PyCon Firings

PyCon Firings

A short comment on what happened at PyCon.

As far as I can tell, the following happened:

  1. Adria Richards went to PyCon and overheard two male attendees make inappropriate jokes. She complained about this on Twitter:

    Not cool.Jokes about forking repo's in a sexual way and "big" dongles.Right behind me #pycon[a][b]

    Adria Richards (@adriarichards) March 17, 2013[c]

  2. The PyCon organizers spoke with the two attendees:

    Both parties were met with, in private. The comments that were made were in poor taste, and individuals involved agreed, apologized and no further actions were taken by the staff of PyCon 2013. No individuals were removed from the conference, no sanctions were levied.

    PyCon's response to an inappropriate incident on March 17th[d]

  3. One of the attendees is fired:

    As a result of the picture [Adria Richards] took I was let go from my job today.

    mr-hank (claiming to be one of the attendees)[e]

  4. Adria Richards is fired:

    Effective immediately, SendGrid has terminated the employment of Adria Richards.

    Infoworld quoting SendGrid's FB status update[f]

What to conclude from this? Well, two things that I've learned that I think are applicable:

  1. People are rarely sacked based on just a single event. Sacking someone means a total write-off of all the time, money and effort you've sunk into training them. It would have to be an atrocity for a single event to lead to a firing.

  2. It is more common for people with a history of "inappropriate behavior" to "toe the line" than to be way over the line. The guy screaming "Heil Hitler", once, is probably not a nazi; but the one who constantly obliquely hints that Hitler wasn't all that bad is more likely to be. As Eric Matthes asks:

    What do we do when no one person is severely violating the Code of Conduct, but instead we have a fair number of people throughout the conference making moderately inappropriate comments that can be just brushed off? Many people have grown a "thick skin"and do just that, but this response avoids the problem. Wiomen [sic] shouldn’t have to grow "thick skin" to go into a technical field.

    "PyCon's Code of Conduct: The Next Step" - Eric Matthes[g]

I think the real cause of the firings are quite different from what is being told officially, and I think that the current narrative omits much of the context - like the moderately inappropriate comments that can be just brushed off[*][h] that Eric mentions. For now I think the solution is to keep doing what Adria and the PyCon organizers did: Report the inappropriate conduct. Always. Then confront the people acting inappropriately and stop the bad behavior. Always. Any potential overreactions by someone else (the employers in this case) is their problem. If we learn more about the firings we'll be able to judge their appropriateness, but this will and should have zero impact on the handling of the incident by PyCon.

Update 2013-03-24 02:07 - While Amanda Blum discloses that she doesn't like Adria Richards and thinks she has good reason to not like Adria Richards, she makes a good case for Adria having a history of over-reacting[i]. I still think what Adria did was right, for all the reasons Avdi Grimm states[j]; but I think it is safe to conclude that she didn't get fired for a single event. Any clues as to why the attendee was fired are still missing.