My thoughts on "The... Community"

published at 27.10.2020 19:11 by Jens Weller

At the beginning of October JeanHeyd Meneide (aka ThePHD) published a video about his negative experiences in the C++ community and some general data on diversity in tech. As I said on a recent CppCast, I'd like to offer my own thoughts on these issues.

First I want to thank ThePHD for speaking out and putting in the effort required to do the research for this video. I'd also like to say that ThePHD is not alone with this, I've seen and heard from similar through other folks within my years working with the C++ community through Meeting C++ and before. Some left the community, some are still part of it in one way or another. Also its not a unique problem to our community, though its interesting to see how other communities are dealing with it.

Before I get into the actual content of this post, let me also quickly state for transparency: While he mentions on the beginning of the video reaching out to various folks in the community, that did not include Meeting C++. And thats ok! I could have contributed some data*, and likely would have pointed out that Basit Ayantunde spoke a the first Meeting C++ online conference in September. I'm not sure if I would have spoken about Gabriel Dos Reis Keynote, as this was for most of September in flight. Also I think that this would not change much, his points are still valid when you count this in.

On the data*: As a german I'm uncomfortable to have detailed tracking on this, so I don't have it. But when I started looking into diversity, I was also looking for something that is easy to track, and also could be applied to the Meeting C++ conferences of the past. So I count the firstnames that could be a womans name. Its ok to be off by one or two, I'm interested in the trends. And this data shows that more women have come to the conference over time. From 4% to 8% roughly. But much more important then the data is the question what can we do?

Contribute to a welcoming C++ community

The C++ Community it self is a meta community, existing of many places where folks meet to exchange on C++. And everyone in the communtiy can contribute that these places are welcoming to everyone. A step further would be to become part of the group that manages the space, e.g. join the organizers and become a moderator. Though the rules and ways to become a moderator are different in many communities, but even without these rights and powers you can contribute to making the C++ community a welcoming place.

And Code of Conducts can be a part of this. Not every community has one, and its usually up to the organizers to make that call. To me a CoC is a simple set of rules, a community guideline, that applies equally to everyone. It should cover whats ok, and whats not. For Meeting C++ I see it as the Bill of rights for any attendee. It applies equally to Speakers, Sponsors, Attendees and my self. Its handled by a team, not my self. In that way as an organizer I have something to point to, and not make up rules on the fly for what every situation needs handling. A side effect of this is that this is also visible to the outside world, that this community has thought about how to deal with this.

Also let me point out that everyone in our community has one thing in common: they love technical content and have an interest in C++. This is something that connects us all. Something else that also connects us all is being treated with respect and seriousness. And as all of our communities are in a certain way a reflection of society, also the problems of society will keep "leaking" into our communities. Its not the messengers fault that these things exist, so please don't put the blame on them.

Communities are thriving on volunteers, so if you'd like to make a contribution in this field to the C++ community, reach out to the organizers of this part and you likely will receive the necessary support.

What communities can do about representation

As a community we should have an interest in a wide spread of contributions from everyone we can reach. This is true for any community, so this part is now more about communities, with the details on the C++ community. I already mentioned that C++ is a meta community, consisting of many independent communities. Some on the internet, others are User Groups. Most of us are part of several. Naturally our activity in each of them changes over time, and each of them does compete for new contributions and contributors. Some are more active in this, and others simply are happy with those that come on their own. Communities that are active, welcoming and friendly will attract more contributions, and when folks feel welcome and respected, also likely become more diverse.

So lets talk about representation in speakers at conferences. As this is a concrete example. A community can offer various roles to become active in, and in a perfect world offers help in getting there. One of these roles in speaking. Meeting C++ has had for some years a track for new speakers, to help folks get started. Maybe #include or other communities could provide some materials on how to get started, which programs to use for slides and how to make code look good at slides. I've provided some of this for Meeting C++ too.

But then there is also the chicken and egg problem kind of, as its hard to be the first/only or one of the few speakers. I think that every community can offer role models, and that they naturally will be there. They exist, one just has to look for them and give them a chance. There are different reasons why folks give talks. For some its part of their job, for others its a one off. Some speak about the projects they are involved with, others use talks to push themselves to learn something new. Groups with large representation can naturally fill most or all these different motivations to speak with one or many speakers. Still, only a small percentage of this group will ever submit a talk. Smaller groups will only be able to fill a few of these, and have to compete with the speakers of other groups. The C++ community should have enough space and an interest in enabling more speakers to speak. 2020 gives a new opportunity with online speaking, as not everyone can just travel to a conference.

The other problem for smaller groups is that not all of the existing speakers will be able to contribute a talk every year, and I've seen folks burn out in our community also through peer pressure to speak or be present at conferences.

Looking at how things were when Meeting C++ started, and how things are today, we're improving in the overall community in regards of representation and visability of possible role models. Though this is much more true for Europe then the US, especially if you look at representation. For People of color I'd like to point to, maybe CppCon or could reach out.

Though for 2020, I also want to acknoledge, that lots of underrepresented folks have other things to do then submitting talks for conferences. There is lots of things to worry in this year, and as a result of that, submissions to conferences are a lot less then they usually were. But thats also a chance, for next year your talk idea might have a better chance to be accepted, as I think that still we will not reach pre-crisis levels of submissions.


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