A Welcoming Community?

I don’t normally follow the RubyOnRails community but a current controversy in the RoR community caught my attention.  The heart of the matter is a recent conference presentation, titled ‘CouchDB – Perform like a porn star’, that offended a number of the community members.  More details can be found in blog posts from Martin Fowlers SmutOnRails, Tim Brays Nastiness and Nick Sieger Stand and Be Counted.

The thing that really caught my attention is the response from RoR community.   It is really clear to me the RoR is a very unwelcoming community.  You either fit the mold of the leaders or you are on the outside.

This makes me wonder about the Eclipse community.  Are we welcoming to different types of individuals and different beliefs.  In particular, we don’t have a lot of women participating in the Eclipse community.  Is there something that we need to do or change at Eclipse to encourage more women?  Kim Moir has already raised some ideas in comments on Mike’s blog.  Are there other things we could be doing.

I want to be a part of a welcoming community.  Egos, passion, technical excellence are important but openness and understanding to others is just as an important.  What do we need to do to make Eclipse a more welcoming community?

18 thoughts on “A Welcoming Community?

  1. From my experience, I’ve found the Eclipse community to be more inviting than any other technical community I’ve tried to interface with. I think this is largely due to the “professional” nature of the community. Many of the most prolific and high profile Eclipse committers draw a paycheque from it in some way and are experienced enough to not put their foot where their mouth is. Be they independent contractors or employees of a big company (cough IBM cough) they have a vested interest in maintaining their reputation (and income and job). They set the bar high and new members of the community are expected to emulate them. We’ve had instances of troublesome members in the past and they have been largely ostracized. The community, as a whole, is pretty well adjusted.

    Many of the other communities I’ve tried to interface with (not naming names) have not had this particular quality. Membership (and leadership) is often comprised of young gunslingers and students who don’t have the maturity (or incentive) to behave themselves. Misogyny, homophobia, racism, they’re all there and no one in a position of leadership does anything about it. Why would they? It’s part of the culture…

    Hopefully that maturity will come eventually although sometimes I have to wonder. I find a lot of people who proudly call themselves computer geeks these days have usurped the label from those that used to wear it. Geek these days often just equates to misbehaving antisocial asshole. The word has become a shield and defense against lack of accountability for bad behaviour and generally being a jerk. Okay, enough of that tangent. 🙂

  2. I should make an addendum to that:

    The community, on the whole, is very good. Con experience, however, always has some caveat. Every EclipseCon I’ve been to has had some questionable experience that’s left me uncomfortable or even a little worried. Memo to guys that think that following around women or cornering them and starting up sexual conversation is a good thing : you’re dumb.

  3. @Kim I agree…different communities tolerate different things. Eclipse in general has a very “Commercial” feel to it compared to even the Apache Foundation’s community. I’ve mentioned it before, take a look at Planet Apache and Planet Eclipse and compare. There is a world of difference.

    I will also say though that that “Commercial” feel is not necessarially a good thing either. It tends to get in the way of inovation, the willingness to accept new committers from the outside, and a general reluctance to change and continue doing things the same old way. There is a feeling at times as well as “it’s not my job…”…and choose your favorite thing that seems to be neglected. There are many ways for eclipse to break down the barriers and still help keep our professionalism. Coming from an individual that isn’t paid in anyway to do eclipse development, I’ve seen and witnessed these issues from a community aspect first hand. It doesn’t stop me from contributing, and won’t but for some it does.

  4. The Eclipse community is very welcoming. And I agree with pookzilla, it’s because we tend to be pros working in the open, not hobbyists who don’t care if you’re there or not.

    I’ve had a bad experience with the MinGW community. The maintainers there were very rude to people on the mailing list. It was enough for me to unsubscribe. And I think the MinGW gcc maintainer quit for similar reasons and is now doing his work elsewhere so it’s at least getting done. Community relations like this are indeed community killers.

    BTW, this also reminds me of the Mylyn thing, but from the other side of the story…

  5. Welcoming anyone who sets a high standard technically and socially is key. Marginalizing those who are abusive or disruptive is equally important. Certain stories come to mind, but better that the guilty remain namelessly marginal.

  6. My current fun n’ games with the P2 crowd and trying to get the OBR spec out from under the mud they’re throwing also comes to mind 😉

  7. Ed, I hope you realize that abusive and disruptive is a very subjective thing. Obviously it is very easy to marginalize and ignore them, but that is generally does not help the users, especially when there is no technical issues and just some stupid emotional reactions.

  8. Thanks everyone for the responses.

    @pookzilla It really seems that ‘don’t be a jerk’ is the motto.

    @david I’d really like to understand what are the barriers and any suggestions on what we at the Foundation can do to lower them.

    @hal not really sure of the details but I am hoping the discussions are at the technical level.

    @eugene I would content that ‘abusive and disruptive’ are *not* subjective. If someone feels like they are abused then isn’t that enough? In the RoR case, people were offended by the presentation; not everyone but some. IMHO, you apologize if you have offended someone.

  9. Ian, I am not referring to this RoR scandal, which is completely outrageous. However, I’ve seen enough examples of using abusive and disruptive excuse just to get rid of an inconvenient person, where real reason were clearly not as beneficial to the “abused” party. I mean, people can choose to feel offended behind your back, instead of giving you a chance to apologize. I also don’t think that such cases should be ignored, because any ignorance won’t heal the issue, even so it may give a short term relief.

    For example, I’ve heard from several people that they’ve got complains about me, yet they obviously neglected to refer me to the complain, nor the complaining party had the guts to tell me that they were offended. The frustrating and annoying part is not that they were offended, but that one have no way to apologize.

    All in all, any community is actually built from individual persons and it is up to the leading people how they want to deal with every individual, e.g. ignore them or try to understand and accept.

  10. @ian re: Barriers.

    The barriers vary by project, different ones are better than others.

    Barrier 1: Lack of timely responses to a contributor. Many cases where bugs may have contributions with patches and tests attached. The bug is finally replied to after 2 years sitting in bugzilla. What typically happens is that the contributor has moved on to other things and never responds. You lost a good oppurtunity for help.

    Barrier 2: Bug report goes unanswered for months. By the time it is answered the contributor has moved on to other things.

    Barrier 3: Newsgroup and questions in email lists go unanswered.

    Committers are consistently saying that they need more help, that this isn’t enough time to do everything. However, if a community member offers that help and it isn’t responded to. It makes them feel what was the point.

    If you project really doesn’t want the help, then the community is going to stop providing it. Which hurts eclipse as a whole. There probably needs to be a new committer education process that says what is expected of them. Just throwing a body at the project isn’t the best way to get a committer to work openly with an open source project community.

    My two cents.

  11. @ian Barrier 4: Individual Contributor to Committer paperwork. The process of going from an outside non-member contributor to a committer is way to long of a process. It can take almost 3 months for the entire process to complete. Things have to be signed in triplicate, the form was three pages long, etc. While I understand there are legal items to cover, compare this to a SourceForge or other project, and it’s a matter of days not months to get going.

  12. Eugene, given that you can’t leave well enough alone, I’d suggest you read again your own comments in http://ed-merks.blogspot.com/2007/11/coping-with-diversity.html as well as other people’s reactions to those comments. Ironically it’s a blog about diversity no less! And yes, personally I was offended by your remarks, more than a little bit in fact. It’s hard not to see intent to offend behind your remarks. Let me assure you that emotions are not stupid; they are the fundamental underpinning that drives human beings.

    You make a habit of repeating this type of behavior and then you have the audacity to act like a martyr when others react poorly to what you do. So sorry you say?

    You and I have talked face to face, and I have no doubt that somewhere deep inside you really do mean well, otherwise I’d consider you dirt that should be vacuumed away. Unfortunately, you have a habit of repeatedly behaving in a way that other people find offensive. Surely it is within your capacity to step back and see this?

    It’s just not enough to mean well, you need to ensure that your actions are perceived well by others. And again, emotions are not stupid. After all, are you not reacting emotionally to the feeling of being ostracized? Is that stupid? Personally I can fully understand why you would feel slighted….

    In the end, my community would include a Eugene, but he’d make a few personal changes to fit in better…

  13. I believe the behavior within the newsgroups and bug reports, the information flow via planet Eclipse, the Eclipse demo days and Eclipse live is astonishing.

    Personally I’m inspired by the attitude of the Eclipse community. It is fun to try to work and help within this environment.

  14. @David Thanks for the feedback. I agree the lack of timely answers and paper work sends the wrong signal to any potential contributor. Not sure how we can fix it but I think we need to look for solutions.

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