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Valerie Aurora has many achievements to her name. In a world where FOSS developers are overwhelmingly men, she has been a Linux kernel developer for the last 10 years. She's been a consultant, speaker, writer, founder of companies and advocated for women in open source.

Which means she has survived after reading the flame-infested Linux kernel mailing lists for that period - a tough task for even the hardiest.

The field in which Aurora (pic below) operates is an unfriendly one - the proportion of women in FOSS is abysmally low by any standards. And the FOSS community's attitudes towards women are not exactly welcoming.

At the recent Australian national Linux conference in Brisbane, which a much larger number of women than usual attended, keynote speaker Mark Pesce violated the conference anti-harassment policy by using sexual images in his talk; late last year, Apache employee Noirin Shirley was allegedly sexually assualted. These are but two of numerous incidents over the years.

Aurora has worked for big companies, including Red Hat, IBM and Sun Microsystems. But recently, she took a different path and decided to set up an initiative, along with Sydneysider Mary Gardiner, to help increase the number of women in open source.

Called the Ada Initiative after the first woman programmer/open source programmer, Aurora is hopeful that it will achieve what she has set out to do. She has set out a series of what she sees as realistic goals to make the situation at least a little better.
Valerie Aurora
She took some time out during a recent consulting job to speak to iTWire.

iTWire: What was the tipping point when the idea of starting this initiative crystallised in your mind? And why just the two of you - there are many more prominent women who are involved in FOSS?

Valerie Aurora: Mary and I have cared about women in open "stuff" for about a decade now, and always pushed the boundaries on what we could get done in purely volunteer time. More recently, kernel work started to bore me, and I've been actively plotting a change of career since fall of 2009.

The moment I personally decided to "go for it" was when I heard about the reaction to Noirin Shirley's blog post about being assaulted at ApacheCon. The reaction was world-wide and vituperative in a way that astonished me. But the worldwide nature of the attack on her made me realise that the open source community and the social web in general also had a worldwide reach for good.

We hope that the Ada Initiative will grow beyond the two of us. I reached out to multiple women with strong track records on activism, but Mary and I were the ones who had the combination of career flexibility and emotional energy to work on it right now. Many people assure us that we are being wildly optimistic in planning to employ two people full-time in an open technology non-profit. But we are in touch with and working with other top women's advocates and keeping an eye out for opportunities to work more closely with them.



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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.