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I saw Hilary Mason's post, "Stop talking, start coding" and realized she had put in 4 words what I'd been debating taking as a personal philosophy.

Theory: The more time we spend on women in computing initiatives, the less time we have to actually get stuff done.

I've been turning down a lot of opportunities lately, and most of them have been in relation to women in $foo initiatives. Where $foo can be all manner of male-dominated geekdom. I've turned down chances at serving on a board of directors, recruiting, mentoring, speaking, giving campus tours, or running new women in $foo groups.

Why? Because I sat down and looked at my time a few years ago, and decided that I wanted to be the sort of person who gets stuff done, much like Sarah Mei articulates the answer in her post, "Why I don't work at Google." I like groups of smart people, but smart people like the GNU Mailman team who were working on version 3 held a lot more appeal that the Linuxchix folk who were just talking.

It'd be easy to blame women's groups as the problem, but then you'd miss the thing that I love most about women's groups:

The best women's groups aren't about separation and segregation: they're about providing an incubator for people who need a leg up to be part of the wider community.

That pretty much sounds like a recipe for making change and getting stuff done, and means the wider communities I care about are getting more awesome people. I love teaching. It's such a rewarding part of my job that I never feel that my time in the classroom working with my students is a waste. So why had I begun to feel guilty about my involvement with incubator organizations?

I recently went to a talk by Jane Goodall. She didn't talk about being a woman at all: she talked about the positive changes she's seen in the world, and how talking about these positive changes helps to inspire people more than shaking her finger seemed to. She believes this so strongly that she spends 300 days a year travelling and talking. But she says she's very careful to choose the right initiatives: Sometimes people are so desperate to Do Something that they sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. This isn't a problem exclusive to women in computing groups.

So I'm working on a checklist for choosing the right things for me:
  1. Do I want to do this?
  2. Am I the best person for this? (Or can I refer them to someone else?)
  3. Can I do it without negatively impacting my other commitments? (Will it take up too much of my time? Does it happen at a time when I'm busy?)
  4. Am I reasonably sure this will result in getting stuff done, so I'll be able to look back and be proud of what I accomplished?
I still answer my email and occasionally post a blurb from an organization that doesn't otherwise know how to reach women. It takes minimal energy to be polite and provide basic help, and I know I appreciate it when people do the same for me.  But the initiatives that get the bulk of my energy are going to be the ones where I feel like I'm really making change.
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Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging (videologging, podcasting, comic drawing etc.!) to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science.

Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines, whatever they do. It doesn’t matter how new or old your blog is, what gender you are, what language you blog in, or what you normally blog about – everyone is invited.


To be honest, I didn't feel much like writing for Ada Lovelace Day. It feels like writing is all I do lately: a paper and a poster proposal due this week, plus the all-consuming nature of my thesis proposal that I finally submitted this month after more than a year of work. I love research/coding and I even like writing, but when they're too far out of balance I start to feel like I'm one of those people who's all talk and no action.

But Jennifer Redman is one of the people who's been pulling me out of talking and into doing, which makes it even more important that I honour her today.




I don't honestly remember when I first met Jen online -- probably through Linuxchix or maybe Mailman -- but I got to meet her for the first time in person at GHC09 after she invited me to help out with the Systers code sprint.

Jen really grabbed my attention because she was using Systers to focus on something that sometimes gets overlooked: getting individual women who already know how to code to the point of making open source contributions. And not just in a general supportive way, but in a specific, defined, "here's a project, let's hack!" sort of way. And it doesn't hurt that geeking out with other women is fun. Not that computers for girls isn't a great idea, but getting more women involved now means we've got the role models we want for those girls. And here's Jen with some grand ideas and bugs to fix and a pile of virtual machines to get women playing around in open source software sooner rather than later.

I often hear talk of such ideas, but often no one has time to follow through. What makes Jen especially incredible is how dedicated she is to the follow through. She helps keep the Systers mailing lists running (and on-topic!) She got that code sprint together, and already has plans for next year. And now she's assembling an all-star team of mentors for the Systers GSoC 2010 projects, getting us all talking and thinking, and making sure we're committed, and ready to go both mentally and technically as the students start to arrive. She's got a great level head and a willingness to say what needs saying when things get rough -- her sane commentary on some really horrendous geek feminism issues made me feel just that much more grounded when we chatted at GHC. And I'm sure she's doing all sort of other awesome stuff that I don't even know about because I'm so wrapped up in my own world.

I've been scaling back my volunteer/open source activities for the past few years as I get more deeply involved in my PhD, which means that I say no to a lot of things. But Jen and Robin Jeffries chatted with me about doing archives at the code sprint, and managed to come up with exactly my perfect project: Mailman development (on archives, no less!) where I get to work one-on-one with students and women in computing. That's three of my favourite things right there! But I'd probably still have said no if some stranger came up and offered that to me. What makes this a project worth rearranging my life for is Jen: I don't know everyone else yet, but I know that if she's involved, things will happen, and I'm going to be proud to have been involved.

So thank you, Jen. Here's to a great summer!

Dog Walking

Jan. 3rd, 2010 09:26 pm
terriko: (Default)
For a while now, I've been wondering about volunteering as a dog walker for the humane society.

Some thoughts:

- It's a non-trivial time commitment.
+ It can replace my fitness class, and I manage that time commitment fine.
- I don't think I can skip out as easily (not worried about weather, but deadlines and exhaustion).

- I haven't had formal obedience training, which they imply they'd want.
+ I did grow up with a dog, and have walked dogs with varying levels of training.
- I haven't got a lot of experience with larger dogs.
+ But I have managed medium-sized ones fine.

+ I've had two people offer to come with me
+ So it'd be a fun, active activity with friends where we're doing good for the community.
+ And unlike my fitness classes, this one's free!

- It may be incredibly hard to avoid falling in love with the dogs.
+ But I can't reasonably own a dog in the near future, so this could be a nice compromise.


So the question in my mind is mostly, "would they accept me as a volunteer?" Their page makes it quite clear that they prefer more experienced walkers, but I figure there's no harm in asking, and I think I'm trainable if they're willing. I'm going to wait 'till mid January when my latest paper has been submitted and I have a better sense of my schedule for this term.

But if anyone has done this or has any advice, or suggestions for other neat things I could do if they don't want me for this... I'd love to hear it.

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