Including People

The YAPC North America Perl Conferences of the past couple of years have held an event I like quite a bit. It's the first time attendees mixer.

As of a couple of years ago, YAPC::NA organizers and attendees realized that about half of the attendees of each conference had never attended a YAPC before. That's between one and two hundred people whose main face to face involvement with the larger Perl community may have been limited to a local Perl Mongers meeting. Yes, these attendees have almost certainly used the CPAN, very likely participated in a discussion on a Perl web site, mostly used a Perl mailing list (and not just the YAPC mailing list), and have probably been on a Perl IRC channel, but they probably aren't the people you think of when you think "Who are the best connected people in the Perl community?"

As far back as I can remember (which, admittedly, is one of the YAPC::NAs in Chicago), an early morning talk has served as an introduction to YAPC, specifically intended to help new attendees understand the conference and its quirks and norms. That talk invites these attendees to the novice welcome meeting.

The organizers also grab as many of the well connected people in the community—pumpkings, core developers, CPAN contributors, authors, project leaders, anyone whose name you might recognize—and ask them to show up and be willing to talk to people. That's it.

What I like about this system is that it welcomes people in two ways. First, it acknowledges that it's okay to be new to YAPC or the Perl community in person. If that's you, you're not alone. Half of everyone you're going to see at the conference is like you in that sense.

Not only that, but you have permission to participate. You're welcome to attend this little meetup that has an explicit place in the schedule—it's an official part of the conference—and you're encouraged to talk to people you might know only by reputation. They're there to meet and talk to you. They're not there to hang out in little groups by themselves. They're there to talk to you.

I've heard good things about this event. I've enjoyed it every time I've gone. (As an introvert myself, I like having permission to talk to people with a limit of a couple of hours.)

I feel the same way about a YAPC Code of Conduct. I don't see it as a warning that "straying from a straight and narrow path of arbitrariness will not be tolerated, so if you're not sure if you might accidentally say or do something someone else doesn't like, stay away!" I see it as giving people who aren't necessarily well versed in the norms and ideals and messy politics of dealing with the Perl community every day virtually and in person permission to believe that they should feel welcome and important in the community.

It's about empathy.

I understand people disagree about the wording and even need for a code of conduct, and I don't mean to suggest that such concerns come from robots who lack empathy. By no means.

Yet put yourself in the shoes of someone who feels like he might not quite fit in in a talk, because it's full of inside jokes and jargon and the kinds of comfortable banter you only get after you've idled on a handful of Perl IRC channels for months or years. (Imagine that person's an introvert, or at least not as stubborn as I am.) Now imagine the speaker or someone else says or does something that reminds that person that he doesn't belong there, that he doesn't fit in, that he's different.

That's not necessarily assault. That's not necessarily a criminal act. But it's probably unnecessary and hopefully unintentional.

(The best silly example I can come up with is a speaker saying "... and of course, if you're a Windows user, no one cares about you until you man up and get a real operating system." and half of the audience laughs.)

Sure, there are good legal reasons to have a code of conduct that suggests that criminal activities such as assault, battery, and sexual assault are intolerable. There's no gray area about groping or rape or physical violence.

I agree with a lot of Open source is not a war zone, and I agree fully that the Perl community is all the richer for contributions of people like Wendy and Liz and Karen and Su-Shee et cetera. I'm glad they participate, just like I'm glad people like Tim Bunce and Schwern and brian d foy and Dave Rolsky and Rik et cetera participate.

I just can't quite agree that a code of conduct has a chilling effect that will exclude people. I don't see it.

Maybe that's because I see the code of conduct as explicitly saying "If you feel like you don't quite fit in, that's okay. You're welcome here. We take you seriously. If you have one of these big problems—even if it's with a speaker or writer or developer with a famous name—we'll take that seriously. The rules apply to everyone."

Sure, there's more to helping newcomers feel welcome than enforcing a policy of civil conduct, but that's the minimum I want to see, and I'm glad that YAPCs have done other things (less controversial, I'm sure) to that end.

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This page contains a single entry by chromatic published on May 18, 2013 6:00 AM.

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