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YAPC::NA 2012, and diversity in open-source communities

All this week, I’ve been attending YAPC::NA (Yet Another Perl Conference–North America). The Perl Foundation and other people and organizations that support the Perl programming language meet in North America, Europe, Russia, Brazil, and Eastern Asia regularly to help grow the Perl language and community.

The Perl language community is friendly, enthusiastic, quirky, and more fun than a collie pup! These folks are excited about what they do, making their programming language of choice do new stuff all the time. They encourage new contributions, either to the “core” code, or via plugin modules which are hosted at CPAN, a repository of packages to add to Perl’s capabilities that anyone can submit to.

Oh! You’re wondering what all this has to do with Koha, maybe…if you’re not a developer of Koha, you might not know that it’s written in Perl, and uses a LOT of the CPAN plugin modules. If you’d like to see a list, choose “More/About Koha”, and then click the “Perl Modules” tab. I have had the privilege of meeting the authors of a good number of the modules that Koha uses. I also got to meet Larry Wall, the original inventor of Perl, 25 years ago, who is still very active in the development of the core code.

One thing that the Koha community can be very proud of, that I’d like to tell you about. Our keynote session here talked about the problem of a lack of diversity in the Perl community–it is overwhelmingly male. There are other sorts of diversity, certainly, but our keynote used gender as an example. In commercial software development, there are about 28% women. In open-source communities, including Perl, the ratio is closer to 3-6%. We as a Perl community need to figure out how to attract–and keep as active members–women, and other populations that increase the diversity, since this brings a greater breadth of experience and creative thought to the table.

I delivered a lightning talk about the Koha community, and how, when we changed the release schedule and code management method in 2010, it not only served the immediate need of more-predictable, more-stable releases, but also increased the number of participants, including women. Our ratio is now on the order of 8%, and rising, with nearly half of the contributors to Koha coming aboard in the last two years. Additionally, some of the biggest leadership in the Koha community, both formal and informal, comes from women, and we as a group should be proud of these accomplishments. Indeed, one of the giants in the Perl world, Matt S Trout (mst), asked me after my talk if I would help him explore how our philosophy and methods can help scale out the organisation of the community around DBIx::Class, a very useful and important CPAN module.

The Perl developers that I have been with this week are all thrilled to hear about Koha’s success with Perl, and the Koha community as an open-source team. Many of them had never heard of Koha, but they have now!

[Originally posted by D. Ruth Bavousett]

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