Like a motorist driving by an ugly car wreck, I couldn’t help but follow the unfortunate events that occurred at the Pycon 2013 conference in Santa Clara earlier this week. The story is well known to most by now. Adria Richards, a developer evangelist for SendGrid, was attending a session when she overheard a pair of men make one or more off-color jokes about dongles. Upset by the banter, Richards snapped photos of the two men, and posted this tweet:
One of the two men was soon fired from his job at PlayHaven, which was a sponsor of the Pycon conference, ostensibly for inappropriate behavior while representing the company at a professional event. Soon after that, Richards herself was fired from her post as a dev evangelist for SendGrid. You can read Richards’ detailed account of the events at the session here. You can also find the fired PlayHaven employee’s apology for his role in this wreck here.
Finally, I encourage everyone to read this exquisitely balanced take on the contretemps.
As is the case with most accidents, no single event or issue caused this crash. Rather, it’s the product of a chain of events: Dudes make dumb jokes. An attendee takes offense and makes it public with a tweeted photo. She reports the incident to conference staff, but only after the tweet--too late.
At this point, we’re firmly into the skid. The tweet with the men’s photos are soon known to their employer. Conference management does its job, meeting with the men and getting sufficient assurance and apology from them to merit their continued presence at the show. But this car is already off the shoulder and diving into the median. When PlayHaven announces the firing of one of the two men, half the Internet erupts with outrage.
The men are at fault, as they violated Pycon code of conduct with their 30-year-old dongle jokes. (Though I feel compelled to ask, if a tech conference isn’t the place for dongle jokes, then what is? Who speaks for the dongles in all this?). But Adria Richards is also at fault. Pycon has a documented process for reporting and addressing troubling speech and behavior, and nowhere does it include the words “tweet it to your followers.” To wit:
Report the harassment incident (preferably in writing) to a conference staff member - all reports are confidential.
Unfortunately, Adria Richards is out of a job as a developer evangelist because she forgot that her job is to interact with developers. SendGrid can’t have a dev liaison who’s best known for publicly shaming working programmers. That’s insane. And the company’s formal announcement of Richards’ firing says as much:
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. ...
A SendGrid developer evangelist’s responsibility is to build and strengthen our Developer Community across the globe. In light of the events over the last 48+ hours, it has become obvious that her actions have strongly divided the same community she was supposed to unite. As a result, she can no longer be effective in her role at SendGrid.
The moment Richards tweeted that photo, she made a career choice to be an activist first and a developer evangelist second. Good luck to her. But for SendGrid, which has already absorbed significant damage in this episode, those priorities just can’t work.