Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Don't Box Me In: YAPC::NA 2012 Impressions

I was very excited to go to YAPC::NA 2012 held in Madison, WI. My flights went with no hitches, and the Belarusian cab driver who took me to the conference center was great company for the ride.

A warm and fun mood welcomed me at the conference center where I picked up my swag bag, and badge. Had my first Spotted Cow that night, but preferred to have a quiet dinner.

The next morning, Schwern's keynote address was a downer. I wanted to start my second YAPC experience with a bang, feeling good about myself and the people I was with. Instead, we heard about blind spots and white privilege. I am wondering which box Schwern would put me in. And, I do not like being boxed in and defined by the stereotypes of people who're lecturing me about diversity.

Whatever criticisms he might have had about attitudes or behaviors of people whom he has interacted with for a long time, Schwern should have taken into account the fact that most of the people in that room were not long time insiders. If I remember correctly, most of them were at their first YAPC. Why not make them feel good about their choice of how to spend their time by pointing out all the great stuff that's happening in the Perl universe?

After all, I got my first computer because of the incredible lengths my mother and great aunt went to procure me one in 1982. My first time in front of a VAX terminal was courtesy of another woman. I learned basics of Unix system administration, SAS, APL, and SQL from women as well. I learned spreadsheet modeling, Fortran, and Pascal from men. In addition, I taught myself Z80 machine code (using a book written by a woman), Basic, C, and C++, as well as Perl, Python, and Ruby. However, at the time of these activities, I wasn't paying attention to any of the physical characteristics of the people who were teaching me stuff.

I do think it is an intriguing question why there are relatively fewer women actively participating in Perl conferences or providing other contributions. Of course, it is hard to figure out what you don't know you don't know. The discipline of Statistics will tell you, if you're willing to pay attention, that it is impossible to tell much about the characteristics of things you do not observe by looking only at the things you can observe without assuming that things you don't observe are essentially similar to systematically related to what you do observe. In most cases, this assumption is not valid. So, it is worth thinking about why people who choose not to participate in these activities choose not to participate in them, but not in the simplistic Picard vs Kirk way outlined by Schwern, whereby the underlying assumption is that people are prevented from participating by the prejudices and biases of the people who are participating.

The talks were wonderful. I went to Get More out of your Meetings, CHI: Universal Caching for Perl, Code Fast, Die Young, Throw Structured Exceptions‎, Advanced Modulinos, REST in the Trenches, DBIx::Class, and, of course, the Lightning Talks, and that was just the first day.

My talk in the morning on the second day was attended by six people. Presumably, most of the rest of the conference attendees were still dealing with the effects of the party the night before.

That was OK, though, as I got incredibly good input from everyone who made it there, and ended up having lunch with John who gave me even more useful information. Thank you! I really appreciated it, and once I am done with stuff I needed to finish yesterday, I am definitely going to get back in touch with you.

For the rest of the day, I attended Custom Facebook Integration, Exceptional Exceptions, Dependency Injection with Bread::Board, and had fun at the MySQL vs Postgre fight.

But, the pinnacle of a good time at YAPC this time was the Bad Movie BOF. If you have never seen Computer Beach Party, you owe it to yourself to track it down. Unfortunately, lack of sleep from the previous night prevented me from further annoying the others in the room with uncontrollable bursts of laughter, and I had to leave early. I hear Andy Lester got some good work done after I left.

Friday opened with Creating And Managing A Private CPAN With Pinto‎. Pinto seems to hold great promise if you want to reign in your dependencies, and not fear upgrades.

Afterwards, I went to Introduction to Performance Tuning Perl Web Applications‎, The Secret Diary of a Small Perl Shop‎, and Baby XS. I am very excited about the work Joel has put into Alien::Base. A quick conversation afterwards turned into an amazingly satisfying lunch with a fun group of people.

With my departure time fast approaching, I ran to Date, Times, Perl, and You‎, followed by ‎Perl in a Trading Environment: A Multi-Pronged Success Story‎. While Sean's talk was informative, the fact that he spent a few minutes trying to establish that the trading firm he works for is ethical by pointing out that it's a big Obama donor was in bad taste. First, trading is how most human happiness on this planet is generated. Second, does the fact that I support the alternative to the current administration, make me unethical? And, third, what is the point of interjecting this stuff into a programming talk? This wasn't as bad as what I experienced at Lightning Talks at OSCON 2011, but why do it in the first place?

After that was a great Q&A with Larry Wall, followed by the Perl Foundation Report, and Lightning Talks once again. I had to run out to catch my flight, so I could not stay for the closing.

This was also an amazingly lucky conference for me, because, with an investment of just $20 in raffle tickets, I won a gift certificate to the Pragmatic Bookshelf store (which, IMHO, is worth much less than the figure they put on it), and a Linode coupon.

In addition, I won a t-shirt from The Grant Street Group by entering their Testafy raffle with the phrase:

When: Proof is in the margin,

Then: Wait 358 years.

In addition, I think I was one of the people who correctly guessed which cheese was Dutch in Booking.com's A/B test, but I did not win a prize in that raffle. I mean, I was really getting used to winning something every day!

I am still nervous about how my talk might look on video, because I am the kind of speaker who likes to walk around, wave my arms in the air, improvise based on participant input etc, all a legacy of my teaching career.

All in all, JT Smith and the rest of the team did an amazing job making us all feel welcome and isolating the conference activities from whatever disruptions might have been happening in the background. In my experience, the smoother things look, the harder are the organizers working behind the scenes, and this conference went extremely well.

Thank you.

8 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for giving voice to what so many whispered all week!

    I too was at my first YAPC, and thought Schwern naive, over the top and out of line.

    Really soured the mood of the conference and raised new divisions in the community. He did damage that will be difficult to repair.

    Sometimes destruction is not creative, it is simply destructive.

    YAPC:NA felt like "Occupy Perl".

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    1. Amen. I didn't attend, but I was seriously considering attending next year, as well as raising my profile of Perl community participation (beside my current high-volume StackOverflow participation as well as being chef Perl evangelist/propagandist in one of the largest Fortune 500 companies. After Schwern's rhethoric, this is NOT going to happen. I only ever in/excluded people based on their drive and willingness to work hard. Being excluded and chastised based on my somehow being extra privileged because a racist can't see behind my skin color means I don't feel welcome to the community anymore. Way to go building participation and reducing divisions.

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  2. As a first time attendee I found it heartening to see at least some of the people in the group are aware of the skewed participant demographics.

    I saw nothing that made it feel like "occupy Perl" or that the keynote had "raised new divisions in the community".

    Of course, I doubt he would have given such a talk if it hadn't been bound to make some in the audience uncomfortable.

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  3. I attended your talk BTW, virtually though.

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  4. To understand the Schwern talk you need to search for YAPC, Code of conduct and ApacheCon, the Noirin Plunkett incident he was silently referring to and for which he boycotted the previous YAPC's. Well, so this was the first YAPC were someone actually could be thrown out for indecent behavior and it did not happen. I mean it did happen. But nobody was thrown out. We can manage our trouble makers. And women should feel safe at YAPC's.

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  5. Thanks Reini. It was my first YAPC, and was also wondering if there was some "history", I was unaware of. There is...a lot, unfortunately. Specifically, the "timeline" link you'll find linked to here:

    http://geekfeminism.org/2010/11/29/get-your-conference-anti-harassment-policy-here/

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  6. @Reini and @Craig I don't understand how one can refer to something without mentioning it. I can only comment on what was said at the keynote address to deduce the meaning of what was said at the keynote address.

    I am not sure what Schwern wanted to achieve by making me stand up and feel the weight of my "white privilege." How is "diversity" promoted by making me fit into Schwern's pre-conceived notions based on external attributes?

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