Category Archives: The Big Picture

Forking and Dongle Jokes Don’t Belong At Tech Conferences


Photo credit: “Vivian and Daddy on the Laptop” by Qole Pejorian

Have you ever had a group of men sitting right behind you making joke that caused you to feel uncomfortable? Well, that just happened this week but instead of shrinking down in my seat, I did something about it an here’s my story…

Yesterday, I publicly called out a group of guys at the PyCon conference who were not being respectful to the community.

For those of you visiting from Hacker News from the tweet and from this post, thanks for stopping by. Enjoy the context.

I tweeted a photo of the guys behind me:

I publicly asked for help with addressing the problem:

I tweeted the PyCon Code of Conduct page and began to contacting the PyCon staff via text message:

and I’m happy to say that PyCon responded quickly not just with words but with action and a public response:

What I will share with you here is the backstory that led to this —

The guy behind me to the far left was saying he didn’t find much value from the logging session that day. I agreed with him so I turned around and said so.  He then went onto say that an earlier session he’d been to where the speaker was talking about images and visualization with Python was really good, even if it seemed to him the speaker wasn’t really an expert on images. He said he would be interested in forking the repo and continuing development.

That would have been fine until the guy next to him…

began making sexual forking jokes

I was going to let it go. It had been a long week. A long month. I’d been on the road since mid February attending and speaking at conferences.  PyCon was my 5th and final conference before heading home.

I know it’s important to pick my battles.

I know I don’t have to be a hero in every situation.

Sometimes I just want to go to a conference and be a geek.


like Popeye, I couldn’t “stands it no more” because of what happened —

Jesse Noller was up on stage thanking the sponsors. The guys behind me (one off to the right) said, “You can thank me, you can thank me”. That told me they were a sponsoring company of Pycon and from the photos I took, his badge had an add-on that said, “Sponsor”.

My company was a Gold sponsor as well.

They started talking about “big” dongles. I could feel my face getting flustered.

Was this really happening?
How many times do I have to deal with this?
Can they not hear what Jesse is saying?

The stuff about the dongles wasn’t even logical and as a self professed nerd, that bothered me. Dongles are intended to be small and unobtrusive. They’re intended for network connectivity and to service as physical licence keys for software. I’d consulted in the past with an automotive shop that needed data recovery and technical support. I know what PCMCIA dongles look like.

I was telling myself if they made one more sexual joke, I’d say something.

The it happened….The trigger.

Jesse was on the main stage with thousands of people sitting in the audience. He was talking about helping the next generation learn to program and how happy PyCon was with the Young Coders workshop (which I volunteered at). He was mentioning that the PyLadies auction had raised $10,000 in a single night and the funds would be used the funds for their initiatives.

I saw a photo on main stage of a little girl who had been in the Young Coders workshop.

I realized I had to do something or she would never have the chance to learn and love programming because the ass clowns behind me would make it impossible for her to do so.

I calculated my next steps.  I knew there wasn’t a lot of time and the closing session would be wrapping up.  I considered:

  • The type of event
  • The size of the audience
  • How the conference had emphasized their Code of Conduct
  • What I knew about the community and their diversity initiatives
  • How to address this issue effectively and not disrupt the main stage

Added 3/19: Description and photo of ballroom

The ballroom was huge.  Here’s a photo from that morning of the keynote speaker, Guido van Rossum, creator of Python.  Each section was 12 seats wide and 20 rows deep with six sections (front and back) in the ballroom.  I would estimate it held over 1,000 people that afternoon. I was located approximately 10 rows deep from the front right screen in the top-right section and about 5 seats in from the aisle on the left of the section.

pycon 2013 ballroom

(Math inclined folks: feel free to provide your estimates on how many people the ballroom held in the comments.)

Accountability was important. These guys sitting right behind me felt safe in the crowd. I got that and realized that being anonymous was fueling their behaviour. This is known as Deindividualization:

Deindividuation is a concept in social psychology that is generally thought of as the losing of self-awareness in groups.   Theories of deindividuation propose that it is a psychological state of decreased self-evaluation and decreased evaluation apprehension causing antinormative and disinhibited behavior.

Deindividuation theory seeks to provide an explanation for a variety of antinormative collective behavior, such as violent crowds, lynch mobs, etc. Deindividuation theory has also been applied to genocide and been posited as an explanation for antinormative behavior online and in computer-mediated communications.

It very much reminded me of Lord Of the Flies.  I decided to put out the fire at the base.

PyCon has gone to great efforts to position themselves as a conference that everyone is welcome to attend according to their homepage:

PyCon is the largest annual gathering for the community using and developing the open-source Python programming language. PyCon is organized by the Python community for the community. We try to keep registration far cheaper than most comparable technology conferences, to keep PyCon accessible to the widest group possible.

and they go on to say:

PyCon is a diverse conference dedicated to providing an enjoyable experience to everyone. Our code of conduct is intended to help everyone maintain the PyCon spirit. We thank all attendees and staff for observing it.

I did a gut check and waited until Jesse finished introducing Diana who would be the new PyCon US chair for 2014. I stood up slowly, turned around and took three, clear photos. I said back down, did another gut check and started composing a tweet.

Three things came to me: act, speak and confront in the moment.

I decided to do things differently this time and didn’t say anything to them directly.  I was a guest in the Python community and as such, I wanted to give PyCon the opportunity to address this.

A few minutes later, one of the PyCon staff member approached to the left.  I stood up, went outside to talk with him and explain the situation with a few of the other PyCon staff.  They had seen my tweet.  After explaining, they wanted to pull the people in question from the main ballroom.  I walked back in with the PyCon staff and point them out one by one and they were escorted to the hallway.

As I walked back to my seat, I cannot tell you how proud I was of the PyCon and Python community at the very moment for keeping their word to make the conference a safe place to be.  A bit shaken, I took my seat to continue watching the lightning talks.  I sent an updated tweet that the situation was being dealt with and later on, PyCon tweeted they had addressed the issue.

For context, I’m a developer evangelist at a successful startup.

That means I’m an advocate for developers, male and female. I hear about demanding bosses with impossible deadlines for product launches and the overall experience of working at other startups firsthand.

I listen and offer suggestions, ideas and mentoring to help developers become problems solvers. Sometimes the answer is our API or not answering email after 7pm while other times it about being assertive and shedding impostor syndrome.

The forking joke set the stage for the dongle joke. Neither were funny.

What many of you don’t know is that this wasn’t the first time that day I had to address this issue around harassment and gender.

I had been talking with a developer after lunch in the hall and he told me he had made a joke. He had been looking for some boxes and said aloud that he was looking under the skirt (he had meant a table skirt) in the expo hall. A woman had “given him a look” and/or made a comment after he said this so he responded by saying “it was bare, just the way he liked it” as an innuendo for when women shave off all their pubic hair. I explained that while this could be funny, it was out of context because:

  • We were at a tech conference
  • There was a job fair going on
  • Women historically have felt unwelcome at tech conferences
  • PyCon was making a special effort to be welcoming to women
  • There were several women’s groups here (PyLadies, Women Who Code, CodeChix, Ada Initiative)
  • He was wearing company logos and that meant his actions and words carried on their behalf

….much further than his sense of humor ever would.

He disagreed. I urged him to talk to someone at the conference who worked for the same company who was a guy and who would understand this issue and potential for brand/reputation damage. We were able to discuss this because we were in the hallway, not a packed ballroom.

At a conference where it was was celebrated that 20% of attendees were women

it wasn’t the place to make “jokes” like this. I felt our chat went well (as well as could be expected) and headed on my way to more sessions and the final closing talks. Why did he share his joke with me?   Maybe because I told him I’d just finished a 5 week stand up comedy class and he wanted to reciprocate. Maybe because my job as a developer evangelist means I spend a lot of time around male developers and he thought I would understand.  What I did know is I needed to say something instead of laugh.

I have been to a lot of tech conferences and hackathons over the years.  I’ve heard a lot of things said.  That means I’m more desensitized than others but it doesn’t make it ok.  Here I could go into all sorts of comparisons on things I could say around guys to make them uncomfortable but that’s not the point of this post.

There is something about crushing a little kid’s dream that gets me really angry.

Women in technology need consistant messaging from birth through retirement they are welcome, competent and valued in the industry.

Let’s unify the message to our daughters and to the women developers we work with:

“We want you to be here and we will do our best to welcome you into the world of programming.”

What has to change is that everyone must take personal accountability and speak up when they hear something that isn’t ok.  It takes three words to make a difference:

“That’s not cool.”

Not all men at tech conferences are like these guys.

Not every woman who attends a tech conference is a victim in waiting.

We need to build bridges and be aware of our actions and not discount that our words carry weight.  A guy in my PyCon sprint group today shared a beautiful French proverb today:

“Live a good life then make room for others.”

Yesterday the future of programming was on the line and I made myself heard.

Plancast Joins Pinterest: How Social Networks Can Leverage Existing Relationships Of Relevance

A bit confusing to see one social network join another.

A bit confusing to see one social network join another Screenshot 2 23 13 11 35 PM

There should be a tool in place to help these notifications be more graceful and suggest to Pinterest users the value of following the other social network account on their Pinterest service.  They could take it one step further and brainstorm with the other social network to create initial boards and pins to attract users.  Here are two I thought of relevant to my life:

Hi Adria!

You follow Plancast on Twitter.  They allow people to share upcoming events and conferences they’ll be at.  Imagine being able to see a sneak peek and behind the scenes shots at Fashion Week and highlights from the events your friends are attending like Maker Faire.  Let us know what ideas you have! 

Yep, Fashion Week is on Pinterest

Fasionweek Screenshot 2 23 13 11 57 PM

and Maker Faire is on Pinterest too

Make Magazine Screenshot 2 24 13 12 00 AM

Especially if I’m not a frequent Pinterest user (which I’m not), this would be a great call to action to engage me in content that I’m likely to care about.

How would you build this tool?  Well, start by qualifying the Twitter account notifications to Pinterest users.  Let’s say I want to flag Twitter accounts that have the following:

  • More than 10,000 followers
  • Is a verified Twitter account
  • Has a specific username

This information is available via Twitter’s API with the Twitter user platform object fields being:

  • followers_count
  • verified
  • screen_name

and here is Plancast’s Twitter account interpreted via JSON

JON Plancast Screenshot 2 24 13 12 29 AM

Then push these to a holding area for manual review by the marketing team to validate, see if it’s a good opportunity to co-brand the announcement and if not, release it back to the main holding tank.  This could be extended even further to then notify Pinterest users based on their influence and frequency of participation.  And on,  and on.

See, that wasn’t hard, was it?

In time, teams at the social networks will work together to deliver communications that take into account the entire user experience and really leverage your existing trust and relationships with other networks.

Surround Yourself With Positive People Birthday Wish [VIDEO]

Every year I make a YouTube video for my birthday.  I spend the day reflecting on my life and what I’ve learned in the last year.  I especially focus on what I’m grateful for.  Last night I thought about what had added the most value to my life and a sense of well-being came over me.

Why?  Because I have  fantastic people in my life who are doing awesome things, achieving their goals and helping others.  They’re part of my exceptional support network known as “Team Adria”.  Scott Hanselman wrote a post on this about having a Life’s Board of Directors.

So here is my tribute to to you wonderful people!

2013 Birthday Video

My birthday video on positive people has struck a chord and many of you have left awesome comments.  I’m so glad to get this feedback and want to say thank you!

Happy birthday! I hope this day was wonderful and full of positivity. I love watching your videos. I am not that into tech (I found your channel by way of the video you did a long time ago about your curly hair care routine lol)l, but your energy and passion are inspiring and refreshing. You should definitely make more videos:-) Thanks for sharing this.

Anjuan Simmons
Happy Birthday, Adria! You enthusiasm is as inspiring and infectious as the first day I met you. Your legacy is already well under way!

Wow, I was just looking at Proverbs 27:17 then I came across your video in my subscription talking about what else? Being around positive people. Good stuff.

Beautiful video Adria…positivity and being surrounded by positive people is truly an elixir for the soul… ;)

Ok, that said… back to the story

When I was going through a hard time six years ago, I used to pray for God to help me surround myself with positive people. I named the qualities I wanted in these people and imagined how they would be my support network. I had no idea how I would accomplish this and left it in the hands of God.

Sometimes all you have is your two hands.  For the first time in my life, I began to pray.  I mean really pray.  Not pray “for” things like we do as children; trying to bargain with God for things we want.  I prayed to God to receive guidance, strength and courage.  My father had been an alcoholic and so had the ex-boyfriend who had laid his hands on me.  I found Al-Anon — A support group for people, friends and family, whose lives have been affected by alcohol.  It’s where I learned about the power of letting go and letting God.

I began to pray furiously — Whenever I felt scared or alone, I would pray.  I prayed out loud and in whispers, I’d pray in the morning and before bed, I prayed in the car (yes, got it fixed) and kept on praying, even when I didn’t feel like it.  Prayer got me through a lot over those next couple of very rough months.

All this praying brought clarity and that’s how I realized that I needed more people in my life to help me, to support me and to lean on.  Back then I could barely list 3 people.  Seriously and I had my doubts on if they would even help.  I felt like I was a selfish person for  even considering to ask other people to help me.  I’d be hogging up all their time and that wasn’t fair.  It’s  a common feeling for people who come from an upside down world.  I had to change how I thought about things; to see that receiving help was just as good as giving it.  I’d always helped others.  Even when they had mistreated me.  This was another lesson I had to learn; when to say no and protect myself.

Well I’m happy to say it worked! I now have a generously sized group of people in my life who are honest, direct, in touch with their feelings, who think about me and do nice things for me just like I do for them (being reciprocal!). No matter where these friends are, I feel close to them because we have an authentic connection. My friend Bill in Scotland is a great example.  I trust these people and feel totally comfortable asking for help, support and feedback…and they give it.  Man I’ve come a long way in six years!

Success is the reward for meeting your goals but you don’t have to get there alone; surround yourself with positive people like I’ve done and your journey is made infinitely easier.

I’m going to be taking things pretty easy on my birthday but each year I always make a video and do a blog post to summarize where I am and what I’m grateful for.

I hope the next time your birthday comes around you’ll be able to smile and think of all the things in you’re life that make you happy.

Birthday Gifts

Thanks SendGrid for the ThinkGeek gift card! Tweet

Thanks Jeffrey of Geekazine for the Starbucks coffee! Facebook post

Some send virtual gifts or gift cards while others collect things to give to me later…like the texting gloves secured at a Warriors game *smile*

Good memories with friends are the most precious gift.

Shout outs on Social Media

One of my favorite new traditions has been looking forward to all the nice shout outs I get from friends.  They wish me a happy birthday on Twitter, Facebook, by email and phone.  I wake up to several text messages as some prefer that and then there are always the packages that show up from someone I haven’t talked with in a while but where we hold each other in our hearts ;)

All of these bring me joy and I feel that much more connected to everyone and everything the world.




Birthdays from the past


This was the first year I told the Internet it was my birthday.  I noted that I share my birthday with Facebook and 37Signals’ Basecamp.  My post was short and I focused on the surreal feeling of people wishing me a happy birthday online.   This was about a month before I got my big break on the Rachel Maddow show so most people I knew on social networks lived in Minnesota and I knew them from real life.


I celebrated my birthday with a spa visit and a nice meal and talked about how I missed my sister who suffers from depression.  My blog was about 2 years old.  I was exploring sharing my offline experiences online.  I had owned the iPhone 3GS  and been on Foursquare for about 6 months.  I started taking more photos of things around me.  I knew I would be moving to San Francisco soon and that was both exciting and scary.


I focused on my accomplishments, items of gratitude and my goals for the year.  I worked to keep things in perspective.  My dog Bluey had just become ill the month before with congestive heart failure causing her to pass out.  I cried a lot offline because she was ill.  I was angry.  I was in shock.  I did my best to keep my head up and stay optimistic.  I had hope Bluey would get better.  I had just returned to consulting full time.


Last year I didn’t make a video.  It was probably the worst birthday ever.  I had gone to Tahoe with an IT consulting firm I was working for.  I fell on mushy snow and had broken my wrist.  I didn’t have health insurance.  I was scared.  I was in constant pain.  I hid the injury for weeks for fear they’d let me go.  I was still mourning the loss of my dog Bluey from the year before.  Everything seemed to suck.  Eventually I healed. I never mentioned this online until now.  I made a commitment to protect my health.  I never want to be in that situation again.


For me life has been about perseverance, self improvement, setting goals, achieving goals, helping others and being a better person than I was yesterday.  We all experience things, good and bad in life.  Don’t give up.

Here’s my recipe for happiness and success:

  1. Create a game plan and plot your life journey
  2. Surround yourself with positive people
  3. Give to others without expecting anything in return
  4. Be grateful and thank God often
  5. Be direct yet forgiving with yourself and others
  6. Do what you love and delegate the stuff you don’t
  7. Reward yourself when you do well
  8. Laugh as much as possible
  9. Expect to be successful
  10. Share your story to inspire others