A Fresh Cup is Mike Gunderloy's software development weblog, covering Ruby on Rails and whatever else I find interesting in the universe of software. I'm a full-time software developer: most of my time in recent years has been spent writing Rails, though I've dabbled in many other things and like most people who have been writing code for decades I can learn new stuff as needed.

Currently I'm employed as the Vice President of Engineering at Faria Education Group. If you're interested in working with me, we're often hiring smart developers. Drop me a comment if you're interested or email MikeG1 [at] larkfarm.com.

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A Painful Decision

There has been some discussion in recent days in the Rails community about appropriate conference presentations, whether women feel welcome in the Rails community, and related issues. I don't intend to review the entire mess here - you can find it if you want it. For what it's worth, I think the original presentation was an inappropriate and regrettable mistake. However, far more disturbing to me are the reactions to the discussion on the part of some of the Rails community.

Folks, the idea that women are disproportionately underrepresented in engineering and software in general, and open source development in particular, should not be new and controversial in 2009 - anyone who cares to look can find such things as the FLOSSpols findings, or any amount of academic literature on the subject. Anyone who cares to take the time to actually talk to the women who are a part of the open source community will have no trouble getting an earful about how challenging it can be to participate.

I don't want to make the mistake of speaking of "the open source community" as some monolithic bloc. People like Audrey Eschright, Aaron Quint, Peter Szinek, and Selena Deckelmann have written about ways to address some of the fundamental problems.

But unfortunately for me, in parallel to the public discussion there have been private ones. I can't reveal details without breaking confidences, but suffice it to say that a significant number of Rails core contributors - with leadership (if that's the right word) from DHH - apparently feel that being unwelcoming and "edgy" is not just acceptable, but laudable. The difference between their opinions and mine is so severe that I cannot in good conscience remain a public spokesman for Rails.

So, effective immediately, I'm resigning my position with the Rails Activists.

I realize that some people will see this as an act of prudery on my part, or a lack of a sense of humor, or some other personal failing. That's OK, I don't mind. Other people (who I have a good deal of respect for) have attempted to convince me that I could do more good by staying involved with the Rails power structure and trying to work from within to change things. At this point, unfortunately, I feel sufficiently outnumbered and unwelcome that that option is no longer open.

This does not mean that I will stop using Rails; on a technical level, it's still a good fit for the projects that I work on. Nor does it mean that I will stop contributing to open source projects. But I'm no longer willing to donate a substantial portion of my free time to this particular project.

Reader Comments (11)

It takes balls to stand up for what you believe is right, so respect for that


at the same time please remember that Rails != DHH.

Its gotten WAY bigger than both him and 37 Signals.

You are punishing an entire community for the actions of a few - which is certainly your choice. It just seems a bit ineffective in diffusing the conflict.. and somewhat hypocritical to pour yet more gasoline on what is already an overly-hyped controversy.

Negativity just breeds more of the same my friend. Posts like this only serve blame and offer little in constructive thinking. While you are waging this moralistic crusade - some folks are actually building solutions to deal with the root of the problem (Hint: It's not DHH)

May 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterArnold Jarvis

Apologies I realized that you are involved in that RailsBridge project- nice work

and double respect!

May 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterArnold Jarvis

i know how hard it is to step down from a position like
that, where your passion lies, but it sounds like the
atmosphere where you were spending time and energy
had become poisonous. here's hoping you find another
place for all that dedication and energy.

it's quite the compliment how much the community wants
you to continue, but those who have not given as you
have do not clearly know what they are asking.

May 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersmo

I didn't see the presentation. I think the question is not about porn material... I don't like this but I'm not against people who like. I have many women friends that like. No problem. The question is that it has nothing to do with a professional presentation... And the men that are so proud for being so racional did a thing like that.
Thank you for taking a decision like this. I can tell that it is very dificult to be a woman in IT.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCristina

I meant rational.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCristina

Mike, you've made an excellent point and the right decision.

May 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterozten

Cause all coders are sick, autistic morons and they're way too far from a woman body, we'll see too many bullsh.t around like this :)

May 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKunthar


My nephew has autism and is far from a moron. I take personal offense at your comment. Grow up.

May 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMark Richman

RailsBridge? Seriously?

PythonBridge next?

Should we apply NC17, R, PG, G ratings to software projects as well?

Sigh... RailsBridge is a distraction from forward progress.

June 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Mike, this is late, but I had the whole situation brought to my attention after I similarly found that I had to say, "Enough is more than enough" after enduring similar sexist misogyny from Richard Stallman during his keynote at the Gran Canaria Desktop Summit this past week.

It's a little depressing sometime to read some of the commentary that I've gotten subsequently, but I'm convinced I did the right thing.

You did the right thing, too. Good on you, man. If we aren't being part of the solution here, then we're being part of the problem.

July 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLefty

I applaud your decision. This is how change really happens. It's not a matter of being able to "take a joke" or whatever. It's a matter of wanting your actions to support a better world. You're doing that and it's making a difference - people are talking about your decision and looking at what you've done and thinking "hey, maybe there is something to really think about here."

Thanks for standing up like this. I know it isn't easy.

December 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWarvan Brikar

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