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Because it is easy to do.

Because you complain that you can't think of anything that would make your conference more appealing to women, and this is a tangible thing that you can do to make your conference more appealing to women. It is usually as easy as clicking some extra buttons on the web form when you order the shirts.

Because you should be happy that there is something you can fix without having to learn a new skill, spend a million dollars, or form a committee. Its like when someone complains, "Damn! My partner gets so upset about little things like me not taking out the garbage." Be glad he/she isn't complaining about something big and difficult to fix like wanting a bigger house or to be married to an astronaut! Be glad when there are easy problems to fix.

Yes, there are bigger and more important things to do with respect to making conferences more inclusive, but this is an easy one to check off. So... no excuses.

[I'm not singling out any particular conference. This is just something I've been meaning to post for a while. I am also guilty of not providing women's sizes at conferences in the past, but I've learned my lesson.]

Recently a friend told me this story. She had given a presentation at a conference and soon after started receiving messages from a guy that wanted to talk more about the topic. He was very insistent that she was the only person that would understand his situation. Not wanting to be rude, she offered they continue in email but he wanted to meet in person. His requests became more and more demanding over time. It became obvious that he wasn't looking for mentoring or advice. He wanted a date.

She had no interest in that.

Unsure what to do, she asked a few other female attendees for advice. What a surprise to discover that the same guy had also contacted them and was playing the same game. In fact, she later found out 5 women that had attended the conference were receiving the same treatment.

Yes. Really.

Wait... it gets worse.

This is the third conference I've seen this happen. This isn't just a problem with one particular conference or even one kind of conference.

So, it isn't a coincidence, this is an M.O.

I call this pattern "playing the odds". You approach every woman that attends a conference assuming that odds are in favor that at least one will say "yes".

I'm not sure what is more insulting: the assumption that any female speaker is automatically available or interested in dating, or that the women wouldn't see right through him.

The good news in all three cases is that the conference organizers handled the situation really well once they were aware of the situation.

So, guys, if you ever think you are the first person to think of doing this, I have some sad news for you. First, you aren't the first. Second, it won't work.

To the women that speak at conferences, now that you know this is a thing, I hope it is easier to spot.

The problem is that there is no transparency in the system. It isn't obvious if the guy is doing this to a lot of women because sharing such information is difficult. It would be uncomfortable to share this information. There are many privacy concerns, in particular if the guy was contacting the women for legitimate reasons, a false-positive being publicly announced would be... bad.

If only there was a confidential service where people could register "so-and-so is contacting me saying x-y-z". If multiple people reported the same thing, it would let all parties know.

I was considering offering such a service. The implementation would be quite simple. I would set up an email inbox. Women would send messages with a subject line that contained the person's email address, name, and whether their approach was "maybe" or "very" creepy. I would check the inbox daily. For example my inbox might look like this:

Subject: [email protected] Joe Baker  maybe
Subject: [email protected] Mark Jones  maybe
Subject: [email protected] Ken Art  maybe
Subject: [email protected] Mark Jones  maybe
Subject: [email protected] Ryan Example  very
Subject: [email protected] Mark Jones  maybe
Subject: [email protected] Mark Jones maybe

If I saw those Subject lines, I would alert the parties involved that Mark Jones seems to be on the prowl. The service wouldn't be entirely confidential, but I would do the best I could.

Then I realized I could build a system that would require zero human interaction and only be slightly less accurate. It would be a website called "" and it would be a static web page that displays the word "yes". True, it wouldn't be 100 percent accurate but exactly how less accurate is difficult to determine. If you have to ask, the answer is probably "yes".

Jokes aside, maybe someone with better programming skills could come up with an automated system that protects everyone's privacy, is secure, and strikes the right balance between transparency, privacy, and accuracy.

I'm not one of the people who is directly affected by this sort of thing, so if my thinking on these solutions is off base, I'm eager to hear it.

In the meanwhile, I'm holding on to that domain.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Women in Computing

Fortune Magazine published an article called Why women leave tech: It's the culture, not because 'math is hard'

TL;DR version: We treat them like shit and are surprised when they leave. So, basically women leave tech because they have self-respect.

Good for them. Shame on our industry.

A few weeks ago I suggested that there aren't many women in tech because "women have good taste". Every woman that I've said this to has agreed... or at least laughed. However it is an uncomfortable laugh. A laugh that indicates that it is something we all know, but don't know how to talk about.

Let's talk about what we can we do to change the industry's culture to not suck. The first step is identifying the (to be polite) off-putting behaviors.

Here are my top 3:

Interrupting people when speaking: I think most men don't realize how often they interrupt women and not men, or that they interrupt everyone but since men interrupt back it is ok. Let's give men the benefit of the doubt and assume that they interrupt everyone equally... why would anyone want to work in such an environment? Men put up with it, women have better taste.

Assumption of competency or lack there of: A friend recently pointed out that as a professional services engineer, she has to prove herself to each new customer. She gets questioned until she demonstrates competency. Her male coworkers are assumed competent until proven otherwise. Her male coworkers confirm they see this behavior; it is not imagined. I've always felt that it is a character flaw of mine that I'm slow to trust people's technical skills until I see evidence. Do I do this with women more than men? I'm not sure. Lately I've worked at companies with brutal interview processes so I can just assume that by being there I should assume competence. That said, having to prove oneself every day is insulting and demoralizing. Why would anyone willingly put up with that? Industries with better gender balance don't have this problem. Women have better taste.

"Help" in the form of criticism: You can't make a technical proposal without the immediate reaction being everyone listing all the reasons why it won't work. What a shitty culture we have. Taking a moment to first say what you like about a proposal is a basic courtesy IMHO. In defense of the critics, I think engineers often feel they're being helpful by by pointing out the trouble spots in a proposal so that the person can engineer around them... as if the person hasn't thought of these caveats already. (ProTip: Its always easy to say why a proposal might not work. Showing a demo avoids this and starts the conversation beyond a debate over if something is possible.) Imagine how much more enjoyable a workplace would be if people acted collaboratively and cooperatively? Women have better taste.

I could list more reasons, and more anecdotes but these are the three cultural defects that I see as the most pressing.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Women in Computing

This year's Usenix LISA conference has two exciting events about Women and Computing:

Sunday, Nov 3, 2013:

Thursday, Nov 7, 2013:

  • 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
  • Panel: Women in Advanced Computing
  • Moderator: Rikki Endsley, USENIX Association; Panelists: Amy Rich, Mozilla Corporation; Deanna McNeil, Learning Tree International; Amy Forinash
  • Format: Panel

Participation by women at this year's conference is impressive. Here is a list of talks (I may be missing some, I'm going by first name which is an imperfect algorithm.)

2013-06-28 Update: NZ search and rescue folks haven't given up though a new search today was unsuccessful.

It is with a heavy heart that I pass on this information. There is a report that the boat Evi Nemeth was sailing on has not been heard from since June 3rd. The New Zealand Herald seems to have broken the story first.

Evi co-wrote the groundbreaking book, "UNIX System Administration Handbook". It has been used as a textbook and outside of schools by nearly every Unix/Linux sysadmin I know. It meticulously covers every popular Unix varient of its day. (In the 1990s there was a lot more variation between Unixes). Since its publication there have been many updates and even a Linux-specific version.

Evi was a mainstay at the Usenix LISA conference. Every year she would show up with a number of students who would get free admission to the conference in return for volunteering. Many of these students have gone on to be well-known sysadmins.

In 1993 she received the USENIX/LISA Lifetime Achievement Award.

When Evi retired she sold her house and began sailing around the world. She is 74. You can read more about her on the wikipedia page about her. (It's a good read. I highly recommend it).

I hope she is ok. My thoughts are with all of her family, including her past students. Let's hope New Zealand's coast guard finds her soon.

Software Carpentry is running a 2-day software skills boot camp in Boston, June 24-25th 2013, for women in science, engineering, medicine, and related research areas. Registration is $20.

Boot camps alternate short tutorials with hands-on practical exercises. You are taught tools and concepts you can use immediately to increase your productivity and improve confidence in your results. Topics covered include the Unix shell, version control, basic Python programming, testing, and debugging -- the core skills needed to write, test and manage research software.

This boot camp is open to women at all stages of their research careers, from graduate students, post-docs, and faculty to staff scientists at hospitals and in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

Registration is $20; to sign up, or find out more, please visit the announcement at If you have questions, there is an e-mail link on the announcement page.

Usenix is sponsoring the first Women in Advanced Computing (WiAC) Summit to run during Federated Conferences Week in Boston. WiAC will be all day June 12th, 2012.

Carolyn Rowland and Nicole Forsgren Velasquez are co-chairs. Carolyn recently posted on G+ a request for ideas: What would make this a must-attend event? What topics should we cover in order to appeal to women of varying professions and backgrounds: researchers, to developers, sysadmins, IT managers, etc.?

Carolyn wrote "We'd like this year to be the start of a recurring Usenix event that allows people who believe we need to support women in the computing professions to come together to share ideas, meet new people and get inspired."

For more information please visit:

You can reach Carolyn and Nicole at [email protected]

[ I'm forwarding this invitation because I know a lot of readers are in San Jose. Also, Prof. Nicole Velasquez (Pepperdine University) will be speaking and she does some awesome sysadmin research! ]

Taos is hosting a very special gathering for women in technology. If you know Perl is more than just a pretty necklace, then we want to meet you! Whether you're a system or network administrator or a Project Manager, we welcome all of you to a networking opportunity on Thursday, March 31, from 6-8 PM that will be held at FAZ Restaurant (1108 North Mathilda Avenue, Sunnyvale). This gathering is the first of its kind to exclusively promote and recognize the talented community of women in technology. According to the last SAGE survey, less than 10% of sysadmins in the industry are women. Studies of women in engineering also suggest that we interact more with colleagues and do more "invisible" work. Join us as we discuss how to make that essential work more visible to our colleagues.

(click to read more)

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Women in Computing

Hey folks in the New Jersey / Philly area! Tonight's LOPSA-NJ meeting will be Pam Howell presenting, "how I spent 3 days of my summer vacation de-installing Vista and vmware while trying to establish a stable Ubuntu 9.0"

For more info visit the LOPSA-NJ homepage.

See you there!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Women in Computing

A co-worker of mine, Fernanda Weiden, was interviewed on the FLOSS Weekly podcast.

Fernanda Weiden of Google in Zurich gives her perspectives on women and Latin Americans in the open source community, the Brazilian Women in Free Software, Debian Women and the Free Software Foundation of Latin America

Listen or download.

True story about Fernanda: She taught herself English by reading Linux "man" pages.