Sunday, February 04, 2018

My thoughts on the nomination for finalist for the Women in Open Source award

First off, I was not expecting to make it to the finalist round of this prestigious award.

And I am completely, humbly grateful and happy to have made it this far, doing something that I gave up pretty much all of my free time (weeknights and weekends) for the last 9 years or so, when I started CodeChix in my living room.

Open source has been a part of my tech life ever since I wandered into it during my student days at CU Boulder, where I was in the "dungeons" (that's what we lovingly called the windowless, card-entry large rooms of tables with SUN workstations) working on projects/homework etc.

It started with hanging out on USENET groups and fiddling with Minix and, voila, Slackware showed up.  And, the complete un-usability of the initial versions which kept crashing and backup/restore was an exercise in patience and stamina (including developing a great curse-word vocabulary in multiple languages).  Fast-forward to the 2000's, the rise of programming languages other than C/C++, open source growing from a fledgling, struggling effort of die-hards with long beards (yup - you know the sort), and, in this decade, it is mainstream and has found a foothold that is no longer low-profile as it once was.

My own dabbling with Python, Go and other languages and a variety of tools to help me build things that I need in my own day-to-day life, not to mention, at work, has been the best way for me to stay technical and keep the flame alive.  I try to instill this in all others whom I interact with, to the point that some people take a different route if they see me coming down the hall (perhaps, I should dial back the enthusiasm a bit, hmmm).

The entire premise, mindset, attitude and drive of the free/open source communities has been a huge inspiration to me - and one that I, personally, try to emulate as much as possible.  It is not the mindset of hyper-competitiveness, aggression, climb-the-ladder-at-all-costs, put-other-people-down, oh-look-at-me-I'm-so-great and other attitudes that proliferate the industry.  It is the co-operative and collaborative mindset, the uplifting of those who are struggling and helping put them on the path to growth and success, the inspiration and freedom to dabble in whatever technology you want without having to pay an arm and a leg to do it, the community of super-smart, diligent, committed and helpful people (most of them white men/women, BTW) who make this movement a movement.  It is the way to free oneself from the bounds placed on us by either society or technology or environment.  And find a way to contribute to a greater good by whatever means we have time and capability for.

CodeChix has been my passion, my joy, my grief, my struggle and everything in-between these past several years.  There have been countless times I have felt like giving up and just saying, "Hell with it - what am I doing?  This is not going anywhere and there is no way I can make a difference in this quagmire."
Particularly, when many former colleagues who join startups and become multi-millionaires, jeer at my foolishness for doing something that will never make me a rich, prosperous, status-symbol person.  And, believe me, I am constantly asked why I'm not using my "great skills" to do something in the for-profit startup world with so much automatic help/mentorship from VC's and fellow startup-pers who can guide/help with every step.
I don't have any mentors who have done what I'm trying to do (and have done so far) - working full time in a demanding job and founding/running a non-profit in my "free" time.  And caring for elderly parents in even more "free" time.

With all the flak that I have to take (both at work and outside of work) for CodeChix, I wouldn't change one damn thing.  CodeChix has given me far more that I could have imagined - a voice and an outlet to share with others who are and have been running into the same issues (and more) that I have (and am) constantly run into.  It has exposed me to so many fantastic women engineers (most of them far better than me technically and otherwise) who have inspired me to improve myself and others.  Things I never thought I would have - ever.  I have learned (had to) skills I never had in order to get past hurdles that showed up.  And I have relied on so many wonderful, helpful people who were there for me through some very, very difficult times indeed.  I would never have known them were it not for my work with CodeChix.

Yes, the work is brutal - I have no life, as such.  I work a tremendous amount - from board work, to fundraising, to vision, strategy, execution, accounting, taxes, technical scouting for the next thing to teach at DevPulseCon, speaking at conferences, listening/counseling/mentoring so many young and not-so-young women who reach out where I see the struggles they are going through and it enforces my will to continue to fight because no one else seems to care.  And I take vacation time from work to do this.  And, if I get sick, everything falls apart until I get better and re-chart trajectories with brutal prioritization and focus.

This year might be a turnkey year (somewhat like last year) where the industry might actually start caring about retention of women engineers and technically-oriented women in PM and other roles.  I'm hoping - time will tell.  Maybe, all the millions of dollars spent on marketing/promotions and "looking good externally while trying to hide what's happening inside the company" will change and the C-level executives will start looking at the "Why" seriously and employing their formidable analytical/execution/financial powers to addressing the nebulous and insidious cultural issues that proliferate behaviors that affect retention.  We will see.

In the meantime, I hope to use all my efforts (whatever I can spare) towards moving the needle by expanding DevPulseCon to India - fingers crossed this will happen if I get funding and significant support from companies both in the US and in India.   First task is to have a great DevPulseCon in April in Mt. View this year - the line-up of speakers and workshops is looking fantastic :).  I should be able to open registrations very soon, I hope.  I still need a few more sponsor companies.

My fellow nominees for the Women in Open Source awards are all phenomenal - I am beyond honored to be considered to be in their league.   As a builder of a technical community in a very niche area I hope to be able to win this award to bring light to the essential need for women engineers worldwide to have a voice, support and recognition for all our work/contributions and struggles so far.

To that extent, if any of the above resonates with you, I would love to have your support and your vote.

May the code be with you.