Everything else was fun

Nearly everything about last week’s ApacheCon was great fun: spending time with old friends, talking with new Apache folk, meeting a number of members in person for the first time, and especially having meals out with people. The technical content was great as well; people were excited about a number of projects, and we had a good array of other events that week.

Just one thing turned out to be “A hell of a time” in a bad way near the end of the conference – when one member, Noirin, of the Apache community was sexually assaulted that evening. Like a few other people, my first reaction was incredulity – not at all in the fact that I didn’t believe her (I do), but more to the point: I couldn’t believe someone in our community could do something like that.

In any case, within a few hours of her posting, there were dozens of comments and hundreds of tweets about it; by now there have been several online news articles about it as well as plenty of blogs – as well as tweets in a fairly wide variety of languages.

Among all the commentary are plenty of messages of support in various ways, which are great. There are also a fair number of uncomplimentary messages about the story or about Noirin, which I won’t bother to mention here. Several other Apache members are Disappointed, Angry, and Appalled, and those are just the ones who’ve had time to post publicly so far. But the set of messages that kind of puzzle me are the ones that call her honesty into question.

I suppose I’m biased in this case, since I happen to know Noirin and consider her a friend. Although I wasn’t at the pub that night, I did spend many hours last week helping to run ApacheCon alongside her, and also spent several hours the next night suggesting fixes for her her overloaded server once the deluge began after her blog was linked all over.

I suppose it’s true that the vast majority of the internet doesn’t know Noirin, and probably hasn’t even heard of her before. And I’m sure even fewer people have heard of me. That’s fine. But have people who are doubting her story actually seen who Noirin is? When you see what she’s done, did you think it through?

Along with her technical merits and many other conference speaking engagements, Noirin is both a Director of the ASF, is Apache’s Executive Vice President, and is the VP of the ApacheCon Conferences Committee. She was elected by a vote within the very selective communities that make up the organizational side of the ASF. Apache is about Community over Code, among other things, so successfully becoming a Director or EVP or VP is not just about technical merit, it’s also about social and community merit.

Let’s put it another way. I’d bet about half of the servers in the world run some sort of Apache software. Browsed the web lately? It’s a 50/50 chance the server was running httpd. Use any Java software? You’re almost certainly using a handful of Apache XML projects among others. Use Google or Yahoo! much? Then you’re certainly using Apache projects under the covers.

Many of the core people who’ve been writing Apache software over the last decade – and who are the Members who run the non-profit Foundation behind it – are the ones who elected Noirin as one of our Directors, and allowed her to become our EVP. And as VP, Conferences, she’s also responsible for organizing ApacheCon itself – a major public face of Apache to it’s users.

So you may not know Noirin, and you probably don’t know me. But if you’re in the software business, you’re most likely connected to one of the 300 or so Members of the ASF somehow. And we do know Noirin, and we trusted her enough to make her one of the 9 Directors on our Board.

So argue about the details or the naming or whatever else people on the internet will always argue about. But realize that if you’re seriously calling her integrity into question, then… well, all I can say is there’s a fair number of alpha geeks around the world who will simply pipe you to /dev/null.

5 thoughts on “Everything else was fun

  1. Shane, it doesn’t matter who she is. It doesn’t matter what her accomplishments are. It matters that in some quarters, when a woman is assaulted she is automatically assumed to be untruthful or “asking for it” or some other thing. Your post, while true and heartfelt and loyal to your friend and colleague, leaves open the inference that it is right (or at least okay) to automatically question the veracity of someone who isn’t as accomplished or “vouched for” by a particular group.

    Heartbreakingly, this sort of thinking is also implicit in her own post: “I had a few drinks. I was wearing a skirt of such a length that I had cycling shorts on under it to make me feel more comfortable getting up on stage and dancing. I had been flirting with a couple of other boys at the party.”

    She was assaulted, so she automatically notes her own behavior and her clothing, implying that she might have been at fault because some jerk grabbed and mauled her. Ouch.

    I’m so sorry this happened. And I’m glad she seems to have such a solid group of colleagues and friends, and I am damn sure you didn’t mean the reverse implication in your post, but it’s so common and so toxic… I just had to say… something.

    • OK, phew, I was really stressed today after very briefly reading your comment, until I saw the “…I am damn sure…” part of your message. As, of course, you’re right, and I hope that you understand that the explanation for me writing something that leads to such inferences is merely because of 1) my gender, and 2) my lack of direct experience with the subject at hand. (Yes, I’m aware I’ve had a somewhat sheltered life!)

      I guess I was simply acknowledging the number of blog posts and comments on her blog that were directly questioning her; they’re already out there, I was just trying to address the more open minded people who had already written that kind of comment.

      Plus, several other well respected Apache members already addressed most of the emotional responses to the issue. I usually avoid emotional scenes on my blog anyway, and I wanted to say something different that hadn’t been addressed – at least not yet in the circle of blogs that I regularly read. Thus, I settled on the “if you’re a geek you should know who she is” aspect of it all. I think in part it doesn’t come across since the Apache community’s trust levels probably aren’t well understood outside of our circles. And part of it was my personal umbrage – both those who doubt her on the whole gender/behavior issue, but almost more to the point that those who doubt her are doubting me and a whole bunch of my good friends and colleagues.

      If you want to take a hand at some edits to my original post to keep my main message but to make it less implicate-y, I’ll certainly consider updating them into my original post.

      • Hi Shane –

        I don’t know that I have any more insight than anyone else on the issue of implicate-y. I’m happy to chat about this sort of issue because I (like most females in our culture) have had some experience with this sort of behavior – everything from random encounters which went from “normal” to “totally fucking creepy” in less than five minutes all the way up to “Yes, I threw a drink in a guy’s face in a British pub where I had many friends and was labeled as a psycho for that even though it was in response to having my crotch grabbed – oh, and the guy in question was ‘just Mickey – he’s like that’.”

        I guess all you have to do to check your own post is to say, “Imagine I was reading about this experience and I didn’t know the woman” then imagine “Imagine I did.”

        The space in between is where most women live – well, actually, all of us. Some of us have networks of friends and subcultures who implicitly vouch for us. Others don’t. And none of us live within those subcultures all of the time. But we all have a whole huge whackload of people who think that false accusations of sexual assault are more common than honest ones and that a woman who is assaulted must be “asking for it,” because it’s a hell of a lot easier to say “here’s how you could have kept yourself safe” than “that person is a criminal and we as a society must stop this behavior.” Hence Noirin’s almost automatic rundown of “Here is what I was wearing.” Hell, she could have been wearing a burka. It still might have happened. It’s magical thinking to believe you can stop assault by the long (and contradictory) list of items the world would have females adhere to in order to keep “safe.”

        What it boils down to is a basic mentality of: does someone else get to decide (based on an arbitrary set of rules) what you have pre-cleared as acceptable sexual contact? If so, then if my skirt is 1″ too short (based on some random stranger’s rules), then it’s okay to force an unwanted advance on me.

        Surprise, surprise: this is unacceptable to me. And probably to Noirin (though I won’t speak for her). So, if you want advice re: the implicate-y (which I said I wouldn’t give and now… well, guess I am) is to ask you to question how you would feel if you went to a police station and made a report about an unspecified crime and weren’t taken seriously until some of the Apache group vouched for you. What if even then the police thought that because you had… some unspecified attribute… that you were “asking for it” (even though that aspect was something that would be REALLY HARD to change or hide – like your gender – even if you wanted to, which you don’t?).

        How helpless would you feel?

        How right would that be?

  2. Good grief. Noirin might be a wonderful girl (or not, never met her) but don’t you think it would be better if perhaps the authorities handled this before you pass verdict?

    The thing about laws and justice isn’t really about how well you like someone (sorry to patronize so much here, but your argument that people shouldn’t be listened to about an alleged sexual assault because you personally like the accused is infantile)

    By all means offer her support, but I find this ugly mob justice to be just a bad reflection on the Apache Community as the *alleged* incident itself.

    Seriously, the way you’re all in-line to go buy rope and find a tree is something more telling than anything else. Very sad indeed.

    • So color me not in for the trial – indeed, that’s for the courts (if it were ever to go there). Hence I didn’t supply any details, nor will I blog about the accused individual’s name in question. That’s happened elsewhere, primarily in random news postings, comments and tweets, and there’s not much I can do about that.

      But, barring her saying something different or some eyewitnesses coming forward with specific new evidence, I believe her. That doesn’t mean someone else is a criminal, but it does mean that I believe it happened, and also that I wouldn’t plan to vote for the other individual to join the Apache communities that I have merit within. And any conceptual leaps you’re making about a rope and a tree are purely ones you put in there; that’s nearly as disturbing as what actually happened. Don’t assign the words or actions of others to me.

      (Not quite sure where you’re going with the parenthetical patronizing; but while I do like Noirin, that’s not really pertinent here. I trust Noirin independently of liking her because of how I’ve seen her behave over the past several years in a variety of situations, as well as because a whole bunch of people I trust also trust her. Heck, there are a number of other well-respected members of the Apache community who I definitely don’t like, but I would also trust.)

      But hey – new reader for my blog! Yay! 8-)

What do you think?