Wednesday, 09 January 2013 10:30

LCA's media handler is also an enforcer


A few years ago, driven by the number of incidents at conferences that were offensive to women, the Australian national Linux conference adopted a code of conduct,

This year, the LCA, scheduled to be held from January 28 to February 2, has gone one step further and appointed an enforcer as well. The first person to assume the mantle of diversity officer is Lana Brindley.

Brindley is probably the last person one would think of as a traditional enforcer; she is a mild-mannered, polite, friendly person. Indeed, she is such a retiring type, that she did not want a picture used with this article.

She works for Red Hat at the moment, creating documentation for the company's cloud products. She has been writing open source technical documentation for about six years. In her own words: "Lana lives and works at her home in Canberra, Australia with her daughter and a cat called Missy. Because you can’t be a crazy open source writer-type without a cat, can you?"

Brindley took some time off from her varied duties — she is also the media handler for the LCA — to answer some queries from iTWire.

iTWire: How did you get involved in the organisation of LCA 2013?

Lana Brindley: It was fairly organic. I've been a member of the Canberra Linux Users Group for some time, so when the idea of hosting another LCA came up, I offered to help where I could. Somehow that morphed into being core team.

I've seen you at one of the LCAs which I attended (Brisbane?); are you a regular and, if so, how did you get into the habit?

I've been to every LCA since Wellington. I was invited to speak at the Haecksen miniconf that year, and got bitten by the bug.

Women are a very small minority in IT. How do you manage to stay in the field and have you seen any improvement in the attitudes of people towards you and women in general over the years?

I stay because I love my job. Improvement is incremental and subjective, you need to look at the overall stats and not individual instances. This is where organisations like the Ada Initiative are really important. They focus on surveys and general education to make and measure incremental improvements within the industry.

How are you managing to attend to conference duties, work, and also not neglect your daily routine stuff?

Sleep is over-rated.

Was there some family/relatives/friends influence in getting you interested in free/open source software or was there a sudden blinding flash of light?

I've always been a geek, and hanging around at the computer lab in the late 90s was a guaranteed way to discover Linux first-hand.

I know what a media officer does. What does a diversity officer do?

When we were first working on the bid, one of the main things we wanted to focus on was making the conference very inclusive, so I spent a lot of time talking to various people in my networks trying to work out what things really mattered to conference-goers. Since then, I've been assisting Michael in making those things happen, including things like offering qualified childcare for the duration of the conference. During the conference itself, I'll be the go-to person for any Code of Conduct issues.

In 2007, a couple of delegates were expelled, following what was said to be unseemly behaviour at a party hosted by Google. In 2009, I made a complaint to test the code of conduct. In both these cases, there was no formal hearing; the organisers made decisions on their own, in the second case after speaking to the  alleged offender. I was never called to give evidence. Thus this seems to be more of a kangaroo court than anything else. Are you taking the same approach this year too?

I can't comment on how previous years have chosen to enforce their Code of Conduct, or investigate breaches of their Code. The Code of Conduct has changed a lot over the years that has been running, and Linux Australia have had an increased focus on this topic over the past few years. It is important to remember, though, that the conference is not a court (of any description). It is a private event, and attendance is at the conference organisers' discretion. As such, complaints regarding events at 2013 will not be tested in a court-style hearing. As already stated, we intend to enforce the Code of Conduct in a fair and respectful manner at all times.

There is always a lot of talk about making the conference open and welcoming to all kinds of people. Nevertheless I hear from outsiders that they feel that LCA is a bit clique-ish compared to other conferences they have been to. Comments?

Positive change can be slow, but LCA has come a long way in recent years, with an increased focus on welcoming people from all backgrounds and abilities. The past few years have had record numbers of women presenters and attendees, and that trend will hopefully continue to grow. If you haven't been to an LCA recently, then you will probably be pleasantly surprised.

At the last LCA I attended, Brisbane 2011, there was a bit of a blue over inclusion of slides that were deemed sexual in nature in one keynote. What is being done to ensure that this kind of incident does not recur?

We are using the Linux Australia Code of Conduct at the conference, and expect all speakers and delegates to have read and understood that code before attending the conference. All conference organisers and volunteers will be thoroughly trained in applying the Code of Conduct in a fair and respectful manner.

What would you like people who attend the conference to tell you on the last day, as they are leaving?

"You can sleep now."

Where will you leave your cat during the conference? Or will it also be there as an unofficial delegate?

Missy will be staying with my parents for the conference, where her rigorous lap nap routine won't be disturbed.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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