Engage women, have fun, get more out of your open source project

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Core purpose


There are few women developers and even proportionately less working in open source communities. However, a career in OSS is ideal for women who are seeking balance in their lives whether the balance is starting a family or maintaining balance with friends and a strenuous and engaging hobby. It’s well established that there’s a shortage of women pursuing careers in computer science. UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institutefound that "The fraction of women among bachelor’s graduates in CS increased to 12.9 percent in 2011-12, compared to 11.7 percent in 2010-11." As few as 1.5% of open source contributors are women. 


View the complete collection of Women in Open Source articles

What’s also puzzling is that the rate of women leaving profession software engineering is higher than in law and medical fields. The leave rate of women from software development can’t be adequately explained by it being a taxing field; it isn’t more taxing than law or medicine. There isn’t yet a satisfying explanation for why women leave software engineering. Open source software (OSS), in spite of the lack of women, is a good place to hone ones’ skills and keep skills sharp and relevant even if one doesn’t want to work full time at a software company.

Open source development is social by its nature: a community develops the software. Well-run projects encourage strong communications channels, bring geographically disparate people together into a unified team working toward a common objective, provide resources for collaboration, and create a welcoming environment. Those are all essential community mechanics. Some projects also have aspirations of social good. CodeMontage is a non-profit organization that works hard to bring more people into the open source community and makes contributions to non-profit and humanitarian causes. It is also excels at applying beginner’s talents to projects. Girl Develop It is an international educational program that helps women learn to code. It focuses on networking and keeps women involved in its community in many awesome ways, including mentoring, which is crucial for retaining women in the workplace. These projects, along with taking part in for-profit open source projects, can help a developer maintain visibility in the workplace effectively without requiring that a developer engage on a 40-hour-a-week basis.

The OSS community structure inherently provides enormous flexibility so that individuals can determine the time and extent of their contributions. In theory, there should be even more women engaged in open source development as opposed to the enterprise, because there is less dictating of one's schedule by an outside party.

Open source jobs bring balance

If anything, women working in OSS have more balance than those in law or medicine. In open source, I think it's easier to have kids and still take time to contribute to projects. You can take time out to travel. You can take time out to devote yourself to hobbies, whether it’s pursuing a challenging academic project or learning to climb. It’s possible to keep your skills sharp and also take care of raising kids. From what I've seen, many women who do work in OSS have balanced lives, happy relationships, and rich social lives. It’s an appealing model for women to shape their lives.

Women can pursue a career in open source software engineering at any stage in their lives—from college to mid-career and beyond. As mentioned, there’s room for beginners in many open source projects, and some, such as the Drupal community are very adept at onboarding people who have no prior OSS experience. The annual Python convention now offers childcare, which is rare among non-open source technical conferences.

When I was working as a Senior Vice President at AOL, a woman once walked with me to the train to chat about how to manage her career. She said that until she’d met me she didn’t know that it was possible to be a technical executive and also be a mom. She had ruled out having kids in order to advance her career in technology. That floored me, because the perception is incorrect. Being in OSS techand having kids is great.

Everybody wins

When fewer than 2% of commits are coming from women, strong contributors are being left on the sidelines. Many project leaders care about the issue of gender balance intellectually, but overlook the real impact of failing to attract women to their projects. Projects have broad access to swaths of male engineers with varying degrees of talent; the best engineers could be the women that are being left off of the table. By not engaging women in open source projects teams are leaving 20% of professional developers unengaged. You can’t assure yourself that you’ve attracted the best engineering talent to your project if you’re looking at having less than a handful of women contributing.

Having more women engage in open source projects makes it easier to surface all the available talent in the pool. It also makes it more fun for the other women considering contributions.

It’s more fun to go to Pycon when you know that the Pyladies are sponsoring a mani-pedi offsite. It’s easier to find out what’s going on in the Drupal community when someone like Angela Byron is reaching out a hand and making everyone feel welcome. Ponying up and contributing talents to CodeMontage is just all around better when Vanessa Hurst is meeting you halfway with a smile. Getting more women engaged in open source means that it’s better for the women contributing and results in more engaged committers contributing code. At the end of the day, you just want the best projects and the best code you can get, and having more engaged women is part of getting there.



View the complete collection of Women in Open Source Week articles.

Executive Director at The Outercurve Foundation. Member of the Board of Directors at Girl Develop It.


"UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found that just 0.3% of students majoring in technology-related fields are female, despite the high demand for those skills."

I've left a comment with your source as well, but I'm really surprised by those numbers. It seems likely to me that this is a misstatement of their results, and that 1% of students are CS majors, 30% of those are women, for .3% women CS students of the total number of students. But I could be wrong - your source doesn't cite the specific study!

FYI, the source you cited agrees that it's a misstatement and has changed their article. You'll probably want to do so as well.

Thank you for the article!

Thanks, Shauna! I've updated the post with a quote from the study. If you are interested the full results can be found here: http://cra.org/govaffairs/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/CRA_Taulbee_CS_Degrees_and_Enrollment_2011-12.pdf

I'm at a loss who your audience is. If you assumption is right, you won't find them here. If you're directing at project leaders, they don't really frequent site where women are - if they are not already engaged, like you. Although I work in IT, very few women working there like programming at all. My wife does funny things with her nose when I want to explain to her what I'm doing at the keyboard every night and goes back to watching "America's next topmodel". So I'm a bit at a loss what you expect and who you're addressing.

I got this gem of a comment emailed to me, and while I'm not interested in an ongoing debate, I thought I would respond so Erynn wouldn't feel obligated to.

"I'm at a loss who your audience is."

Her audience is the readers of opensource.com - which includes both project leaders and women. Her audience is people who might be convince to devote more time and resources towards supporting women in open source, and to women and others looking for examples of good projects/communities to join (such as Code Montage, Girl Develop It, Pycon, Pyladies, and Drupal, all of which are mentioned in the article).

"Although I work in IT, very few women working there like programming at all. My wife does funny things with her nose when I want to explain to her what I'm doing at the keyboard every night and goes back to watching "America's next topmodel"."

Your wife and your coworkers do not represent all women. It's offensive of you to presume that they do.

You can respond to this comment if you like, but I will not read or respond to it.

Wow, how quickly this gets defensive! I'd even call it passive aggressive. No, they're no "all the women in the world", but they're all I have access to. If you treat every visitor who politely responds to this article (which I did read with great interest) this way, I doubt it will make many converts among community leaders..


Just as with most open source venues, the audience of opensource.com is open for all to join. One of the goals of hosting the series on Women in Open Source, https://opensource.com/life/14/1/women-open-source-week, is to make clear that as a community we care about the diversity of the participants. It is same reason why we celebrate the participation of newcomers, and why we celebrate the participation of younger people.

Community building is a core value in open source, and it starts with welcoming everyone, and with appreciating their unique skills and motivations.

This forum of opensource.com also happens to live in the Open Internet, so when we write here, we write for everyone. Very purposefully, this is not a site with exclusive membership. Instead it is an open space that welcomes creativity, technical skills, and motivation, among many other displays of community values.

Certainly, one of the core values of open source, is to refuse to accept that things have to continue being in a certain way, just because they have always been so.

Changing the world around us, is what we do; while exclusion and prejudice, is something that we don't do too well.

Thank you for your courteous answer. It still doesn't answer my question, which I think is a valid one. Personally, I don't think there are many community- or projectleaders that will refuse women to do any work. Gee, there is more than enough to do! I'm happy with any half-witted example program that is submitted - (BTW, men are also capable of writing half-witted programs - in case something is implied that I didn't write). If it's addressed to women, they're already committed to open source, otherwise they wouldn't be visiting this site. Third, if if were addressing women, who aren't in open source, you won't find them here. I wasn't prepared to be attacked so viciously, which kind of surprised me.

Thanks for the feedback, Hans. The beauty of search engines is that they often pick up and disseminate blog posts from one site and expose them as results to other people looking for posts on the same topic. It seems that that has happened in this case as well, and people who are interested in the topic had found this post, too. I appreciate your interest and engagement with the post.

That floored me, because the perception is incorrect. Being in OSS techand having kids is great.

im not sure how things work in Redmond but you want to work in a tech company, you better learn to make your family 2nd priority.
Your kid finishes school early doesnt compete with 'staying later to work on a project'. Bobby's soccer game on saturday doesnt beat coming in on the weekend.
No, not all jobs are the same but companies that use open source are no different than those that use closed source. You are not more enlightened because you are a company that uses a different license. Heck, Im still trying to grasp what an OSS tech company is apart. How many companies apart from a few like RedHat can be called that? I mean INtel and IBM are heavily invested into FLOSS and that hardly makes them an OSS company, not does it make them any different than companies that dont rely on FLOSS.

Ive worked in quite a few companies over 3 decades going back to Nortel and places like Accenture and CGI demand more of you (like do many other places) than a 9to5 presence. You have to be a 'team' player and you have to 'prioritize your priorities' (!) and all the passive aggressive things managers tell their employees.
No, those are exceptions Im sure you'll say.
I say that they are rather the rule than the exceptions.
Ive seen too many people and especially women have to deal with this over the decades that Im kinda stunned that you are floored at a reaction that is very common. When youve seen positions being reshuffled and renamed when someone goes on maternity leave enough times (all legally), things dont surprise me.

Yeah, some hippy dippy SanFran tech company offers shiatsu, sushi and daycare. But thats not the reality of the technology field. Googleland work atmospheres are definitive not the norm.

This is a business mentality problem, not an OSS problem.
Its is a technology problem, not just limited to users of a particular license.

More needs to be done within the communities and we can achieve that.
The problems women face in tech companies is another thing that we cant really do much about.

It's an interesting problem. There are many careers- law, medicine, software development- where long hours are put in by people looking to contribute to high profile, high pressure projects. Software development isn't an exception in the range of high paying careers. Where software engineering is an exception relative to law and medicine is in the percentage of women who stay in the field post-degree. You make an interesting point in suggesting that working in a company is demanding; having people, men and women, contribute their skills to open source projects while on breaks, sabbaticals, or lighter professional cycles gives people an opportunity to step out of the confines of working in a professional development role and still keep their skills sharp.

Taking part in software development by contributing to open source projects can offer flexibility that generally can't be matched by companies who are developing projects under tight deadlines and clear remits using conventional software development practices. Large software companies and projects are different beasts, and require alignment against everything from sales forecasts to marketing deadlines, leaving less room for flexibility in who contributes what code and documentation when. Open source projects have more latitude in when/whether to accept contributions, and can accept code from contributors without the requirement of being employeed by and committed to workign 40 hrs/week on the project.

Even these large companies though create time and room for employees to make contributions to open source projects. The level of engagement from large software companies against open source projects is quite high, and it's a misunderstanding to view companies as binary OSS or non-OSS companies. Companies develop products, and products are built with code, and I'm hard pressed to think of even one tech company that uses no open source code today.

Looking for ways to encourage people to engage on open source projects broadens the health of the overall industry; one health indicator of any open source project is the number of people involved in making commits and contributions, and if the efforts to engage more contributors on any project are successful in bringing in more people overall, bringing more women to the table is a good ancillary benefit. At the very least it makes it more fun to go to a conference or show up at a hack and see more women there to hang out with. That in and of itself is a problem worth tackling and solving for.

I have to say that part of the problem is the difficulty to find those flexible open source jobs, especially when not being located in US.
Where can someone (not necessarily only women) find this flexible hours/part time/open source positions? Where are they posted? A lot of times, people work in open source from home as a remote employee, sometimes they can be employed by a US company, while being located in other countries. How can someone who wants to work in programming and do open source find such a position to apply to?
If the article poster or other readers have some insights about this topic, please reply.

One of the best posts on how to contribute to open source projects was written by Rey Bango and can be found here:


There are also a lot of excellent hacks springing up that focus on helping increase the overall number of contributors to open source projects, including non-profit projects. A great source of these is Code Montage at https://www.codemontage.com/.

Thank you for your reply.
I was not familiar with codemontage, though I have to say that the number of jobs they post is very limited, and some of the jobs ads there lead to broken links.
So I am still looking for a good online source for open source related jobs. Given the fact I am a developer and already involved in open source, I'm not just looking to enter the open source world, but rather see how someone during a professional career can remain working in open source when switching jobs, and not just do it as a hobby.

Many open source projects will have a web page with Job opportunities.

See for example in OpenStack

Depending on your background, skills and interests, you may want to check on the open source projects that are in that field, and check their pages for Job positions.

In some cases, you may have to first get familiar with the companies that work in that space. For example, if you are interested on Android, you get to look at Samsung, LG, Asus...; or if you are interested in the Linux Kernel and/or embedded systems you can check the members of the Linux Foundation: http://www.linuxfoundation.org/about/members, or the list of contributing companies to the Linux Kernel: https://opensource.com/education/13/11/linux-kernel-community-growth.

If you go to Netflix's - job web page,
and filter by "open source" you will see 24 positions open:

The jobs are out there, it just may take one or two redirections in some cases, to find them.

Note that one of the values of contributing to open source projects is that one gets to build an open resume (some call this Resume 2.0), made out of the public contributions made to projects, that prospective employers can check to get a clear idea of a person level of skills. Github has become lately an integral part of the process of hiring developers, since job applicants can point to their own code, that is in public repositories for all to see.

Shameless plug:

At Kitware,
the open source company where I work,
we are hiring too ;-)



Thanks a lot for such a detailed answer.
It looks though that Netflix and your company as well (and most of Openstack jobs, though not all) hire only inside US.
Hence the applicants from the rest of the world cannot apply for it.

>> When fewer than 2% of commits are coming from women, strong contributors are being left on the sidelines.... By not engaging women in open source projects teams are leaving 20% of professional developers unengaged. You can’t assure yourself that you’ve attracted the best engineering talent to your project if you’re looking at having less than a handful of women contributing.

This blantant PeeCee drivel isn't even close to logical or true. Seriously if you want to be a developer you'd better have a better handle on logic than this.

If most women aren't doing tech because they simply dont want to, (for example, they have no tech ability or aren't interested in a tech job), then they would never be a good contributor even if you forced them into working as a developer.

You're also making the assumption that the number of positions for developers is infinite, which is patently false.
Assuming the finite number of jobs is already filled with even only average contributors and you did something to force gender equality of developer jobs:
Even assuming incoming numbers of relatively less experienced women could immediately contribute as much as relatively more experienced outgoing men, just switching the genders of those in working positions would have no impact either way on overall levels of contributions.

I see all sorts of focus, and thus articles, on "women" in open source, because there aren't too many of them.

There are even fewer Black people. Where's the focus on that? Or do the (nearly always White, BTW) women and their allies who focus on this just not care about the dearth of Black people in open source?


You bring up a good point.

Yes, not only women are under-represented in open source. Many other groups are under-represented as well. Including Black and Latino populations, and even more in the US: native Americans.

So, even though this track is focused on women, the overarching theme is really about diversity. This is critical for the environment of open source, where open innovation is nurtured by the diverse background and thinking of the participants, and therefore the more diverse we can make our communities, the better will be for all of us.

We recently made the case as well for younger participants (in the context of the Linux Kernel):

The bottom line is that we have to watch the barriers of entry in our communities, and make sure that we make them as low as possible, while at the same time we reach out to populations that we know are under-represented.

Note that lowering barriers of entry does not mean reducing quality. What it means, is the we make a more focused effort on training and documentation, to make easier for newcomers to come up to speed on projects.

See for example the great job that OpenStack is doing in that front:

or what the Sahana humanitarian project does:


We already accept that men and women aren't biologically or mentally identical. It is also no surprise that different genders tend to do and prefer different things, and that's OK too. ...So can anyone explain to me why most women choosing to not be software developers is apparently a "problem" that "we" need to address?

Sure. If we includes me, and I think we can safely agree that it does, than finding ways to increase the number of women on open source projects makes it more enjoyable for those of us who are already contributing. The "we" looking to bring more people into OS projects doesn't need to include everyone in the OS community.

Solving the problem also means that when I am looking for people to hire, and go find their public code samples, I can find code samples drawn from a distribution of contributors that is representative of the overall percentage of people in software development, and not just representative of the oddly skewed percentage of men and women in open source projects today. When I am looking to hire people, I want to be able to draw the best people from the largest pool I can, and having a distribution that reflects a missing chunk of the overall available developer population leads me to believe that I might be overlooking great candidates.

The larger problem to address is called out well in your comment: most *people*, not just most women, choose not to be software developers. Increasing the net number of people going into software development benefits the industry as a whole. Increasing the number of devs overall, including women, available to contribute to open source projects means OS projects have more resources to distribute across them. Very few open source projects are looking for fewer contributors, and even a tinier percentage (likely near 0%) of open source projects would like to see fewer people rather than more available to make contributions to OS projects.

>> increase the number of women on open source projects makes it more enjoyable for those of us who are already contributing.

A change in the gender ratio won't change the way I feel about my job or work environment either way, so please don't presume to act as if your point that women necessarily make any environment more enjoyable is somehow self-evident or that you are obviously speaking for all of us. I think more women should choose to enter software development but I'd rather just be surrounded by a group that happened to be all guys than a group that included women with some feminist agenda.

>>Solving the problem also means that when I am looking for people to hire, and go find their public code samples, I can find code samples drawn from a distribution of contributors that is representative of the overall percentage of people in software development, and not just representative of the oddly skewed percentage of men... having a distribution that reflects a missing chunk of the overall available developer population leads me to believe that I might be overlooking great candidates.

What does it even mean to say you are a developer "in the available developer population" if you never actually develop any software? The percentage isn't oddly skewed at all. It exactly reflects the make up of the actual contributors. There is no gender-specific barrier to getting into opensource. If there isn't much code developed by women around, then that just clearly indicates that the majority of women simply don't want to do it for whatever reason. i.e. by their own choice. There is no "problem" to be "fixed" here.

Your own words strongly indicate you are basically looking for excuses to hire developers just because they are female, even when they have little or no actual work to show, whereas to consider a male developer, it would be only because of proven ability. Do you not see that your own gender-bias as a hiring manager actually makes you the stereotypical "sexist manager" many people possibly including you already complain about? Why don't you simply do the right thing and just hire devs on their actual ability, regardless of their gender? Just because your discrimination is pro-female doesn't make your gender-biassed hiring behaviour any more right or acceptable. Remember there is no such thing as "positive discrimination". Discrimination is always against someone.

That said I do agree with your observation that encouraging more devs (of any kind) to contribute in opensource is always a good thing.

"Increase the number of women on open source projects makes it more enjoyable for those of us who are already contributing" refers to the women who are already contributing, of which, of course, you're likely not one. I wouldn't presume that it would change how everyone feels abut their work, or their environment, and certainly don't refer to you or the impact that it would have on your work or environment specifically. It's also possible to have a women- even two!- on a team, and not have them there colluding on a feminist agenda. Perhaps as a professional developer you haven't had this experience of being on a team with several women; as a dev, it would be more unusual for you to have been on such a team, and so you may not yet have experienced that women can be on a team with a bunch of guys and have no agenda other than hitting a project deadline in concert with their peers another as a full and complete dev team. As developers moving toward a release date with an increasing pileup of bugs they're more likely to be colluding with the rest of the team about last minute requirements thrown their way by an over caffeinated product manager.

There are a lot of developers who write code for private projects funded by companies, and it's difficult to have them submit samples of this code for review, especially in a hiring process. It's just easier for developers to share code samples from personal or open source projects. Let's assume that 100% of software developers are people. (Safe bet.) Let's go with the NYTimes data that 18% of these developers are women. If, when I request resumes from candidates, about 1/5 of my resumes come from women and about 4/5 come from guys, I have an indication that I have drawn my candidates from a representative pool of the available candidates. If, though, I additionally require open source code samples, and suddenly 1/5 of my candidate pool evaporates before I even interview people, then I have a good indicator that I am not fully assessing the available talent, and need to reconsider how to elicit code samples from candidates. One can level the playing field by having everyone come in and whiteboard out an exercise but it sure is easier to just have all the candidates produce examples of contributions to open source projects and review them all together as a batch.

People get hired onto teams because they have the technical capabilities to beat out other people looking for roles on those teams. One way to develop those technical capabilties is school; one way to develop them is professional exposure; and another very good way is the practical hands on experience gained by contributing to open source projects. Regardless of gender or the way that one develops one's coding skills, producing code to show one's abilities is generally only way to get hired into software development roles, on my teams or on anyone else's.

Good to see we agree on the salient point that getting more contributions to OS projects is a net good. More people knowing how to think logically, express themselves clearly, and write code is just generally a good thing, and open source projects are an excellent way to faciliate meeting that goal.

In my over thirty years in the industry I have learned that "good coding" means pretty much nothing; more often than not it's a result of the environment the person worked.

"Good coding" is a result of proper architecture, design, and implementation documentation as well as a corporate culture that understands the important of the above. "Good coding" is a natural follow on to good design and documentation; anyone can be a "good coder" with quality documentation. Here in lies a primary advantage in hiring women engineers -- I've never had to fight a woman engineer to do design before code; no female cowboys.

In the many teams I have put together, the key players I've hired, both women and men, were capable of understanding (or learning) good design, understood the need that code/hardware will need to be maintained, modified, and expanded, and were able to "play well with others."

From my own experience, which may or may not be applicable at large, women engineers and male engineers with real-world experience stood out as regards meeting the above qualities; males, whether graduate or post-grads, just out of school did not and had to be trained as a team member.

If one judges hiring of an engineer simply by the code s/e writes, ignoring the context the code was written in, one stands to lose some pretty great engineers. I was lucky at one place in Seattle where I ended up hiring a team that consisted of mostly all women who left their previous employers (including MS) because they hit glass ceilings and were being stifled in their work. Two of these women were doing Q/A and thus had limited coding skills, but they knew, from the Q/A they were doing, the right way to design and implement.

The only exception to the above applies to assembly language programming which is a different baliwick.

Sadly, the stats used regarding women seeking CS degrees are just the tip of the iceberg regarding the darth of women in computing. Increasing the number of women in EE and CE (Computer Engineering which includes CS and EE coursework) is equally, if not more, more important than CS.

Yes we need more women designing and implementing code, but we also need more women designing and implementing hardware and embedded systems. Limiting our focus to just women in CS does women a disservice and continues our process of driving women out of their rightful role in creating technology.

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