I didn’t know too much about Aaron Swartz in 2007, when Philipp Lenssen published this refreshingly candid chat with him, nor do I know too much more about him now beyond the major tributes he’s received since his death on Friday, but the things he said nearly six years ago in that interview affected me so poignantly that I published an internal piece pointing to it and will always have a great impression of him because of it:
If you talk to any woman in the tech community, it won’t be long before they start telling you stories about disgusting, sexist things guys have said to them. It freaks them out; and rightly so. As a result, the only women you see in tech are those who are willing to put up with all the abuse.
I really noticed this when I was at foo camp once, Tim O’Reilly’s exclusive gathering for the elite of the tech community. The executive guys there, when they thought nobody else was around, talked about how they always held important business meetings at strip clubs and the deficiencies of programmers from various countries.
Meanwhile, foo camp itself had a session on discrimination in which it was explained to us that the real problem was not racism or sexism, but simply the fact that people like to hang out with others who are like themselves.
The denial about this in the tech community is so great that sometimes I despair of it ever getting fixed. And I should be clear, it’s not that there are just some bad people out there who are being prejudiced and offensive. Many of these people that I’m thinking of are some of my best friends in the community. It’s an institutional problem, not a personal one.
It’s enough of a despair to think that we haven’t moved very far on the “misogyny in tech” topic in these six years, much less to live with the idea that we can never do anything about it. What is clear is that we’ve lost an ally and a man of brilliance. Thanks for your words, Aaron.