Dongles, Public Shaming, and Sexism in Tech

You may or not be aware of the social media debacle going on concerning PyCon, "The largest annual gathering for the community using and developing the open-source Python programming language" I'll break it down:

  1. Adria Richards, a Developer Evangelist for SendGrid, is at PyCon. She's sitting in front of a couple of employees from a company called Play Haven who make a couple of jokes about big dongles and "forking the repo". Tech puns.
  2. She takes offense, and posts this to her 10,000 some followers on twitter.
  3. twitter
  4. She sends a few more tweets calling for action to the PyCon administrators, and they escort the guys out of the conference.
  5. Play Haven fires one of the men and Adria also gets let go by SendGrid after the fierce internet storm and drama.

I don't know any of the parties involved personally, but I am a woman who works in a predominately male industry, and I also happen to work in social media and PR.

So here's my take on why Adria overreacted, abused her sphere of influence, and why this isn't about sexism, but common sense.

The Jokes Ok so here's the thing. "Dongle" is a funny word. If you have never made a dongle joke, I would like to personally congratulate you on your maturity, or perhaps your lack of humor, because it is silly. A coworker of mine once kept accidentally referring to it as a "dangle" to which he was met with bouts of giggles from the rest of us, much to his confusion. It is funny. I would even argue that jokes like this in a tech conference setting are OK- given restraint. I work in advertising, which tends to lean a little more risque, but I've definitely heard speakers and CEOs say worse things than dongle jokes or forking puns. Not saying who, so don't ask ;)

I can also see myself making the exact same jokes, I would probably not have made them loud enough for anyone else to hear, or during a presentation, but I am going to go ahead and say yes, I'd joke about a dongle.

The Reaction Adria reacted swiftly and fiercely. Did she have a right to be offended? Absolutely, we have the right to be offended by anything we want. Was it warranted? Ehhh probably not. They're just silly word plays a 13 year old may think up, but they aren't inherently sexist in meaning.

She didn't ask the guys to stop. She didn't talk to them at all about the jokes before she took their photo and blasted it to her thousands of followers on twitter. Which I'm pretty sure in most states you can still sue over having your likeness used for exploitative purposes. Then she gets the guys kicked out of the conference, which I think PyCon made the right call, but still don't think was deserved. So far, kinda just sucks for the guys but no big.

The problem with blasting their photos to twitter, is that it was a vindictive move also known as Public Shaming. It's like when Bieber was being harassed by a troll, and sent his bajillions of twitter followers the kid's phone number. The kid's phone would not stop blowing up, and Bieber kind of looked like a jerk for pulling the move. It's an abuse of power. Someone pisses you off, you handle it face to face, like an adult. You don't rally your troops against the person to make them suffer. Ask my Algebra teacher from 7th grade if public shaming me ever worked. Hint: It didn't.

Public shaming was not on the path to conflict resolution, which should always be the end goal.


So then everyone gets fired. Alright not everyone, just one of the guys and Adria, but whatever. Minor details. Which, I'll argue was not a bad move on either company's part. People get fired for a lot less, and they became public liabilities, and they reacted how most companies would.

When you attend a conference for work you are representing your company, and anything you say or do will be used against you in a court of social media. Not a bad move, but not necessarily the RIGHT move. But these things are always complicated, and maybe the guy was a sucky developer anyway (prob not), but Play Haven prioritized the company reputation over the worth of an individual employee, which is absolutely not uncommon. Remember this Applebee's server?

Adria is getting pretty viciously attacked on social media, which is never cool regardless of circumstance. Bullies are bullies are bullies. Her company made the call to let her go as well as they announced on their Facebook page. That, I think was the right choice. She's supposed to be the Developer Evangelist, which is a fancy title for a communicator. Main skills include: communication. She showed a clear lack of ability in this case to communicate to achieve a mutually beneficial end goal and I would not want her on my team either.

Sexism Here's the tricky stuff. In Adria's defense, she discusses how PyCon had a 20% female attendance, which is HUGE for the developer world. That should have been the takeaway that was celebrated here instead of this silly mess. I was the only female at my company for 8 months before another lady joined ship, and it was really tough. Women are hugely underrepresented in the tech world, we all know this. It sucks. I won't go into details now, but I had a helluva time proving to my genius engineer coworkers that I wasn't just "some girl" and that my softer sciences of communications and marketing were worth anything. I'm still convincing some of them.

BUT. This was not about that. If anything, Adria set female developers back by seeming irrational, which we know all women are. [sarcasm, don't freak out].

And let's face it, engineers and developers aren't exactly known for their effervescent social graces and charisma. They're smart. Analytical. Literal. Love my guys to death, but they're not exactly nearing Barack Obama levels of smooth.

In any situation you need to understand the person you are dealing with before you decide you are offended. Did they mean to offend you? Do they even realize it's offensive? If not, let them know it offended you and chances are they'll feel bad and won't do it again. Escalate only as a last resort. And don't take it to twitter.

At the end of the day, conflicts are a good thing. Character growth and yada yada. But conflicts can only be resolved if there is a positive compromise to be reached or end goal to be attained. If you are doing anything simply for the sake of doing it, you should probably just quit right now. Every tiny action has consequences, and in this world of 140 characters and milliseconds, it would serve everyone better to think on those consequences a little more before taking action.

Also, girls, stop playa hatin'.

More Resources For Your Nosy Self:

  • SendGrid Blog Post on the Situation
  • Adria's Blog Post on the Situation
  • TechCrunch Post with more info on the Sitch.