FLOSSPOLS report on gender and Free/Libre and Open Source Software

There’s two reports in fact: D16 – Gender: Integrated Report of Findings; and D17 – Gender: Policy Recommendations (a sub-report from D16). I’m in the middle of reading the first one. I don’t know how the general public is going to go with them, even I have trouble not wincing at the use of ‘discourse’ and ‘narratives’ and I both have a rogue semiotics major and know perfectly well that it’s unmarked jargon.

I’ve never felt really able to contribute to the why [so few women in this IRC channel]? discussion other than tending to dismiss the women’s brains don’t work like that argument for totally incorrect reasons. That is, I dismiss it largely because they seem unable to put ‘most’ in front of the words, and what kind of evidence of mathematical superiority involves making a absolute statement about an entire population in a conversation with one of the exceptions? That’s right, I’m completely petty about that one.

More seriously, I’ve always wanted to solve the problem of why I personally don’t contribute F/LOSS code before going at the bigger question. I mean, I’m in all the right places. I report the bugs. I have myself been a professional programmer, and now I’m a postgraduate computer science student which puts me even closer to the ‘likely to spend entire life on free code’ demographic. On the rare occasions when I even look at the code of stuff I use I can generally curse its inadequacy and also find the bug I’m looking for. (I have trouble fixing them even then though, because I tend to subscribe to a ‘master plan’ theory of the code in which I worry about breaking other things if I have to do any rearranging to fix the bug. I guess I’m the person test driven development was invented for.)

Some of it is this problem. Some of it is the social problem: that hurling out random patches is actually so seldom successful when fixing bugs, especially non-trivial ones, compared to spending oodles of time in Yet Another IRC Channel and finally winning commit access. (It’s possible a different choice of projects to fix bugs in would help, but that tends to be the problem with the under-resourced small ones.) Much of it, however, involves just not opening up the code in the first place.

A couple of things in D16 speak to me though: the first is the review of how important the idea of complete individual volition is in F/LOSS culture(s); that one’s choices to code or document or play will dolls are made in a social vacuum. Another interesting note, probably a tangent, from D16 (page 34):

Often it is almost as if software projects are not about software production but about code production, where members imagine that within code lies exclusive access to worthy knowledge. In this sense, F/LOSS resembles academic computer science more than engineering. It is perhaps not a coincidence that proportions of women in F/LOSS resemble academic computer science numbers.

Note that I cheat in academic computer science too: computational linguistics has a relatively large proportion of women. Still, I’m sure, a minority, but it’s difficult for me to notice that when it’s a sizable minority. But I wonder if I should tottle off and have a closer look at the ‘women in computer science’ literature now. It’s still an open question as to whether it will answer any questions I have about myself though.