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March 24, 2013


Awesome post, Sarah (I found it via an Eric Ries retweet, and I have retweeted as well).

I've written a couple of posts this weekend, one on the incident:

And one on possible solutions:

I especially liked your post because it points out that PlayHaven acted responsibly, a fact that I didn't appreciate as much as I should have. I still have questions about what they did (why fire one developer and not the other?) but I appreciate the legal constraints they're under and will give them the benefit of the doubt in the future.

While it's true this happened at a tech conference, I'd like to point out 3 things:
1. The comments where made by a recruiter - not a developer.
2. The lady that was upset by the comments ('dongle' ? - that is a funny word) appears to be marketing - there are not github source code that I see. So yes, non-programmers are admitted. But my summary would be:
"A recruiter goes to a developer conference. Hilarity ensues."
3. This is a an American thing, like when we went nuts about a boob at Superbowl - a cultural issue. Dongle. No one reasonable is oppressed by this. Just shrug. Comparing it to rape - please.

Sarah, thank you for trying to bring some sense to this conversation.

I have tired of this entire episode but Eric's retweet lured me back in (sucker!).

It seems to me that everyone but those directly involved is up in arms about something they know relatively little about. By directly involved I mean Adria, the guys making the comments and the Pycon folk who actually were involved in talking to the guys.

As it goes, I do feel your post is fairly biased to Adria - that is OK, you know better what kind of professional she is based on personal experience.

First off, I also organise conferences in the tech sector and in 20 years of attending and organising these I would wager that very very few conferences have a code of conduct and even fewer have one that is read by any of their attendees. So it seems to me a little ineffective to rely on a Code of Conduct that hardly anyone reads to control behaviour and be used as a basis of a reprimand.

If I find a joke unfunny I don't laugh. If I found one offensive (and that term is really what this whole thing hinges on for me) I take action like talk to the folk or talk to the organisers and that would be the end of it.

I am confused by this : if the matter was resolved and everyone as dandy as you suggest, then why should the pictures of the guys who made the joke ever have landed on Twitter, with words condemning their behaviour?

On the subject of firings. Personally I don't think *anyone* should have been fired. Both SendGrid and PlayHaven showed cowardice and disloyalty to their employees, for different reasons. The cynic in me says that this was damage limitation to their brands. What was left was to find an acceptable way to dress it up.

SendGrid claim that Adria could no longer do what she was primarily hired to do (evangelise and build community) - which, whilst a reasonable statement, is nevertheless disloyal (I am assuming here that Adria may have apologised for tweeting the pics)

In particular, PlayHaven (in my opinion) played an opportunistic card.
This was not about gender equality or dishonourable behaviour- there are far more offensive comments that could be made specifically degrading one gender or the other and with far more vitriole (not in jest). Honorable behaviour is also about accepting a person's apologies and clear demonstration of remorse and moving on. Would you agree?

The first impression I got from all the politically correct words flying around was that these guys were sexist, entirely immature misogynists. I doubt very much that they are. But I wonder how many people out there (potential employers, conferences for example) are left with that lasting impression and are biased against all these individuals?

In the end, for most of us, this is 15 minutes of distracting news while we are waiting for our tests to run. I sincerely hope that for Adria and the guys concerned that this does not define their careers and their lives.

Thank you.

Adria is a friend and professional collegue that I have immense respect for. The vitriol and misogyny that she has been subjected to from all sides had me despairing not only for our industry but humanity in general.

Your post gives me hope that not every person in this profession that I have worked in and loved for 20 years is a psychopath.

Thank you,


many spiritual teaching stories in sufi, yogi, buddhist traditions about exactly the issues in this post above ..

the short observation, we see the deleterious aspects of ego all the way through

Well written article. Very clearly laid out situation. Thanks for piecing that together for everybody

I'm sorry but people don't have the right not to be offended. Some people are offended by 2 people of the same sex getting married.

My sister finds the word douchbag offensive and oppressive in much the same way as dongle may have been used, even more so, and I think she potentially has more of a case, frankly, but she wages a lonely war on that front as people just laugh and ignore her, including women.

It is clear that Ms. Richards is familiar with "dick" jokes as it has been made clear that she made one in a public forum a couple of days earlier. The perl clutching is a little too convenient for me.

If you can't go through life hearing a few hard words then life is going to be very difficult no matter were you hear them.

Good post, but I wish you wouldn't say "she reported it to PyCon via their Twitter account". Not saying you shouldn't stand up for what she did, but represent it fairly - she posted publicly to twitter, she didn't message the pycon people.

Now this is a very convenient way of discussing issues:
1) Sweep every inconvenient or opposing fact (privacy invasion, public shaming...) on the grounds that they are ill defined, and "bullshit" to boot.
2) Have it your way with anything else.

Way to go. Luckily it appears your point of view is way in the minority.

What is terrible in this story is all this politically correct thing. Can't we act as humans? Can't we show some empathy ? Imagine how low this offence was? A stupid sexual joke not directly addressed to the person that taken offence for herself.

Imagine now the problems we have in this world... Billions of people don't eat enough, millions are dying of illness. Some people are raping, killing other people. Some people are stealing.

And now we are blaming people for such stupid thing?

From the official "reports" and things we have read on this subject, the only person that seems to have acted in a smart way is the guy losing his job. He admitted what it did was stupid and apologized.

The other protagonists don’t look so good. The employers fired people for stupid reasons.

And the woman while being offended overreacted.

When somebody does something stupid, you can try to repair and help. Or you can overreact, and make the world a worse place to live in. She took the second option. What I would have expected from anybody in this situation is either to ignore the offence or to react in a moderated way and to explain the problem privately. There no need for you and me to be aware of such stupid and tiny problem.

Now I know that employers can fire people for pure politics and stupid reasons. Now I know that people are childish enough to use the smallest reason to take picture of other without their approval, publish them on the internet and say bad things of them without thinking of consequences.

Hopefully did the sexist man showed more humanity than all other protagonists. He show us there still hope for this world.

One of the most salient facts that everyone seems to be overlooking is that PlayHaven only fired *one* of the guys. That means they really put some thought into it and exercised judgment, having more info than any of us. Proves even more that the bullies are in the wrong here.

Thanks for your smart take, as always.

She did not report the issue to PyCon staff, she posted on her twitter timeline with a photo - which I am sure the guys did not consent to, for 10 thousand people.

If she had stopped the talk by shouting at those guys, no one would approve of they behavior. Only that was exactly what she did, on twitter, for 10k people.

That action was tactless, irresponsible and even more childish than the "jokes". By shaming then on public, she effectively convicted them and applied punishment, all of which should be responsibility of
PyCon staff.

Last, but not least, she doesn't appear to be a developer, and yet, was on a developer conference. While not forbidden, in that situation one has to take greater care when overhearing conversations between professionals.

She is no Joan of arc. She either got psychological problems, or is just seeking attention.

@PuppetMaster3: Cosed of Conduct will, I predict, be a common thing at technical conferences, since more and more people are refusing to go to conferences that don't have (and enforce!) one.

I too run technical conferences, and have found that a code of conduct helps set everyone's expectations. People will start reading them more carefully if incidents like the one described here continue to occur.

I find the backlash against Adria Richards horrible, but this piece seems to tilt just a little too far the other way.

You seem to me to have left out one critical detail. The offending joke was not illegal under any normal terms; it violated the Code of Conduct for PyCon. Its impact was limited to Adria and anyone close to the two developers; and even Adria appears not to suggest that the joke was meant to hurt her directly, or anyone else. It was inappropriate, maybe even offensive, but it was only actionable because it violated the rules of PyCon.

I have read that Adria approached the PyCon organizers privately (first), was not happy with their response, and then posted the picture and comment to Twitter, in direct defiance of the PyCon Code of Conduct. That defiance impacted huge numbers of people.

I don't think any of us know enough about the interactions between Adria, the developers, and the PyCon organizers to know whether what they did was adequate or not.

However, since the only claim against the developers was a violation of the Code of Conduct that impacted a few people, violating the Code in a dramatically more public way is not just inappropriate but tremendously magnifies the underlying problem itself. You can't both say that codes must be enforced and that you have the right to violate them when you don't like the way they are enforced (note that there are many ways she could have indicated her displeasure without herself violating the Code).

One other point you leave out: one fairly persistent commentator has responded to many of these stories with some pretty explicit penis jokes Adria tweeted at the very same time as PyCon. These appear to be real--they are on Twitter under her account and there are screen caps as well. They also give the impression of Adria acting as if rules apply to some people but don't apply to her. Whether her jokes were as bad as the developers' or not (neither of them seem all that offensive to me), Twitter is a much, much larger and more public space in which to make jokes than is the physical space around two developers talking to each other. If it's inappropriate in the latter it's got to be inappropriate in the former.

Thanks for writing this. Tis one of the best posts I've read about the topic.

I think what I'm most concerned about right now is that in the movement towards being 'accepting' and conciliatory of what happened to Adria, people are magnanimously willing to concede that she was victimized, even though "her behavior was wrong / she overreacted / she was the bully instigating public shaming".

On the surface, it's easy to look at this outcome and count it as a victory for women. After all, we're agreeing the death and rape threats were incomprehensible by any measure, we're agreeing that Sendgrid probably overreacted in kowtowing to anonymous online bullies, we're agreeing that it's okay to talk (a little) about women's issues in tech.

But this whole line of reasoning sucks. Who are we to invalidate her reaction to what happened? Who are we to scoff and call her hypersensitive? Who are we to completely disregard her own life history and experiences as the appropriate context for evaluating her reaction? Who are we even to use the word evaluating in that previous sentence? She felt harassed. She took action to protect herself and the community. By whose standards do we judge whether or not she overreacted? By the "social median" whose standards have largely been set in place by privileged white men?

The real victory in this situation would be a community wide acknowledgement of our own respective humanity, the acknowledgement that our aim should be validation and support. Regardless of whether or not you're male or female, regardless of your station in life, regardless of your own life experiences. Being able to validate Adria's reaction to the situation is not a mutually exclusive choice.

Your article is very thorough! Here is our legal analysis of Ms. Richards's termination by a Colorado employer. http://www.rmlawyers.com/blog/2013/03/sendgrids-unlawful-and-retaliatory-termination-of-adria-richards.shtml Another excellent legal analysis can be found here. http://www.theemployerhandbook.com/2013/03/blog-and-tweet-complaints-abou.html

I like the tone of your article and it flies in the face of many of the mainstream media articles which focus a bit more on a dude losing his job. We obviously don't know all the facts but I love your emphasis on context and highlighting some of the scary and downright offensive comments and reactions of some members of the developer community.

Writing my own response to this so will link you in on.

Thank you for standing up and writing something a lot more balanced than most of the vitriol out there.

Thanks for the thoughtful post and for pulling together a variety of perspectives. I hadn't seen Matt LeMay's and agree that the broader dialogue is difficult for everyone. It's so much easier to attack one side or the other to avoid the much bigger discussion.

I like your call to action for conferences and communities--I hope companies will do the same thing for their internal work communities.

When I first read about this, I was pretty against both of the actions, but I thought the public shaming on Adria's part *was* pretty tactless. Your post has made the event more clear, though, and you've definitely swayed me.

As a woman working in tech myself, I have so much respect for Adria and her career, and I hope this incident doesn't derail that.

Thanks for sharing this great post.

Thank you for this post -- it was the first reasonable, thoughtful one I read on this incident.

As a former developer, I have found the conversation and the incidents of the past week to be incredibly, incredibly disheartening and depressing. The mob mentality of so many in the developer community who responded to this unfortunate situation was frightening and upsetting.

Yes, I'm a woman. And yes, I have ignored many a penis / panty joke in my day. Thanks developer community for making it so painfully and evidently clear what the repercussions may have been if I had tried to say something.

I admit that I personally would feel more comfortable at a conference where penis jokes were not being made. I get that a lot of people would like the freedom to make them. I wonder: would you make those same jokes in front of your mother or sister, developer-community-at-large? Is it so wrong that I (or another woman) asks that you would give us the same courtesy or respect? The fact that for some people, penis jokes should be protected speech at a developer conference underscores (as if it were in question) how male-oriented the developer community is. There is a reason organizations like PyCon have tried to limit sexual comments in their community. I hope that if nothing else, this situation is a mirror to the "developer-community-at-large." ...If that were to happen, that might be the only positive takeaway from this.

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