Three Manifest Wisdoms from LinuxCon Europe That Are Not Self-evident
This year, LinuxCon Europe took place in Berlin at the InterContinental Hotel – a very good choice for a venue! As usual, LinuxCon provided amazing opportunities to meet with friends and colleagues from the community (the picture below shows Jeanette, Craig and Rob – it was a pleasure working the booth together with you!).
Besides the many valuable sessions and enjoyable conversations at our SUSE booth, I had three kind of “light-bulb moments”. To be more precise: I came across three topics that stuck in my mind because – in my idyllic world – I initially was wondering if – STILL TODAY – we really need to emphasize them. But then I had to admit: YES – there is a need to talk about all three of them! Thus I thought to share them with you …
1.) Girls and IT?
My first ‘AHA’ moment happened right on Tuesday, during the Women in Open Source discussion round. It was all about a topic which Marita already touched with her blog about women in IT. Nithya Ruff did a great job in guiding us through the event.
Roughly 50 women met in smaller groups to discuss topics such as “what can we do to make more women talk at technical events” or “how to interest girls for jobs in IT”. Honestly, I had thought we already had overcome this issue for quite some time. But stepping out of my – again – idyllic tiny little world, I do see the exigency to address these topics. I am in the comfortable situation to live in Germany where you usually can pick a your job following your interest, where you are not limited by gender-specific role perceptions, where there exists an official mandate for diversity. I am in the even more comfortable situation to work at SUSE where being female in an IT environment is normal, where for several years where we had more girls than boys starting as trainees for a technical job, where we employ women in our own DevOps department. Already back in 2000, at SUSE we participated in initiatives such as D21 which aimed to get Germany prepared for the 21st digital century, to help provide an advance in technology. Under the D21 umbrella, we also had a huge focus on programs for girls in IT. But there are still so many countries (and companies) were this is not the case.
During our discussion round, Akanksha Bhattachan, a very nice young lady from Kathmandu/Nepal, told us her story. She said she was lucky to have parents who gave her choice. After a very good secondary school degree, her parents told her “Or you go study Business, and after that you marry, or – if you really want to make career and live your own life – you go study Technologies”. But this is definitely an exception in Nepal.
The Nepalese Government some time ago decided that the primary schools (years 1-5) should be freely accessible for all children. However, there are not enough public schools for all children, and their quality is mostly questionable, for example they don´t have enough teachers, or teachers are not well trained. This led to the creation of a huge amount of private schools. In general most of the primary schools still request payment for registration, exams, etc – and for the secondary and higher secondary schools you have to pay a tuition fee anyways. In consequence, many families above all from rural regions or lower middle class in the cities cannot afford sending their children to school. What´s more, the number of boys that get an education is much higher than the number of girls. Many girls are forced to quit primary school because they get married at a very young age. Or, if they can finish primary school, they are prepared for being wife and mother. Akanksha wants to help change the situation: she engages in several organizations to find female technical talents in Nepal, and she speaks up to encourage girls AND their parents for a better education and a future job in ICT.
This network was formed in November 2004 for African women, by African women in ICT who work on a volunteer basis. The members of AfChix are mentoring girls to consider careers in Computer Science and IT through visits to schools, celebrating annual Girls in ICT Days, running technical workshops and sponsoring participation in tech conferences. The network targets high school girls between the age of 11 to 18 and young women who just started their careers in ICT/Computer Science. The aim of AfChix is to help build a critical mass of computing skills among African women. It is composed of former and current Computer Science/Information Technology students and other players in the technology industry. It is amazing to see how enthusiastically Lillian dedicates big parts of her life to pique young girls’ interest in science and technology, and to help them do their first steps in ICT.
2.) Go to Sleep!
On the second day, Colin McNamara started his keynote with the following words: “I am Colin McNamara and I will get you to sleep.” Well – you can imagine that, after this introduction, I was immediately awake, asking myself “Really THAT boring?”
But Colin wanted to make us aware of a wide-spread issue: The world is moving at a faster pace, and quite often we are asked to get more done in the same limited amount of time. In the IT world especially, we tend to work extra-long hours. Many engineers are kind of proud of working after 10 pm, being up all night, reading emails at 3 am. I realized that, to a certain degree, I am guilty of this behavior, too. We are more and more habituated to a certain attitude that implicates the feeling “I am so important I need to be on around the clock”. But this behavior is creating a vicious circle. You put yourself under pressure, you expect more and more from yourself and from others, until you get exhausted. Is this really healthy? NO! It doesn’t help neither you nor your company if you are stuck in this treadmill like a hamster in the wheel, and if sooner or later you are burned out. To be productive, you need to refresh your mind – to refresh your mind, you need a proper work-life balance. Everything else is counterproductive and can negatively affect our projects and organization. Thanks Colin for your clear words – we should all have a good look in the mirror, and we should be inspired to change things to the better!
3.) Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate!
Finally, on Thursday, I learned that, in a parallel universe, our CTO Thomas Di Giacomo is a GOOD Mr. Robot who promotes the L(inux)Society. Joking aside, Thomas really rocked the stage with his keynote and his introduction as Mr. Robot . Even more important, the message he transported is simple but crucial:
Over the past 25 years, Open Source has become mainstream. During this time, Linux and the World Wide Web have grown up closely together, supporting each other along the way. But this doesn’t mean we should just stop caring and let the things go by themselves. A serious danger exists that a certain kind of laziness or satiety takes over. However, our future in open source still – and more than ever – is all about collaborating more and more. And it should be about contributing in a constructive and healthy way, for example by building and empowering communities rather than having them controlled or managed directly by companies. We need to foster an inclusive and diverse open source community to ensure its grow for decades. We need genius developers, but bright minds should not be left alone! Thus we need genius developers AND socially skilled contributors! Now that the open source doors are open, we need to limit anything that can block those doors. Open Source is mainstream, but we – every single contributor, every single community member – need to ensure that we move it forward to the next level, during the next decades. So let us not become lazy, let us not think “well the others will do it”, let’s carry on the spirit of Open Source to the next generation.
It is like Mr. Robot told us : We are LSociety – All for one and one for all. United we stand divided we fall.
Disclaimer: The text at hand has not been reviewed by a native speaker. If you find typos, please send them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) – or if you like them, just keep them :-).