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Why I give to the Ada Initiative (and hope you will too)

adaThis blog post is a little late. Others have written really evocatively about this subject, already. But, late or not, it feels wrong not to say something. The Ada Initiative is my favorite non-profit (besides perhaps the one I work for? :)). They’re my charity, when I remember to use it. AdaCamp changed my life.

This is for the librarians

I think sometimes librarians might be inclined to look at the Ada Initiative as “a tech thing,” something not relevant to reference librarians or children’s librarians or school librarians … or really any librarian who doesn’t write code for their job. But Ada doesn’t look at it that way. They include libraries very much in their mission of “increasing the status and participation of women in open technology and culture,” because what has more to do with open culture than libraries? Did you know that they have a check mark on the AdaCamp application specifically for library and libtech? (I like that they treat the two as semi-separate fields. They kind of are.)

And let’s face it, librarianship has problems with the representation of women. Look at the gender ratio of library directors, compared to the gender ratio of the profession at large. Look at all of the stories about the need for an ALA code of conduct (or perhaps stories about the need for reporting/enforcement mechanisms after its adoption). Look at the status and pay differential between techy librarians and more “traditional” librarians, and look at who is allowed into each of those clubs. Look at our speaker lineups—just the other day, there was a library conference within driving distance that I wanted to buy a one-day pass for, but I noticed it had four prominent (read: paid) speaker spots, all taken by men. (One didn’t have a photo attached, so I can’t say for sure that it was all white men. Probably, though.) It also didn’t have a code of conduct/anti-harassment statement.

We are a profession numerically dominated by women, but largely run by men. The Ada Initiative wants to help.

And maybe all of this explanation of how the Ada Initiative is super relevant to us is unnecessary. We are doing really fantastically well at supporting the Ada Initiative, so far. I am so pleased with us! But I’d like to see us do even better. I’d like us to break $20,000.


Less library specific

I mentioned that AdaCamp changed my life, and then I linked to a post about inclusivity at conferences. That post isn’t the whole story.

I’m in a weird place, professionally, in that I still identify as a librarian and do really similar work to a bunch of my librarian colleagues (seriously, I’m writing code to deal with metadata and struggling with issues like authority control), but I no longer work in a library. Besides the two other (delightful!) librarians at my workplace (both male, for a fun statistical point), I don’t know any local librarians. I’m arguably more a part of the technology community, right now, than the librarian community. … I’ll leave off exploring my identity for some other post, but suffice it to say, I’m in this space between fields, and I need friends and role models in both.

I already have some great librarian friends and role models, all of them somewhere on the spectrum from “traditional” to “programmer-librarian who is not in a library anymore.” But because of AdaCamp, I now also have quite a few tech friends and role models (and a couple of new librarian ones, too :)), all of them closer to where I live on the gender spectrum than most of the people tech pays attention to. Some of them were role models before, but having met and conversed with them helped make them human to me—less idealized, with a lot more to them than you see in blogs and tweets—which, in turn, made them better role models.

In giving me role models who don’t look like the dominant narrative in tech and who care about inclusivity in tech, AdaCamp gave me something incredibly valuable. But AdaCamp went even further and helped me become friends with some of these amazing people.

I know a few studies have shown that maybe we don’t have to have role models who look like us, to succeed; but, speaking for myself, I find that it helps. I work in what tries to be a very inclusive workplace, but, currently, the people generally acknowledged as most senior/experienced at development are men.* (Edit: I thought it should go without saying, but maybe it doesn’t: I look up to these people very much.) Because of AdaCamp, I know female and genderqueer developers who are at least as qualified as my most qualified male colleagues (not to diminish anyone’s skills; these are all smart people I’m talking about), and I can remind myself that they exist and that I, too, can be an awesome developer. Bonus: sometimes I can even go ask them things, if I’m feeling too weird about gender to ask a male coworker, on any given day. AdaCamp has a mailing list, and I also added every AdaCamp attendee I could find to a private Twitter list, which I can go look at whenever I need to. (Right now, it’s just folks from Portland’s AdaCamp, but I think I’d like to expand it. @me if you want to be added to it.)

And I should say, some of these people were newer to tech, too, so not only do I have people to look up to; I have people going through what I’m going through, or something analogous. I can ask “Is this normal?” to other junior developers, or to others who have recently been junior.

Also, thanks to AdaCamp, I have been through impostor syndrome training, so I can recognize destructive thought patterns (often) and try to handle them better. It definitely gave me tools to help others who seem to be suffering from impostor syndrome to see their skills and their value to the team.

And that’s all just AdaCamp, right? But the Ada Initiative does so much more! I am hoping (once I’ve been there a little longer and have a little more social capital) to convince my bosses to bring the Ada Initiative in to run an Ally Skills Workshop, maybe for us or maybe for the larger Charlottesville tech community. I got to do a one-hour version of it at the LibTechGender preconference at Code4Lib, and Dale (my Mr.) did the whole thing in Portland; we both got a lot out of it! If you’ve glanced at my blog ever, you know how important codes of conduct are to me; the Ada Initiative has helped make codes of conduct/anti-harassment statements almost an expectation, nowadays, and that has made things measurably better for my friends and me.

So maybe you aren’t a librarian. Maybe you’re into tech. Maybe you’re one of my sciencey coworkers. :) I hope that you’ll still consider donating to the Ada Initiative. Here’s a link for you:


* This isn’t sexism; it’s accurate. We have talented female developers, but they/we haven’t been there as long. I desperately hope we will hire at least one woman for our Senior Developer opening(s), to help balance things out.

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  1. Thanks for pointing out that this is a library thing, not just a tech thing. Definitely true! :)

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