Women in Open Source: Take a Female Perspective

Mar 08, 2022 • 11 minutes to read

Today is March 8th, International Women's Day, a festival to celebrate women's important contributions and great achievements in different fields of society.

With a growing number of females taking interest and getting good at coding, women are playing an increasingly important role in the IT industry. Today, let's take a closer look at the stories of the female developers who contributed to or are developing the WasmEdge project, so as to see the perspectives of women in open source. Being Gen Y and Gen Z, they have a strong voice that helps encourage more women to participate in the open source community.

Q: Please introduce yourself. Tell us about your study experience and work you are doing now?

O3OI: My name is Chunyi Weng. I am currently a senior in Uni and have been working on WasmEdge for four months. What I mainly do now is the porting and application development of WasmEdge on the OpenHarmony operation system.

Atlas: I am Atlas. I participated in the development of WasmEdge in 2020. Now I work for a company in the Web3 field. My job now is mainly… programming.

Yi: The programming language I use is C++, and I have been working on compiler & VM related development since graduation. I previously designed the WasmEdge socket API, and am currently responsible for benchmarks-related matters.

Q: When did you first join the open source community? Why do you like open source?

O3OI: I learnt the concept of open source since my sophomore year, and I have come to know many open source projects. When I wrote papers, I referenced other people's open source implementations. But I only started participating in it five months ago. At that time, my research work had just come to an end. Unlike my peers, I had a lot of free time. By chance, when I came across WasmEdge, it came to me that why not do some open source development? Besides, I was very curious about the workflow of open source projects, for users, contributors, etc., which sounds cool, doesn't it? So I got involved, and luckily I grew and learned more than I had imagined. Participating in open source, every pull request I create is like a medal. And every time a small green square gets lit on my GitHub homepage, I feel a great sense of accomplishment. In addition, with open source projects, I can get professional replies fast and direct from project team members by raising issues. In other words, open source gives me the chance to exchange ideas with admirable senior engineers. Not to mention that I have learned a lot by observing other open source projects. When I encounter bottlenecks, I was often able to find solutions the open source way.

Atlas: In 2019. CyberMiles was the first open source community I participated in. I like open source because I like the many wonderful spirits behind it: sharing and cooperation.

Yi: When I was a student, I had the habit of putting projects on Github. It was only convenient at first, and then I understood the original intention of open source. I think this piece Why do people prefer using open source software makes great points reasons (the website has no anchor and it is not convenient to scroll down), I personally believe that the culture of open source can allow the overall industry to develop better.

Q: Have you ever been discriminated against or favored for being a woman in the tech field?

O3OI: The campus environment of my Uni is academic and simple. I have also met many excellent female teachers, seniors, and female classmates during my studies. There hasn't been discrimination or special treatment. What's more, I was fortunate enough to study in the school's ACM* training team for some time. At that time, I learned that the ACM competition has a special award called “Best Women's Team”, which shows extra kindness for girl programmers.

*ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC)

Atlas: I haven't been treated unfairly myself, but you know, in the IT industry where men dominate and have more say, there is always this kind of condescending vibe.

First of all, the strongest feeling is that it is difficult for women to participate in such male-dominated discussions. Their discussions are always filled with the kind of devaluation and objectification of women.

When people chat and discuss in a group, it is impossible to talk about technology all the time, and if there is occasional small talk, there would be male gazing. For example, Lolita cartoon image stickers fantasizing about young big breast girls that are common in ACG are often sent in the group chat. There are also derogatory opinions. In a tech chat group I am in, since the majority are male, there were comments on rape charge cases laughing at and slut-shame the victims.

I know that discussion and communication will make progress and improvement, but this kind of overall demeaning is difficult for women. That was only before my graduation. When looking for a job, the bro-culture and boy's club among men allow them to take more resources and opportunities.

In addition, not just in tech, the entire society is also very male-centric. For example, when I was looking for a job before, many online application systems required gender selection, and the male option is checked by default (I am a web developer myself, and I understand it is easier to not check both options by default. But this is the showing detail). Another example is that Alibaba Cloud's default avatar is a male (and interestingly, Alibaba Cloud International uses a gender neutral figure). When Azure customer service called me back for tickets, they would assume I am a male and call me Mr.

Yi: Luckily, the environment I've been exposed to has been friendly. So I don't have personal experience of being discriminated against. Still, I have some gender-related observations to share.

  1. I won the Google Anita Borg Scholarship in college. This scholarship is a women's scholarship (It was the first year given in Taiwan at the time, and only 3 spots are available each year). To apply for this scholarship, you must list your huge contribution as women in tech. This honor helped me get an internship, even though I did not perform well in the internship interview. So one may think I have got special advantage being a female. But in fact, when I was told in private why I got in, I felt looked down upon. Something similar happened when I was looking for a professor for my thesis.
  2. As a female and being a minority in developers, I can be placed on reception at tech events to show diversity. Before taking on this kind of role, you may have to measure whether you are sitting pretty on the scene as a young woman, or you help reduce the social pressure of other women participating. There is often no definite answer to this question, but the need to worry about this is already a burden on women's identity.

Q: What would you like to say to female friends who want to get involved in open source?

O3OI: Just don't be afraid to say that you don't understand certain stuff when you don't. You can learn a lot through the open source community, such as the improvement of technical communication and the expansion of vision. This process is enough to make you grow so much from a novice. In addition, some people may have misconceptions about open source as I did at the beginning, thinking that one can only contribute by coding or developing new features or functions. But in fact, writing documentation, fixing some errors, and providing new ideas and suggestions are also contributions. Even if you really are not an expert in programming, you can also find a place in open source and take full advantage of your strengths.

Atlas: Girls, step up! Sometimes when we see many so-called “computer whizs", we could be intimidated. But more often, we will find out that they are neither smarter than us nor more hardworking than us. They're just a little louder than us. Real super-experts are humble and kind and helpful.

We as women are all familiar with the argument of “Girls should just…", and we hear things like this too much since childhood. To be honest, on the one hand, I am really heartbroken and even angry. Why should in the same situation, a male would have more opportunities? Why is it always so difficult for women; But on the other hand, gradually I realize that if we as woman just do something like men, we also get more respect. For example, open source is about cooperation and sharing, and doing something that is beneficial to human beings. These are things that any person should do. Being women, we are making history. It's our mission as women with a stronger sense of responsibility than men. It's our duty.

In fact, participating in open source does not mean that you have to contribute a lot of code. You can start by raising some issues, fixing some typo, and doing some translation work, as long as you take the first step.

Yi: I think it's “don't be afraid to ask questions”, especially when you code open source, your questions may also be other people's questions. Women in this area may be more likely to worry that asking questions will upset others or make them look incompetent. However, I think that open source reduces the chances of writing repetitive code. Asking questions in the open source community can also save people time researching the same problem.

Q: What do you think of the fact that the topic of “women in tech” being trendy recently?

O3OI: I am very glad and supportive. This shows that more and more women break through the constraints and prejudices of their own or others’ gender and devote themselves to the field of technology. This will also be a virtuous circle. The hotter the topic is, the more women could be tempted to try it. These actions will form a powerful force in the field of technology. I do hope that this topic can be impactful so that more girls will be brave and say “I want to do” instead of “I am good for” when planning their careers.

Atlas: I guess this says more woman's voice should be heard. Just like what I mentioned, the discussions in tech are led and dominated by men. If we do not pay more attention to women's voices, that can hardly be changed.

Yi: There are 2 sides to the coin. It's definitely a good thing that Women in tech being valued can make the overall environment better for women. However, there are also various doubts, such as the feeling that women's guaranteed places are privileges, women are admitted because of their gender advantages rather than ability, or there is gender discrimination in restricting women to participate in activities.

I believe that as long as “women in tech” is still a topic, there is still room for improvement in the environment that needs to be better for women.

Q: Why did you choose your current job?

O3OI: In fact, this is my first job. At first, I wanted to do something meaningful. I learnt about WasmEdge by chance. Due to the pandemic, working from home has become common, which is a very ideal work mode for me. In addition, Wasm is a budding technology. Its lightweightedness, portability and high performance meet the development needs of many current applications. Out of optimism on Wasm's prospects and curiosity, I sent out my resume. Really glad to be one of the team.

Yi: Because my classmates were starting a software company, and came to me at the beginning, and I have been working here since. Nothing extraordinary.

Q: Have you ever fought for anything at work? How did you feel?

Yi: Talking about things relevant to my female identity, it is probably menstruation leave. Taiwan's Labor Standards Law stipulates that there are only three days of menstrual leave a year, but women have an average of at least twelve menstrual periods a year. For women who have to take painkillers and shiver at home every menstrual period, one day per menstrual period is just barely enough. It's certainly heartwarming that the company's male colleagues are able to participate in the discussion and support the change.

As far as I know, many women feel uncomfortable bringing this up. They are afraid to ask for menstruation leave to been seen as not taking her work seriously, especially in a less friendly workplace.

They may not speak up all the time, but they all expect to see more woman in open source. Got for it, grilfriends!

About WasmEdge

WasmEdge is a lightweight, secure, high-performance, real-time software container and runtime. A CNCF sandbox project. WasmEdge is used in SaaS, cloud native, service mesh, edge computing, automotive and other fields.

GitHub: https://github.com/WasmEdge/WasmEdge

Website: https://wasmedge.org/

‍‍Discord: https://discord.gg/JHxMj9EQbA

‍‍Documentation: https://wasmedge.org/book/en

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A high-performance, extensible, and hardware optimized WebAssembly Virtual Machine for automotive, cloud, AI, and blockchain applications