Saturday, March 23, 2013

Techie Fired After 'Outing' Two Knuckleheads

I’ve been reading a lot today about Adria Richards, the software developer who was fired after tweeting about sexual jokes made by two men sitting behind her during PyCon, a conference for Python coders.

Richards writes about the incident on her blog, including what prompted her to act as she did.

Wait a minute. I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Richards was at the conference minding her own business, and a couple of knuckleheads were seated behind her. They started talking stupid talk. Richards decided to handle the situation by taking a photograph of the guys in question and then tweeting the photo with this message—

“Not cool. Jokes about forking repo's in a sexual way and ‘big’ dongles. Right behind me.”

Immediately after, Richards tweeted PyCon staff about the problem, and the men in question were pulled aside and asked about the comments. According to Jesse Noller, who chaired the conference, the men apologized.

But after word got back to the men’s employer, one of the men was fired. And that’s when crap started hitting the fan.

Adria’s (former) company started getting all kinds of negative publicity, and a few days later she was fired. The company’s CEO made this comment

"Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line … Publicly shaming the offenders - and bystanders - was not the appropriate way to handle the situation.”

I’m not sure how Richard’s tweet shamed bystanders, but I agree with the CEO that  the public tweet showed poor judgment.

Yes, I’m afraid I do agree.

Now, I am not saying that Richards should have been fired. Based on what I’ve read, I don’t think anyone should have been fired. Of course, I readily admit that what I’ve read may only be part of the story.

On her blog, Richards says that before she tweeted the photo “three things came to me: act, speak and confront in the moment.”

And that’s my problem. She didn’t confront anyone. She used technology to not confront.

If she had turned around and told those guys to shut up, she’s trying to listen to the presentation, and by the way, they’re being inappropriate, I’d have a different opinion.  

Or, if she’d said nothing, but instead tweeted PyCon staffers and only PyCon staffers, I’d have a different opinion.

Because Richards was at the conference to represent her company as a developer, not as a social activist.

And so, I can understand the company’s position, although I don’t agree with the termination. That extreme seems a little cowardly to me.

What I think would have been fantastic instead would have been a public statement that said something like this—

 “We agree with those who assert that Richards acted rashly and not with the best judgment, and she has been disciplined in accordance with company policy. However, we believe there is a larger issue here concerning the treatment of women within the industry, and we support Richards in bringing light to this issue, however imperfectly she may have done so.”

But instead, they just threw Richards under the bus, and I’m not feeling that.

Because this company had a real chance to stand up for a larger concern while still holding Richards accountable for her mistake, and they blew it.

And now it’s just business as usual. 

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