NodeJS leadership is a toxic mess

How diversity measures are being used to excuse needless vitriol


In this article, I’m going to be calling out toxic behavior exhibited by certain high-profile members of the NodeJS community. As is the nature of such things, some people will use this as justification to harass them. I want to be clear: Under no circumstances should anyone respond in any sort of harassing or threatening manner to the people called out in this article (or anyone, really). My goal in writing this is to improve the tech community as a whole, for everyone — Not to incite anger and hate.

Also, since this article touches on issues of diversity in tech, I want to make clear that I absolutely support diversity initiatives. This article is specifically highlighting toxic behavior that is being excused and justified because it is, supposedly, done in the interest of diversity.

Inclusion by exclusion

“If you are not a white dude and have things to say about JavaScript testing, please submit a talk to [redacted]”

The above quote is from the NPM CEO, who, for context, is a white male who planned to speak at the conference he was promoting (the conference organizer reached out to tell me his talk was never formally accepted).

This is only a single example, but his twitter feed is filled with equally exclusive and adversarial messaging. His response to any criticism follows a general theme among prominent members of the NodeJS community wherein they hoist themselves into a position of moral authority by asserting that any criticism is a result of people simply not supporting diversity measures. For example:

“ You’re sarcastically whinging at a stranger because you fear losing your unearned privilege. I’m bored now.”

A discussion quickly followed on /r/node where people voiced displeasure at the messaging put forth. Among the responses were members of minority groups talking about how the CEO’s messaging made them uncomfortable and didn’t feel like it was helping their cause. In response, the NPM CEO dismissed the node subreddit entirely:

“/r/node is not part of the node community. It’s a place for GamerGate/KiA/TRP to launch attacks on the @nodejs community.”

It’s worth noting that, overwhelmingly, the discussions that took place on reddit were not anti-diversity, but rather criticizing this individual’s toxic behavior.

A pattern of behavior

“In fact, if you were a white dude and you wanted to talk at the conference, your chances were basically nil.”

This quote comes from a member of the Node foundation board of directors (who, for context, is also white). This quote in particular was among many that were part of a code-of-conduct report (detailed here) filed against the quoted individual. In response to the code-of-conduct report and ensuing discussion, another individual (and NPM employee) is on record as saying:

“reminder to reddit manbabies that they are kinda pathetic, irrelevant, boring, creepy nerds who’ll never amount to anything. The only thing they seem to know how to do is complain, masturbate about upvotes and karma, and be creepy stalkers when women are involved. Like holy shit, do these weirdos even realize what they’re doing? Y’all are literally the sketchy, sweaty nerds that make us wanna vomit. But keep doing what you’re doing, because I’d rather that y’all vomit-inducing rapey gross dweebs actually keep being open about who you are”

This resulted in another code-of-conduct report that was summarily dismissed as “random trolling not submitted in good faith.” It’s worth pointing out the following excerpt from the NodeJS code-of-conduct:

In the interest of fostering an open and welcoming environment, we as contributors and maintainers pledge to making participation in our project and our community a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of age, body size, disability, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, level of experience, nationality, personal appearance, race, religion, or sexual identity and orientation.

In the case of the NPM code-of-conduct, which contains similar language, there’s a clause stating “The definitions of various subjective terms such as ‘discriminatory’, ‘hateful’, or ‘confusing’ will be decided at the sole discretion of the npm abuse team.” In other words, there’s no objective means of enforcing the code-of-conduct, and if there were, many high-profile members of the Node community would be in violation of it based on any reasonable interpretation.

My personal take

A concerning aspect of the messaging put forth by high-profile members of the Node community is that it overwhelmingly comes from members of majority groups (white, often male). At best, it’s a highly misguided attempt to do the right thing. At worst, it’s exploiting a good cause for the purpose of self-promotion while actively hurting the case for diversity and inclusion.

Promoting diversity through exclusionary and adversarial messaging does not help to foster a safe, welcoming environment for underrepresented groups. Furthermore, I legitimately believe it will result in brain-drain from communities where this behavior is deemed acceptable — Not because white men will feel excluded, but because good people of all backgrounds will not want to be associated with the rhetoric put forth by community leaders.