We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming to Bring You This Important Message
Content warning: profanity, sexism, violence
Also — sorry for skipping a post last week, I had this one ready to go and then pulled it at the last minute to get some more feedback. We’ll be back on our regularly scheduled content this week.
Ok, so I had a plan for what I was going to write about this week (no, I actually wasn’t going to rant about Python, fun as that might’ve been), but some stuff came across my feed that changed up my plan.
Before we get started, though, I have a few things I need to acknowledge up front: one is that I am a white, cishet dude who is fortunate enough to be able to screw around for a year or two with no particular plan, and I’m inserting myself into the conversation about how women and minorities get treated in tech. I’m pretty solidly in the camp of “we can’t have this conversation if half of the involved parties aren’t even in the room”, but I know not everyone has that same viewpoint, particularly after events like the one I’m going to be discussing in this post. I’m trying to navigate the tension between “being involved in the conversation” and “not dominating the conversation”, but everyone is going to have a different perception of how well (or not) I thread that needle.
Secondly: I also want to acknowledge that this blog space is different than blogs I’ve run in the past, in that it is the public face of a company, not just of an individual. If I say something in this space, it’s not just drmorr saying it, it’s also Applied Computing that’s saying it. If, for example, drmorr rants about Rust and Golang, that’s one thing; if ACLR rants about Rust and Golang, that could be something different. I’m trying to walk the line between “being myself and having a voice” and “running a professional business”, and I’m still figuring out where that line is.
I don’t know how to resolve any of these tensions, so I’d like to just acknowledge that they exist, and ask for a bit of grace in this space.
With those disclaimers out of the way, I want to talk about…
Grace Hopper 2023
Firstly, a bit of background. The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) is an annual conference (started in 1994) that is designed to provide a space for not-men to embrace their craft, and connect with other people in computer science. The conference, however, does not exclude men from attending—in fact, it encourages men to come, but as allies: to support and encourage the attendees for whom the conference is designed. Full disclosure: I have not attended GHC before, but it is a convention I would very much like to be able to attend in the future.
GHC has grown to become a hugely popular event. In the ten years between 2010 and 2020, the number of attendees grew by an order of magnitude, from around 2,000 attendees to nearly 30,000! The Grace Hopper career fair is legendary in the industry—hundreds of companies attend, and it is a fantastic way for not-men to get their foot in the door in an industry that perennially struggles to have more than 20% of their employees as not-men. GHC also sponsors a number of awards and other events (Open Source Day is supposed to be a really fun way to get involved in open source contributions!) which, when taken all together, create a truly powerful and empowering atmosphere for those folks who are so often told that they aren’t powerful or empowered to do anything.
So, you can maybe imagine my shock when 404 Media reported that the Grace Hopper Celebration in 2023 was, let’s just say, a shitshow of epic proportions (if you haven’t read their article or don’t know more details, I’d encourage you to go read that before finishing my post). Again, I was not in attendance this year, but I have also confirmed some of their reporting independently. Let’s take a look:
This year, people who were there reported a massive influx of male attendees at the conference, who seemingly behaved like they were in the Hunger Games for computer scientists.
The Hunger Games for computer scientists? What… what does that even mea—
Men […] were lining up to talk to recruiters in droves, cutting in front of women in lines, shoving and pushing, and selling interview slots for thousands of dollars.
Oh. Oh my.
I got shoved by a guy into a door frame.
What is this, Black Friday for computer scientists?
“Simply put, some of you lied about your gender when you registered,” Cullen White, Chief Impact Officer at AnitaB.org, said in a plenary at the conference.
What the actual fuck??? People are cutting in line, shoving people into door frames, auctioning off interview slots for thousands of dollars, and lying about their fucking gender so they can… what, exactly?
In the absolute most charitable interpretation I can think of, maybe these people have been impacted by layoffs. Maybe they have families who are struggling. Maybe they’re here on visas and are desperate to stay here. Maybe they just really need those jobs. Maybe.
And yet. Even if that were the case, that is no excuse for not acting like a fucking human being. I can tell you that if I were at Grace Hopper, and I saw you shove someone into a fucking door frame so that you could have first dibs at an interview, we would be having words.
But of course, there are far less charitable interpretations out there. People are already speculating on Mastodon that this was some real-life brigading attempt, and honestly? Given the current political climate in the United States, I wouldn’t be all that shocked if it was.
But regardless of motivations, regardless of need or merit or anything else, I just think that we all need to take a moment to collectively acknowledge that this is not OK.
It is not OK to dominate spaces that are designed for others. It is not OK to hold interview spots hostage for thousands of dollars for anyone, and especially not the marginalized people in our community. It is not OK to verbally and physically harass the people around you. It is not OK to lie about your gender to get an opportunity (that, as Cullen White put it, you had no right to) for a job. This is not OK.
I don’t know if this post will reach any of the attendees who engaged in this behaviour at GHC this year, but if it does: it’s partly on you to fix this. I don’t know what “fixing this” looks like for everyone, but here’s a suggestion — call up each of the recruiters you talked to at GHC, explain what you did, why you did it, and then say that you are recusing yourself from any opportunities at their companies. If you want to go above and beyond, you can then tell the recruiter the names of three not-men who should interview in your stead.
Or, maybe this post will reach someone who was at GHC, and saw this sort of behaviour and didn’t intervene. What I want you to know is: you can’t change the past, but next time, you can do something different. Next time this happens, intervene. Say something. Tell the jackass who cut in front of 20 women because he was too damn impatient that he needs to stand down and get to the back of the line. It’ll be uncomfortable, it’ll be scary, and I can almost guarantee you that as soon as you say something, someone else will back you up. Lots of folks are uncomfortable and don’t know how to respond in these situations, but someone just needs to be first. Be first.
Maybe this post will reach someone who is a not-man who is struggling right now, maybe thinking about changing jobs or professions because of how you are treated. Maybe you were at Grace Hopper and got shoved into a door frame, or worse. To that person, I want to say: You belong in this industry. There are places in this industry that will support you and help you grow, even if they’re hard to find. And to you, I will also say, if I can use any of my contacts or connections to help you find that space, reach out. I’m always happy to do what I can.
Or, maybe this post will just get a few interested passers-by on the Internet and then fade. In that case, I just want to say that each of you, every day, has the opportunity to do small things to help. Don’t interrupt the woman on your team when she’s talking. Advocate for her promotion. Use the proper pronouns for the trans man who just transitioned, and (gently) correct the others who forget. Get involved. Do something.
I watched the remarks from the leaders of AnitaB.org and GHC, and they all promised that they’re going to make changes so this doesn’t happen again. And you know what? I believe them. I believe they will make changes, but they can’t change everything, and change takes time. At a 30,000-person conference, the leaders can’t be everywhere at once. The security guards can’t be everywhere at once. But you know who is everywhere? You are. The attendees. You’re everywhere, and some of you are participating in bad behaviour, and some of you are recipients of bad behaviour, and some of you are actually intervening and trying to recreate the safe space that’s been shattered by bad behaviour, and the rest of you are just standing by watching it all happen.
For fuck’s sake. Do fucking better, people. The community depends on you.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. Thank you to a couple of lovely folks for providing me really helpful feedback on this post!