Alterconf London - Open source, code-switching and fantastic bots

In my initial post I found myself gushing about Alterconf’s accessibility but as well as being the most accessible event I’ve ever been to, it boasted some amazing talks. So many in fact, that this post isn’t my final post on the conference.

Charlotte Spencer kicked off the event with a talk titled ‘Open Open Source’ which focused on…you guessed it, open source and making it more accessible. Having followed Charlotte on Twitter for a little while and being privy to their project, Your First PR, their name is near synonymous with open source for me.

Charlotte declared something many in the room already knew (based don nods), that open source is dominated by white men. Specifically, it’s dominated by those who have time, energy, reliable internet access, face little harassment and are employed. So the question is, how do we encourage people who don’t fall in these categories to contribute? Charlotte pointed to two tools, the Code of conduct and readme. For those unsure of where to start, Charlotte recommended We All Contribute, Conference Code of Conduct and Alterconf organiser Ashe’s writing on the subject.

As a former linguist, I appreciated Charlottes focus on language, stating, “we have to think about the language we use…just because we know fancy words, it doesn’t mean we have to use them”. Also, ‘guys’ is not a gender neutral term.

We have to think about the language we use…just because we know fancy words, it doesn’t mean we have to use them

Next up was Qa’id Jacobs with ‘Started from the margins’ on the importance of empathy. Discussing how he’s often the only one of his kind, Qa’id highlighted that being an outsider has some power and the source of that power is empathy. Through devices like code-switching, people from marginalised groups are forced to be empathic to fit in and survive being in those positions where we are the only one. This empathy empathy advantage makes us superheroes.

Whilst I’m always pleased to consider myself a superhero, I can’t fully embrace what Qa’id says. These tools for survival like code-switching are exhausting, and Qa’id mentions this. They place greater cognitive load on individuals and if you’re in a workplace expending mental effort on fitting in, you’re literally working harder than other people and potentially making your actual work suffer. A few weeks ago Codenewbie host Saron Yitbarerk tweeted:

Didn’t realize how draining code switching was til I was in a room of devs who looked like me for the 1st time, and I could finally breathe

We need to work toward this not being the default way of working/existing.

Lia Nemeth’s talk took us on an autobiographical journey exploring her interactions with tech communities as both a migrant and a trans woman who transitioned after migrating. Upon moving from San Paulo to Ireland, Lia found that there were stereotypes about people who working tech and Latin@ migrants were not a part of this. And whilst LGBT rights are improving in Ireland, there is still more work to be done to make tech communities as whole more inclusive.

Lia concluded her talk with some advice for making companies more inclusive for trans people:

  • Have gender-neutral bathrooms
  • Avoid gender and sex essentialism
  • Have transition guidance
  • Include gender identity in HR forms

Getting personal (about games) was Vaida Plankyte. Vaida discussed the benefits that personal games bring to both players and games developers. Developers are able to translate their own feelings into mechanics which encourages self-awareness and can be a form of self-care. Meanwhile players can place themselves in someone else shoes and learn about other people’s experience and in some cases explore their own. In short: we all have stories to tell and these can help others. Some cool things Vaida spoke about included the self-care jam and the article Videogames about self-care are exactly what we need right now.

In Fantastic bots and where to find them, Aanand Prasad delved into the world of bots. Opening with some bots with checking out, Aanand highlighted image-generating bots like @manygradients, @mothgenerator and @badpng, as well as text-generating bots that write poetry (@poem_exe), exhaust words (@everyword) and search for tweets about cats (@storyofglitch). Creating bots is fun and Aanand encouraged everyone to do exactly this but bot creators should exercise some caution as:

”Software reproduces oppression unless explicitly designed not to do so”.

[Part 3*, coming soon]

*Yes! There is even more

Written on April 21, 2017