I’ve been struggling with something lately, and I’m not sure how to work through it. Are any of you women open source software developers or maintainers of other OS resources (i.e. lessons, technical help forums)?
I’ve been struggling with is the balance between helping people, particularly novices, and also managing workloads for our workers, and protecting our workers’ time and sanity. I’ve always enforced a code of conduct for both people asking for help and the developers. Things like non-harassment, but also things like how a software user can pose a useful question and what needs to be included in the question. For example, how to include a reproducible example of a bug. I don’t include negative examples on the user side, but I do include (made up) examples of violations in the developer notes, including examples of irreproducible questions, and the directive that staff aren’t obligated to interact with those types of questions (I typically handle by copying and pasting in a response about how to ask an appropriate question).
I saw a Twitter dust-up the other day about this exact thing, saying it was unwelcoming to new people to enforce community standards when they ask for help, and that someone must always personally interact with that person and shepard them through submitting a question. The point was also made that women and people of color will be especially discouraged because they’re already more susceptible to feeling like they don’t belong in science.
I’m really struggling with this because, while I agree that no one should be mocked or made to feel bad for asking a question, I don’t think that expecting personal hand-holding is fair, either. And I especially see that the women on my team get a way outsized number of queries directed to them, as opposed to the men. I know, for a fact, that for some women in my social circle, the huge, uncompensated obligations of maintaining open source scientific software caused them to steer towards being involved in fewer projects.
To me, that’s the ultimate point: that increasing the obligations will decrease the amount of women who become leaders in OSS development. I don’t think I should change my community standards to obligate the team to reply to all requests, even poorly formed ones. I think that type of obligation will increase the workload, and disproportionately hit women workers.