The Empress Has No Clothes: The Dark Underbelly of Women Who Code and Google Women Techmakers
In a letter from 1796, George Washington, First President of the United States, stated that “to speak evil of any one, unless there is unequivocal proofs of their deserving it, is an injury for which there is no adequate reparation.”
I often reflect on these words, because for months, I’ve been the target of a malicious smear campaign, and while I doubt that there would ever be adequate reparation for the amount of damage that the defamation of my character has caused, I’ve finally decided to share my story publicly.
It’s a story about being punished for wrong-think by a group of women in technology, who, ironically, consider themselves the victims of an unfair patriarchal system designed to suppress female voices.
To be clear, right from the start: I never actually did anything wrong. I didn’t egregiously violate any codes of conduct. (Quite frankly, even if I had, I have no idea how, why, or when it might have happened, since my “accusers” refuse to tell me.) My only “crime” is being an outspoken, albeit moderate, conservative who doesn’t prescribe to the radical feminist narrative of many women in STEM groups. I’ve questioned some of their talking points and, at times, I’ve vehemently disagreed with some of their views, but I nonetheless support their mission of supporting and advocating for women in technology.
By telling the story of how I got mercilessly smeared and ostracized by the leadership and members of two prominent women in tech groups, Women Who Code and Google’s Women Techmakers, my hope is to encourage other people to speak up and to fight back if they’re the victims of bullying. It’s important to recognize that women can, and do, bully each other, and in the tech industry, it is unfortunately a problem that is all too often ignored and even denied, because other factors like racial bias, sexism, and even sexual harassment are typically blamed for an unfavorable attrition rate of women in tech.
Let me start with a bit of background.
I am a senior software engineer and the co-founder of Polyglot Programming, an Atlanta-based software engineering consultancy. For years, my business partner and I have been active in the technology industry, both in our local community and beyond. We’ve organized meetups and conferences, volunteered our time to mentor developers, including children, women, and people from underrepresented minority groups, and we’ve sponsored other groups that do the same.
In January 2016, we both joined the Atlanta Google Developer Group, the local chapter of Google’s international Google Developer Group (“GDG”) program. The GDG organizes meetings, speakers, and events for developers who are interested in Google’s products and frameworks. At Polyglot Programming, one of our specialties is software development for Google platforms, so a relationship with the GDG and Google are important to our promotional and marketing efforts. In April 2016, my partner Lance Gleason became an official co-organizer of the Atlanta GDG, along with Maggie Kane and Nathan Burnham.
In July 2016, I met Alicia Carr, a director of the Atlanta chapter of Women Who Code at their local hackathon. Women Who Code is a global nonprofit organization with over 100,000 members. Their stated mission is “to inspire women to excel in technology careers,” and they seek to advance their vision of “a world where women are proportionally represented” in technical and leadership positions. Alicia asked me to volunteer my time and expertise to mentor junior developers at their hackathon. She also invited me to participate in a panel discussion on mobile development at ConnectTech in October 2016.
Unfortunately, during the Women Who Code hackathon, it became clear to me that this event focused on marketing strategies, creativity, and the discussion of gender politics, and not on the development of technical skills. At the group presentations and award ceremony, I observed that my group of mentees were being discouraged from discussing any of the technical details of the fully-functional application they had developed in less than two days, and I expressed my frustration about it on Twitter, stating that “when you’re a mentor and your mentees don’t get the recognition they deserve, you go to bat.”
In August 2016, Alicia reached out me via email and private Slack messages. She proposed forming a class for female coders who were interested in learning iOS development and asked me to tutor these students. I told her that I’d be glad to teach if the class also included males. She refused, stating that “I need everybody and anybody to help my Women and I’m sorry there is a gender issues [sic] but right now it [sic] about my ladies.” We were unable to reach an agreement, so I declined.
In September 2016, I again crossed paths with Alicia at a monthly meeting of the Atlanta iOS Developers group. She was extremely irate over my Twitter comment and my refusal to teach women-only classes. She became loud and disruptive during the meeting and the event’s organizer had to intervene repeatedly.
Despite her hostility, I still wanted to participate in Alicia’s ConnectTech panel discussion. I spent weeks preparing to represent iOS developers and the “Apple way” of doing things. Alicia was, however, completely unprepared to moderate and many of the attendees were visibly disappointed. Shortly after the session, Alicia posted disparaging remarks about me on Twitter, implying that she had to “carry the iOS side” and that I failed to contribute anything to the panel discussion.
Following this incident, I had limited interaction with other women in technology groups in Atlanta until January 2017, when I decided to volunteer as a mentor for a RailsGirls and RailsBridge workshop. Within hours of signing up, both organizations banned me from their groups and events. They even enlisted the help of two young white male developers to replace me as a mentor. Although the organizers of both groups declined to provide me with a formal explanation and refused to explain why or how I had allegedly violated their codes of conduct, I later learned that they strongly objected to my conservative political views. In addition, they were also friends of Alicia.
In July 2017, Maggie Kane began to organize an Atlanta chapter of Google Women Techmakers, a subgroup of the GDG that seeks to provide visibility, community, and resources for women in technology. I agreed to assist her and the Atlanta GDG with organizing a DevFest in November 2017. I searched for a venue, identified possible dates for the event, and contacted potential speakers.
In early August 2017, a seismic event shook the technology industry when Google came under intense public scrutiny for firing my friend, James Damore, after his controversial memo discussing Google’s diversity policies was leaked to, and then published by, the media outlet Gizmodo. I publicly supported James, and my tweets about him were widely shared on social media. As a result, Maggie, Alicia, and other directors of GDG and various satellite groups became aware of my friendship with, and support of, James.
In mid-September 2017, Maggie contacted me and told me that Alicia, acting on behalf of Women Who Code, had sent her an email to lodge a written complaint against me and Polyglot Programming. She stated that Women Who Code refused to work with the Atlanta GDG, or attend or sponsor any of the group’s events because of my involvement. Then she added that Alicia had accused me of harassing and doxxing Women Who Code members by contacting their employers to get them fired.
I was absolutely dumbfounded by these ludicrous allegations. It made no sense — I’ve had almost no interaction with Women Who Code’s members beyond my exchanges with Alicia Carr. It’s simply not in my nature to harass anyone and I’ve always been strongly opposed to retaliatory actions like doxxing and no-platforming.
Maggie informed me that she had forwarded Alicia’s statements to Google and that she had also filed a written complaint with Google because I had “violated the codes of conduct”. She even felt that it might be best if I stopped attending any GDG and Google Women Techmakers events, because members might be “triggered” by my presence. I was very upset and repeatedly asked Maggie why she would elevate such a serious complaint to Google without any evidence whatsoever to corroborate the allegations. I also asked her outright if it meant that I had been banned from attending any GDG or Google Women Techmakers events. “No,” she said.
On September 27, 2017, I decided to attend the Atlanta Google Women Techmakers’ event “Idea Jam Session,” which was hosted at TechSquare Labs in Atlanta. At that time, I was still an active member of Women Who Code, the Atlanta GDG, and Google Women Techmakers and, perhaps naively, I just assumed that I had every right to attend the event like any other member of the group because I had not been banned.
Upon arriving at the event, Maggie immediately asked me to leave the room. At the door, she informed me that she would be extremely uncomfortable if I remained a member of the community because some of the views that I had expressed on Twitter are “very harmful to gender equality”. She then asked Daniel Sabeo, the event coordinator at TechSquare Labs, to escort me from the facility. I was deeply upset at being publicly humiliated, but left willingly without causing any disruption.
Two days later, I got an email from TechSquare Labs. Daniel had discussed the incident with Allen Nance, Paul Judge, and Rodney Sampson, the owners of the facility, and he informed me that they had collectively decided to ban me and my company from using their venue or attending any of their events because they were concerned about the “safety” of their members. I later learned from a fellow developer that Maggie had, in fact, told various people that I’d been stalking her. She also recruited a young white male developer, David Hope, to replace my partner Lance as GDG organizer and invited David to act as her co-organizer for Google Women Techmakers.
The following week, Martin Omander, GDG program manager for North America, formally banned me from the Google Developer Group and Google Women Techmakers and, again, declined to provide me with any details of the complaints against me or the rules that I’d allegedly violated.
Google’s ban was, in the way, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
I realized that Alicia Carr and Maggie Kane, both individually and in their capacity as group leaders of Women Who Code and Google Women Techmakers, were determined to ostracize me from the tech industry and ruin the business that I’ve painstakingly built — simply because they object to my political ideologies. And, while I am a staunch supporter of freedom of speech, there’s a world of difference between exercising the right to free speech and making defamatory statements with the intent to cause irreparable harm to someone’s personal and professional reputation.
So, I decided that it was time to fight back. I retained renowned civil rights lawyer and GOP official Harmeet Dhillon, who sent a cease and desist letter to Women Who Code, Alicia Carr, Maggie Kane, and Google. In the letter, we demanded a full retraction of the defamatory statements about me. I also requested to have my GDG and Google Women Techmakers memberships reinstated, because I’d been unfairly banned based on false allegations and not on any actual code of conduct violations.
The named parties simply ignored our letter. Maggie continued the smear campaign and even convinced another local organization, a maker space called Freeside, to ban me from their facility and participating in their events.
This is ultimately why I decided to file a lawsuit for defamation of character and tortious interference with business.
I want Alicia, Maggie, Women Who Code, and Google Women Techmakers to know that it’s okay to respectfully disagree with others. It’s also perfectly okay for privately-held groups to remove certain members from their organizations. It is, however, not okay to spread defamatory and malicious lies about people, and it’s never okay to falsely accuse someone of committing a crime. In short, I want the truth revealed, because, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “truth is generally the best vindication of slander.”
When rational and mature people feel upset about something, they often get angry, but only toxic and vindictive people use lies, false accusations, and exaggerations to destroy someone else’s credibility. From their actions, it’s clear that Alicia, Maggie, Women Who Code, and Google don’t believe that people should have the right to freely express ideological dissent, and therefore they set out to punish me for my views, without regard for my rights or for consequences. To them, I was guilty of a terrible moral offense, so they wanted everyone else to be “careful” of me and stand up against my “harmful” thoughts.
It’s a shame that Women Who Code and Google Women Techmakers put on such a good face by feigning kindness and respect for all women in tech. They’ve carefully crafted a wholesome image of being welcoming to all women and supportive of the needs of anyone in the tech industry who identifies as female.
Unfortunately, this is not true. To me, it seems obvious that Women Who Code and Google Women Techmakers don’t really care about all women and, frankly, they don’t seem to care that much about tech either. Instead, they focus on divisive identity politics, and they expect their members to remain submissive inside the echo chamber if they wish to be accepted.
I suspect that Alicia, Maggie, Women Who Code, and Google truly believe their own lies about me and they most likely think that ostracizing me was the “right” thing to do, but they’re wrong.
What they did was abusive, unreasonable, and unacceptable, and it’s time to hold them accountable for their actions.