Lindsey Kuper (lindseykuper) wrote,
Lindsey Kuper

"It's like a barrier broke down in my mind."

Kirrily Robert, giving a keynote talk at OSCON 2009:

If someone's being an asshole, call him on his crap. If you're not sure if someone's being an asshole, here's a hint: If there is a naked lady up on the screen, someone is probably being an asshole.

Fuck yeah.1

I had the pleasure of meeting Kirrily at OSCON last year.2 If I had been at OSCON this year, I would have been on my feet and screaming my approval for the entirety of her talk. I'm surprised at how few bursts of applause I hear in the video. Why didn't the whole room clap for the Dreamwidth diversity statement? Why didn't the whole room burst into cheers and applause at the "it lost its forbidding mystique" quotation? "It lost its forbidding mystique" is precisely what open source is about.

Yes. Here, let's have the whole thing. This is Kirrily quoting an excerpt of one woman's response to a survey of female developers who were working on the Archive of Our Own open source project.

Deep down, I had always assumed coding required this kind of special aptitude, something that I just didn’t have and never would.3 It lost its forbidding mystique when I learned that people I had assumed to be super-coders (surely born with keyboard attached!) had only started training a year ago. People without any prior experience! Women! Like me! Jesus! It’s like a barrier broke down in my mind.

One of the most important ideals of open source is that everything is and should be hackable. Earlier today, I was thinking about a problem I was trying to figure out a couple months ago. It took me an embarrassingly long time to understand what was going on, because it hadn't occurred to me that one could write a program to process binary data just as well as one could write a program to process plain text, and, moreover, that there was absolutely no reason why one shouldn't do such a thing. In fact, my misunderstanding had been not so much technical as psychological. I was confused because I didn't really believe that the binary files I was dealing with were hackable, despite the fact that I had been attempting to preach the all-things-are-hackable gospel for years. When I suddenly realized that processing binary data was not only possible, but in fact utterly natural and unexceptional and just not different in any fundamental sense at all -- because plain text is, after all, just a special case of binary data -- I could see all the way down to the bottom for a glorious moment.

That moment of enlightenment, of barriers breaking down in the mind, is what I think hacking is about. It's why I think hackers hack. This woman captures it beautifully. When you hear people say stuff like that, you need to cheer out loud for it. Maybe the audience was nervous and keeping quiet because of the seriousness of the subject matter, but there's no reason why we shouldn't be loudly and boisterously showing our approval of the good stuff.

  1. For those who haven't been appalled by them already, Kirrily's "naked lady up on the screen" comment is most likely an allusion to this offensive conference presentation and this other offensive conference presentation. There was also this, which I honestly didn't find offensive so much as just extremely tacky.
  2. She had cool hair then, too.
  3. "I had always assumed coding required this kind of special aptitude" vividly reminds me of a comment from a discussion about low enrollment in computer science courses in Peter pmb's journal a year ago. The commenter wrote, "As an out-and-proud former liberal arts major I've never even come anywhere close to thinking that my education would suit me for either programming or CS. Many of the CS people I know have acted like it's a deity-given gift, to be able to program, and not a learned skill set. I'm trying to think if I've ever even heard anyone say that arts majors are capable of learning to program." That made me feel like breaking things. Instead, I just responded as clearly as I knew how: "Arts majors are capable of learning to program."

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