Back in the Saddle

Oliver Keyes bio photo By Oliver Keyes Comment

So I’m back in R.

When I left development 2 months ago, due to an incident on R’s bug tracker, I set conditions for when I’d be comfortable with returning, specifically:

If something genuinely substantive happens - reversing the decisions that have been made, patching the problem, patching the other obvious problems, and acting in such a way that it is clear concerns around inclusion will actually be taken seriously by the people running the show, [I may return]

The users were unblocked and the problem has been patched, so that solves for the concrete, immediate concern. The woolier one, of course, is the impression that inclusion and diversity concerns are actually being taken seriously.

Despite my stepping back from most of R, what I haven’t been stepping back from is the Women in R Task Force (while I haven’t been attending meetings I’ve still been working on the survey we’re putting out, for example). And so I’ve seen a lot of people - R Foundation members! Professors! Industry people! - stepping forward and coming together to work on these issues. Good, smart, sensible people doing amazing work.

And the guidelines I’m drafting for bug handling are still very much in the drafting stage, the response I’ve got to them (albeit from individual Foundation members, not the Foundation proper) has been great.

These are the changes I want to see, and some of them are happening. More importantly: my half-in, half-out status is an active hindrance to pushing for other improvements, here or elsewhere. There’s a reason that most of these issues either lead to people leaving completely or staying and redoubling their efforts: holding a superpositional state is, for me at least, miserable and ineffective. I simultaneously care enough that I want to see good things happen and lack the technical cachet to strongly influence them.

If I stay in this state, good things happen regardless and I don’t get to push them along. If I engage again: I’m not important, but I can at least give them a little push to make them move faster.

Most importantly, I’ve talked to quite a few women in the community - again, from all parts of it - and they think the rationale makes sense, and that things are getting better: that the scale is tipping more and more in favour of the light side of the force.

So, I’m back. And I’m going to develop packages, and release them, and I’m going to write guidelines and surveys and position pieces, and I’m going to work for a kinder environment and a more transparent environment and one where the normal day-to-day users of R are explicitly, deliberately included and enabled. And hopefully it’ll make a (small) difference.