As part of the Ubuntu Community Appreciation Day initiative, I’d like to write an appreciation for females – of all ages – that we have within Ubuntu and upstream communities, and why I’d like to see more of the same. To do this, I’ve taken the liberty of generalising a bit based on my own personal experiences.

First off, many women have excellent communication and conflict resolution skills. I envision this could come to very good use, including upstream. You see, we software developers can be really picky – which is a good thing, as long as this helps us prevent bugs. But we also tend to set up rules for ourselves and our processes, and we need a counterweight to that in order not to become rule-following robots, which is no fun. A controversial patch can easily lead to heated, discouraging debates and somebody running off, making a fork of the project, together with half of the squad. Seen from an Ubuntu perspective, better communication and conflict resolution skills might help us to maintain fewer remixes and derivatives – but the remaining ones would be more polished and work better.

Second, a mixed company working place is good for everyone. Before working at Canonical, I had been working at both offices with only men, and with both men and women. My experience was that at the male-only office, discussions tended to be more matcho – coffee break chats were often about sports or women, if I remember correctly. And even if background images of women in bikini and jokes towards the vulgar didn’t offend me, I didn’t particularly enjoy it either.
At the mixed company working place, discussions in general had a friendlier tone, and included a wider area of topics. It was just…better.
(Side note: while discussing this with a female colleague a long time ago, she told me she had been working at a women-only place, which was plagued by gossiping to the extent that she was afraid to become ill – because on the day she would not be at work, they would gossip about her. Judging from that, mixed company is likely good for everyone, not just men.)

Third, women know what women want. Or, at least, are slightly more likely to know. Software is more likely to get new features, bug fixes, packaging, support, advertising blog posts and so on, if there are people with sufficient skill and interest in that particular software. When more women get involved in software development, the end result will be more useful for women. If Ubuntu’s ever going to reach 200 million users: if it works great for twice as many people, that would certainly help!

So, I would like to say thank you to all women involved in open source communities, both Ubuntu and upstream. That includes a thank you for not quitting when times get rough.

And finally, if I may extend my appreciation to an invitation: you don’t have to be as fantastic as the open source women I’ve met, to be contributing to Ubuntu, Debian, or upstream. If you already have skills, that helps, but for the most part, you’ll learn as you go. Commit to respecting each other first, and then you can start helping out with everything from writing code to organizing events. Welcome! :-)

Disclaimer: As usual, these are my own views rather than those of my employer, my family, or anyone else. Also, just to make the point clear, this is not scientific research and does not claim that women are in general different from men – we all are so much different from, and so much more than, what an average person of the same gender would be. It is just my “thank you” post, based on my own personal experiences.

[Thanks to Leann Ogasawara for providing some useful feedback when writing this blog post.]