Thursday, March 21, 2013
On Sexism, Harassment, and Termination

Oh, boy. Diving into this whole Adria Richards/people-getting-fired thing is probably a mistake, but it’s reached levels at which I’m just too annoyed by everyone and everything in this to not say something. You have one of three choices: read the summary below and conclude I’m a misogynist without reading the rest; read the summary below and conclude I’m spot-on without reading the rest; or read the rest and draw your own conclusions after hearing the arguments.

TL;DR Adria Richards was right to be fired; the developer/s from PlayHaven shouldn’t have been fired; the developer/s from PlayHaven could very well be a pair of immature assholes; the rape and death threats against Adria Richards undermine the positions of those who support the developer/s formerly from PlayHaven; the content of the jokes don’t constitute sexism nor should conferences overreact this way; half the Internet will label me a misogynist for these views; and none of this ends well.

The Facts, as I understand them

Three people are sitting in a keynote at a software conference. A presenter makes a comment on stage that leads two people sitting in the audience to start making jokes with all the emotional maturity of Beavis and Butthead. (Said developers are claiming that any and all sexual innuendo was inferred by the third, but frankly, let’s assume worst case here and assume they were, in fact, making cheap tawdry sex jokes out of “dongle” and “forking”.) A third person, after listening to it for a while, turns around, smiles, snaps a photo of the two of them, and Tweets them out as assholes. Conference staff approach third person, ask her to identify the two perpetrators, escort the developers out of the conference based on nothing but her word and (so far as I can tell) zero supporting evidence. Firestorm erupts over the Internet, and now all three (?) are jobless.

(UPDATE: Roberto Guerra mentioned, in private email, that PyCon has published their version of the events, which does not mention the developers being asked to leave; Roberto also tells me that the above link, which states that, apparently got it wrong, and that the original source they used was mistaken. Apologies to PyCon if this is the case.)

My Interpretations

Note that with typical software developer hubris, I feel eminently qualified to comment on all of this. (Which is my way of saying, take all of this with a grain of salt—I have some experience with this, being on the “accused” end of sexual harassment, and what I’m saying stems from my enforced “sit through the class” time from a decade or more ago, but I’m no lawyer, and like everybody else, I’m at the mercy of the reports since I wasn’t there.)

Developers who make “dongle” jokes and “forking” jokes are not only being stupid, those jokes have already been made. So they’re stupid twice over. C’mon, guys. New material. Seriously.

Making jokes in public that others might find offensive is taking a risk. Do it on stage, you run the risk of earning the wrath of the crowd. (Of course, nobody on this blog would, say, drop “the f-bomb” something like 23 times on stage in a keynote, right?) Do it in a crowd, you run the risk of pissing somebody off around you and looking/acting like douche. Might be in your best interests to keep your voice down or just chuckle to yourself and have that conversation later.

Photos taken in public are considered public, if rude. If I walk out into the street and start filming you, I have perfect right to do so, according to US law: what happens in public is considered public domain. Paparazzi depend on this for their “right” to follow and photograph moviestars, atheletes, and other “public” figures. Adria was entirely within her rights to photograph those two and Tweet it. But if I snap a pic of a cute girl and Tweet it with “Wow, want to guess whether her code is hot too?”, it’s a douche move because I’m using her likeness without her permission. If I do that for profit, now I’m actually open to lawsuit. So photos in public are in still something of a grey area, legally. Basic rule of thumb: if you want to be safe, ask before you put a photo of somebody else, taken in public or not, someplace other than on your own private device.

Third parties who overhear conversations could arguably be violating privacy. There’s a fine line here, but eavesdropping is rude. Now, I don’t know how loud they were making the jokes—shouting it out across the room is a very different scenario than whispering it to your seatmate and co-worker—but frankly, it’s usually pretty easy to tell when a joke is meant for general distribution in a room like that, and when it’s not. If it’s not meant for you, how about you just not hear it and concentrate on something else? Chalk up the commentary as “idiots being idiots”, and if there’s no implied threat to anybody going on, leave it be.

If you’re offended, you have an obligation to tell the parties in question and give them a choice to make good. Imagine this scenario: a guy sits down next to a girl on a bus. His leg brushes up against hers. She immediately stands up and shouts out “THIS MAN IS MAKING UNWANTED SEXUAL ADVANCES AT ME!” at the top of her lungs. Who’s the societally maladjusted person here? If, instead, she says, “Oh, please don’t make physical contact with me”, and he says, “But that’s my right as a human male”, and refuses to move his leg from pressing up against hers, then who’s the societally maladjusted one? Slice this one as finely as you like, but if you’re offended at something I do, it’s your responsibility to tell me so that I can make it right, by apologizing and/or ceasing the behavior in question, or telling you that I have Tourette’s, or by telling you you’re an uptight party-pooper, or however else this story can play out. If the party in question continues the behavior, then you’ve got grounds—moral and legal—to go to the authorities.

Just because you call it harassment doesn’t make it such. Legally, from what I remember, harassment is defined as “repeated acts of unwanted sexual attention”; in this case, I don’t see a history of repetition, nor do I see there being actual “attention” to Adria in this case—this was a conversation being held between two individuals that didn’t include her.

Just because it involves sex doesn’t make it sexist. Two guys were making jokes about male genitalia. It may have been inappropriate, but honestly, unless somebody widened the definition of sexism (“making disparaging comments about someone based on their gender or sexual preferences”) when I wasn’t looking, this ain’t it. And for Adria to claim sexism in public is bad when she Tweeted just a few days prior about stuffing a sock down your shorts during a TSA patdown seems a little…. *shrug* You pick the world.

The conference needs to follow basic due process. You know—innocent until proven guilty, measured and proportional response, warnings, and so on. I don’t care what it says on the conference’s website by way of disclaimer—you have to figure out if what was said to happen actually happened before you respond to it. Nowhere in the facts above do I hear the conference taking any steps to protect the accused—a woman said a couple of guys said sexual things, so we must act quickly! This has “bad” written all over it for the next five conferences.

(UPDATE: Again, PyCon apparently didn’t escort the developer/s out of the conference, but instead according to their site, “Both parties were met with, in private. The comments that were made were in poor taste, and individuals involved agreed, apologized and no further actions were taken by the staff of PyCon 2013. No individuals were removed from the conference, no sanctions were levied.” It sounds like, contrary to what I first heard, PyCon handled it in a classy manner, so I apologize for perpetrating the image that they didn’t. Having said that, though, I find it curious that this storm blew up this way—did no one think to push those apologies to Twitter so everyone else knew that things had blown over, or did they in fact do that and we’re all too busy gawking and screaming “fight! fight! fight” on the playground to notice?)

The material shouldn’t matter. I know we’re all being all sexually politically correct these days about women in IT, but this is a Pandora’s Box of a precedent that will eventually get way out of hand, if it isn’t already (and I think it is). Imagine how this story goes for the conference if a man Tweets out a picture of a woman and says, “This woman was talking to another woman and insulted my religion, and the conversation made me uncomfortable.” Is the conference now on the hook to escort those two women out of the building? How about programming language choice? How about race? How about sports teams? Where do we draw this line?

Adria was right to be fired. It’s harsh, but as any celebrity endorsement negotiator will tell you, when you represent a brand, you represent the brand even when the cameras aren’t rolling. (Just ask Tiger Woods about this.) Her actions brought a ton of unwanted negative attention (and a DDOS attack, apparently) to the company; that’s in direct contrast to the reasons they were paying her, and seeing as how her actions were something she did (as opposed to had done to her), her termination is entirely justified. You might see it as a bit harsh, but the company is well within boundaries here.

The PlayHaven developers weren’t right to be fired. Again, nowhere do we see them getting the opportunity to confront their accuser, or make restitution (apology). Now, you can argue that they, too, were representing their firm, but unless their job is to act as an evangelist and brand recognition activities are part of their job description, you can’t terminate them for gross negligence in this. Of course, most employment is “at-will”, meaning a company can fire you for any reason it likes, but this is sort of akin to getting fired for getting drunk and making lewd comments to the wait staff at Denny’s while wearing a company T-shirt.

Sexism in IT is bad. Duh. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who said otherwise. But this wasn’t sexism. Inappropriate, perhaps, but not sexism. By the way, racism in IT is bad, and so is age-ism, role-ism (discounting somebody’s opinions just because they’re in Marketing or Sales), and technacism (discounting a technology based on no factual knowledge).

It’s politically correct to jump to attention when “women in IT” come up. This subject is gathering a lot of momentum, and most of it I think is of the bad variety. Hate speech should not be tolerated—the rape and death threats against Adria cannot, should not, and are not acceptable in any way shape or form. Nor should similar kinds of direct comments against gays, lesbians, transsexuals, blacks, Asians, Jews, or any of the other “other” groups out there. But there is a far cry between this and the discrimination and hate speech that people go through: I have a friend who is lesbian and a school teacher, and she is receiving death threats for teaching at that school. She has dogs at the house, shotgun loaded, and she is waiting for the Mormons and news reporters to vacate her lawn so she can try to resume some kind of normal life. Putting up with a few lewd jokes in a crowd at a conference, I would guess, sounds pretty heavenly to her right now.

I think we have time for a patronizing plea, by the way: Ladies, I know you’ve had something of a rough time in the IT industry, but it’s pretty obvious that it’s getting better, and frankly, you run a big risk of ostracizing yourself and making it harder if every time a woman doesn’t get selected for something (a conference speaking slot, a tech lead role, or a particular job) the whole “women in IT” banner gets unfurled and raised. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think there’s many of you that are doing that. There are some, though, who do claim special privilege just for being female, and there’s enough of a correlation between these two things that I think before too long it’s going to lose its impact and the real good that could be done will be lost. Don’t demand that you get special privilege—earn it. Believe me, there’s plenty of opportunities for you to do so, so if you get blocked on something, look for a way around it. Demand equality, not artificially-imposed advantage.

(As trends go, quite honestly, given the declining rates of men graduating college and actually making a life for themselves, before too long the shoe will be on the other foot anyway, just give it time.)

There is no happy ending here. Nobody can fix this; three lives have been forever affected, negatively, by all of this. The ones I feel truly sorry for? SendGrid and PlayHaven—they had nothing to do with it, and now their names are going to be associated with this whole crappy mess.

Call me a misogynist for not whole-heartedly backing the woman in this case, if you will, but frankly, it was a disaster from the moment she chose to snap the photo and Tweet to the world instead of saying, “Excuse me, can you not make those jokes here? I don’t think they’re particularly appropriate.” I could theorize why she chose the one route over the other, but that’s an essay for another day.

Let the flaming begin.

UPDATE: This post puts more context around Adria, and I think is the best-written commentary I've seen on this so far, particularly since it's a woman's point of view on the whole thing (assuming, of course, that "Amanda" is in this case applied to a human of the female persuasion).

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Thursday, March 21, 2013 3:09:20 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Programming language "laws"

As is pretty typical for that site, Lambda the Ultimate has a great discussion on some insights that the creators of Mozart and Oz have come to, regarding the design of programming languages; I repeat the post here for convenience:

Now that we are close to releasing Mozart 2 (a complete redesign of the Mozart system), I have been thinking about how best to summarize the lessons we learned about programming paradigms in CTM. Here are five "laws" that summarize these lessons:
  1. A well-designed program uses the right concepts, and the paradigm follows from the concepts that are used. [Paradigms are epiphenomena]
  2. A paradigm with more concepts than another is not better or worse, just different. [Paradigm paradox]
  3. Each problem has a best paradigm in which to program it; a paradigm with less concepts makes the program more complicated and a paradigm with more concepts makes reasoning more complicated. [Best paradigm principle]
  4. If a program is complicated for reasons unrelated to the problem being solved, then a new concept should be added to the paradigm. [Creative extension principle]
  5. A program's interface should depend only on its externally visible functionality, not on the paradigm used to implement it. [Model independence principle]
Here a "paradigm" is defined as a formal system that defines how computations are done and that leads to a set of techniques for programming and reasoning about programs. Some commonly used paradigms are called functional programming, object-oriented programming, and logic programming. The term "best paradigm" can have different meanings depending on the ultimate goal of the programming project; it usually refers to a paradigm that maximizes some combination of good properties such as clarity, provability, maintainability, efficiency, and extensibility. I am curious to see what the LtU community thinks of these laws and their formulation.
This just so neatly calls out to me, based on my own very brief and very informal investigation into multi-paradigm programming (based on James Coplien's work from C++ from a decade-plus ago). I think they really have something interesting here.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013 5:32:43 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, March 18, 2013
Ted Neward on Java 8 adoption

Every once in a while, there is a moment in your life when inspiration just BAM! strikes out of nowhere, telling you what your next blog post is.

Then, there’s this one.

This blog post wasn’t inspired by any sort of bolt from the blue, or even a conversation with a buddy that led me to think, “Yeah, this is something that I should share with the world”. No, this one comes directly to you, from you. You see, I was cruising through my blog logs, and in particular looking at the Google Search queries that led to the blog site, and yesterday apparently two different Google Searches, both titled “Ted Neward on Java 8 adoption”, came in twice each.

I take that as a sign that y’all are kinda curious what my thoughts on Java 8 adoption are. Consider the message received: from your fingers to my eyes, as the old saying (slightly rephrased) goes.

Java 8: Overview

For those of you who’ve been too busy to track what’s going on with the Java language recently, the upcoming release of the JDK, the JavaSE 8 release, marks a fairly significant moment in Java’s history, one that ranks right up there with Java 5, in that the language is going to get a significant “bump” in functionality. Historically, Sun tried very hard to avoid such changes: Java 1.1 introduced inner classes, Java 1.4 introduced “assert”, and beyond that the language was the same language we’d been using since 1996 or so. The JVM saw some huge growth, by leaps and bounds, and the Java libraries grew exponentially, it seemed, but the language itself remained pretty static until Java 5. With Java 5 we got generics, enumerations, annotations, enhanced for loops, variable argument declarations, and a few other things besides; with Java 7 (the last release) we got a couple of trivial changes that really didn’t ruffle anybody’s hair, much less blow anybody’s socks off.

Java 8 represents another Java 5-like “sea change” kind of release. Not because there’s a ton of new features, like Java 5 had, but because the introduction of lambdas—anonymous function literals—will change a lot of the ways we can express concepts in Java, and that’s going to ripple throughout the language and the ecosystem. (Well, over time, it will—it’s hard to say exactly how much things will change in the days and months immediately following 8’s release.)

I won’t go into the details of Java 8’s new syntax—that’s not only still being finalized, but it’s also been pretty well-documented and discussed elsewhere (including a forthcoming Java Magazine issue from Oracle TechNet on the subject that’s been written by yours truly), and I only have a few minutes to write this in between flights home from a conference, to boot. For those who are familiar with lambdas, suffice to say that Java lambdas will look astonishingly like Scala or C# lambdas, partly because there’s really only a few ways you can make lambdas look in a C-style language, and partly because the folks writing the new features want the syntax to look familiar to programmers, and borrowing somebody else’s syntax (or at least big chunks of it) is a good way to do that.

Java 8: Adoption

When we talk about “adoption” of a given Java release, there’s a couple of different concepts we should tease out and examine individually: those customers who will deploy their non-Java8-written code on top of the Java8 JVM; those customers who will start using libraries written using Java8 features; and those customers who will start writing their own designs and implementations in the Java8 syntax and style.

Customers deploying Java8 for the JVM. Frankly, I expect this to happen relatively quickly, in line with the Java releases before this one. The JVM gets better and better with each release, and there’s no reason to assume that this release will be any different, and once Oracle and the JVM itself have demonstrated that there’s little to no risk to dropping the new JVM into the production data center and firing up your current version of JBoss or Tomcat or whatever on top of it, customers will begin to take a hard look at the risks involved in doing so (if any) and make that transition. It’s really a high-win-low-cost thing to do, again, once the Java8 JVM has some actual production miles under its belt, so to speak. (This isn’t a new rewrite of the JVM, by the way—customers just don’t want to be the first one to discover stupid bugs. My Dad once summarized this attitude this way: “Pilots never want to the fly the ‘A’ model of any aircraft.”) I give it about a year, maybe as early as six months, after the Java8 release before customers start putting Java8 into production.

Customers using libraries written using Java8 features. And let’s be clear, by “Java8 features” we’re talking about lambdas and virtual extension methods (a.k.a. “defender methods” from earlier draft specs), and by “libraries”, we’re talking about major open-source favorites like Spring, Hibernate, Commons Collections and so on. Essentially, the reason this is important as a category centers around the idea that Java developers, like a lot of developers, aren’t going to adopt the language features of the new Java until they see them in action—passing lambdas in to Spring for executing inside a database transaction, for example, or passing a lambda in to a collection for execution across a collection. The timeline here will be somewhat dependent on the library, and on the commitment of the developers around those libraries, but I’m a little less optimistic here—many of the open-source committers have historically been the loudest to cry foul over some of the changes Sun made to the language, and I’m not convinced yet that they have come around to embrace Oracle’s intentions regarding the language’s evolution. (In many ways, the image that strikes me is that of a large number of grumpy old men sitting around the office, gruffly tossing off one-liners like “Didn’t work like that in MY day” and “Don’t these kids realize that sometimes the old ways are the best ways?”.) I’m guessing that this transition will take longer, like two years at the minimum, and some libraries will never actually make the transition at all, choosing instead to remain “pre-Java8 compatible”, in the same way that some libraries chose to remain “pre-Java5 compatible” (and, IMHO, essentially put themselves out to pasture as a result).

Customers writing their own designs and implementations in Java8. And really, what I mean here is “how long before they start creating classes that utilize lambdas in the domain object design”? Interestingly enough, I think this is tangentially related to how quickly the open-source community adopts Java8 (the previous point), because then customers will begin to see some design patterns and idioms that they can copy/follow/embrace/extend, but even if the open-source community roundly rejects Java8, I still see customers starting to design and build code using lambdas by 2015 or ‘16. Some will jump on it early, or be able to transition their existing anonymous-inner-class-based (that is, “poor man’s lambda”) code over to lambdas within months of Java8’s release, but it will take longer to percolate through the rest of the industry—there are more than a few companies out there still running Java6, for example, and those folks aren’t going to accelerate their use of Java8 just to get lambdas.

Java 8: Perception

Having said all that, though, I think the overall perception of Java8’s adoption will be entirely dependent on how well Oracle addresses some of the recent “security flaws” that have been coming out of Java in the press. Even though the security flaws all seem to be applet- or client-side Java related, the perception that Java is somehow insecure likely has Microsoft chuckling internally—it certainly has Microsoft’s community (of which I and a number of my friends are a part) giggling and roaring and engaging in a few “Neener-neener-neener” moments; after all the crap that Java guys gave the Microsoft community back in the days of Bill Gates’ famous Security Memo, I can’t say that it’s unwarranted.

Aside from that, though, I think there’s no real reason not to expect adoption of Java8 to follow the same broad strokes path that previous Java releases have enjoyed, and thus within three years I fully expect that widescale adoption will be well under way.

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Monday, March 18, 2013 5:46:36 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, March 5, 2013
That Thing They Call "Unemployment"

TL;DR: I'm "unemployed", I'm looking to land a position as a director of development or similar kind of development management role; I'm ridiculously busy in the meantime.

My employer, after having suffered the loss of close to a quarter of its consultant workforce on a single project when that project chose to "re-examine its current approach", has decided that (not surprisingly) given the blow to its current cash flow, it's a little expensive keeping an architectural consultant of my caliber on staff, particularly since it seems to me they don't appear to have the projects lined up for all these people to go. Today was my last day, the paperwork and final check are processing through the system, there were no tears nor angry accusations from either side, and tomorrow I get to wake up "unemployed".

It's a funny word, that word "unemployed", because it indicates both a state of emotion and existence that I don't really share. On the emotional front, I'm not upset. A number of people expressed condolences ("I'm so sorry, Ted"), but frankly, I'm not angry, upset, hurt, or any of those other emotions that so often come with that. Part of my reaction stems from the fact that I've been expecting this for a while--the company and I had lots of plans in the beginning of my tenure there, but those plans more or less never got past the planning stage, and the focus was clearly always on billability, which at the level I'm at usually implies travel, something I'm not willing to commit to at the 80%/100% level that consulting clients often demand. We just grew apart, the company and I, and I think we've both known it for a few months now; this is just putting the signatures on the divorce and splitting up the CD collection. On the "existence" front, unemployment often means "waking up with nothing to do" and "no more money coming in", which, honestly, doesn't really apply, either. While I'm not going to be drawing a salary on a twice-monthly basis like I was for the last twenty months, it's not like I have no income coming in or nothing to do: I've got my columns with MSDN, CoDe, and Oracle TechNet, I've got two conferences this month (33rd Degree in Warsaw, and VSLive! in Vegas) I've got a contract in place for doing some content work and research for JetBrains on MPS, their language workbench, and I've just commissioned a course with PluralSight, "JVM Fundamentals", which will essentially be an amalgamation of the conference talks I did at NFJS over the past five or six years (ClassLoaders, threading and concurrency, collections, and so on), with a few more PluralSight courses and JetBrains articles/vidcasts/etc sketched out after that. If I'm "unemployed", then it's the busiest damn unemployment I've ever heard of.

And in all honesty, this enforced change on my career is not unwelcome--I've been thinking now for the past few months that it's time for me to challenge myself again, and the chosen challenge I've laid out for myself is to run a team, not an architecture. I want to find a position where I can take a team, throw us at a project, and produce something awesome... or at least acceptable... to the customer. After so many years of making fun of managers at conferences and such, I find myself wanting to become one. I'm not naive, I know this isn't all rainbows and unicorns, and that there will be times I just want to go back to the editor and write code because at least code is deterministic (most of the time), but it's an entirely new set of challenges, and frankly, I've been bored the last few years, I just have to admit that out loud. And I may not like it and in a year or two say to myself, "What was I THINKING?!?", but at least I'll have given it a shot, gotten the experience, and learned a few new things. And it's not like I'm going to give up technology completely, because I'm still going to be writing, blogging, recording, speaking, and researching. I don't think I could give that up if I tried.

So if you know of a company in the Greater Seattle area that's looking for someone who's got a ton of technical skills and an intuitive sense of people to run a development team, drop me a note. Oh, and don't be too surprised if the website gets a face lift in the next month or two--the design is a little old, and I want to play around with Bootstrap and some static-HTML-plus-Javascript kinds of design/development. Should be fun, in all my copious spare time...

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013 12:52:24 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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