Ashe Dryden: I think that you all dis­count exact­ly how bright it is up here. How are you? This my first time at MozFest. I’m super super excit­ed. I’m real­ly hap­py with the fact that many of the speak­ers have men­tioned how tech­nol­o­gy has been pos­i­tive­ly and neg­a­tive­ly impact­ing mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple, because that’s exact­ly what I do.

So, my name is Ashe Dryden. I run a trav­el­ing con­fer­ence series called AlterConf that brings togeth­er mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple to talk about issues of diver­si­ty and inclu­sion in the tech and gam­ing indus­tries. But I’m also a for­mer White House fel­low I’m around and tech and inclu­sion for LGBTQ peo­ple. So for last year, I was work­ing on a project to help end police bru­tal­i­ty in the United States, which is very um, opti­mistic. But as white peo­ple that’s our job, right? So thank you so— Yeah, I mean it is our prob­lem.

So thank you so much for hav­ing me. Thank you for being here and for talk­ing about some­thing that I know a lot of peo­ple have a lot of feel­ings about. So I want you to know that you can hang on to those feel­ings and that you can still real­ly get the gut of this talk.

I’ve been a tech­nol­o­gist for four­teen or fif­teen years. I love open source. I’m sure all of you love open source. Very many of us would not have our jobs, would not be able to do what we do, would not enjoy the tech­nol­o­gy that goes all the way from our fan­cy cars down to our baby mon­i­tors that are con­nect­ed to the Internet, right?

So there are a lot of things that open source gives us, and I don’t want to dis­count that. I don’t want to dis­count the work that is put into open source, the peo­ple who do it freely and will­ing­ly. This talk is more about the coer­cion of labor into open source soft­ware. So I want to take a crit­i­cal look at how we can engage busi­ness­es and oth­er stake­hold­ers in tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies to begin to cre­ate a more equal and sus­tain­able envi­ron­ment for all peo­ple con­tribut­ing to open source. We love open source, right?

Code, docs, testing + QA, IRC, help, design, UX/UI, speaking, teaching, & more

And I also want to men­tion that when I talk about open source, I’m not just talk­ing about com­mits on Github. It is code, but it’s also docs, it’s test­ing, QA, all the peo­ple who spend count­less hours in IRC, peo­ple who are doing design work, peo­ple who are solv­ing prob­lems inter­nal­ly in their com­pa­nies and then turn­ing around and con­tribut­ing that back because they’ve noticed that there’s a bug in some­thing. People who are bring­ing up bugs in open source. There a lot of dif­fer­ent things that go into the labor of open source.

So who ben­e­fits from open source? Well, obvi­ous­ly we do as con­sumers, as I men­tioned before. Almost every prod­uct that we have is embed­ded with a chip that like­ly has some very low-level code that was writ­ten by some­body up to twenty-five years ago that we still use today. Somebody that freely gave that labor to be able to have it pro­lif­er­ate and for us to be able to build on that.

But many of us as pro­fes­sion­als also ben­e­fit from that, whether that’s the work that we do every day that we get paid for because some­body else has done that work in the past. Great, I don’t have to write out a login script one more time for my ecom­merce web­site, because some­body has already done this for what­ev­er I’m using.

But also, for the most part we’re look­ing at busi­ness own­ers and share­hold­ers, stake­hold­ers in large com­pa­nies. There’s a lot of mon­ey that’s flow­ing into com­pa­nies because of the unpaid labor that is con­tributed into open source soft­ware.

This is from Forbes for this past year. Of the top five sec­tors in the econ­o­my, three of those are tech­nol­o­gy, #1, #2, and #4. So the most prof­itable areas of our econ­o­my rely on tech­nol­o­gy, very many of which rely on this unpaid open labor.

So can we eth­i­cal­ly approve of this unpaid labor? How do we dis­cern the dif­fer­ence between whether it’s giv­en freely, whether it’s coerced in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways? And this is a very tricky, sticky things. So we’re going to kin­da dig into it a lit­tle bit so you can see where those dif­fer­ences are.

Unpaid labor creates homogeneity

Unpaid labor leads to homo­gene­ity. If any of you know of my work, a lot of what I do is around diver­si­ty and inclu­sion in the tech indus­try; around who has access to the tech­nol­o­gy that we use; what we cre­ate with that tech­nol­o­gy; who is able to join in in the indus­try; and who is able to get recog­ni­tion for their work.

There is a real­ly awe­some Gist on Github that has a script that pulls in the top thou­sand con­trib­u­tors on Github by com­mits. And if you are able to look at this pho­to, you can see that very many of these peo­ple look very sim­i­lar. Very many of them if you go down the list are from the United States. Very many of them are white. I’m not going to give exact num­bers because guess­ing that is tricky busi­ness and I’m not going to. And very many of them are male.

That in and of itself is not a prob­lem. The peo­ple who con­tribute great­ly, the peo­ple who are able to, and the peo­ple who enjoy and love doing that should be able to do that and should be cel­e­brat­ed for the work that they’ve done.

Time Commitment

The tricky part comes in, though, in why they’re able to do that over oth­er kinds of peo­ple. One major prob­lem­at­ic area around that is the time com­mit­ment that it takes. If you’ve ever con­tributed to open source, even if you just opened one bug, the num­ber of com­ments that end up on some­thing that have you buried in emails at the end of the day, at the end of the week, the end of the month, you know how much that builds up even if it’s just one com­ment that you start­ed with.

So it’s a very large com­mit­ment to begin con­tribut­ing to open source, to active­ly con­tribute to open source, whether that’s writ­ing it itself, try­ing to get it to work with oth­er tech­nolo­gies, test­ing it, design­ing for it, or using that inter­nal­ly in your com­pa­ny.

And if we break that down and we look at how that affects mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple indi­vid­u­al­ly, because very many peo­ple are hav­ing to do open source out­side of work, they’re doing it in addi­tion to work, this is things that their employ­er is not pay­ing for, it eats into time that would oth­er­wise be used for famil­ial things, for men­tal health, that kind of thing. And it affects mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple much more than it affects more priv­i­leged peo­ple.

So for instance women, and espe­cial­ly women of col­or, spend far more time care­giv­ing and per­form­ing domes­tic labor. And this is impor­tant to note that it’s not for your own fam­i­ly, for your own chil­dren, but it’s also for oth­er peo­ple. For a neigh­bor who has to work a second-shift job, for your part­ner who has to go to school in the evenings. So the time that you have allot­ted for those kinds of things is eas­i­ly eat­en up, that you would not be able to con­tribute to open source with the same amount of time that oth­er peo­ple have.

Historical Discrimination

There’s also a prob­lem of his­tor­i­cal dis­crim­i­na­tion. Oftentimes very many of us are able to get jobs where we’re work­ing in com­pa­nies that pay us to con­tribute to open source dur­ing the day. That’s great. Not tons of com­pa­nies do that, but I imag­ine a larg­er per­cent­age of peo­ple here in this room have that expe­ri­ence, where you’re going to work, you’re work­ing on some­thing, you’re able to con­tribute back code that you were either able to fix some­thing or adding new fea­tures, and not every­body has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work in those kinds of com­pa­nies.

Oftentimes when we’re look­ing at who has access to those com­pa­nies, they’re peo­ple who have had access to those kinds of oppor­tu­ni­ties in the past. So if we’re look­ing at the resume of some­one and we see that they have worked at a com­pa­ny pre­vi­ous­ly that we rec­og­nize, that we know is a great con­trib­u­tor to the ecosys­tem that we work with­in, it only makes sense to bring that per­son in. Ah, they have expe­ri­ence con­tribut­ing to open source on the job. They have expe­ri­ence deal­ing with peo­ple in issue queues. This is great. We will hire them.

Which sounds all well and fine. But if you’re build­ing on the dis­crim­i­na­tion that anoth­er com­pa­ny has com­mit­ted against some­one— Oh, this per­son has not con­tributed in the past. We can­not find any Github pro­file for this per­son. They don’t have any expe­ri­ence deal­ing with peo­ple in issue queues. And there­fore they’re less like­ly to get this job.

So now you’re build­ing on top of some­body else’s dis­crim­i­na­tion. So, now we have peo­ple whose entire career is based on this pil­ing. Of every oppor­tu­ni­ty I’ve tak­en, I’ve not been rec­og­nized, I’ve not been giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work at a com­pa­ny that allows me to con­tribute dur­ing work hours and being paid for that time. Because for many peo­ple they’re not able to do that out­side of work.

Pay Inequality

Pay inequal­i­ty is also a gigan­tic thing. I think very much has been said over the past few years about pay inequal­i­ty in tech spaces, so I don’t want to dig too much into that. But to say that there are things that we don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly real­ize that con­tribute to an entire person’s life aside from specif­i­cal­ly the num­bers on their pay­check. You make less mon­ey. That means you have to live far­ther out­side of the city, far­ther away from work. Your com­mute is longer. It’s much eas­i­er to end up hav­ing to miss work or being late for work because your train was delayed, your kid’s school had a snow day and I can’t get in right away, and it’s going to take me a lit­tle bit longer. So these things are much more com­pli­cat­ed than we expect. It’s not just the num­ber on a pay­check.

Few OSS Contribs During Business Hours

As I said before, few open source con­tri­bu­tions are hap­pen­ing dur­ing busi­ness hours. Very few com­pa­nies are giv­ing peo­ple the oppor­tu­ni­ty, even if dur­ing work they’re using open source soft­ware, if their entire company’s built off of the use of dif­fer­ent libraries and prod­ucts, are giv­ing peo­ple the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­tribute back. And when we’re look­ing at again that after­hours time, it’s much hard­er to have a con­sis­tent amount of time when you have some­thing like a chron­ic men­tal or phys­i­cal ill­ness that leads you to have to spend more time on your­self, whether that’s, I can’t sit up long enough dur­ing the day. I can’t be sit­ting at my com­put­er for twelve hours a day because I have require­ments from my doc­tor that I be lay­ing down for a cer­tain amount of time.” Or you have dif­fer­ent health reg­i­mens that require you to take med­ica­tion, and you have to eat every few hours. You have to the doc­tor more fre­quent­ly.

Harassment & Bias

We also have a large issue around harass­ment and bias. And a lot has been dis­cussed around this in a lot of dif­fer­ent ways, not just in open source but in tech in gen­er­al. Whether that’s on Twitter, whether that the way that peo­ple respond to some­body in the issue queues on Github. There are a few stud­ies that were done show­ing that when some­body who is rec­og­nized as a woman, read as a woman, on Github con­tributed a piece of code, the num­ber of com­ments on that post were dou­bled, tripled, quadru­pled, over some­body con­tribut­ing sim­i­lar kinds of code that was per­ceived as male.

And I’m going to apol­o­gize. A lot of the exam­ples I’m giv­ing are very heav­i­ly skewed gen­der bina­ry and basi­cal­ly no oth­er iden­ti­ty traits. And that’s because there’s not a whole lot of research that’s being done into all of the dif­fer­ent aspects of iden­ti­ty when it comes to hav­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty in tech. There’s one study that I read that said this study was unable to find any black con­trib­u­tors.” And I was like like ugh. It’s heart­break­ing and it’s hor­ri­ble and it makes it much hard­er for us to track progress over time, to be able to dis­cuss with peo­ple why it is they’re leav­ing ear­ly, if they’re not enter­ing, if they’re not enjoy­ing their time as much, and what con­tributes to all of those dif­fer­ent things. So again I apol­o­gize ahead of time.

Correcting the Bias

So how do we cor­rect this bal­ance? We have all of these dif­fer­ent things that lead to this inequal­i­ty in tech. We have all of this labor that’s being pro­duced unpaid. How do we cor­rect the bal­ance going for­ward to make this a more equal oppor­tu­ni­ty for peo­ple, to see more dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple brought in, and to see more prod­ucts and tools that are being cre­at­ed for more dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple and more dif­fer­ent kinds of sit­u­a­tions?

Sponsor Projects & Contributors

We can start spon­sor­ing projects and con­tri­bu­tions. Like I said before, for 2016 tech was in three of the top five posi­tions in the econ­o­my. So we make a ton of mon­ey. I don’t think that that’s a sur­prise to any­one. Very lit­tle of that is being con­tributed back to dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties that are cre­at­ing the prod­ucts that allow com­pa­nies to go fur­ther with their prod­ucts, to be able to boot­strap and be able to work real­ly quick­ly and to shift and change in the things that they’re doing.

So, there are a lot of dif­fer­ent projects out there that allow you to con­tribute specif­i­cal­ly to their devel­op­ments. For instance Ruby has one that allows you to con­tribute direct­ly to the peo­ple who pro­duce Bundler. And if you’ve ever used Bundler before, as any­body who uses Rails knows, you run it con­stant­ly. So mak­ing sure that it’s not just one per­son who’s run­ning this gigan­tic soft­ware project that is the back­bone of this com­mu­ni­ty, doesn’t get burnt out—because that is a major issue, doesn’t run out of time to be able to work on that next to Oh, I have to pay my rent and eat some­times,” you know, those kinds of things. Being able to con­tribute direct­ly to somebody’s bot­tom line and show­ing that appre­ci­a­tion for their work can help mit­i­gate some of those prob­lems.

Stop Requiring OSS Contribution / Github Profiles for Interviews

We can stop requir­ing open source con­tri­bu­tion and Github pro­files for inter­views. I work a lot with dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies specif­i­cal­ly in tech, and almost entire­ly in open source spaces. And very many of them don’t real­ize how large the imbal­ance is when we’re talk­ing about requir­ing any kind of open source con­tri­bu­tion his­to­ry ver­sus some­body who doesn’t. The num­bers depend—there’s a sur­vey that came out more recent­ly, but it’s a lit­tle bit less reli­able. But a sur­vey that was done in 2007 showed that only 2.5% of all con­trib­u­tors to open source are women.

So if you’re say­ing we real­ly need to hire more female engi­neers— (And again I apol­o­gize about the bina­ry and no oth­er iden­ti­ty mark­ers there.) But if you’re say­ing we real­ly want to hire more women and you also are say­ing we need to require that they have con­tributed to open source in some kind of mean­ing­ful way, I am telling you that per­son is already work­ing some­where else. They’re get­ting paid more than you would pay them, and appre­ci­at­ed more than you would be able to appre­ci­ate them.

So by requir­ing those things, by not say­ing this is some­thing that can be taught, this is some­thing that we can have some­body do while they’re work­ing for us so we’re rais­ing that 2.5% num­ber, you’re basi­cal­ly con­tribut­ing to this over­all prob­lem.

NDAs and Work Product: Licensing and Security

And remem­ber that many peo­ple are work­ing in areas of the indus­try where they’re under NDA, whether that’s they’re sub­con­tract­ing or con­tract­ing, there are secu­ri­ty or licens­ing concerns…that lead them to not even be able to con­tribute back to open source the things that they did, even if they want­ed to. So there are a lot of dif­fer­ent lay­ers to that.

Make OSS Part of Your Culture

You can start mak­ing open source part of your cul­ture. If your first instinct is, This is a prob­lem that we just found. Okay, once we get this shipped so our soft­ware is cor­rect, so our web site isn’t going to crash because of this thing.” Now, let’s reserve some­time to con­tribute this back. Detail what the prob­lem was. Work with oth­er peo­ple to make sure that this actu­al­ly is the best solu­tion, and con­tribute that back, on bill­able hours. On office time.

Contribute During Work Hours; Mentor During Work Hours

And also you can start men­tor­ing dur­ing those work hours. Because con­tribut­ing to open source can be incred­i­bly nerve-wracking for a lot of peo­ple who haven’t done it before. Oh, not only am I cod­ing in front of oth­er peo­ple, but I have to prove myself and prove that I know what I’m talk­ing about. I have to answer all of these ques­tions from peo­ple I do not know, who may or may not be hos­tile towards me because I’m brand new. Who may or may not ignore my com­ments because I’m brand new, that they see that I don’t have any com­mits at all. It makes it much more dif­fi­cult for that per­son to con­tribute.

So being able to pair with some­one and say, Hey, this is how we do it. These are the kinds of things that this project specif­i­cal­ly is look­ing for, and what their styles and rules are. This is how we inter­act. This is how we get things ulti­mate­ly merged into the project,” lessens that bur­den on them.

Support Programs to Bring New People In

We can sup­port pro­grams that bring new peo­ple in. There are a lot of dif­fer­ent ones that have been com­ing out recent­ly, and I’m sure that many of you have heard of things like Outreachy, Google Summer of Code, OpenHatch. All of these pro­grams intro­duced open source soft­ware to already-established pro­gram­mers or peo­ple who are new to pro­gram­ming about how to con­tribute, pair­ing them up with already exist­ing projects so they get famil­iar, so it’s not over­whelm­ing, you’re not jump­ing in the deep end of the pool every sin­gle day. You’re get­ting more and more famil­iar with a spe­cif­ic projects and with spe­cif­ic peo­ple. You’re get­ting help through that.

Being able to con­tribute to those things, whether it’s you are men­tor­ing peo­ple through your project, your com­pa­ny is pro­vid­ing the funds for peo­ple to have a liv­able wage, or just pass­ing along the word to oth­er com­pa­nies who should and can con­tribute to those kinds of things are also super help­ful.

So. There are a lot of dif­fer­ent things that go into this. I know it seems real­ly over­whelm­ing. I work on so many dif­fer­ent pieces of this mov­ing puz­zle. But I think it’s impor­tant to remem­ber that as an indus­try that has an incred­i­ble amount of mon­ey, as an indus­try where we pro­duce an excep­tion­al amount of work that is used by tons of peo­ple all over the world in all dif­fer­ent sectors—it’s not just tech­nol­o­gy, it’s health, it’s con­sumer elec­tron­ics, it’s edu­ca­tion. So many dif­fer­ent places. We real­ly owe it to the peo­ple and to our ecosys­tem to make this sus­tain­able and a place that’s much more inclu­sive than it already is.

Because as it is right now, so many more peo­ple are burn­ing out from the work­load. So few peo­ple are being able to be intro­duced in a way that is non-coercive—I don’t feel like I have to con­tribute to be able to get a job, because every job requires that I con­tribute mean­ing­ful­ly and con­tin­u­al­ly to open source. And it can be a fun and enjoy­able expe­ri­ence. We shouldn’t have let the way that open source has grown go from I need to solve this prob­lem and pro­pri­etary soft­ware doesn’t let me,” to, Every com­pa­ny is using my labor and is not giv­ing any­thing back and still demands more of me to be able to even hire me.” It’s not a ten­able solu­tion.

So we have a respon­si­bil­i­ty, each of us, peo­ple who run com­pa­nies, peo­ple who go to con­fer­ences, to remind that we have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to broad­en what our def­i­n­i­tion of con­tri­bu­tion is. It’s not just peo­ple who com­mit code. It’s not just peo­ple who merge it. It’s not just peo­ple who run the projects. And to active­ly con­tribute to a much more sus­tain­able and inclu­sive prac­tice that leads to more dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple being able to par­tic­i­pate in the sys­tem.

So thank you so much. My name is Ashe Dryden. You can find me online. I’m Ashe Dryden pret­ty much every­where. But I’m hap­py to answer your ques­tions.


Audience 1: I'm not sure how to start this. I highly empathize. The idea of being paid for your labor is important. It's essential. But I've been doing open source for twenty-five years since before we called it open source. And for about five years of that total, I haven't been paid for that labor. I was doing awesome sorts of open source programming, coding, giving stuff away for free. I don't get paid for it, I get paid because of it.

Ashe Dryden: That's great.

Audience 1: And that's led to a career today. So how does one factor that value in the fact that having contributed to open source generously at my own cost and living in student digs at the time, it gives me a foundation to build a career on? How does one factor that into your argument?

Dryden: Sure. Absolutely. So if I may be so bold to assume you are white. And male. Okay. Hold on, it's not to be snarky.

Audience 1: [inaudible] …nerdy and cis and a variety of other labels. The normal labels that went along with geekery in 1985.

Dryden: Sure. And that's not an insult at all. It's identity markers, right.

Audience 1: [inaudible] …just a stereotype…

Dryden: Well, it's not stereotyping—

Audience 1: Yes it is. [inaudible]

Dryden: In any case. The question is how do you—

Audience 1: Or is it like Trainspotting?

Dryden: … Yes, can I finish speaking, please? So the question is how do you reconcile the fact that having contributed to open source in the past has given me a career. And that is an excellent question. A lot of people get that experience, and we know through various studies that the vast majority of people who begin programming from an early age, who have access to computers and other technology, including the Internet, an early age, tend to fit into one group.

It is not a bad thing at all that you were able to contribute to open source, and that you were able to do so without being paid, and whether or not you feel like you were repaid for that. We'll leave that up to you. But the fact that you were in that situation of being able to do that is not a situation that everybody experiences. So because you were more likely to receive pay parity with your peers, the likelihood that you had other people supporting you in any other kind of way whether that was emotionally, physically or whatever— I'm talking statistically. …is going to be different for each person. And that's perfectly fine but we're looking at and what it means to be a marginalized person in the spaces. What it means to have access to those opportunities. And that is going to be drastically different for the more privileged amongst us.

So if you can and you want to contribute to open source without being paid. If you feel like you've been repaid because of the crew the you have—which I have, so I greatly appreciate that. But it shouldn't be a revolutionary idea that people should be paid for their worth, for their work. And that is really more the message that I'm sending. If this is something you want to do as a hobby, something that you love doing in your own time, that's perfectly fine. But not everybody has that opportunity. So we're looking at creating a system where people do have that opportunity equally.

Audience 2: I went from working for a proprietary software company to an open software company. I have that privilege. But one of the things I noticed when I went to the open software world was wow people are cruel to each other.

Dryden: Cruel, is that what you said?

Audience 2: And wow people can be mean. On bug reviews, on mailing lists, like anybody who's ever seen the Linux kernel mailing list. I mean…my god. And that was a big surprise to me. And I don't know if you know of research about this, but that might tie into it. Because if I belong to a marginalized group—which I don't—but if I somehow belonged to a more marginalized group, I feel like I'd be like, "I'm dealing with enough crap in daily life. I don't want this in my volunteer contributions. I'll go help kids in Africa or something," right? I don't know. Do you think there's just a culture in open source also that might just not be friendly enough?

Dryden: I think it really depends on the community that you're in And every community has pockets of good and bad, too. So I don't want to cast a wide net there. But I think that you mentioned Linux, and I think that that is a really obvious thing to point out, right? Like, when you have the heads of the project who expect a certain kind of behavior and who aren't shutting things down when they start to get abusive, it's not about constructive criticism in your commit and making sure that we only push the best things into the kernel. it's abusive and it's showing dominance and showing that I'm smarter than you and that builds me up, that is an unhealthy environment. And it's much more difficult to be able to change that when you're lower than the people who are doing those kinds of things.

So yes, I definitely agree that it is hostile. There's tons of harassment. There's lots of studies out there around the way that people get treated in IRC and Github issues. And I think that if anybody here is on Twitter and follows anybody who does open source software, you see how regularly they have to deal with crap, or how many horrible things come up. But there are also good pockets. There are lots of places that are working to be much more inclusive, and we need to kind of look to them as mentors for those kinds of things.


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