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Thoughts on GitHub Giving Free Private Repos to Women


I am not going to turn this into a rant. I have a lot of strong opinions on the Women in Tech issue, but I’m keeping the scope of this limited to the fact that GitHub now offers a free private repo to women.

At least I’m going to try. A lot of what I find frustrating about this is the same stuff I find frustrating about the Women in Tech issue overall. I’m pretty sure I was the one that coined the term “Donglegate” on Twitter regarding the recent PyCon debacle. I’m up to my ass in this stuff, whether I want to be or not, because people constantly ask me what I think about it because vagina that’s why.

First, let’s back up.

From the Ada Initiative blog post:

We’re excited to announce that long-time Ada Initiative sponsor GitHub has donated unlimited free private source code repositories to the Ada Initiative, to be used by women learning to write open source software. To get a free private repository on GitHub, just email the managers of the Ada Initiative GitHub account with your GitHub account name and ask for one!

[box type=”info”]Important Update: GitHub has clarified that they are not giving women free private repos as the original Ada Initiative post seemed to imply. GitHub gave Ada Initiative an org account, which means AI is providing women with repos from their org account. That said, the GH stuff was only a fraction of what I was trying to say here, so I’m leaving the rest of the post unchanged. Thanks, GitHub. <3 you! [/box]

Setting aside the irony that the most advanced and efficient way they have to coordinate this undertaking (to provide free *source code* hosting) is being handled via… wait.. email??.. seriously?? No crazy hipster HTML9 Buttstrap Riak-powered web-sockety thing? Not even a google doc? Okay, setting that aside, this, on its face, seems like a reasonable and benevolent thing to do. I guess. Not necessary, in my opinion, but I’ll roll with it.

The Ada Initiative continues:

In working with women in open source, the Ada Initiative found that many women are reluctant to post their code publicly when they are first getting started in open source software. This reluctance has good reasons behind it: fear of being told they are bad programmers, fear of being publicly mocked or harassed, and even fear of losing job opportunities. All of these are greater risks for women on average than men. But the best way to get better at programming is to collaborate with and get review from other programmers, which is far easier to do with a shared repository like those provided by GitHub. Unfortunately, private repositories are too expensive for most women just getting started in open source software.

“Fear of being told they are bad programmers, fear of being publicly mocked or harassed, and even fear of losing job opportunities” – so, you mean the exact same stuff that makes it intimidating for men?

What about the cripplingly shy, low-self-esteemy boys who are teaching themselves to code? Fuck those kids, I guess.

If you need a free private repo, BitBucket already exists. But if you use a private repo to *learn* to code, you’re sort of missing the point. The most valuable lesson open source can teach us is that by sharing your code with the world, you and the world become better for it. Does this mean sticking your neck out a little? You bet. But it’s only by taking these risks that we get exposed to different ways of doing things, learn from people with different points of view and goals, and ultimately become better developers for it.

If you don’t believe me, ask Brene Brown how we can really only start to grow once we’ve allowed ourselves to be vulnerable.

There are a metric ass-load of repos out there. No one is looking at yours. Think of it like being a struggling actor in Los Angeles, or one of billions of stars in the vast expanse of night sky. Yes, you exist, but no one really cares. Not until you become something extraordinary.

Oh crap. Sorry. I tried to stop it. The rant is coming. I’ll try to keep it as short as I can. (This baby’s been brewing for almost two decades.)

If by some strange twist of fate, someone does happen to stumble across your code and says bad things about it, welcome to the real world. This is what the tech industry is really like. You need to take it like a grown-up. Sometimes, people will think you’re stupid. Sometimes people will think you’ve done a bad job. Occasionally, you’re going to find someone who’s a big jerk. Sometimes, people are going to be mean for absolutely no good reason at all. This is not special to women. We are not special, unique snowflakes.

You are not entitled to not have your feelings hurt occasionally. This is absolutely true for males and females, in tech and everywhere else. Sometimes, people in the world are mean.

Believe it or not, I’m not trying to sound like a jerk, or to be discouraging. I love this field. I’ve been here forever, and I’m not going anywhere.

But tech is a highly competitive field with a high concentration of very smart, frequently socially awkward people. Some of them are going to shit on you because they think you’re not as smart as them. I promise you that they will shit on you for that regardless of your gender. Sometimes they may use your gender as ammunition because it’s the easy target, but make no mistake – they would still have made you feel badly if you were a guy, they just would have picked something else to fling at you that would cut as deeply.

Sometimes they’re not even socially awkward – they’re just assholes.

If you want to get into tech — or any career in the adult workforce, really — you have to be prepared for people like that sometimes. Tech isn’t some magical haven with a big bouncer at the door that doesn’t let any assholes in. We have them, and so does every other industry on the planet. You probably have friends or family who are assholes. They’re everywhere. Sometimes when a male higher-up than you steals your idea and presents it as their own, it’s because they’re self-serving douchebags, not because you’re female. They’d have done the same to a male co-worker, too.

But those people are the exception, not the rule. I’ve been in this field for 17 years, and I can’t think of an industry that is inherently more supportive of growth, evolution, innovation, and progress through community empowerment. Yes, with the occasional jackwagon who needs to make others feel inadequate because of his or her own insecurities, but those people are everywhere.

Am I saying sexism isn’t real? Of course not – that would be crazy. What I *am* saying is that the issues women face in technology are the EXACT same ones we face everywhere else. The issue of sexism in tech is a myth. There. I said it. There is nothing about sexism in tech that is different or special as compared to sexism in the rest of our lives as women. Stop worrying about sexism in tech, and start worrying about sexism in GENERAL. Fix that, and we’ll actually be getting somewhere.

“You got your tech in my sexism!”
“No, you got your sexism in my tech!”

The notion of sexism in tech trivializes the very real sexism that is pervasive in daily life. Sexism in tech is a symptom, not the sickness. In attempting to treat this symptom, we’ve alienated ourselves so much that men in tech don’t know what to do with us anymore. They’re afraid to talk to us, and thanks to Donglegate, they’re afraid to talk *around* us. Because of the Women in Tech “movement”, I’ve never had a harder time talking to men in tech groups. So, yeah, thanks for that.

And going back to the free private repos and the shy, low-self-esteemy boys who are as afraid to open themselves to ridicule as the woman who is learning to code – we have to ask ourselves what we’re trying to accomplish through things like this.

Are we really trying to make tech more approachable for all who would find it intimidating, or just for the chicks? If it’s just for the chicks, then that sucks and it’s not fair.

It feels to me like all of the things we try to do to “fix” sexism in technology are actually meant to treat the results of specific personality traits, NOT gender. Yes, statistically, one might argue that these personality traits occur more frequently in women than men, but they are reducing me (and you) down to what society accepts a woman to be. How is that not sexist itself?

TLDR; sometimes people are jerks, and sometimes you have to deal with it, male or female.

Final note: This is how I feel. It’s how I’ve felt for a long time, and just haven’t had the energy to write up a big to-do about it. My day job as VP of Technology keeps me pretty busy. That said, it is only how *I* feel. I am not speaking for any women, in tech or otherwise, other than myself. Some may agree, lots will disagree, both are acceptable. I find it absurd that I have to specifically state that, but evidently I do.

[box type=”note”]Mark W. Schumann in the comments asked me what I thought GitHub should have done (prior to the clarification from GitHub posted above).

What I’d have liked to have seen from GitHub would be something like a code review/mentoring program. Not limited to gender or age, they could facilitate a monthly code review with someone who is an expert in the language the repo is using. Maybe it’s even completely anonymous, so the reviewer *can’t* know the gender of the review. I don’t know.[/box]

Some men suffer the same anxiety as women do when it comes to releasing code publicly. The difference is that society has made it less socially acceptable for men to show that they’re afraid. Men have to suck it up and deal, women get mollycoddled. Both options suck.

If the goal is truly to promote coding and technology, I’d rather see a program that anyone who is feeling intimidated can benefit from, regardless of gender or age.

Photo credit: CnodeJS

About the author


I'm a tech nerd from NY/CA now living in Lisbon, Portugal. I run Grokability, Inc, and run several open source projects, including Snipe-IT Asset Management. Tweet at me @snipeyhead, skeet me at, or read more...

By snipe
Snipe.Net Geeky, sweary things.

About Me

I'm a tech nerd from NY/CA now living in Lisbon, Portugal. I run Grokability, Inc, and run several open source projects, including Snipe-IT Asset Management. Tweet at me @snipeyhead, skeet me at, or read more...

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