Tagged: Community

Driving Project-wide Community Growth by Improving the Mozilla Wiki

At the Mozilla project there are many ways to contribute. Some contributions are directly to our products: Firefox Desktop, Firefox for Android, Firefox OS, Webmaker, etc. Some contributions are to things that make those products better: QA, localization, release engineering, etc. Some contributions are to tools that help us work together better, such as: Pontoon, Bugzilla, Mozillians and the Mozilla Wiki.

I’ve long had a personal interest in the Mozilla Wiki. When I started as a paid contributor in 2011, it was my main source of information about the many, many Mozilla projects.

And I’m not alone in this. Contributor Sujith Reddy says:

The wiki page of Mozilla has got info about every project running around. For instance, being a Rep, I get questioned by many people on mails, What exactly is the ReMo program. I would reply’em with a single link: https://wiki.mozilla.org/ReMo Basically, it makes my work easier to explain people. It is Mozilla-Encyclopedia :)

And contributor Mark A. Hershberger says:

Wikis provide the best way for a community with many members to collaborate to disseminate knowledge about their shared interest…The wiki provides one of the easiest ways to start contributing to the shared work and become a contributing member of the Mozilla community.

And it’s not just volunteer contributors who find the wiki essential. Here’s Benjamin Sternthal from Web Production:

The Mozilla Wiki is an essential part of how Web Productions manages projects and involves community. The Wiki is particularly valuable for our project hubs, the central place where anyone can view information about a project without having to hunt around in various systems.

History of the Mozilla Wiki

The Mozilla Wiki has been around for a long time. According to WikiApiary it was founded on in November of 2004 making it nearly 10 years old! It has over 90,000 pages, all of which are public, and roughly 600 daily users.

During most of its existence the Wiki has been maintained by community without organized effort. Mozilla IT has supported it on Mozilla’s corporate infrastructure, and various community members, paid and volunteer, have worked to keep it as up-to-date and functional as possible.

This approach worked fairly well for a long time. But during the last couple of years, as our community has experienced incredible growth, this ad-hoc approach stopped serving us well. The wiki has become harder and harder to use when it should become easier and easier to use.

Formation of the Wiki Working Group

And that’s why a group of us came together in March 2014 and formed the Wiki Working Group. It’s been a few months and the group is going very well. We meet twice a month as a full group, and in smaller groups as needed to work through specific issues. There are 25 people on our mailinglist and meeting attendance averages 8-12, with a mix of paid and volunteer contributors in about a 1:1 ratio. Of the paid contributors, I am the only with time dedicated to work on the Wiki.

In a short amount of time we’ve made some significant accomplishments, including:

  • triaged all open bugs (>100, some open several years without updates)
  • created a formal governance structure by creating a submodule for the Wiki within Websites
  • reduced the clutter and improved usability on the wiki by eliminating new spam (spam accounts and pages previously numbered in the several hundreds per day on average)
  • improved usability of the wiki by fixing a few critical but long-standing bugs, including an issue with table sorting
  • created an About page for the Wiki that clarifies its scope and role in the project, including what is appropriate content and how to report issues

One of the long-standing bugs was to re-enable the WikiEditor which greatly improves usability by giving users an easy-to-use toolbar to allow page authoring without having to know wiki markup.

Chris More from Web Productions gave us this feedback on these recent changes:

With the re-introduction of the visual wikieditor, it has allowed non-technical people to be able to maintain their project’s wiki page without having to learn the common wiki markup language. This has been invaluable with getting the new process adopted across the Engagement team.

We’ve also worked hard to create a clear vision for the purpose of the Wiki Working Group. Early on we reached consensus that it is not our role to be the only ones contributing to the wiki. Rather, it is our role to enable everyone across the project to feel empowered to participate and collaborate to make the Mozilla Wiki an enjoyable and lively place to document and communicate about our work.

Where we’re going in 2014

With that in mind, we’re working towards the following milestones for this year:

  • increasing usability and stability) upgrading to current version of Mediawiki
  • updating the default skin (theme) to be more usable and mobile-friendly
  • improving the information architecture of the site so content is easier to find and maintain
  • engage contributors to learn to use the wiki and help us improve it by running a series of “wiki missions”
  • create compelling visual dashboards that will help us better understand and recognize wiki activity

We expect these changes to increase participation on the wiki itself considerably, and to increase community activity in other areas of the project by making it easier to document and discover contribution pathways. In this way, the WWG serves all teams at Mozilla in their community building efforts.

Chris More from Web Production again:

The use of the wiki has recently been amplified by the introduction of the Integrated Marketing process. The new process is essentially program management best practices to ensure what Engagement is working on is relevant, organized, and transparent. The wiki has been used to document, share, and to be the hub for both the process and every major project Engagement is working on. Without the wiki, Engagement would have no central public location to share our plans with the world and to understand how to get involved.

So, while our group is small, we are highly engaged. As we continue our work, we’ll enable many, many more people to become contributors and to continue contributing across the project.

How to Get Involved

If you’re interested in joining or following the Wiki Working Group, take a look at the How to Participate section on our wiki page for links to our mailinglist and meeting schedule.

If you have general feedback about the Mozilla Wiki, or things you’d like to see improved there, leave comments on this Sandbox page.

Alternative Definitions of Conflict

Some months back, Code Hale mentioned the book Mediating Dangerously: The Frontiers of Conflict Resolution by Kenneth Cloke. I’ve ever so glad he did, as the book has given me a life-changing perspective on the nature of conflict and how to address it. One of the most profound things I learned from the book is a a set of alternate definitions of conflict.

In the book, Cloke says

“Most people think of conflicts as disagreements based on difference over what they think, feel, or want. Yet most arguments have little or nothing to do with the issues over which people battled.”

Understanding these alternative sources of conflict and being able to identify which applies to a given situation is of paramount importance because: “each calls for a different set of strategies to prove the inner logic of the dispute and a different set of questions to elicit honest and empathy.” Because each type of conflict requires a different strategy and set of questions, you won’t know which to employ until you’ve identified the true source of the dispute. Once you have identified the source, you can choose a more appropriate and targeted approach to resolving the conflict.

Here’s the list:

  • Conflict represents a lack of awareness of the imminence of death or sudden catastrophe.
  • Conflict arises wherever there is a failure of connection, collaboration, or community; an inability to understand our essential interconnectedness and the universal beauty of the human spirit.
  • Conflict is a lack of acceptance of ourselves that we have projected onto others, a way of blaming others for what we perceive as failures in our own lives. It reveals a need to hide behind roles or masks that do not reflect our authentic feelings so we can divert attention from our mistakes.
  • Conflict represents a boundary violation, a failure to value or recognize our own integrity or the personal space of others.
  • Conflict is a way of getting attention, acknowledgement, sympathy, or support by casting ourselves as the victim of some evil-doer.
  • Conflict represents a lack of skill or experience at being able to handle a certain kind of behavior.
  • Conflict is often simply the continued pursuit of our own false expectations, the desire to hold on to our unrealistic fantasies.
  • Conflict represents a lack of listening, a failure to appreciate the subtlety in what someone else is saying.
  • Conflict is often a result of secrets, concealments, confusions, conflicting messages, cover-ups, and what we have failed to communicate.
  • Conflict represents a lack of skill, effectiveness, or clarity in saying what we feel, think, or want.
  • Conflict is a way of opposing someone who represents a parent with whom we have not yet resolved our relationships.
  • Conflict is the sound made by the cracks in a system, the manifestation of contradictory forces coexisting in a single space.
  • Conflict is the voice of a new paradigm, a demand for change in a system that has outlived its usefulness.
  • Conflict represents an inability to grieve or say goodbye, a refusal to let go of something that is dead or dying.
  • Conflict is a way of being negatively intimate when positive intimacy becomes impossible.
  • Conflict is the expression of one-half of a paradox, enigma, duality, polarity, or contradiction.
  • Conflict is often a fearful interpretation of difference, diversity, and opposition, which ignores the essential role of polarity in creating unity, balance, and symbiosis.
  • Conflict is a result of our inability to learn from our past mistakes, our failure to recognize them as opportunities for growth, learning, and improved understanding.

 

Lessons Learned, 2013 Edition

Change people’s hearts and their minds will follow. In other words, you have to change people’s hearts before you can change their minds.

I’m more important to make a connection than to be precise or correct.

We have an extraordinary ability to ensure that our needs are met. This is fundamentally an emotional processes, not a rational one.

People are, above else, social creatures. We deeply need each other to survive, but we also often harbor great fears about revealing our fundamental selves.

Life is complicated. And yet can be reduced to the utter simplicity that we have a limited time on this Earth and should use that time as wisely as possible.

We may have more advanced technology, but we human nature hasn’t fundamentally changed. We have basically the same challenges we have for hundreds, probably thousands of years. There are patterns to these problems and studying them gives us insight into how to approach them.

Sometimes people you love die and it’s awful.

Sometimes people you love amaze and astound you and it’s wonderful.

Good friends are invaluable.

Cultivate the relationships that nourish you. Let go of the ones that don’t.

Community Safety

Trigger warning: Domestic violence and the legal system.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can help create and maintain safe, healthy and productive spaces for all, but particularly for those most at risk of further trauma.

And so when it becomes apparent that one member of the community has been engaging in partner violence against another, I take that very seriously.

What’s been made clear in the last week, however, is that our community has a lot to learn about domestic violence, how violence operates within communities, and how we can best support each other in working through these difficult issues.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know quite a bit about domestic violence, having several decades of personal experience with it. With that, I’d like to address some specific misconceptions I saw propagated over the last week.

Addressing common misconceptions

Courts do not determine what is true or real. They determine legal outcomes. The distinction is important.

Most often, a criminal court never adjudicates whether a person is guilty or not guilty. Whether or not a person is prosecuted for criminal charges is at the discretion of the state or local prosecutor. Prosecutors make these decisions based on a number of factors, including their estimate of how likely they are to achieve a conviction, as well as their own prejudices. The fact that State declines to prosecute criminal charges does not, in and of itself, confer innocence. It most certainly does not confer “exoneration” which can occur only after a previous conviction. Lack of prosecution, by definition, simply confers an absence of legal judgment.

Civil suits are entirely different. Citizens (not the state) can file cases upon one another for violating civil statues and courts decide these matters under a different set of guidelines and then award restitution, or not, depending on their findings. Civil cases are often more successful for plaintiffs than criminal ones because the burden of proof is less stringent. Quite often when a defendant is found not guilty in a criminal case they will be found guilty in the corresponding civil trial, thus providing some measure of accountability. Relying on civil cases as a means to support domestic abuse survivors is problematic because the financial burden of pursuing litigation and of enforcing any judgments lies almost entirely with the plaintiff.

In our country, the courts must operate on the presumption of innocence. Legal guilt or innocence is determined based on very specific procedures which take into account a limited set of facts and circumstances. Individuals and communities, by contrast, have the latitude to make decisions and take action based on a greater range of available information.

Because remaining silent about abusive behavior perpetuates and propagates it, communities can work to reverse this pattern by judiciously sharing information about those who have engaged in abusive behavior. Communities do not need a conviction in a court of law in order to be confident that abuse has occurred. It is sufficient for communities to trust the person who has reported the abuse.

The phrase “public shaming” is quite often used to refer to these acts of sharing information for the benefit of the community. Sharing information in order to safeguard the overall well-being of the community and at-risk individuals within that community is not vengeance, mob violence, a witch hunt or any other form of abuse. The fact that individuals who have engaged in abusive behavior might feel shame or otherwise incur negative consequences as a result of this information sharing is not sufficient reason to remain silent. It is acceptable for a person or person to feel shame when their inappropriate behavior is revealed. Shame in this context represents the loss of social privilege and is an important, but not the only, strategy communities have when confronting partner violence.

Moving forward, together

Pivoting back to our own community. How do we move forward in a positive and healing way?

We need to work together. We need to remember that everyone involved, including the aggressor, is human, and not sacrifice that humanity for an easy or expedient solution.

It’s a difficult task, certainly, but not insurmountable.

I, and others, are actively working on this issue. If you want to help or have questions, I’m here for you, so please get in touch. If you want to learn more about violence in communities, a good place to start is Revolution Starts at Home (pdf).

Gone, Gone, Gone

It’s been a few days now since Igal left us and I struggle to assemble coherent thoughts about how I’m feeling. I oscillate between numbness, anger, disbelief and anguish. In my mind, as if on a loop, I hear his voice and his laugh and see him smile. I don’t know what he’s saying, but I know he is telling a funny story. I also see the static and the silence of the times he would disconnect from us and retreat into his private world. Most every time he’d return to us from that retreat, except for this time. Igal, I will miss you so much.

Bearing the death of a person you care about is never easy. There is grief and there is a lot of mundane work to do. Notify people, plan the funeral, plan the memorial, process the deceased’s belongings, wrap-up their financial affairs. I feel so grateful for the closeness of the tech community here and for the circle of friends I consider family within that community. We have come together in an extraordinary way to help bear each other’s burden. I suppose if anything good can come from Igal’s departure (aside from the cessation of his suffering) is the knowledge of how much love we have for each other.

What makes the burden heavier, though, are the reactions by some who are less educated about mental health issues and who have little familiarity with what it is like to live with a history of trauma and chronic illness.

Comments such as “if we had only seen the signs,” imply that those of us who saw the signs didn’t do enough to help Igal. They imply that being aware that someone is depressed is the end all be all of helping them. It’s not. Simply knowing that someone has an illness does not give you the ability to cure them. We have very poor treatments for most mental health conditions and no cures. The treatments we do have come with an array of negative side effects, and in most cases simply seeking out treatment puts one on path of stigmatization and marginalization for the rest of their life. It also puts one’s autonomy at considerable risk.

Imploring those to reach out to their loved ones who might be in despair implies that suicidal people just need to know they are cared about. Most of the time they already know that they are loved and that people want to help them and often that is just one more obligation which makes their existence unbearable.

Similarly, encouraging those in despair to “just talk with someone,” is almost useless and very likely harmful. Responding to depression requires response by trained professionals. It is not a task for a lay person. Lay people not only lack knowledge about how to treat depression, they are lack necessary skills for managing their own emotional response to the distressed person. Mental health practitioners are specifically trained in how to temper their emotional state when others are in distress so that they don’t burden those they are trying to help.

The unpleasant truth of the matter is that there is very little you can do when one has decided to hide themselves away and refuse all connection with the outside world.

What we can do is to accept suicide as the societal problem it is and recognize that we all need to be involved in making our world a more livable place. Obviously this is a huge task and not something accomplished overnight or by a single individual. However, there are some things each of us can do right now:

  1. Recognize the prevalence of chronic (including mental) health issues. Think of the last user group you attended or the last time you were with a large group of friends. Got it? Okay. At least half of those people live with some kind of chronic health concern, including: depression, bi-polar, (complex) PTSD, ADHD, anxiety, chronic pain, and/or a history of trauma. If you’re thinking that’s not possible because so many of those individuals seem happy and engaged, then know that assumption is part of the problem.
  2. Recognize that those with chronic illness/pain are treated as lesser individuals. We are labeled weak for not being able to simply power through our illnesses as if it were a matter of will. We are labeled slackers by our co-workers if it is known that we take more time off work than they do to receive necessary medical treatment. Very little effort is put into modifying work and social environments to make them safer and more productive spaces for us to live in. When we outright ask for accommodations we are often told no, no one else is complaining, every one is treated equally. Our rights and privileges are reduced as soon as it is recorded that we have sought treatment for our conditions. Sometimes we loose autonomy altogether, or never had it full in the first place.
  3. Recognize the extreme pressure to pass as normal and the enormous energy required to do so. Because of the stigma associated with our conditions, we feel a great pressure to pass as normal by hiding our struggles entirely. Doing so takes a lot of energy and we are already exhausted from working much harder than our healthier counterparts to attend to the everyday tasks of life as well as managing our conditions.
  4. Work towards creating safe, inclusive environments. We should not wait to be asked to create safer and more inclusive environments for those with chronic health issues. We need to continually examine the spaces we help create and ask ourselves if they are welcoming to those who struggle. Is the space free of obvious triggers? Is there a quiet place where one can retreat when respite is needed? Is there a code of conduct in place to reduce the chance of re-victimization? Do we employ ablest phrases? Are people empowered to adjust the nature of their participation according to what they can currently give? Are they still considered full participants? Are we talking about our own chronic health struggles when we are able to do so?

This list is by no means exhaustive. It just happens to be what I’m thinking about now, in terms of my own community and how we are responding to the loss of a dear friend. I hope that we can transform the the pain of this experience into some kind of positive change. That would be a good way to honor Igal’s life.

Note: For simplicity, I’m using “chronic health” to refer to both chronic physical and mental health conditions. Most mental health conditions are chronic and often concomitant with physical ones.

Bold Ideas Uttered Publicly: PyCon, Richards and Responding to Conduct Violations

One thing quite noticeable at this year’s PyCon US is that the Python community’s efforts towards increasing diversity are starting to work. More women are attending and children are being included in an integrated way (coding!). To be clear, we still have a long way to go. Twenty percent attendance by women is an improvement, but it by no means demonstrates parity, and other minorities and those with intersectional identities remain greatly underrepresented. What’s important, though, is that actions of the Python community, including adoption of a code of conduct, are showing real results. Hats off to the PSF and to various PyCon organizers around the world. You are doing good work, thank you.

In the days that have followed the main part of the conference, and while the code sprints were still going on, word reached the internet of a certain code of conduct violation, how it was handled by all parties involved and what the consequences were (or continue to be).

And now we start heading to the heart of my post.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years thinking about the tactic of public shaming as a tool for combating institutional oppression. Is it ever appropriate? Under which circumstances? When is it most effective? Does it have some other empowering use? What’s the best way to respond to backlash? I think about this every time I am witness or subject to an aggression. Or when I am the organizer for an event where an incident is called out publicly before I have a chance to respond privately. Or when others make the decision to document publicly another’s transgressive behavior. I think about it especially when that person is then subject to a torrent of negative backlash including threats of violence and death.

Tech is dominated by white, straight, able-bodied, middle- and upper-class men because our industry reflects the social structure of the society in which we live. Our demographics are the result of the racism, sexism, heterosexism and homophobia, sizism, ableism, etc. that persists in society that we allow to propagate within our own, smaller community. That’s why increasing diversity, whether you want to recognize it or not, means combating its enemy: institutional oppression.

How does one fight oppression to increase diversity?

It’s not easy because the tactics available to those who oppose institutional oppression are limited and judged by the very institution that is oppressive. Those from and to a certain extent those who ally themselves with oppressed groups, by definition, have less social capital and the associated benefits than their counterparts. When a queer person, or a person of color, or, god forbid, a disabled queer person of color reports that they have been subject to or a witness of transgressive behavior, they are taken as less authoritative about their own experience than their straight, white, abled counterpart would be. They get less attention and support from the social structures that are supposed to aide them. And quite often they are subject to violence in its many forms.

These responses are not accidental. Those who benefit from the status quo, whether they realize it or not, have a vested interested in maintaining that status quo. That means working to ensure that any threat to it is rendered ineffectual. The best way to do that is to discredit the person who generated the threat. If the threat is the reporting of a transgressive act that the dominant social class enjoys with impunity, then the reaction is to attack the person who reported it.

And that’s exactly what happened this week to Adria Richards.

PyCon made efforts to transform the status quo of a male-dominated environment where sexualized speech is acceptable to one where it is not so that women and others felt more comfortable participating. At least two attendees continued to acted in ways that were no longer acceptable. They probably weren’t the only ones. And I’m sure more than one person was made uncomfortable. But one person chose to speak up about it.

That she chose to do so publicly isn’t really for me, or any of us to judge. As I mentioned before, as someone not part of the dominant social order you have limited options for calling attention to transgressive behavior. You can do so to the individual or individuals demonstrating the behavior, you can report it to the social structures available to you (parents, school, organizations, government, etc.) or you can report it publicly.

The first option is obviously risky. If you don’t have as much power as someone, it is scary to interrupt them and tell them what they are doing is wrong. If you have past experience with violence (as most people with minority identities do), then your experience tells you this is not a good idea because the confrontation may become violent. Additionally, when you are a in a room surrounded by people who look exactly like the person or persons committing the transgressive act it’s sensible to assume that you will not be the person who will have support in a confrontation.

The second option also carries risk. If you do not have a significant history of an organization helping in these matters, there’s a good chance they won’t. Asking them to do so takes emotional work, and handling rejection thereafter takes even more emotional work. Plus, organizations, like the people that run them, also have a vested interest in maintaining the status quos from which they benefit.

Furthermore, it’s not anyone’s job (except perhaps your caretakers’, when you’re young) to remind you how to behave. Ignorance of appropriate social norms is not an excuse for transgressing them. Richards had zero obligation to be polite to the developers or to educate them. We are well into the post-colonial era. Feminism is not a new idea. Get a book and educate yourself.

And that’s how we arrive at the public option. Sometimes publicly outing someone’s bad behavior is the safest, most effective way you can respond. This is particularly true when you don’t have a lot of time to figure out what to do, when you are in the minority position and when you are in an environment that feels unsafe.

It is entirely acceptable for someone to take whichever option they feel to be the best course of action based on the situation at hand and the person’s lived experience up until then. It is not anyone else’s right to determine that for another. This is true regardless of how unskillfully you believe the person handled the situation.

No conference organizer likes dealing publicly with issues, but…

As a conference organizer who has been in the position of responding to public reports of conduct violations, I can tell you it doesn’t feel good to be denied the opportunity to deal with them privately. Not only do you have to process why the person reporting the incident didn’t come to you first, but you have to deal with a much larger response and you have to do so immediately. You no longer have the luxury of time, nor the ability to be distracted by the other million things you’re supposed to be keeping track of while running an event. While it may not feel so at the time, that you are forced to deal with things promptly and publicly is not necessarily a bad thing. There is value in doing so for your community.

Let’s talk about shame for a moment.

Shame isn’t always a bad thing. When you’ve done something you know to be wrong and you feel shameful, that is an appropriate response. If someone calls out your behavior publicly and you feel shame as a result, that’s probably a sign you should pay attention and evaluate your behavior. Shame is contextual. It doesn’t work the same way going up the power hierarchy as it does going down. Power magnifies shame and magnifies the damage it does when applied incorrectly. A young child can’t shame a parent and have the same effect as when a parent shames a child. A white male using shame against a women or a person of color to uphold his social status is not the same thing as a women or a person of color using public shame to bring visibility to inappropriate behavior.

Being the trigger of shame in others while documenting a broken system is not the same thing as enacting revenge.

At one point in Never Sorry, Ai Wei Wei says something like “the broken system must be documented.” I found this statement to be very powerful. Often we feel powerless to change the monolithic systems around us, no matter how broken we know them to be. One power we can exercise is to document what we see and experience.

So, if you find yourself in a situation where you feel your only option is to say nothing or say it publicly? Absolutely say it publicly. Howard Zinn explains the power in this act very eloquently:

“The power of a bold idea uttered publicly in defiance of dominant opinion cannot be easily measured. Those special people who speak out in such a way as to shake up not only the self-assurance of their enemies, but the complacency of their friends, are precious catalysts for change.”

That quote above encapsulates why the reaction to Richards’ act has been so strong, far stronger than the reaction to the code of conduct violation that prompted it. The checking of male privilege and the imposition of consequences for unabashed exercise of that privilege is threatening to all those who enjoy it, as well as those who are ambivalent to its exercise.

Most disappointing of all? SendGrid’s response.

What I find most disturbing about this incident is the response of SendGrid, Richard’s employer up until this week. Rather than having the insight and moral courage to stand behind their employee they gave into the fervor of the mob. That news of Richard’s firing is at the top of the MensRights and WhiteRights subreddits is telling. SendGrid chose to go in the wrong direction on this moving train. They claim to want to build their developer community “across the globe,” but the qualifier they add with their actions is “as long as you are a white male or don’t make white males angry.” I suppose this is none too surprising when you look at SendGrid’s leadership team: Only one out of the twelve company leaders is a women. SendGrid has put into words the unspoken rule we already know: Speak out and you risk your livelihood.

How to we move forward from this incident?

We keep doing what we’re doing. Speaking up when we feel we are able to. Asking the communities of which we are a part to continue adopting and enforcing codes of conduct. Making allies and supporting each other and groups like the Ada Initiative. Avoiding employment, when possible, at companies who, like SendGrid, decide not to advocate for their minority employees the moment is become inconvenient. Pressuring our peers and managers to embrace the change required to make a diverse workforce possible.

I’ll close with a final quote from Mr. Zinn:

“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

Update 22 March 11:31 PDT with some further reading, now that this is getting some sensible coverage:

Why I Go to Conferences

Usually by 9pm on a given evening, I am winding down, feeling introspective and generally not chatty. However, this Sunday evening I had just arrived home after attending PyCon in Santa Clara, California. Upon realizing I was talking Sherri’s ears off, I stopped to ask, “Am I always like this after I get home from a conference.” The answer was a definitive: “Yes.”

It got me thinking about about why I go to conferences.

Not For the Technical Content

Perhaps this is heretical to say, but for whatever reason, it’s really difficult for me to learn technical topics deeply at conferences. I learn best in environments where I can minimize distractions, go at my own pace and engage one on one with my subject matter and instructor.  Conference learning is the antithesis of this: tons of distractions, the speakers set the pace and the learning is one to many, even in the smallest sessions and tutorials.

This does not mean that I get nothing from technical talks. Some are very inspiring and give me ideas of subjects to look up and study later, when I get home.

For the Community

Conferences connect me with community, and that is their most important offering. Over the years, I have found there is simply no substitute for time spent with people in real spaces.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love that our world is made smaller by technology. I love that I can work for Mozilla remotely using Skype, Vidyo, IRC and other internet-based technologies. I enjoy the convenience of being able to attend local planning meetings without leaving my home. It’s allowed me to continue participating even though my family obligations have increased substantially over the last year.

But technology doesn’t provide the same sense of connection and of belonging that I get from joining the physical space of my community. At conferences I see people I never see in person except at conferences. I run into people  with whom I have trouble connecting online due to our mutually busy schedules or offset timezones. At conferences I am able to interact with whole, three dimensional persons rather than flat images or disembodied voices. Because of this, conversation itself feels as if it has greater depth and meaning.

The connections that I form and strengthen at conferences have a lasting and cumulative effect. They provide the connective agent that makes online interactions between in-person events stronger and more productive. The people that I meet at community events become my friends, colleagues, peers, managers and mentors.

Why do you go to conferences and other community events?

Travel, Conferences and Other Work

While updating my expired ssl certificate, I realized I haven’t posted here since just after the first of the year. What have I been doing in all that time?

Travel

According to TripIt, I’ve traveled 30 out of 78 days of 2013 to 9 cities and 2 countries. That’s 38% of my time spent away from home. Most of it has been work travel, including trips to Mozilla Mt. View and SF offices as well as Madrid to meet with Geeksphone and Telefonica. While I was in Spain, I was able to wander a bit and take some photos, including of the Angel Caido:

Monumento del Ángel Caído

Mother Daughter Vacation

Early in March, Sherri and I took our mothers to Hawaii. This was extremely special for me and I’m so grateful we were able to make it happen. Those of you who know me well know that my mother and I have had a long journey together, one during which we have not always been close. What I learned on this trip is that love is less about staying connected 100% of the time and more about doing the hard work to find each other again when connection is lost.

Mothers and Daughters

If you want to see photos from the trip, here are mine and here are Sherri’s.

Mozilla, Conferences and Other Community Work

Life at Mozilla continues to be hectic as we work on launching Firefox OS. I’m thrilled that we’ll developer phones will soon be available for us to distribute (and for the public to buy).

Another key reason I’ve been quiet here is that January and February was consumed with a lot of Syndicate tasks. Kirsten and I worked to finish transitioning the role of treasurer from me to her and we also completed and submitted our IRS 1023 form (application for tax-exempt status) and other tax paperwork. I can’t express what a relief it is to finally be caught up on many of these tasks.

At the same time, I’ve been helping to plan Barcamp Portland,  the Open Source Day at this year’s Grace Hopper conference as well as Open Source Bridge.

In the middle of all that, I managed to re-work our OSCON tutorial on event planning into a 30 minute talk for this year’s PyCon US (video). I had a great time giving the talk and attending the conference in general. PyCon organizers and volunteers do a great job making their speakers feel welcome and prepared. Thank you!

Health, Home and Caretaker Duties

Sherri and I are still struggling to stay on top of all the duties caring for ourself, her mom, our six animals and two houses entail.

Maintaining Mom’s health requires constant attention and frequent medical appointments. We are taking her for bloodwork and a port flush every two weeks (but not at the same time). Despite therapy, she continues to need blood transfusions about every six weeks (and this is an all day affair). And then there are her regular medical checkups.

When you combine this with the bodywork Sherri needs to manage her chronic pain, and my weekly allergy clinic visits, I feel like one or the other of us is nearly always running off to an appointment. Meanwhile, I feel guilty every time I realize that all six of the pets are behind with their own annual medical check-ups.

However, slowly we are figuring out how to make things work. This includes learning when and how to call in and build extra support and when to take breaks and practice self-care. Even thought it’s difficult, I don’t regret where we are now.

Next Couple of Months

It’s not going to get any less busy until at least late summer. Barcamp is less than two weeks away. By the time that event concludes, we’ll be in full planning for Open Source Bridge. I’ll have some more work travel coming up, although I’m still working out the details. Events that I am planning to attend are Write the Docs (April), AdaCamp and Open Source Bridge (both June), World Domination Summit and OSCON (both July), and Grace Hopper (October).  If you’re planning to attend any of these, let me know so we can meet up!

Oh, and if I can managed to get in to the allergy clinic on time I might actually finish the building phase of my immunotherapy.

Strategies for Facilitating Better Meetings

As part of my work with Mozilla and Stumptown Syndicate, I attend a lot of meetings and many of those I am responsible for facilitating.

I think most people consider meetings to be necessary evils. Meetings are often time-consuming, inefficient and take us away from real work we need to be doing, and yet they seem unavoidable. It’s probably true that we can’t get away with eliminating meetings all together. Sometimes you just have to get everyone in a “room” together to hash out some issue.

However, I think we can work towards having more efficient meetings and below are some strategies I’ve learned for doing so.

Designate a Facilitator

The facilitator is usually the “driver” of the meeting. She helps the group understand and achieve their objective(s), assists the group in following the agenda and staying on schedule. The facilitator should ensure that notes are taken. Often, but not always, the facilitator is the person who initiates and schedules the meetings (by sending out the meeting invite).

Have a Clear, Obtainable Objective

Before the meeting (ideally when the meeting is scheduled), an objective (or set of objectives) for the meeting should be drafted and communicated to the entire group. The objective should follow SMART criteria: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. If you are meeting to make a series of decisions, state what specific decisions need to be made.

Create and Distribute an Agenda

Having an agenda is essential for keeping a meeting focused and timely. Whenever possible, circulate the agenda ahead of time so attendees can: a) determine the important of their presence at the meeting and prioritize their schedule accordingly, and b) prepare for the meeting.

In agendas I draft, I always include the following:

(Descriptive) Meeting Title & Date

== Objective ==
== Attendees ==
== Agenda / Notes ==
== Action Items ==

Did you note my use of wiki syntax? Not a coincidence! If you’re using a wiki in your organization, writing notes and agendas in wiki syntax makes recording of agendas and meeting notes that much easier (more on this in a bit).

Make Sure You Really Need a Meeting

It sounds simple, but before you schedule a meeting, ask yourself if you really need one. Can you clearly state your objective and draft an agenda? If not, you may not be prepared to have a meeting. Would an email work instead? A quick IRC conversation?

Include Compete Participation Instructions

Include complete participation instructions every time, even for regular meetings with regular participants. The reason for this is that you want as few barriers to attending your meeting and being on time for it as possible. If someone has to go looking for information on how to participate in the meeting, there is a chance that they will be late or that they won’t attend at all.

Things to consider including in your meeting invite:

  • date and time (including in UTC)
  • physical location (if there is one) and any special access instructions
  • conference/video call information, including complete dial-in number, room number and any required access codes
  • key instructions for using the conference/vidyo call system (e.g. how to mute yourself)
  • direct links to on-line meeting systems
  • if software is required to participate in the meeting, instructions on how to obtain and install it

Don’t assume that participants will have any of the above info readily accessible, even if they have attended your meetings before.

Here’s text that I put at the bottom of every Mozilla meeting invite (some info has been faked, so please don’t use for a real Mozilla meeting):

==============================================================
Connection Details: 

Vidyo 9597 (ckoehler).

+1 650 903 0800, x92 (or +1 800 707 2533, password 000) 
Then 99597 

•1 to mute if you’re dialed in (nb: it makes an audible beep) 

Direct room link: 

https://v.mozilla.com/flex.html?roomdirect.html&key=1234567890

==============================================================

Note: If you’re a Mozillian and you want non-employees to join your Vidyo meeting, be sure to include the direct link.

Be Mindful of Participants’ Time

Because people’s time is precious, we should be mindful when requesting and utilizing it. There are several aspects to being mindful of your participants’ time:

  • Make sure each participant is really required at the meeting. Each of your participants should have an integral role in obtaining the objective of your meeting. If they don’t, add them as an optional attendee or don’t invite them at all.
  • Be aware of the timezone for each of your participants. When working with a global organization it’s often not possible to find a time that’s convenient for everyone. But you should have some awareness of who is being inconvenienced when, and try to distribute that burden. For example, don’t  schedule every meeting for times that are convenient only for those in Pacific time.
  • Start on-time and end on-time. Most people have multiple meetings per day, and have other things they need to do at certain times. Don’t make others late by conducting a meeting that exceeds its scheduled time. Better yet, strive to end a few minutes early! Most everyone appreciates a few unexpected minutes between commitments to stretch their legs, use the restroom and get some water or coffee. Likewise, be respectful of those who arrive on-time for a meeting by starting on-time. A meeting that starts at the scheduled time is that much more likely to end by the scheduled time.

Take Notes

One of the most important things you can do during a meeting is to ensure that good notes are taken. Taking notes has the following benefits:

  • helps to keep participants focused and on-track during the meeting
  • provides a clear record of what was discussed and decided during the meeting, for reference both by those who attended the meeting and those who were not able to do so

I find it works well for the group to take notes together in the same etherpad I have used for the agenda.  Notes do not have to be a word for word recounting of what was said in the meeting, but should include a summary of the discussion points, questions raised and answers given.

You don’t need to create perfect notes while the meeting is happening. Just record the important information and be prepared to edit afterward.

Follow-Up

A good meeting is not complete until you’ve distributed and recorded the revised meeting notes (or minutes), with key decisions and action items clearly indicated.

The complete agenda and note-taking process looks like this:

  • create and circulate an agenda in advance of the meeting
  • use etherpad (or another collaborative editing tool) whenever possible
  • take notes, with the group’s assistance, in the same document you used for the agenda
  • edit the notes after the meeting is complete, making sure to call out key decisions and action items
  • distribute the edited notes to everyone you invited to the meeting (not just those who actually attended)
  • record the notes in an accessible location (on a public wiki, on your organization’s intranet, etc.)

When I distribute meeting notes, I usually do so via email, with a link to the edited notes and action items included in the actual body of the email.

Your Strategies?

What strategies do you have for running better meetings? Let me know by leaving a comment.

Death Threats in Open Source Are not Occurring in a Vacuum

Individuals who make death threats start with less egregious behavior and systematically test the boundaries of the communities in which they exist. When they get away with small violations, they often move on to larger ones. They watch what others are able to get away with, too. The pattern of behavior is common among abusers. If you’re an abuse survivor, you know this implicitly.

The open source community consistently condones the type of behavior that can escalate to death threats. The “free as in freedom” philosophy has created a haven for privileged individuals to act without accountability. Harassment, discrimination and exclusion of women, queer and trans people, racial minorities and other individuals from marginalized groups are commonplace. This is not okay. Not only is it morally wrong to exclude people in this manner, but communities thrive on diversity and stagnate without it. Open source is no different, and we have largely been failing to address this issue.

If you’re not actively working to make your community welcoming to a diverse set of individuals, you are part of the problem. If you are a white, straight cis man and you look around at your community and the majority of what you see are straight, white, cis men, then you are part of the problem. If your project or community does not have a code of conduct and you are not actively providing meaningful enforcement of those standards, then you are part of the problem. If you are not holding your technical leaders accountable for their behavior that is harming the community, then you are part of the problem.

We can no longer operate under the fantasy that maintaining healthy open source communities is solely a matter of technical skill or competence. As Matthew Garrett recently stated:

No matter how technically competent a community leader is, no matter how much code review they perform or how much mentorship they provide, if they’re expressing unacceptable social opinions then they’re diminishing the community. People I know and respect have left technical communities simply because people in positions of responsibility have engaged in this kind of behaviour without it causing them any problems.

Want to lessen the number of death threats that women (and others) in open source receive? Adopt a strong code of conduct and enforce it. Do not allow misogynist, sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. comments or behavior, no matter how trivial they feel to you. Don’t ask people like me to explain to you ad nauseam why a fellow community member saying “we don’t want you around” is a threat. Don’t argue when we say that a co-worker  who advocates against universal marriage is advocating legislative violence. Instead, hold those who make these statements accountable.

In other words, reducing and eliminating death threats in the open source community starts with being intolerant of microagressions.