Hello. I’m Phoenix Perry, and I want to say thank you to p5 and Processing for hav­ing me here. You’ve been huge to me, and I don’t say that often. I, much like Stephanie, start­ed pro­gram­ming and work­ing as a devel­op­er and found myself pushed out of the field. After four years of quit­ting pro­gram­ming, I came back, and it was Processing I start­ed with in 2004, that brought me back into devel­op­ment. So thank you guys, and I want to point out now I’m doing noth­ing spe­cial here. I feel like any­one who’s at this con­fer­ence could be on this stage. I just want to make sure that every­one under­stands that if you love what you do, peo­ple will even­tu­al­ly flock to you and it’ll all work out. 

I’m going to tell you a lit­tle bit about an orga­ni­za­tion I run, The Code Liberation Foundation. We teach women to pro­gram games for free. We’ve taught over a thou­sand new woman to be pro­gram­mers, between the ages of six­teen to six­ty. We have a high school pro­gram, and we con­sid­er inclu­siv­i­ty as a man­date for build­ing open-source com­mu­ni­ties. I’m going to show you a lit­tle bit about our organization. 

Photo of a dozen women seated around a large table with laptops, as another presents in front of them.

This is a class I ran this December [2014] at NYC Resistor, where we learned to make a one-button game. The class was sold out pret­ty instant­ly, and it was a real­ly won­der­ful expe­ri­ence to teach hard­ware and game development.

Photo of six women with laptops seated around a table.

This is a game jam we ran called Bossed Up,” and Bossed Up is an idea that women when very assertive and dom­i­nant are called a bitch, and men are boss­ing up, they’re man­ning up. Nicki Minaj has a pret­ty hilar­i­ous video and we decid­ed to build this game jam on this theme of empowerment.

Our high school class­es are great. They’ve been at NYU Poly, and they’ve helped us reach out into orga­ni­za­tions and com­mu­ni­ties that maybe would­n’t have been open to games previously.

We do a lot of Lady Jams; we do three or four a year. Those are orga­ni­za­tions efforts where we have a three-day inten­sive edu­ca­tion ses­sion in some­thing like Processing or Unity or GameMaker, and then we run a game jam fea­tured with an exhi­bi­tion and press at the end.

We’ve worked with orga­ni­za­tions like Black Girls Code, and our game devel­op­ment class­es have been in every­thing from Twine, to Javascript, to Phaser, to openFrameworks.

Now I want to talk a lit­tle bit about engag­ing women in pro­gram­ming in three steps.

One is I think we need to real­ly admit defeat, and that’s some­thing that I think the open-source com­mu­ni­ty is on the verge of being very inter­est­ed in doing. The oth­er thing is empow­er­ing change. Basically we need to admit (and I think that this is inter­est­ing; it was inter­est­ing for me to hear Lauren’s sto­ry), that women might come in with less­er skillsets, and they might be less will­ing to post out online. I think reach­ing out to those women and empow­er­ing them is huge. Personal con­tact to me is real­ly cru­cial, and I’m real­ly thank­ful that Casey took a risk on Lauren, because it’s paid off beautifully.

I think that all of us need to be will­ing to men­tor, as well. Women major­ing in Computer Science in US uni­ver­si­ties fell 79% between 2000 and 2011, and that’s no sur­prise to me giv­en the cli­mate in com­put­er sci­ence class­es at most universities.

That leads me to step to where we real­ly need to rec­og­nize an exist­ing bias. Forums and open-source plat­forms often appear to be very hos­tile ter­ri­to­ries for women. We’re often crit­i­cized online about our gen­der and if we dare to post a video, men seem to want to com­ment about our appear­ance first, which is real­ly uncom­fort­able. Bias comes in all forms, and the largest might be the abil­i­ty for women to par­tic­i­pate in these com­mu­ni­ties. I feel like reach­ing out and per­son­al­ly invit­ing them in is a real­ly pos­i­tive way forward. 

Inclusion may not mean just reward­ing the loud­est voice or the largest con­trib­u­tor on Github. It might actu­al­ly be around engag­ing peo­ple who have been biased against in social sys­tems, and in the end I think they have far more to gain than the oth­er folks.

I think that Computer Science cours­es real­ly cater to male inter­ests. What I mean by that is that I think that they often focus on how com­put­ers encode work. They’re very heav­i­ly male-dominated, and women often feel uncom­fort­able in sol­id male class­es, and then tend to drop out and enroll in class­es that are less gender-biased. Things like design, or lit­er­a­ture, or oth­er cours­es that don’t make them feel so threat­ened when they’re the only woman work­ing in a lab at night.

I think that Processing has done a beau­ti­ful job of this, and I think that this is a real­ly valid effort, and I think it’s why you see so many women in the cre­ative cod­ing com­mu­ni­ty. I think if we can real­ly rein­tro­duce code as a way to cre­ate, we have a real shot of lev­el­ing off the gen­der gap.

I real­ly believe that it’s have death of the bro­gram­mer. What I mean by that is that there is no rea­son to reward this kind of behav­ior. Just because your code is more com­pli­cat­ed and more dif­fi­cult does­n’t make it any bet­ter. Often online com­mu­ni­ties can get real­ly bro-ish and get real­ly tech­ni­cal with­out being mean­ing­ful or real­ly sig­nif­i­cant­ly con­tribut­ing to the code­base in any way. That makes less con­fi­dent devel­op­ers feel incred­i­bly out of place, and feel like the curve to step­ping into con­tribut­ing to open-source soft­ware is incred­i­bly steep and intim­i­dat­ing, and that’s got to stop.

I think we need to rec­og­nize that a lot of men are begin­ning to rec­og­nize that as a result of the sys­tem around us, they’ve had more access and train­ing and finan­cial abil­i­ty to con­tribute. And if a wom­an’s in the same room, there’s a good shot she’s over­come a lot more to be there, and her par­tic­i­pa­tion is cost­ing her more. We can’t let over­con­fi­dent men dri­ve young women out. 

I real­ly believe in this idea of no coder left behind, and I cel­e­brate and men­tor new­er users in our com­mu­ni­ty. They often become heavy­weights lat­er on, and I think that if we want to see that ramp con­tin­ue (This is some­thing that I’m going to hope to con­tribute with with the openFrameworks com­mu­ni­ty, and Processing is excep­tion­al with) is hav­ing good doc­u­men­ta­tion. I think it’s real­ly impor­tant that if you’re in a posi­tion to offer speak­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, to take a chance on some­one who’s maybe not spo­ken before to rep­re­sent your orga­ni­za­tion. I think these vis­i­ble roles real­ly empow­er these women, because they will encour­age oth­ers by stand­ing as role models.

And I real­ly believe that we have to raise women into high­ly vis­i­ble lead­er­ship roles. You just have to toss women out front. There’s no oth­er way to build the respect that we want. I think that if we can find young faces or new faces in our com­mu­ni­ty, or women who are par­tic­u­lar­ly rep­re­sent­ing dif­fer­ent pieces of com­mu­ni­ties you want to see more of and give them a role, then it’s over. It goes for­ward from there.

I recent­ly had Zach Lieberman give me a shout out at the Resonate fes­ti­val and I almost fell over. I was like, Holy Jesus Christ.” But it was such a huge thing for me, and it real­ly encour­aged me to con­tin­ue work­ing with openFrameworks.

This is one of the things that I think every­one in this room is going to bring up and talk about, but pro­gram­ming is a polit­i­cal act. I real­ly believe we’re at the nais­sance of pro­gram­ming and code as it enters into our cul­ture. The ideas that we cre­ate and bring into our cul­ture now are going to be pro­found­ly impor­tant to the future of human­i­ty. The struc­ture that they take will be the bedrock for the next hun­dred years from now. And for me, a minor­i­ty of rich empow­ered white peo­ple craft­ing these nar­ra­tives will lead to less-optimal hier­ar­chic solu­tions, and I real­ly believe that code can be open and ideas should ben­e­fit us all. I think you real­ly see these dif­fer­ences when you look at the ideas that Radia Perlman cre­at­ed with tree struc­tures, or that if you take a sec­ond and look at Centipede the video game, with its round ball con­troller and its col­or­ful bright lights, you can get a sense that Dona Bailey brought some­thing real­ly dif­fer­ent to video games than the joystick.

Thank you.

Further Reference

Overview page at the Studio for Creative Inquiry’s web site.