Developer Evangelist Adria Richards, Fired for Speaking-out About Tech Community Sexism



In today’s cult of personality and with the way technology and information has evolved, public dramas play out across social media platforms as quickly and as messily as anything viewed on reality TV, and this week most of us learned that the tech community is no exception when it comes to rules of engaging in public histrionics, stunts, and shows.

Tech consultant and developer evangelist Adria Richards, found herself treading water in a sea of hateful, misogynist, and downright racist backlash from a mostly male (and white) tech crowd, because she dared to call-out inappropriate sexual jokes made by two male developers, sitting within earshot of her during a keynote speech at a PyCon event.


Vulture Beat broke the story about two days ago, reporting …
“Richards was sitting in the audience immediately in front of two developers. After someone made a comment about forking a software repository, the two allegedly began making jokes about forking in a sexual manner and “big dongles.”  After listening for some time, Richards got fed up, took a picture of the two, and posted it to Twitter.”
Richards alerted PyCon staff and the two men were ejected from the conference spoke privately with event organizers to help resolve the issue and acknowledged they were acting inappropriately.  Richards also posted about the incident on her blog; which some of her dissenters apparently found to be self-serving, and it angered them more.

One of the offending developers, employed as an engineer at mobile gaming and marketing company PlayHaven, was later fired for his role in the incident. He acknowledged making sexually inappropriate comments during the session, offered somewhat of a back-handed apology, and posted his side of story on a Hacker News forum thread under the handle “mr-hank”…
“(…) First all I’d like to say I’m sorry. I really did not mean to offend anyone and I really do regret the comment and how it made Adria feel. She had every right to report me to staff and I defend her position.  (…) While I did make a big dongle joke about a fictional piece [of] hardware that identified as male, no sexual jokes were made about forking. My friends and I had decided forking someone’s repo is a new form of flattery, the highest form being implementation; (…) a friend said “I would fork that guy[s] repo.” The sexual context was applied by Adria, and not us.”
“(…) Adria has an audience and is a successful person of the media. Just check out her web page linked in her [t]witter account, her hard work and social activism speaks for itself. With that great power and reach comes responsibility. As a result of the picture she took I was let go from my job today. Which sucks because I have 3 kids and I really liked that job. She gave me no warning; she smiled while she snapped the pic and sealed my fate.”
I don’t know what dongles or forking means, and  Freetranslation.com doesn’t decipher tech-speak, but I do know the developer’s revelation that he’d lost his job set off a firestorm of online vitriol hurled at Adria Richards. Issues of public-shaming vs. the errant sexism and female unfriendly environment common in tech spaces came up in the heated debate.  Needless to say, the incident (which went viral), resulted in Adria’s employer, SendGrid, coming under DDoS attack by angry hackers, followed by her very public and unseemly firing; announced on SendGrid’s Twitter and Facebook accounts-  where the unmoderated thread disintegrated into flagrantly racist attacks and threats made against Richards.  SendGrid’s CEO, Jim Franklin, later followed-up with a statement on the company’s website, citing Adria Richards’s public shaming of the developers, her instigating division within the tech community, and putting the company in jeopardy, as the reasons for her termination …
“Wow. This week has been extremely challenging for all. (…) Sunday at PyCon, Adria Richards felt comments made behind her during a conference session were inappropriate and of an offensive and sexual nature.  We understand that Adria believed the conduct to be inappropriate and support her right to report the incident to Pycon personnel.  To be clear, SendGrid supports the right to report inappropriate behavior, whenever and wherever it occurs.  What we do no support was how she reported the conduct. 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…” 
Apparenty PyCon has updated their Code of Conduct policy since the incident and there’s been no word on why the other developer, identified as Alex Reid, wasn't also terminated… which leads me to speculate that perhaps the fired party may have accumulated a number of infractions, making this one the final straw for him. And while he lamented losing a job he loved, none of us really knows his work history at PlayHaven or how serious the rule he violated... it was serious enough to get him promptly fired.

Also, I emphasized certain aspects of SendGrid’s statement, because while they claim to support Adria’s decision to report the sexually inappropriate comments, they threw her under the bus and failed to address or denounce the threats of rape and the racist attacks she came under for speaking out about the sexism she encountered.  This speaks volumes to those of us standing outside the perimeter of the tech community, watching this unfold. It’s not a safe community for women to navigate, speaking out against sexual harassment or sexist behavior is clearly discouraged lest we suffer intense backlash from a highly-charged boys club, that vehemently protects its right to intimidate or offend women.  There’s no country for women who speak out… that’s been made abundantly loud and clear.

And whether or not Adria’s decision to snap and then tweet a picture of the developers may or may not have been professional, she does not deserve the hate she’s receiving. In the grand scheme of this mess, she essentially has every right to call-out sexist and/or oppressive behavior in shared,  professional spaces. It was unprofessional for SendGrid to publicly announce her firing and enable yet another space and opportunity for trolls to continue their verbal assault and threats, which SendGrid yielded to.

Her Facebook threads and Twitter mentions are saturated with ugly and hateful language. For clarity, one poster wrote under one of Adria's pictures: "How is it possible to a human beign [sic] be this disgusting, that fucking nigger cunt is ugly a fuck 1/10 would not bang". (That's just one of an onslaught of dozens). It's difficult enough for women to carve a niche in the world of technology... it's especially rare for black women to chart a path. So when incidents like this happen, resulting in a public outcry, there's the added burden of being a woman of color who has to not only ward off sexist remarks, but racism as well. 


Her Facebook threads and Twitter mentions are saturated with ugly and hateful language. For clarity, one poster wrote under one of Adria's pictures: "How is it possible to a human beign [sic] be this disgusting, that fucking nigger cunt is ugly a fuck 1/10 would not bang". (That's just one of an onslaught of dozens). It's difficult enough for women to carve a niche in the world of technology... it's especially rare for black women to chart a path. So when incidents like this happen, resulting in public outcry, there's the added burden of being a woman of color who has to not only ward off sexist remarks, but racism as well.

There are definitely a lot of lessons to be learned from this incident, whether we work in and have to navigate the tech community or not. The issue of public-shaming (particularly in this instance) is somewhat of a slippery slope and doesn't strike me to be as dire as the nasty attacks against Adria and those of who stand in solidarity with her.

Personally, I will always champion people being held accountable for using oppressive language, and no amount of arguing about public-shaming in this unfortunate instance, will negate the fact that the threats, racism, and misogyny being lobbed at Adria Richards is egregious and wrong, nor does it invalidate the sexism or how unwelcoming the tech world can be for women who project their voice.

30 comments

  1. Anonymous8:43 AM

    A sexual joke is not a sexist joke. Besides, "I's fork his repo" means "I'd like to subscribe to hios newsletter".

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  2. Anonymous3:22 AM

    Fuckin jew. Hope she burns in hell!
    Jewish bitch whored in the black race to defend her cunning jew ass. What an actual whore!

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