Category Archives: Me

Ally

One thing I've noticed as I try to learn how to become more aware of the diversity issues in my world is that it's really hard for someone to "get it" if they don't "live it". I think this occurs at all levels.

For my position in society, I don't get how it feels to be a black man with the constant assumption that "I'm up to no good". Similarly, I lack that fundamental understanding for other groups of people with fewer advantages than I have.

Walking-the-walk is the only way to become intimately immersed in something and fully understand it. I love listening to music and I know a lot about how it is created, but I'm not a musician.

This is why those who support people who are subject to discrimination and prejudice are called allies. I like this term as it fundamentally understands the difference between someone who lives the situation daily and someone who wants the world to change so that she doesn't have to.

I call myself a feminist and think that I'm an ally. Becoming an ally is a journey. It starts with noticing the discrimination. Common steps along the path are to learn about it, and then change your behaviour. Over time I've learnt to listen to what women tell me without trying to justify to myself or tell them about why they are misunderstanding. I've learnt to shut-up. I've been trying to change my language to be less patronising; I don't joke about the kitchen. At a conference, I start with the assumption that every woman I meet there is a developer and I don't ask if they have children because I assume that we can talk about dev subjects.

I make mistakes often.

Changing habits is hard and this is a journey. I'm moving in the right direction; I would like you to come along with me.

2014 in pictures

2014 is coming to an end, so as usual, let's look back at the year as highlighted by the photos that I've taken. This year, I took at least one photo every day, so there's been plenty for me to choose from!

January

As usual, there was flooding in Worcester, but clearly the biggest personal event of the month was breaking my elbow while skateboarding with my son at the end of the month. This clearly impacted my business for February and March as I could barely type for a good six or so weeks.

Still flooded Elbow in a cast

February

My wife and I celebrated her birthday in Barcelona and we discovered Licor 43!

Coffee on La Rambla A glass of Licor 43

March

A quiet month where my cast was removed. I also attended the PHPNE 14 conference in Newcastle.

Removing the cast Staff in their hoodies

April

In April, we went to the Insomnia Gaming Festival where the kids got to test out new games. We also sold our caravan.

At Insomnia 51 2003 Avondale Dart 556-6

May

May is a month of birthdays as both kids and myself celebrate.

New scooter Birthday boy playing on his new 3DS XL

June

The highlights of June were watching Great Britain play Belgium at basketball (and win!) and attending DPC.

Collins "We are screwed"

July

I was very pleased to speak at OSCON in Portland! It's an amazing conference and I would very much like to go to the European edition in Amsterdam next year.

Portland Saturday Market Discussing Atom

August

In August, I went on holiday with my family and, at the end of the month, we celebrated my cousin's marriage.

Playing in the pool Lucy & Dave

September

I attended and presented at the inaugural Endpoint conference where I learned much from Ben Longden. I also attended the Hackference conference day which was filled with interesting content.

Ben Erika Heidi

October

By October, I was heavily into conference season and presented at both PHPNW and ZendCon. Sandwiched between them, I also attended the All Your Base conference. This month, we also bought our own squat rack and cancelled our gym membership.

Khayrattee (aka 7PHP) Completed squat rack! Did you *really* write those tests?

November

I was privileged to be be invited to speak at PHP Argentina! An very well organised conference with a number of well known community people that I was delighted to meet and spend time with. How can you not love a conference where there are deck chairs in the hallway track? I also attended PHPEM's unconference; It turns out that I have opinions on how to give a good talk too! This was a good event and I hope they hold it again next year.

Phil, preparing for his talk The final schedule

December

My eldest son finished building his remote control car kit this month. This was a great project and very enjoyable. At the close of the year, I bought a new camera, so I expect that I'll be taking lots of photos next year too!

The Hornet It's not as big as an Elephpant!

I'm looking forward to 2015!

My "new" blogging habit

I've just come across Andy Baio's Middling post and this bit really resonated with me:

Twitter and Waxy Links cannibalized all the smaller posts, and as my reach grew, I started reserving blogging for more "serious" stuff — mostly longer-form research and investigative writing.

From around September 2013, I found that I was in this situation. I was only posting here once or twice a month, mainly as I felt that I should only blog when I had something "worthy" to write about. I got of this rut nearly a year later as I started a new project that resulted in a number of fairly frequent "long" posts about Slim and ZF2 components, which rekindled my interest in writing here.

In March 2013, I gave myself permission to write more opinionated posts here but didn't actually do so until June 2014. Since then I've written a few more times on the things I care about and hope to continue to do so.

I've also started giving myself permission to write posts that are shorter tech-notes. These are more aide-mémoira that I want to remember that maybe someone else will find useful.

I would like to write shorter opinion pieces. Say 250ish words on items that catch my interest. I'm currently using Twitter for this, but sometimes 140 characters isn't enough and I can never find what I wrote again. This post is to give myself permission to do so.

Maybe I'll actually do it in less than a year from now!

Two incidents

An online friend of mine once said this about a sexism incident at a conference:

"If I had been there, ZERO chance I would've sat idly by and let someone treat you like that"

I like to believe that I have the same policy: If I am there when some casual sexism occurs, I will call it out.

It turns out that this is untrue.

One

I have witnessed a number of incidents of sexism at conferences that I've been to recently and I want to talk about one particular situation that occurred.

Around lunchtime at a recent conference, I was with a group of developer friends that included one woman. A man joined our group and made a joke to the woman along the lines of asking if she was here with her boyfriend. I understand that they are friends and that he was being ironic and humorous and certainly meant no personal insult. She responded with a cutting remark and that was that.

Except that wasn't that.

I did not speak out.

It was just a joke. It worked by demeaning women in my industry. I should have said something, especially as I was in the company of friends. The fact that I didn't speak up is unacceptable because jokes like this are actively harmful by contributing to the background tolerance of discrimination against women.

I am ashamed that I didn't speak up. I let my friends and myself down and and I apologise to everyone in our community for not doing my bit when I had the chance.

Two

On Saturday, I took my son to one of his extracurricular activity sessions. Afterwards, my son and I were talking with his coach about the rest of our weekend and how I'd be helping him with the electrical bits of building his new Tamiya Hornet remote controlled car. The coach commented that he would like to do the same sort of things with his future grandchildren and hoped that he wouldn't get a granddaughter.

Maybe it was because my son was there and I'm trying to help teach him about these things, or maybe it was because of the incidents that I'd witnessed recently at conferences, but this time, I spoke up.

I talked about my friend who took an Arduino and some coloured LEDs to create a fuzzy clock where the colour of LEDs indicates the time to the nearest hour. I'm fully intending to copy her project as it would be especially useful to me at night when I'm not wearing my glasses. We then talked a little about how a granddaughter could certainly be interested in building and running remote control cars!

Fin

I want to help reduce sexism in this world. More than one recent conference incident has reminded me that I have a long long way to go, but maybe there's some hope for me yet.

Even though I regularly fail, sometimes I succeed and I won't let my failures stop me from getting it right next time.

Why I care about codes of conduct

tl;dr

I want every conference to enthusiastically champion their code of conduct in order to publicly reassure attendees (women in particular) that any issues will be dealt with. I want all of us to actually notice jokes and conduct that make conferences uncomfortable for women and call out or report issues if we see them. I'm still learning how to do this, but the rest of this post goes into detail on why I think this is subject is important.

The detail

NYCC's Anti-Harassment Policy

Following up on my last post about codes of conducts, I was recently asked why I'm interested in them. While I responded directly, it crosses my mind that I should probably write down my thoughts on this and then I can practice good DRY practices and just link back here!

I am becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of women and non-white people I see at the conferences I go to. It was particularly noticeable at one conference I went to fairly recently and so I’ve been asking why this is. Many of people who inspire me are women, but I hardly see any women at conferences. So, I've started with the issue of the lack of women at conferences and in development in general.

Conferences are one of the best ways I know to become a better developer. Not only do you get exposed to new technologies and techniques via the talks, you get to meet other developers & make contacts that last beyond the event.

We know from US statistics that around 20% of all developers are women. Looking at the male to female ratios at most of the conferences that I go to, I don't even see that many women developers there. I'm assuming that they are choosing not to attend.

That's sad.

So I've started reading. It's hard to read without judging based on your own experiences. I’ve also talked to my wife who has gone to events in a different space and other women friends in a variety of industries and it has been eye-opening.

From my learning so far there seemed to be two main topics that kept coming up: atmosphere and safety.

One major concern I have is that a woman’s initial base assumption seems to be that she expects that something “uncomfortable” is to going happen to them over the course of an event. This runs the full range of things from physical things like being touched “by accident”, through having someone stand very close in her personal space and monopolise her to the point that she is “trapped” talking to this person to men staring at her breasts when talking to her. There's also the words she will hear – from casual comments about women belonging in the kitchen, to overhearing jokes about how bad women are at logical thinking all the way to being asked if she has a boyfriend and if not, being propositioned.

As a man, it’s taken me ages to understand why a casual comment to a woman about whether she has a boyfriend is so damaging. It seemed harmless to me. Just a joke. However, no one ever talks to me a conference with an underlying subtext that they are mainly interested in having sex with me rather than geeking out on tech and programming. No one ever questions my authority in my subject area. Even now, I have been places where I hear conversations between one of my female friends and another man and they tell me afterwards that the man clearly didn't think she was competent by his choice of words and demeanour and I didn’t even notice :(

Hence, I can completely understand why a woman would rather not go to a conference than have to deal with this underlying unspoken assumption that she isn't good enough to be a programmer. Don’t even get me started on the message that's sent when you see pictures of women in lingerie or short skirts in slide decks and sponsor advertising material. I’ve seen all these things at conferences before.

To my wife, her personal safety is very much an active thought in her mind when she meets any man. It's her default position. Apparently this is as much of a worry in a public social setting as on a lonely street at night; maybe more so. By safety, I don’t mean violent rape. I mean being hugged when you don’t want to be; being touched "by accident"; being cornered by someone. These things don't just happen at evening socials, they also happen in the coffee break. These things are happening in public places and and no one else in the room notices.

How are we supposed to stop things that we don’t even see from happening?

The logical thing to me is that if any woman experiences anything she is uncomfortable with (or a man sees something happening to a woman), they should feel able to report it in private and be 100% sure that they will be believed and looked after, no matter how minor the organisers may perceive this incident to be.

I don't think I can emphasise enough that so many incidents appear to be minor and "just the way things are" to men. I'm finding this really difficult to internalise and I'm, notionally at least, aware of the issue. "Just a joke", "That's just how Bob is", "That's not against the law", "It's just a pat on the bottom" are all ways to enable us to believe that there's nothing in our community that needs improving.

Coming back to the subject at hand, I think that a published code of conduct is a clear way to say to the attendees that the organisers know that these things can happen and that (a) they are publicly saying that they are unacceptable and that (b) they are signalling that they have a plan, already in place, for dealing with any incident that may happen.

I appreciate that other people don't agree with me and think that their conference doesn't need a code of conduct because they work towards improving diversity in other ways.

I disagree.

Personally, I see a code of conduct that is championed by the organisers as a great way to improve the inclusivity of an event which can only make for a better conference. I want to see them at every conference.

I was impressed to see that NYCC put their code of conduct on billboards throughout their conference! This is a commercial venture, so certainly they thought about the pros and cons of doing it.

However, the best way we can make conferences more welcoming to women is if we, the attendees, call out our fellow attendees on what they say and what they do that's unwelcoming. It takes courage to report a joke that isn't suitable for a professional conference, but if we all do it, it becomes the norm.

Further reading

If you are interested in some further reading, on this topic then I can recommend Codes of Conduct 101 + FAQ, Sexual harassment at technical conferences: A big no-no and Your conference needs an anti-harassment policy.

For some real-world experiences, try My first OSCON, This is why we can't have nice things, The Creepy Librarian Stalker Hypothesis & Please do not pat me on my head. There are many many more examples out there; try asking any woman who's been to a conference as I haven't found one yet that did not have a story to tell.

Finally, the discussions on this reddit thread and on BoingBoing about the very visible NYCC banners are interesting too.

Codes of conduct

As my mind turns towards the conferences that I'm attending this autumn, I came across Why you want a code of conduct & how we made one by Erin Kissane. I highly recommend that you read it and the links within it.

The part that struck me most was the thoughts on a plan of action. It's all very well to have a code of conduct, but if the event's organisers haven't got a plan on how to deal with reports and actual enforce the code, then it's a waste of time and doesn't help anyone.

I can imagine that reporting, in particular, can be more complicated than initial thoughts would imply. "Just talk to a member of staff" doesn't work very well for everyone as they always seem busy.If they aren't busy, then they are usually surrounded by people; not everyone is confident enough to interrupt and say "can I have word, privately". I can see why the really good codes of conduct have a telephone number on them. One code of conduct I read says that the report should preferably be in writing. That may be useful legally, but I'm not sure that that sends the right message.

Similarly, I wonder if the organisers with a code of conduct have a plan of action and know what they will do in advance if a report is made. Have the organisers discussed how they will react if it's a close friend that's caused the problem? Have they talked about what actions will result in a warning & which will require the attendee to leave the conference? Most importantly is it clear how any such decisions will be made and who will actually talk to the harassing attendee? I really hope so as it's incredibly hard to sort these things out during an actual incident.

I think the visibility of any code of conduct says a lot about how important inclusiveness is to the conference organisers. A conference I attended recently called out the code of conduct right at the start of the introduction. I liked this a lot.

Inclusiveness is important to me. Going forwards, this will be a factor I take into account when deciding to attend a conference. The conference organisers set the tone they expect and then it is for us, the attendees, to call out any unacceptable behaviour we see before it becomes an incident needing to be reported.

Privilege

If ever there was a word to make someone defensive, it's privilege.

You are brought face to face with the fact that someone else doesn't have the same experiences in life as you and that their experiences somehow make their life harder than yours.

I am one of the most privileged people I know. I am a well-educated European white man. I was raised in a loving, stable home. I have a loving, stable relationship and two children. I am doing well financially, working in a job I love. The list goes on and on and on…

I understand intellectually that not everyone has this good a run in life. But I feel defensive when someone mentions privilege. "But it's not my fault!", I want to whine.

I have friends who are treated as inferior by strangers. I have friends who are not listened to at work because they aren't a white man. I have friends who have been sexually assaulted. I have known this for years and I used to shrug it off as "It's just the way the world is, but not all men are like that.".

This is not acceptable.

I've started paying more attention. I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I will not blithely ignore that the rest of the population have to deal, day-in and day-out, with problems that I cannot ever fathom.

I'm reading articles and watching talks on the subject. I'm listening carefully to what my wife and friends have to say. How else can I learn?

I now know what the Bechdel Test is and I've noticed the lack of female protagonists in new games coming out of E3. I was shocked and depressed by what I read on #yesAllWomen.

I will change my behaviour and the way I talk. I will call out others too.

I will fail regularly in my attitude, in what I say and in what I do. I need my friends to point this out and, when they do, I will not whine.

Broken

On the 26th January, I fell off a skateboard, dislocating & fracturing my left elbow. A trip to A&E that Sunday resulted in hospital admittance on Monday and surgery on Tuesday.

This was the first time I've been admitted to hospital for an overnight stay and I found the whole process fascinating, but not something I ever want to repeat. I also can't say enough good things about the staff at Worcester Royal Hospital. Everyone I interacted with was friendly, helpful and competent.
Continue reading

2013 in pictures

As 2013 finishes, I continue my tradition of showing off some photos that recap my year. Last year I discovered that I didn't take many photos at all, so this year I've published at least one photo every day! A lot of them were rubbish, but a good number are shots that I'm very pleased with. Continue reading

Minding my own business

After nearly ten fantastic years at Big Room Internet, I have decided to take the jump and run my own business! Having concentrated on project management for the last year or so, I am happy to return to hands-on development. I also intend to provide training and consultancy services.

I'm really excited by this new phase of my career. I have created a shiny new company for interesting projects: Nineteen Feet Limited. If you want to hire me, then please get in touch.

Over the years, I've discovered that I most enjoy developing directly for a client and building solutions that meet their specific needs. I've had great success teaching at conferences (such as PHPNW and ZendCon) and am looking forward to providing bespoke Zend Framework training to developers.