This is a summary of my attendance and participation at Flossie, a 2 day conference aimed at women in open source held in London. I had been asked to speak and take part in this event months ago to discuss how I had gotten involved in Ubuntu. I was also asked to chair a panel discussion about women in FLOSS, this consisted of the speakers who were taking part in the morning sessions. The event was attended by over 70 – 80 women coming from various backgrounds, education, industry, and advoacy from all over the UK and Europe with some three speakers coming from Spain.
We kicked off the session with a reference to the 2006 study funded by the European Union ( Free/Libre/Open Source Software: Policy Support), about 1.5 percent of open-source contributors are women. I’d like to think in 2012 those numbers are up, surveys suggest that in terms of active contributors to the Ubuntu project there are 763 Ubuntu members it is around 5% and in the KDE variant Kubuntu closer to 8%, Computer science graduates overall around 20%. We aimed to discuss over the course of the event were the reasons why the numbers are low, but climbing.
The panel was made up with representatives from industry, higher education, voluntary sector and hardware hacking community. Some of the topics we discussed are below which lead to a good discussion and follow up questions/thoughts.
Programming vs making things
With hardware projects like arduino and raspberry pi and the crafting/maker faire communities experiencing strong growth, is this a trend that will particularly help encourage women to get involved in technology?
Solitary work vs collaborating in teams
Do you feel that women learn and work better in a more collaborative environment than the traditional solitary programmer model? Perhaps with larger more modern software that must be developed by teams the social collaboration is suiting women better than the general development environment in the past has done.
Software freedom as a concept
Do you think the fundamental philosophies of the Free Software foundation, the four freedoms, and the concept of giving freely to society with no tangible reward have, or should have, a particular resonance with women?
Academia vs Industry
Are the initiatives in academia to get girls and young women involved in technology working? Does industry have better ideas? Is there enough collaboration between industry and universities working on getting women into technology jobs?
We are at a technology event specifically targeted at women, there are other formats such as geekgirldinners where men are welcomed as long as they have an invitation from a woman, and of course many well run and welcoming events where women are a rarity. What works well, and what do we need more of?
Me personally, I’m not a lover of one gender only being allowed to attend an event, I find it closes off people who could also bring something to the table for discussion. I love the way girl geek dinners do it, Gentlemen can attend if they are invited as I do think it’s important to work with people and not just beside them. I do fully appreciate this was FLOSSIEs first event and wanted to invite as many women to take part in it the talks and it worked out well, but maybe this could be looked at in the future.
There were a lot of great talks over the two days, a lot of the talks on Friday were from academic speakers, how they were working on FLOSS projects in colleges and how researchers work in open source communities. There were also workshops happening at the same time for a bit more hands on experience.
Some key talks were, from the developers of whatsmysize.com where it was developed over a weekend on drupal this was chosen as the preferred platform as the developers know it inside and out and had worked on it before, it grew to 1K users very fast,however it slowed down on updates and enhancements deployments after that due to hiring of a new developer who hadn’t experience and was a php developer so they learned from that to share knowledge to others in the company.
Other projects that caught my eye that I’d not heard of were the Chi-tek project well worth a read and if you get to see it in London rather interesting.
Tex Gen Open Source software for Modelling of Textile composites, this was interesting as it started off as a research project and then went to become an open source project, although the project manage was dubious about this and did put up resistance to this, he now speaks at events advocating open source projects.
There was a large discussion which spread out to lunchtime debate on the Lorea project they are trying to get it recongnised for a 8K grant to fund it, presentation in English / Spanish if you are interested in voting on it.
I gave a talk on baby steps into contributing to an open source project and based it on how to get involved in Ubuntu, it was received well, I had a student come up to me the next day saying she’d not heard of it before, went home and tried the cd I had brought along and loved it and would consider trying it out for a while to see how she got on.
Overall it was a good experience, and they are going to plan a 2013 to happen next year.