Marta Rybczynska: Woman force in open source

Swapnil: What is your role within the KDE community?

Rybczynska: For most users and developers my main occupation is the Commit Digest. We can call it some kind of promotion. I am also a user, of course, and do some development from time to time.

Swapnil: Can you tell us about woman presence in the KDE community?

Rybczynska: Compared to other FLOSS projects, it is quite visible. In some random order: Anne Wilson, Anne-Marie Mahfouf, Camilla Boemann, Lydia Pintscher, Myriam Schweingruber, Sinny Kumari and Valorie Zimmerman are very active.

Their involvement varies from coding to project management and translations. Everything is covered. There are also the current GSoC and outreach students. I think that giving visibility to women makes it more likely to attract new women developers.

Swapnil: Female developers are not very visible in the Linux and and Open Source landscape – it’s dominated by males. Outside the developer landscape woman are in ‘leading’ position whether it be HP or Yahoo! so what is the reason of absence from the FLOSS space?

Rybczynska: This is a very hard question and I do not really know the answer, I can only guess. I think it’s because there are several factors that needs to work together for the first FLOSS contribution: the code, the FLOSS ideas and the courage to stand up. First, the person has to learn how to code or do other kind of contribution (writing, graphics). That requires time to learn. One can learn either in the free time or at school or university. The popular belief is that coding is not a free time hobby for girls and if a girl does not encounter something or someone to show her that she can, she usually won’t do it.

More examples of female doing it and more visibility of FLOSS in general should help here.

OK, then the second thing. To contribute to FLOSS you need to know that FLOSS exists and should be ware of its ideals. Unfortunately we aren’t doing a great job in explaining to the public why we’re doing it. They are using the software, they know of its existence, they know it is of high quality, but they are not aware of the idea behind. I remember talking to a professor of economics who couldn’t understand how it can be working. For him, it wasn’t supposed to. Definitely there is more work to do here.

Finally, the third element is the courage to submit your work to be visible to everyone. It’s like standing up in front of a crowd and give a talk or to take part in a discussion. At least in the culture I come from, girls are not encouraged to have their own opinion. And I think that posting a first patch can be easily compared with standing before a critic crowd of strangers. It takes a lot of courage to do so.

So it is complicated. I think that mentoring can really help. Fortunately we do have many people in the FLOSS community who are great mentors.

Swapnil: The environment of Linux & Open Source development is not considered to be very friendly (mailing lists and forums can be harsh for newbies) how much role does this ‘hostile’ environment plays in the invisibility of woman?

Rybczynska: Hostility on some mailing lists made me stop posting there. It is as simple as that. It did not make me stop from contributing, but I can imagine that it could. This is why I think it is important. Moreover, I find the attitude of some forums and mailing lists to be a big problem. I think everyone can help here by responding if they find some hostile reaction. I see no other way we can fix it. At the same time we can attract many new developers who are too scared now.

Fortunately, there are many friendly and helpful sites. Apart from the KDE sites, I am frequently at too. I have met many great people online myself and obviously our community simply wouldn’t work without this type of communication.

Swapnil: Have you ever faced any problem within the GNU/Linux community due to your gender?

Rybczynska: Yes, but never a severe one, fortunately. Several times people’s first impression was based on how I look they think that I may be a user of Linux but never thing beyond it that I could be a contributor as well.

Swapnil: Are there any drivers within the KDE community which encourage the female developers?

Rybczynska: I think that the most important thing is the existence of visible female contributors within the KDE community. I like the idea behind the Outreach Program For Women and hope it will continue. Even for people who do not take part, it gives a clear sign that such developers are welcome.

Swapnil: How hostile or friendly is the KDE community towards female developers?

Rybczynska: The KDE community is very friendly. I have never encountered a hostile attitude, not just based on gender, but in general. I think it is a very good community to start with in FLOSS.

Swapnil: Can you tell a few things that you love about KDE community?

Rybczynska: The discussions and Akademy. You can talk with people on all possible subjects, be it technical or not.

Swapnil: Can you tell us how many active female developers are there working for KDE?

Rybczynska: I’ve already given some names, but I do not know everyone. Also, in many cases I simply do not know, especially in the cases of non-European names, where I am unable to tell the gender just based on the name.

Swapnil: What are the areas where KDE needs help from the developers?

Rybczynska: Everywhere :) From the most recent help requests, speech recognition is looking for people and their ideas. To learn more, read Peter Grasch’s post.

If there are people who want to do some work and help the project, I’d recommend creating a list of subjects or programs you’re interested in and then contact the people involved in those areas.

I can guarantee that there is always some work to do.

About Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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