I think I finally got Code of Conducts
A pretty crazy week at DjangoCon Europe in Budapest.
Admittedly, I used to be on the fence about Code of Conducts for a long time. I saw what an effect they had on reaching underrepresented parts of our community, but I did not quite understand why they were necessary. Are we not all just decent human beings, my thinking went. Why do we need an explicit set of rules that spell out how we should behave, if that enforced behavior is nothing more than basic human decency?
Well, I was dead wrong.
Let me step back a bit. I went to my first DjangoCon (and my first conference of any kind) in 2012, in my at-the-time home town, Zurich. By then, the tech community — for the most part — finally realized that we have a huge problem with diversity (mostly thanks to countless brave reports of women that had bad-to-horrible experiences in the tech world). The organizers of DjangoCon Europe 2012 (which I am privileged to call my friends) did a great job to create a safe and welcoming space for everybody. For a tech conference in 2012, and with respect to gender diversity, we had lots of women attending, and some women speaking and keynoting.
There wasn’t a formal Code of Conduct though. In 2012, they just were not on the radar in our community just yet. As far as I know, no “major incident” (for whatever that means in this context) was reported to the organizers, but if there was, there would not have been a formal and published process to handle them.
Then PyCon 2013 happened. The less that is said about the unfortunate chain of events that transpired during and after the conference the better, but I think it had one long-lasting effect on our community: we recognized not just the need for a Code of Conduct — PyCon 2013 had one — but the need to vigilantly remind attendees of its existence.
Since then, virtually all Python and Django conferences adapted a Code of Conduct, made attendees accept it when signing up, and made the text available online and in the conference booklet. Personally, I accepted them as a fact of conference life, made sure not to use any sexualized language, and moved on. But as a white male, early 30ies, financially comfortable, no disabilities to speak of, it felt like I was not really benefiting of them.
Well, I was dead wrong. Again.
So, I am an introvert. Comically so. I do not talk much when among strangers. I don’t have many friends. I dread going to social events (even though if I can get myself to go, I often enjoy myself, irrational little ape that I am). There are much, much worse fates in life than this minor inconvenience, but it is fair to say that it affected mine in many ways.
The safe environment at DjangoCon 2016 in Budapest made that all go away, if only for a week.
And it was awesome. I had countless interesting and intense conversations. I even caught myself starting conversations with new people. I went to all the social events around the conference, and had a great time at each and every one of them. I did not quite make it to the dance floor at one of the parties (baby steps…), but I am sure if I did, I would have been welcomed and not made fun of for my incompetence in the art of moving body parts to music.
Most importantly, I made a lot of new friends that I can’t wait to meet again.
Sitting on the flight back to Copenhagen, I started to search for reasons that could explain this unexpected change.
It is the Code of Conduct.
Or rather, the environment that the Code of Conduct enables. I am still convinced that, when it comes down to it, we all are decent human beings that just try to deal with this mess that is life. The Code of Conduct is not the reason that we want to be decent and helpful to each other. The Code of Conduct is what allows us to strip off this protective shell of emotional distance, and show our decent, helpful and open nature, without having to fear being made fun of, or being excluded.
This experience finally convinced me. Code of Conducts are rad and probably the best thing to happen to our community since Stroopwafels*. I regret for me personally that it only clicked when I benefited from one myself. I will try to be more emphatic when it comes to such issues in the future.
I will remember these five days among 300 friends in sunny Budapest. Thanks to each and everyone of you for sharing this experience, and a very special thanks to all the organizers for creating the environment that allowed it.
* in light of this newfound confidence of sharing without fear of being judged, I have to admit: I don’t particularly like Stroopwafels. I’m sorry. Code of Conduct on the other hand: 👍