LXer Feature: Survival Tactics For Women In FOSS, part 1

Posted by tadelste on Oct 21, 2005 6:37 AM EDT
LXer.com; By Tuxchick
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In this two-part series I shall offer sage advice for women interested in becoming more involved with FOSS (part 1) and lists of excellent online communities and resources aimed at women in computing (part 2).

Surviving in the often rough-and-tumble FOSS world can take a bit of study and practice. It's not a place for the timid and fearful. But then, no place is, so you might as well gird your loins and stride boldly forth, because the rewards are huge. Whatever you are interested in- coding, system administration, network administration, documentation, bug finding, bug-fixing, or learning to be a skilled user - there is a place for you. You'll find some of the best brains in computing to hang out with and learn from, and a lot of fine humans who are fun and interesting. And no matter what level you are, you'll be able to teach others.

The FOSS world is where things are happening- interoperability, the embedded space, specialized Linuxes and BSDs for all occasions, clustering, 64-bit computing, logical volume management, centralized desktop administration, networking, and so on. This is where the action is, not back in the stodgy, protectionist proprietary world, where even your thoughts are considered corporate property.

Things move fast, without the red tape and endless chains of approval you're probably used to. When you see a need or an interesting niche, don't wait for permission- go for it. This is a great place to exercise and hone those take-the-initiative impulses.

The most priceless item you'll take away is knowledge.

Don't get the idea that the FOSS world is some sort of egalitarian Utopia. It is composed of humans, so there are the usual frictions to cope with.

The first things to get used to are the bigmouths. Every online community has its share of obnoxious loudmouths. These are the parasites that spend an inordinate amount of time criticizing and attacking what other people are doing, while contributing little themselves. Usually these are a tiny minority, they're just loud. Some communities are better at others at weeding them out. Some don't even try. Don't let them chase you out of a community that you really want to be part of, or alienate you from the many good people in the group. Mail filters and the /ignore command in IRC are good tools. Setting a good example yourself is powerful. Remember who your real audience is- you want to interact with the smart, nice, courteous folks, and not alienate them by feeding trolls and flamefests. For the most part the best tactic is to ignore trolls and flamers.

Another thing that takes a little practice is accepting criticism of your work. When you put your code up for review, or a howto you have written, or any sort of public comment, you will get feedback. You may not like what you hear. You don't have to accept it or agree with it. You might not like how it is presented. But you should give it serious consideration, without taking it personally. (Even when it is intended insultingly.) Take what has value and discard the rest. Sometimes deliberately getting someone mad will get you bales more useful information than a straightforward question; I use this tactic a lot.

When you encounter some hostility or cluelessness (it's not always easy to tell which) due to your crime of being female, it's not always easy to figure out how to handle it. Your best bet is to build yourself a support system, because feeling alone and isolated is the fast-track to going nuts and giving up. Just like In Real Life, building online friendships takes time and effort. You can jump-start the process by joining a women-oriented group like Linuxchix, Debian-Women, Gnome-Women, Systers, or WITI. (Come back for part 2 for more on these.)

My final pearl of sage advice is seize the day! No, really! The FOSS world (and the world in general) do not reward shrinking violets. If you want to do something, then do it. Be the boss of you. Of course you don't just bull into a project and try to take over, that's just silly. But when you have identified a need, or figured out something that you really really want to do, then do it.

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Good article for both genders tadelste 13 1,864 Oct 24, 2005 9:08 AM

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