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re: Hi, I’m Christine and I started contributing to Debian when I was 15. Now I’m the CTO of Nylas, ask me anything! VIEW POST

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Linux development land can be welcoming or elitist-shaming, depending on if you're contributing to the kernel, package manager, or other parts of the stack. What lessons did you take away from such a mixed community? What was your personal experience? How do you think the lower-levels of the stack dev communities can be more open, inclusive, and welcoming, especially to traditionally marginalized groups?

 

Since I got involved in Debian Linux through a diversity outreach group, it was pretty obvious to me from the get go that these sorts of groups and programs are important—and that's influenced my commitment to diversity and inclusion to this day. I wouldn't have gone to MIT without Debian Women and that's had a huge impact on my career trajectory.

I was also lucky that because I got involved through Debian Women, the first people I interacted with were self-aware and extremely welcoming and supportive. Mentorship was provided and valued. That gave me a base of security that kept me in the community even when I heard about toxic behaviour elsewhere (or even in other parts of Debian).

Today I want to pay it forward and provide opportunities and support to other underrepresented minorities in tech. I think the exposure to the toxic parts of the open source community also opened my eyes—mostly hearing about it, and also reading terrible things that e.g. Linus would post on the Linux mailing lists. I didn't have much in the way of bad experiences other than a few minor IRC/email creepers. Honestly for the Linux kernel, inclusivity starts from the top and one reason I've never spent much time trying to contribute to upstream Linux is that I don't want to spend my life trying to build relationships with people who aren't worth being friends with.

I've seen great successes in increasing diversity, and they all came from focused hard work and buy-in to the goal. One example is PyCon's efforts to increase speaker diversity, spearheaded by Jessica McKellar. (I can't find the numbers from the past few years, but from what I recall it went from totally dismal to 30-40% or so female speakers, which is an awesome result.)

First you have to buy into the concept as a group, then you have to examine your own biases and implement solutions that address them. It's hard work.

 

Thank you for such a thoughtful and authentic response!!

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