'Sexist joke' web developer whistle-blower fired

By Zoe Kleinman
Technology reporter, BBC News

image captionAdria Richards said she acted to protect future female developers

A woman who was offended by an exchange between two men at the US PyCon developer conference and tweeted their photo has been fired.

Adria Richards was near two delegates who joked about "big dongles" and used a technical term - forking repos - in what she felt was a sexual way.

She complained to the conference organisers and one of the men was fired by his company, a sponsor of the event.

Ms Richards has since faced a barrage of online abuse for her actions.

She has received death threats and her website was attacked by hacking collective Anonymous.

Ms Richards, a former "development evangelist" at SendGrid, has also now lost her job.

'Crossed the line'

"A SendGrid developer evangelist's responsibility is to build and strengthen our developer community across the globe," wrote SendGrid chief executive Jim Franklin in a blog post.

"In light of the events over the last 48+ hours, it has become obvious that (Adria's) actions have strongly divided the same community she was supposed to unite. As a result, she can no longer be effective in her role at SendGrid.

"Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line."

Ms Richards claims she decided to take action after seeing pictures of young female coders displayed at the conference and felt they would be put off joining the industry if such behaviour continued.

"Women in technology need consistent messaging from birth through retirement they are welcome, competent and valued in the industry," she wrote on her blog.

"Everyone must take personal accountability and speak up when they hear something that isn't OK. It takes three words to make a difference: 'That's not cool'."


"Forking a repo" is a term used by developers to mean using somebody else's project as a starting point for your own.

Ms Richards also pointed out that PyCon's own code of conduct states that "sexist, racist, or exclusionary jokes are not appropriate for PyCon".

The man who was fired worked at PlayHaven. Its chief executive Andy Yang wrote in a blog post that a "thorough investigation" had been carried out before the decision was made to terminate his employment.

Someone claiming to be the man in question apologised in online forum Hacker News for any offence caused but denied saying anything inappropriate about "forking".

"While I did make a big dongle joke about a fictional piece of hardware that identified as male, no sexual jokes were made about forking," he wrote.

"My friends and I had decided forking someone's repo is a new form of flattery (the highest form being implementation) and we were excited about one of the presenter's projects; a friend said 'I would fork that guys repo'.

"The sexual context was applied by Adria, and not us.

"Let this serve as a message to everyone, our actions and words, big or small, can have a serious impact," he added, also saying that he has now lost the job he liked and has three children to support.


Ms Richards has received criticism from both men and women about her actions.

"What you did reflects poorly on all of us women, but even worse on humankind," wrote Malia Stubben on Adria Richards' blog.

"How can you be so offensive in the name of equality? I thought programmers were logical," wrote Joshua Jones.

Others have been supportive.

"They didn't lose their jobs because of Adria Richards, they lost their jobs because of unprofessional actions reflecting badly on their employers," wrote Jake.

"You inspire me to speak out against inappropriate behaviour in the moment," wrote Jessica Keyes.

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