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March 24, 2013


"But here's the thing: PlayHaven acted precisely as we'd like a company with conscience to behave."

Firing an employee over a dongle joke is not how anybody would expect a company with a conscience to behave, especially not an employee with dependents.

There's a difference between calling the police, and posting a picture of someone you saw commit assault in Twitter while trying to drum up a mob.

Adria's post on Twitter was much more the second than the first, and is why she garnered much of the dislike she did - her response was disproportional.

Your analogy about rape victims is misleading, because it raises the profile of one wrong while trivializing what the other side is saying: a more apt analogy would be an assault victim (ouch, they hurt me!) taking it upon themselves to go to friends and collectively beat worse the two men rather than reporting it directly to the police. This seems to be exactly what she was doing in turning a private joke in to an event before thousands of people on the internet, since she decided to include a reference to /those/ specific people, rather than talk about the incident in general (which would be appropriate).

Adria drummed up the minions of drama when she decided to report it on Twitter, and it blew up in her face - for various reasons.

As a silicon valley worker bee I can tell you that at a practical level this Donglegate/Adria Richards affair has caused a huge setback to the cause of bringing more women into the tech industry.

Every hiring manager is going to be hypersensitive to even the tiniest feminist chip on the shoulder of an interview candidate. More feminist techies active on social media are going to be getting fewer interviews onsite, or even telephone interviews. No one wants to bring onboard a person who is going to behave even remotely like Adria Richards did. And when hiring managers and interviewers are not sure about a person's likelihood of being a liability, they ALWAYS err on the side of caution. This is the way things are in corporate America, and in no small part because of the feminist onslaught.

Adria Richards was hired to create goodwill for SendGrid in the mostly-male developer community. Instead, she chose to feed the feminist cause and use SendGrid as a sacrificial lamb. That worked for her, once. She will probably do okay by cashing in on the sympathy from the wider feminist circles and their enablers. She might even manage to keep paying the $5500/month rent on her apartment in San Francisco.

But SendGrid almost went under. The tech industry may be spineless, but it is not generally a sustainable place for stupidity. Managers in tech industry have learned a very valuable lesson.

I don't disagree with the general thrust of what you're saying. In fact, you've made me re-think a few things I was taking for granted (thanks!). But, I do take a bit of an issue with this:

'Although Amanda says that Adria "doesn't work within the community to resolve the problem," Adria did, in fact, do exactly that at PyCon. She observed behavior that clearely violated the conferences posted code of conduct; the behavior bothered her; she reported it to PyCon via their Twitter account; they responded via Twitter; she thanked them via Twitter; PyCon talked in person to the guys who violated the code; the issue was resolved, apparently to the satisfaction of PyCon, Adria and the guys.'

Assuming we are talking about the same tweet (https://twitter.com/adriarichards/statuses/313417655879102464), then suggesting this happened exclusively within the confines of PyCon is disingenuous. Clearly Ms. Richards wanted people to know that she thought these guys were being dicks. That is, this happened outside the exclusive confines of PyCon. Email is another way she could have notified the PyCon organizers without involving the rest of the world--she could have attached the image above to an email. So it's obvious she was trying to shame these guys, say what you will. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

That said, all-in-all the most disappointing thing about this affair was not that anyone got fired or overreacted but that it turned into a situation where a woman was threatened and silenced for expressing her opinion. However I feel about Ms. Richards' actions I absolutely support her right to express herself without fear.

"Forking your repo" is an innocuous and well-defined term in technology circles, just as "fsck'ing your disk" is. A "dongle" is well-understood as a compact peripheral device. Some dongles harden security.

She was apparently not very technically versed, and so she saw sexual metaphors where none were intended, or even if they were intended, they were not intended for her, and they were not directed against a group of people to denigrate them. (What's next, male and female connectors are sexist? Master and slave controllers? http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/outrage/master.asp )

She should not run to the PyCon organizers like a child running to their parents. Just turning around and showing a look of disapproval, or saying, "Guys, cool down" should have been enough. If not, then maybe she should have left the immediate area, but unless the guys harass her, she should not involve the organizers over a one-time utterance of possibly disturbing words.

If she cannot stand the traumatic stress of hearing words not directed towards her in particular, and not directed against groups of people in general (such as on the basis of sex, race or religion), but which just happen to tickle her sensitivities, then she should look for another line of work. Her employer seemed to agree.

By tweeting a photo of those guys instead of talking to them, she showed extreme cowardice and passive aggression, and escalated the situation beyond what was necessary. She also put her employer (SendGrid) at risk by posting an unauthorized photo. The original PyCon rules in effect at the time said that photographing visitors without their permission was prohibited. She violated those rules. Her actions were more hostile than the two mens' actions.

Good legal analysis and commentary for grown adults, and adults only:


Thank you for this, for putting all this into context.

I admit, as a someone relatively new to the industry, I was unaware of just how often this type of thing went on. This is no excuse of course, it's rampant throughout society, why would the tech industry be any different?

I wrote a blog post on this subject recently (Not on this specific situation, but on the idea of sexism and abuse in the tech industry, but you've said it here far more eloquently than I could have.)

Your words are powerful and more importantly, educational, at least for me. Thank you again.

Look at the tweet timestamps - she went nuclear before reporting it to the management.

Rather like shoot first, ask questions later.

Some nice one-sided reporting.

"She tweeted to the conference organizers, asking for help."

She tweeted to the conference organizers and roughly 10,000 followers of her twitter account. That's more people than the organizers, and probably more people than the whole conference.

Do you support using nuclear weaponry in fighting illegal parking too? You are sure a 12-warhead ICBM rocket is completely sure to remove any wrongly parked car. And you'll be happy to report "the car has been removed from the offending spot" too.

Is it possible that Adria tweeted the images of the men so that Pycon could recognize them and take the appropriate action?

Adriana Richards is not a bitch or a whore or a slut or any of that. What she is, however, is a jerk. A massive, soul-crushing jerk. Whether it is the hypocrisy of her phallic humor tweeted FROM the conference or tweet her complaint for all the public to see, this was drama-mongering at its worst.

Here's an idea Adriana; next time, turn around and say "I find that rude and offensive. Please stop."" All of this would have been over and done with right then and there, and both she and the guy would still have jobs this morning.

WOW! My comment here got deleted!
The truth hurts eh?

Let me repeat it, until it is no longer deleted...

Almost every sitcom aired indulges in sexual humour - It is something the most of the west falls back to when they can't be creative.

Everyone has a right to be offended - Even the muslims at the cartoons of the prophet.
What civilized people do is they react in a civil way to offense - They don't pull "dick moves"

Almost everyone in America and the west who eats meat from large farms promotes the torturous treatment of meat animals offends me - If dick jokes promote chauvinism, you should agree that such meat production promotes Nazi like ideas, where it is fine to torture or exterminate anyone who you consider inferior to your species.
As a lover of animals, I could spend my life trying to screw the people who offend me thus. But I'm not enough of a prick to do that, instead I simply try to remind people about their better nature.

Moral of the story : Don't be a dick, even if you lack one.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, everyone. I was out yesterday and am just getting a chance to respond to these.

@Chris Yeh: I really appreciate the perspective in your posts. In terms of things we can do, Eric and I have spent a lot of time making sure our speaker-selection process is more meritocratic, and guess what? Doing so greatly increased the percentage of women and people of color on stage at our conference while improving the quality of talks. We talk about it here: http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2012/11/solving-pipeline-problem.html.

@Puppetmaster3: Adria is a developer. But it doesn't matter what her background or title. She has a right to be offended, and the PyCon code of conduct was clear in prohibiting the things that bothered her.

@Anil: Great point. Thanks for weighing in.

@Stehen: She is a developer. What makes you think she isn't? For a discussion of why it was perfectly legitimate and reasonable for her to use Twitter to report the violation, please see Matt LeMay's post.

@Steve Holden: I agree that we'll see more codes of conduct--and we'll see them enforced. I know a number of people who won't attend a conference that doesn't have both a code and a clearly stated procedure to uphold it.

@rand0m: Because neither Adria nor the conference organizers has said she approached them before tweeting, I'm not going to speculate. But I will note that tweeting to the PyCon staff was not a violation of their code. In fact, the code has guidelines for reporting behavior, and they ask attendees to document incidents and identify the people involved. *After* this episode, PyCon added language saying they would prefer that attendees approach them privately first. But they don't require it, and it was not part of the code when Adria tweeted.

On the question of her tweeting sexual jokes: context matters. Nobody, including Adria, is arguing that sexual language is never OK. In fact, it's fine and welcome in many situations. Professional settings are not one. Note that PyCon has a code of conduct. Twitter does not.

@Sw: Well put. Matt LeMay's post looks at these questions, too.

@Rathod: Great info. Thanks for sharing those links.

@Timoni: As I explained, it looks like PlayHaven had a number of reasons to fire the guy, but they chose not to talk about that publicly. In addition, as Anil points out, they didn't fire both guys involved. Which suggests they made a considered decision here, not a kneejerk one. Finally, the fact that the guy is a parent is irrelevant. Our laws and policies don't generally give more leeway and greater protection to behave badly to parents than to child-free people.

@Dongle9: What some managers in the tech sector have learned is that they should be more careful about hiring people--including men--who might misrepresent the company's values in public.

@Tarc0917: Please read Matt LeMay's post on why it was perfectly reasonable for Adria not to just turn around and say something.

@V: I've deleted a handful of comments, but because you chose to be anonymous, I have no idea which was yours, and so I don't know what "truth" you're talking about. If you believe so strongly in what you're saying, why not put your name behind it?

At any rate, I'm not interested in further discussion of whether Adria behaved appropriately and reasonably by tweeting about the guys behind her. I firmly believe she did. Matt LeMay has an excellent an discussion of the issue, and I may write more about the use of Twitter in this case. But it's not up for debate here, so I'm going to delete any further comments on the issue.

Thanks for writing about this. I'm sure this is a topic that needs to be discussed (in public, and I'm sure in more than just the IT community). It seems that the two sides are pretty far apart on this, based on coments.

I think there needs to be common ground. Everyone needs to feel safe in their workplace (and in public), but we should also realize that we all are human and have failings and make mistakes. Hopefully one isn't crucified for every little mistake. I'm sure that everyone who believes either Adria (or the developer from PlayHaven) was wrong has also made mistakes in their life. Of course, one should accept responsibility for one's mistakes - and getting fired may be the reasonable consequence for the mistakes made. However, firing may be too harsh (or even inappropriate), and the appropriate place to resolve that is through the courts.

The worst part about this community is that people can attack people anonymously. No one is held responsible for the anonymous attacks on Adria (and others) . People are acting like a child having a tantrum, but with no parent to make them take responsibility for their actions.

I heartily agree with most of this. However there is something that is unclear to me:

"I have seen no efforts to define what "public shaming" might mean in this context. But I hope it goes without saying that I find it a bullshit excuse for lazy, craven and violent responses to any human interaction, let alone a situation in which there's actually no disagreement among the parties involved that the guys making jokes were behaving inappropriately."

Note that the positions that: the jokes were inappropriate; that the use of Twitter was likewise inappropriate; and that the disgusting responses and attacks that followed were uncalled for and beyond the pale, are not logically exclusive. These are orthogonal positions and one can reasonably hold all three of them simultaneously. Privacy is itself a sensitive issue these days. Labeling a real concern with posting someone's pic without their consent on a public venue like Twitter as "... a bullshit excuse for lazy, craven and violent responses to any human interaction" could be interpreted as a preemptive debate stifling tactic. If, as you stated, you don't wish to have that discussion, that's fine; leave it at that. But it should be possible for others to have an intelligent discussion on what constitutes appropriate use of new mediums like Twitter, something that is hardly settled, without being unfairly accused of condoning or excusing the disgusting responses that followed. On that subject Deanna Zandt appears to be misrepresented here. She appears to be taking to task those who blamed Richards for bringing this upon herself ("Wait, what? What could Adria have done differently to not bring the firestorm down onto her?"), not those who have concerns about the use of "public shaming"--a subtle difference. Maybe that is also what you meant?

"...many white women are telling Adria, a black woman, how she should have acted, adding an unwelcome layer of privileged perspective to the situation. That the privilege is likely unconscious makes it worse, not better."

I'm sorry, I don't understand what this means. I'm not trolling, but genuinely curious. Does this mean, for example, that minority groups are beyond criticism except by those within their own group? Or, that there is a 'hierarchy of oppression', with white heterosexual males at the pinnacle, and various sub-strata of groups below, based on historical prejudice, discrimination and disenfranchisement, and that criticism can only properly be channelled upwards from the latter to the former? Or have I completely misunderstood the terminology - I'm conscious that it could be jargon. Ideally, if you could post some links for me to do some background reading, I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.

(Feel free to post this comment, or - if I am missing the blindingly obvious - just email me an idiot's guide, and delete this comment! ;)

I feel sympathy and empathy towards both mr-hank (the guy fired from Playhaven) and Ms. Richards. For all the pseudo righteous anger over one individual's termination, the amount of schadenfreude and vitriol being directed at Ms. Richards is nauseating. Sadly enough, some of these individuals are peers and employers in the tech industry - it makes you concerned how much of their attitudes are spilling over into their own professionalism.

There are plenty of arguments to be made for professional conduct and being a representative of one's company, but when it's said and done, I'd take it account the proportion of the behavior and the overall professionalism and integrity of the employee. Some actions are worthy of termination, some are deserving of a strong warning prior to taking further steps. Unless there were previous issues with either employee that aren't being divulged, I find both terminations to be a poor attempt at damage control.

"many white women are telling Adria, a black woman, how she should have acted, adding an unwelcome layer of privileged perspective to the situation."
Anyone, regardless of group affiliation, is allowed to call out bad behavior by anyone else. Color and gender don't give you carte blanche.

It's interesting, the more someone supports Adria the less they want to talk about (and probably think about) the original Tweet that started this whole mess. I notice a lot of commentators have had to declare that entire part of the discussion off limits in order to make a statement in support of her which is at all intellectually and morally tenable.

Best report I have seen so far about this sad story. Thanks for your work on it.

Thanks for the continued conversation, folks.

@Ramon: You're right that I'm not encouraging debate about the so-called public shaming issue. I wouldn't characterize Adria's language or actions as "shaming," and I think the public nature of her tweets was wholly appropriate. I may write more about this angle in a future point, but in the meantime, I have not seen any "intelligent discussion" about it--in my comments or elsewhere. And I'm not open to flaming, trolling and attacks on it.

Re Deanna's point: I agree with her that many people have said she brought all of this on herself, and that that's grossly misguided. Not sure what you mean here about the public shaming issue, but feel free to clarify and I'll see if we can figure it out.

@Visitor: Thanks for the question--really glad you asked. The idea is not that only people within their own groups can criticize each other. It's fine to question people outside the groups you identify. Rather, it's that privilege--which is often invisible to those who benefit from it--means you may have a very different experience from somebody who doesn't share your background. And if you ignore that possibility, even unintentionally, you're perpetuating a history in which people with more power have told people with less how to behave without taking into account that having less power might make you reasonably act in a different way. So when you criticize somebody from a different group, particularly a group with historically less power, it's a good idea to do a pretty thorough empathy check before you tell the other person their actions were wrong. There is a ton of good writing on this. Google around and perhaps check out http://www.whitepriv.blogspot.com/ and http://www.tolerance.org/supplement/racism-and-white-privilege.

@Brian: See above. It's not that people can't criticize each other across race and sex lines.

@Sarah Glick: I have thought a *lot* about the tweet and whether that was a valid channel. I absolutely think it was, and I may write about that more in the future. But the comments here--and pretty much everywhere I have read--on this angle have been consistently nasty, at best, and many are outright hateful. As I say in my comments policy, I delete stuff that doesn't support thoughtful conversation. At some point today, it became clear that I was receiving no further thoughtful comments on this angle, only attacks and vitriol. Do note that I have let stand a number of comments that disagree with me on this point.

Until I write more, here's a good discussion of why the tweet was a very valid approach: http://scientopia.org/blogs/ethicsandscience/2013/03/23/naming-shaming-victim-blaming-thoughts-on-adria-richards-and-pycon/

@Greg: Thanks. Much appreciated.

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