First article in a long series (I hope) : WoMoz interviews (ITWoMoz for short). The aim is to present a written exchange from a woman involved in information technology, preferably in Free Software but not necessarily. The general idea is to identify good evidence about what FLOSS is really, from the inside but also the outside.
And to start this series, I contacted Adrienne Alix who was kind enough to try out this exercise.
First of all, can you present yourself to our readers? What is your background, your current job and the FLOSS projects you are involved with?
I’m 31, I’ve been living in Toulouse for a few years and I have two children. I am a trained historian, specializing in religious history from 18th to 19th century. However, I currently work in copy-writing, CRM and as a community manager for an e-commerce website. As for Open Source and Free Software, I’m working mainly on Wikimedia’s projects : Wikipedia firstly, Wikisource and Wikimedia Commons too. But I don’t partake in that many projects concerning Free Software: I simply read a lot about this subject, I’m an April member and I follow what Framasoft does – that’s really all for the moment.
How did you get involved in Wikimedia France? I assume that it didn’t happen overnight, right? How exactly did you make your way to become President of the organization?
I first contributed to Wikipedia in early 2006. In 2007, I discovered the existence of the “Wikimedia France” association, which supports Wikimedia projects in France. I started to pay attention to it and became a member at the end of the year. As I had some free time, I applied to become a board member in March 2009 and the board made me President. Everything went pretty fast once I understood what Wikipedia was about; free knowledge sharing, the necessity of openness to build this project. It felt completely natural to get fully involved.
How do you contribute to Wikimedia at the moment? Are there any specific projects that you work on which you happen to take more seriously than others?
Currently, my participation in Wikipedia is quite limited as I’m way too busy with the association’s operations! For Wikimedia France, I mainly take care of action coordination, which is not so easy to explain. I also take care of our employees. Besides, I really like following and giving fresh impetus to projects that we lead with cultural institutions. That’s mainly evangelism work with regards to museums, archives and libraries. It involves persuading them that opening their data can be beneficial for them, explaining Free licenses and creating beneficial partnerships. It’s very exciting. I really like getting beginners to discover Free Software and Wikipedia during informal meetings, mainstream conferences, etc.
Can you describe what daily life is like, as someone working in the IT sector and specifically in Free Software?
I work in e-business, it’s not exactly IT even though computer science is ubiquitous. The team I work with everyday – which includes marketing, graphic design and software development – includes almost as many women as men, all quite young (between 23 and 35, bosses included). Things are going very well. I’m no expert in software development but by working with developers, I’m gradually gaining a better understanding of their logic and their problems. We essentially work with free tools (Ubuntu, OpenOffice) or open source tools (like Magento, a heavy e-commerce platform). The Free Software philosophy is quite present in the firm – both for practical and economical reasons but also philosophical reasons as well.
It’s quite strange when you enter the Free Software world from outside computer technology. Regarding Libre / Free Software, it’s a bit strange to be there when you’re not already in the IT field. Sometimes I feel unqualified to talk about Free Software, even though I understand the issues very well. I never deal with the code, I like free software activists in general and our relationship is going well, but there’s a moment when I have to leave the conversation… That being said, I don’t despair and try to learn some tricks of the trade when I have the time.
Is female participation in Free Software limited ? Some statistics show no more than 2% of women in free software, whereas they are 25% in proprietary software. How do you feel about that as a member?
Once again, I don’t necessarily consider myself part of the IT world but rather part of the Free and Libre world. 😉
For Wikipedia, there are few women; we estimate the number to be about 12% of contributors. I don’t know if this number reflects the reality or not, it’s hard to know for sure in a project where members are very “volatile” and where anonymity is the rule. In the French administration of Wikipedia, the proportion of women has stabilized over the last few years at roughly 7%. For Wikimedia France, about 10% of all contributors are women.
I’d say it’s not an issue. In reality, it can have an influence on the way articles are written and in the atmosphere of the community. I can’t say if we should lead a specific action for women, I think we should understand why they don’t contribute naturally in the first place. That being said, in the workplace I don’t find it uncomfortable to be female. In fact, on the contrary, I’ve almost never had any issue as a woman. I’ve often had the impression I’m more trusted for management tasks “because I’m a woman”. However, I don’t know if that’s related to the fact I’m a woman or to my personality. I think it was quite a challenge to give the leadership of the association to a literary woman, but I think it’s a good thing to show that the philosophy of FLOSS goes beyond just the software.
According to you, what should be done to add more stability in Free Software projects and communities? Is it really necessary/useful?
Stability is an important issue. In Wikimedia projects, we mainly work with volunteers. It’s very hard to ask someone to dedicate his free time to deadlines and to commit to long-term projects. It’s hard to ask for specific results, to give orders or to ask someone to work on a project he or she doesn’t necessarily like. So projects go ahead and grow but not always in the direction and at the pace they were intended initially. On one hand, it is sometimes difficult to manage when you are leading an organization because you are always busy with the short term. This limited scope can spoil projects done in partnership with institutions or external associations. But on the other hand, I feel it is a great advantage because it is such an incentive and stimulates even more creativity.
We should find ways of giving more value to each other’s work so that everyone feels recognized and rewarded for what he or she contributes to. And to help build momentum and incentives for more long term involvement. As for me, I try to take the time to keep an eye on every project, by asking for updates and of course sending thank you messages to individual contributors. It is not much but I know it is a sign of gratitude, which can help people feel more valued. We also try to gather task force teams to maintain projects – which is not easy.
So yes, let’s take care of our contributors to ensure long term stability of our projects. But we shouldn’t aim at excessive stability, which could in turn lead to bureaucratic management, since the strength and nerve of the FLOSS community is an individual initiative: inflexibility may kill creativity.
Extra question: I’m looking for the next person to interview for this chronicle and I already have a few names in mind. Is there a woman, in Free Software or not, from whom you’d like to listen about the story about diversity?
There is a woman that I really like and who lives at the other end of the world. Her name is Beatriz Busaniche, and she is from Argentina. She is really active in Argentinian Free Software and in Wikimedia too. She managed almost by herself to set free several dozen hours of archives from Argentine Radio-Television, a large part of which is now available for all on Wikimedia Commons, especially the highlights of the country’s history. She has a very catching energy and geniality. We happened to meet at a Wikimania event in Poland last summer, then in Wikimeetings in Paris last December. She has been very active in Free Software for many years, she really deserves to be interviewed I think 😉
Thanks to Goofy, kaze, Roxanne and theocrite for the translation. You can find the original version here (French).
Photo by Tornad3