When I asked on Twitter what “true diversity” means I obviously meant … beyond the obvious notion that we shouldn’t care about race, religion, ethnicity and so on. You see, when I first came in contact with open source it was pretty commonplace to be as rude as you could possibly be if someone didn’t use the right tone on a mailing list or, heaven forbid, made a mistake in the code. Unit testing wasn’t a thing back then you see.
It wasn’t just Linus either in case you wonder and for a while I was proud of the nickname they gave me (Soup Nazi after the Seinfeld episode with the same name) for answering some questions on the forum and not others and even though I never got the hang of the level of rudeness that the true masters have, I became to realize a few things about the meritocracy game we’re in…
Messaging form, shape, tone, appearance: they don’t matter
Questions were being asked in a clumsy way or again and again in my Kettle community, not because the right respect wasn’t shown but because the person in question was in a totally different situation from yourself. In one case the other person (asking for incremental patches to our software) as in fact writing from an Internet cafe in Jakarta because he only had a few hours of power at his home which was a 3 hours drive away, up in the hills outside the city…. In other situations I was in a fantastic mood, ready to make a joke when the other person was totally done with our software after a full night of trying to get something to work.
The conclusion for me was that it’s critical to let go of any preconceived notion of who is on the other side of a conversation. Don’t assume knowledge, location, technical capabilities, …
On the other hand we should be lenient to people because the software community has a disproportionate amount of people with spectrum disorders. Just like we would ignore rude comments from someone who has Tourette’s syndrome we should try to always look for the real message and respond with kindness in our hearts.
The freedom to own code, contribute to it and benefit from the work you put in
Open source works best as the software version of the ultimate capitalist system. The freedom to own code, contribute to it and benefit from it is the source code equivalent of private property. It really works best in other words if people get a benefit from their contributions. There should be as few barriers as possible and this is where a willingness to accept diversity is extremely important. On the flip side it should also be fine to protect code from theft and malicious intents.
So these are the sorts of principles I would base “real diversity” efforts on since any foundation that includes the color of anyone’s skin, gender or some such is bound to be inherently bigoted to begin with. I know it’s asking a lot of a lot of people and for sure it’s easy to trip up along the way if you’re passionate about something but it’s what I use for now. If things go wrong as they always do… let’s try to assume good intent, respond in kindness and ask for a similar treatment if needed.