Responsibility of Setting Culture Norm

One of the most memorable lines from the 2002 movie “Spider-man” is Uncle Ben’s dying words: “With great power, comes great responsibility”. It is a cheesy line. But it reflects an essential truth: people who have power establish the rule and set the norm for everyone else. That should be a responsibility people in power realize and take seriously and thoughtfully. However, in reality and in open source community is not necessarily the case.

In the New Yorker article, the two founders, Linus Torvalds and Guido van Rossum, demonstrate the impact of their actions, for good and bad. For Linux community, Linus Torvalds’s verbal abusive communication norm becomes the standard for everyone else. It gives other “elite” Linux programmers the permission to indulge in their own self-importance. They use Linus’s standard to propagate more verbal abuses to others. And Guido van Rossum uses his influence and power to welcome others into the Python community. In interviews, he points out the importance of culture: “a project attracts people who fit in the culture”. He is aware how much his attitude matters, by saying if he uses abusive language “it will attract people who either share that attitude, or at least don’t see a problem with it.” Guido direct his influence to recruit under represented population into the community. Because all of his effort, python community has increased its number of female core developers and has 30% female conference participant.

To reinforce the culture norm in open source community, Code of Conduct comes into the picture. However, as Emma’s article indicates majority of the code of conduct for open source projects are not believed to be enforced. Again, this points back to the importance of the norm that is established by the person/people in charge. If they do not take an issue seriously, it will be ignored, like Linux’s “Code of Conflict”. No developers have been disciplined since it is existence, despite Linux’s abusive environment

People in the open source community need to realize the significant difference in influence for the person/people in charge. And therefore need to make them hold their actions accountable. More importantly, it is about having more under-represented population get into the position of power and change the culture within. To get there, we need more mentorship and community outreach. #ethicalCS and #CSforAll is a great way to encourage more under-represented kids to get into the subject. We need to get more diversity into the community.

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