popular here.

On the evolution of hate speech laws: I fully expect transphobia will be covered under the hate speech laws before long. Where is the line? Not sure. There's a whole bunch of stuff which some people claim lies further along the social justice "axis" (and which has sometimes been mercilessly lampooned[0][1] by the SJ community itself) which I don't really agree with, but... well, who knows in 50 years. I have a great amount of trust in the Canadian government and our judicial system, so I'm sure our judgment will carry us well into the future.

[0] - http://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=2229

[1] - https://twitter.com/tumblrtxt

edit: I forgot to address your core point! "I'm going to throw you in jail because you believe something and then you said it." In a vacuum this is of course ridiculous, but we aren't in a vacuum. The simple answer is that hate speech can cause a great deal of harm to society, and I support laws preventing this.

Discussions tend to grow unwieldy as the number of exchanges grow. So I'm going to be a bit brief on some things, and if you feel that I didn't address an important point let me know and I'll circle back to it. Feel free to do the same. Plus it's getting late and i don't expect you'll see this until tomorrow.

Not supporting restrictions on free speech doesn't mean you're only worried about your own ability to voice your opinions. You (and I) both support rights and protections for groups of people that may not impact us directly.

I think surveillance / warrantless wiretapping demonstrates the opposite effect: small, seemingly reasonable extensions of surveillance & a less-than-absolutist view of the importance of the right to privacy are what led to the problem.

I agree with you on the diagnosis of the problem (the ease of hatred, human cognitive biases against outsiders, etc). I still think the solution is education (even state-sponsored anti-racism education is fine by me) and more speech disclaiming the things you disagree with rather than criminalizing it. I think you can demonstrate institutional opposition to racism in other ways that aren't in such direct opposition to the free exchange of ideas.

I agree that transphobia is a problem, but as you might have guessed, I don't think hate speech laws are the right solution. I too am a fan of QC.

You say that hate speech causes great harm to society, and I agree. There are plenty of other things that I think cause great harm to society. People that oppose gay marriage believe that it does great harm to society. Believing that someone else expressing themselves is causing harm doesn't mean we should criminalize the expression of their ideas.

I, too, have great trust in the Canadian government and judicial system (although I'm American). But I don't trust that they are always right. And that's what you're basically claiming when you criminalize speech that you don't agree with. Those laws will never be repealed. Any attempt to do so would just end with any supporters being called racist. You're claiming that you're know 100% that you are right, and are thus making speech contrary to your opinions illegal. As I mentioned before, what if people 50 years ago had the same ideas as you do about the non-absolute nature of free speech? They were probably just as sure that gay marriage is wrong as you are that racism is wrong. But they didn't codify a ban on pro- gay rights speech into law, thank god. Here's another human cognitive bias: we all think we're right, and that we know the right thing to do. But what if we're wrong? That's a question you have to ask yourself. Your system of government has to take that into account.

Finally, I want to take a second to talk about the purpose of free speech. It's not just so that anyone can say whatever the hell they want and damn the consequences! Free speech is there to prevent atrocities. It's there to prevent genocides, wars, oppression, and corruption. Free speech helps to protect democracy. That's why it's so important. That's why I am absolutist in my support of free speech. I agree that there is a moral responsibility to prevent harm if you can. I just think protecting free speech does a better job of it than any restriction ever could.

Whew... too long. The last three paragraphs are my main points.

This indeed has gone on for too long, so I suppose all I'd like to contribute is to say you make good points :)

You don't explain why equality in representation is desirable.

Don't get me wrong, I love HN. I never thought I would have to write something like this.

However, HN is indeed a bubble. Any criticism of the community (like this one) will get voted to the bottom and never be seen. However, a quick look outside HN (e.g. on Twitter) will reveal that HN threads can often be nothing short of ruthless. Maybe it's just me, but I've seen a rising number of these recently (this one included).

Maybe they should use double blind revision to select their talks..

There's some text up on the main http://2013.britruby.com/ - among other things it says:

"We at Brit Ruby were well aware of this fundamental and important issue. This was one of the reasons why we encouraged everyone to submit a speaker proposal. Sadly, BritRuby was used as the arena to air these issues on Twitter and this has fundamentally destroyed any chance we had of addressing these issues. Instead the community should have worked together and allowed us to bring these issues to light at the conference. How can the community address these issues if every time someone tries they are shot down and accused of such awful things? "

I really feel for the organisers. Organising conferences is a bloody hard and often thankless task. But when you're aware of the problems with sex and technology conferences - and when their are numerous examples of previous similar shit storms - doesn't putting out a male-only speaker list just seem a tad... sub-optimal?

In the last year or so I've been to about a dozen technical conferences and events in the UK, mainland Europe and the US. The only ones that didn't have female speakers were the ones with only 1-3 speakers. I can tell by the quality of the female speakers I did see that they were not chosen for their sex.

Great female speakers are out there. You don't have to pick by gender quota.

I helped organise the UX stage of Agile 2012. We had a 50/50 male/female speaker split on that stage with zero effort on my part - apart from rabidly pursuing good speakers - some of which were female (the selection process was briefly discussed in another thread for those who might be interested http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3993049). Plenty of female speakers on the other stages too.

At the moment I'm organising a UK conference for early next year (http://www.balancedteam.org/2012/11/12/balanced-team-uk-2013...) and the survey has already produced some great possible speakers of both sexes, and a volunteer team of one man and four women.

Wearing my conference organiser hat: If my CFPs and my personal network had only produced a list of male speakers I'd be going "Fuck. I've messed up somewhere." because I see great female speakers every time I go to any major conference.

I'd be reaching out to folk like http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/, or http://www.womenwhotech.com/. I'd be looking to how other folk got more great women speakers at their conferences like http://geekfeminism.org/2012/05/21/how-i-got-50-women-speake....

Because if I didn't have some really excellent female speakers in my bucket list of possible speakers I'd take it as evidence that my network for finding good speakers is not as effective as it should be.

What were the original tweets that caused so much trouble? I've tried to gather what I can but I don't see much 'trolling', just criticism, some polite and constructive, some less.

And there's a few tweets by @britruby that have been deleted.


You are running an event. Running events is hard. You do not have money to cover upfront costs. Seek sponsorship to cover upfront costs.

Sponsor is possibly concerned over conference diversity. Solutions:

1) Address sponsors concerns

2) Seek alternate sponsor without the concerns

3) Seek non-sponsorship funding (bank loan, kickstarter)

4) Cancel conference, transfer blame onto those who stated event diversity.

More than anything it seems to be a failure to communicate their intentions and/or write contracts with their sponsors.

this is hilarious (read ridiculous)

would all the pro-equality people tell me how you suggest to fix the inequality of XY chromosomes between males and females? or inequality of melanin in people's skins? or inequality of hair on our heads?

demanding to have 50% male/female or black/white speakers reminds me of a joke: "- what is the chance that dinosaur will cross this road this very moment? - 50%. it will either cross or will not."

rather than whine and cry about not having enough women in tech go and tell your employer to hire your female friend because she's good.

The big question is, who should they have invited to speak?

Disclaimer: I know some of the BritRuby organisers personally. I haven't spoken to them in months though, so I think I can say all this without fear of being branded either an "insider" or too biased.

I have been one of the most vocal critics of gender and racial bias in the programming community in the UK in the last few years. I have wrung my hands at the misogyny, the "jokes", the lack of diversity and I have spoken to as many people as I could about "what we can do to fix this".

BritRuby did not - and would not - fall into this category had it proceeded with its planned line-up. There was no evidence of racial or gender bias in the line-up, because the line-up reflected the community.

Are there too many fat white guys in the community? Speaking as one, yes. But conferences aren't how we fix that.

To explain why that's a legitimate call, we need to look at a bit of history. First, let's go back to one of the most vocal pieces of hand-wringing - almost a milepost for critics of gender and racial diversity in conference line-ups - Chris Messina's arguments about the 2006 FOWA line-up: http://factoryjoe.com/blog/2006/09/15/the-future-of-white-bo...

This piece was so controversial and so widely read at the time, that when I talked about "the fat white boy club problem" for several years later, many knew what I was talking about. As a fat white boy myself, I realised there was a germ of truth in this, but I felt Messina had tackled the problem in the wrong way.

The issue of gender and racial diversity is not one that is fixable in conference line-ups. Conferences do have problems (I'll come back to that), but speaker selection at conferences is the wrong point to deal with the lack of diversity. By then - by the time somebody is qualified to talk at a conference - it's clearly too late.

By definition, speakers at conferences have to be domain experts. To be domain experts they have to have worked in the domain for many years. To work in the domain for many years, they must first enter a career in that domain. To enter the domain they must be attracted to the work.

In other words, if you want to increase racial and gender diversity in conference line-ups, you must first go down the stack and increase it at the entry point in the programming/tech careers.

We are crap at attracting women and non-caucasians to the geek industries.

So that's the problem I set out to solve (in my own small way), some years ago. I joined the Royal Society's STEMNET Ambassador programme and I went into schools around Greater Manchester (the 30-mile radius around where BritRuby was to be hosted), cheering on kids from all sorts of backgrounds to learn some coding, play with some tech under the hood, and get them to imagine what they could do.

The stereotypes I had to fight were varied, and it's there the fight must take place.

For example, I did a Summer school type away day programme with about 40 girls from a range of Greater Manchester schools at Salford University. Myself and the 4-5 colleagues I was working with from other companies asked them as they came into our part of the away day what careers they thought we did.

One girl thought I was a crane driver (I'm a biggish bloke). When I laughed a little and explained no, I ran my own tech consultancy and helped SMEs develop ideas to go into the app store, on the web, Facebook apps, etc., etc. her jaw dropped.

Later when I pointed out to another girl that she could develop her mild interest in space with perhaps a degree and career in aviation engineering and that we were about to see a boom time for people building small scale commercial space craft, I could see hope dawn on her face. Nobody had ever told her she could do that.

Why was all this so odd to them? Because as a society we didn't bother telling them that these careers were for them as well. They assumed that they were out of reach for them. The news that they're for anybody came as almost a cultural shock.

Another time, I did a presentation at Manchester's Muslim High School for Girls. I went in as a 30-something white fat boy agnostic with virtually nothing in common with a single person in that room. I talked about Babbage and Lovelace. I talked about Turing and the work he did a few miles up the road at Manchester University. I talked about Zuckerberg, Jobs, Gates (because they're people the audience knew slightly, and knew the products they had created) and their teenage exploits.

I pointed out that with a laptop or the kit in the school's computer lab and a bit a of knowledge they too could create something that could spread out over the World and change it forever. All they needed was their intelligence, their creativity and a little bit of relatively-easy-to-acquire knowledge. They ranged in age from 11-14, and I don't think a middle class white guy had ever talked to them quite like that before. The feedback after the talk I got was that they were amazed this was a possibility open to them.

Imagine how my heart sank when the talk after mine that I stayed for was from British Gas telling them they could become boiler service engineers: "You get company-supplied overalls and use of a company van!"

But slowly, surely, I hope through STEMNET and other programmes we'll see the number of women and non-caucasians involved in the industry increase. If every person who is reading this went and signed up for such a programme, or just phoned a school and talked about going and doing a talk, if every person who reads HN went and did this, then in 10 years time the industry would be transformed.

And 10 years after that, the speaker line-ups at conferences will be transformed. And this kind of situation will never happen again.

The BritRuby organisers aren't the problem. The problem is with people who aren't actively recruiting diversity into the industry. The problem is with people who think the current diversity situation is acceptable.

Earlier I said there was a problem at conferences that needed addressing though. It's the content.

I know the Wiki I'm about to link to gets some heat from many on HN (that heat is part of the problem, not part of the solution), but let me remind you of some of the talks that have caused us issues in the past:

* http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Flashbelt_slide_show * http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/CouchDB_talk * http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Sexist_jokes_at_JSConf

Fuck it, just go through these that are conf-related (there are plenty): http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Incidents

That's just the documented cases at that wiki about misogyny - race related ones aren't there (perhaps because thankfully it's less prevalent, but I'm not sure if the KKK have a programming conference arm).

The number of gender and racial discriminatory incidents I've seen with my own eyes (mostly sexism rather than racism) at conferences number more than that. It's absolutely disgusting that when it's pointed out many will explain it away with the argument it's "all in the eye of the beholder" and that the critics should learn to "relax".

Not cool people. Not cool.

Etiquette in the Victorian sense was created as a concept that was designed to avoid embarrassing or upsetting others around you. You would eat soup a certain way so you don't make a disgusting noise everybody else had to put up with. You would bow and curtsy in different ways for different ranks of Lords, Earls and Barons to show you knew their title and their contribution to the nation. In other words, etiquette was forgetting yourself and saying to somebody else - somebody you might not even like - you matter, let's make this work, here's a little piece of theatre that shows how deep down I think you and your feelings are important to me and to everybody else. And those who were the best at etiquette became the most revered, the most liked, the most socially connected people of their era. And the society became so efficient it ended up conquering half the planet. That bit, not so good, but you get the idea.

We need a little etiquette here, hackers. We need to step back and realise that whilst we might think a joke is funny, for many it is not and if we want them to feel welcome in the room, the joke should be unwelcome. You don't get to decide if the black lesbian in a wheelchair should or should not be offended by the content of a talk, you only get to decide if you care about them being offended, and so when putting together a talk, think about that.

BritRuby didn't get a chance to do that.

I am 100% certain any content that was discriminatory would have been canned. I am astonished they weren't given that chance, and instead were judged on an incomplete line-up.

I'm hoping that in a year or two they'll try again. I'm hoping they'll get the support of the community, and if need be I'll go around the UK tech scene knocking on doors getting them some under-writing in lieu of sponsorship so they won't feel the sponsor pressure quite so much again. It's a simple pitch: "write a cheque now. It'll be returned when the conference goes ahead with full sponsor support, but your cheque under-writes them so if another Twitter furore blows up, they can ride it out".

And in the meantime, let's all make sure our content isn't offensive, our doors are open, and please, please, please go out and talk to kids from a range of backgrounds about how they can get into coding: we can start today on making sure this kind of scenario is impossible to recreate in a decade.

Thanks for this, Paul. I'm actually really encouraged by how supportive the community has been about this.

And I'm pleased at how many other people have stood up in the last 24 hours and announced their plans to start organising Ruby conferences in Manchester. This community is wonderful and, where Brit Ruby stumbled, I don't doubt someone else will succeed.

See you in the front row :-)

Awesome post. I absolutely agree that "getting them while they're young" is an important part of the solution. Thumbs up for the valuable work you do!

which reminds me of http://www.codeclub.org.uk/

And the Al Sharptons of the web are nowhere to be seen now...

Here's my question: How many of the top 10 Ruby speakers in the UK are white males? What about the top 20? Top 50?

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