Codes of Conduct

Why my opinion about this doesn’t really matter.

Node’s community began with a handful of people who happened to be pretty nice and accepting. As the community grew Isaac and I would regularly talk about how we could keep it nice and avoid the kind of culture that seemed to be destroying the Rails community.

For as long as I can remember the community consistently adopted a “no assholes” policy. This wasn’t just about policing bad behavior but about staying positive and being the kind of place that doesn’t attract people who would want to treat each other poorly. When people considered leaders are fostering hostile environments by attacking competing projects or publicly offending contributors they attract people like them who have no problem accepting of poisonous behavior. We didn’t want that kind of community so we worked actively to be very un-accepting of people who behaved poorly.

We also knew that the key to growing was to distribute as much responsibility as possible. As the first project lead Ryan created a culture that distributed responsibility across the community rather than centralizing it around himself. Whenever people in the community stepped up to tackle a problem they were encouraged and supported and given ownership.

The earliest scaling issues we had in the community were on IRC. Newcomers asking questions tracked with Node’s growth so Isaac started giving people admin rights who were answering questions and reporting bad behavior. Eventually he documented this policy, and while it lives on his blog rather than in an “official” project page it stands as the definitive and enforced Code of Conduct for pretty much all Node related forums.

This was the foundation, the stuff that privileged people in leadership did to create a safe and welcoming environment, it was the beginning.

When conferences first started to adopt Codes of Conduct I resisted for NodeConf. We had a welcoming culture, I was comfortable kicking people out for inappropriate behavior, and my fear was that new comers would see the Code of Conduct as being about the conference rather than the entire community. I had this fear that we could lose what we had if people associated it with an event rather than the culture.

Once a few events had accepted Codes of Conduct I started asking people new in the community, particularly women, how they felt about them. What they said, fairly unanimously, was that the Code of Conduct made them feel a lot better, and safer, about attending their first conference and joining the community. Of course I adopted a CoC after this, not just because they change how I felt about CoC’s, but because my opinion didn’t ever really matter. I’m a white guy, I don’t get to decide what makes non-white non-male people feel safe and accepted. This is even more important to remember during enforcement of the CoC where the goal must be to make those affected by harassment feel safe again.

Once you have an accepting culture you need to find a good way to message that culture to newcomers. While I was in fear of losing our accepting culture in those who had already accepted it I was ignoring the much larger number of people who weren’t already a part of the culture and would be joining as Node grew.

Today, women make up a significant enough portion of Node’s leadership that they can push the culture in a progressive direction. These women have been instrumental in creating and growing the Node community. Nothing is perfect, Node isn’t a utopia of acceptance, but I do think we’re farther along than other open source communities.

I would love to call out these wonderful people and their accomplishments but the harsh reality is that doing this puts them in danger. This article will reach past our community and all it takes is one asshole on Twitter to link to it with some misogynist hashtag and they will receive a predictable number of death threats.

What I will say is that over the last few years the women of Node have been an inspiration. So much so that lately I’ve been moving myself in to a supportive role, creating spaces and mentorship for others rather than taking on everything myself. JSFest Oakland will be the most diverse and inviting event I’ve ever run and I deserve none of the credit.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done but I also understand that the real work has just begun and my contribution to it far less important than others. My opinions don’t really matter, the only job left for me to do is listen to these amazing people and offer whatever support I can.