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YAPC::NA 2013 Will Not Enforce Its Code of Conduct

YAPC::NA Series

I’m not going to YAPC::NA this year.

I’d been involved with the planning process for months, speaking with the Todd Rinaldo (the conference organizer) and volunteers. I have stopped. I’d been accepted for a talk. I have withdrawn it. I’d originally been offered to do a short keynote about the deeper meaning of the Code Of Conduct, a follow up on my keynote last year. That’s not happening. I introduced three people to help out the conference: a project manager, an event coordinator and an experienced Open Source conference organizer. Two were accepted speakers. They have all withdrawn. 1

For those who don’t know me or YAPC::NA, I’d like you to understand how serious not going is for me, and how things have become toxic enough for me to speak out publicly about YAPC::NA and I’ve been doing Perl since about 1995. When you install a Perl module, it probably goes through at least three different subsystems I’ve written, maintained or overhauled. I got my start speaking at the first YAPC::NA in 1999 and keynoted in 2012. YAPC::NA has gone from being a cheapie, self-organized Perl conference to, effectively, The Perl Conference in North America. To not go to YAPC::NA means you miss the biggest Perl event of the year, a chance to see friends, and the biggest opportunity to speak and be heard. 2

There’s a lot which has gone wrong with YAPC::NA, and a lot to talk about. Some of it is very personal. It’s going to take a whole series of posts. What I’m going to start with is the biggest, clearest problem. They have stated the Code Of Conduct will not be enforced on their own IRC channel during the planning process. I doubt it can be trusted during the conference.

I’m not going to get into the incidents, the details are not important for this story right now. How they were handled is the real problem. There were incidents and the CoC process failed. The particular incident in question was verbal abuse against a volunteer on #yapc, the advertised conference chat channel by several people including channel operators and a server administrator. I was informed of the abuse by the volunteer and asked to intervene. It escalated from me speaking with the server admin, to the YAPC::NA Director, to an official Code Of Conduct complaint including logs of the conversations.

The YAPC::NA Director’s replied saying he’d forward it onto the proper CoC channel, but it concluded with…

Thank you for letting me know, but this is an IRC issue. I've
given you my opinion. But that's all it is. Is it your expectation
that COC should have a year round operation? I'm not aware of
anything that indicates this I definitely do not have an interest
in performing these duties.

I received a reply to my complaint from the president of The Perl Foundation speaking for the Code Of Conduct Commitee. It contains this.

The scope of the Code of Conduct, however, does not extend to
conversations on the #yapc channel that take place a month before the
conference begins.

This is the only communication I have seen from this body. I’ve never heard of them before. They have been conspicuously absent from CoC discussion in YAPC::NA planning. Their only action is to say they will take no action. If they will not take action, what is the point of this commitee?

From the highest authorities I am told the Code of Conduct does not apply to the times before the conference nor to their advertised IRC channel. This is highly distressing.

It leaves volunteers unprotected during the planning process on an advertised conference IRC channel. Despite a clear request for intervention, with all the information already gathered and presented for them, no action will be taken. The incident was not even discussed. As far as I know, nobody contacted the people involved in the incidents in an official capacity. They didn’t even express to the abused volunteer they’re sorry they were given a hard time.

A YAPC::NA volunteer was verbally abused by a long time server admin with power and authority in the community. I tried to discuss it with him and was met with more abuse. I followed the expected channels for escalating a report, and was met not just with inaction, but outright refusal to take action and the information that we are unprotected. I followed procedure and it went nowhere. The major concern was not that there was harassment, but with how much effort it might take to police things.

This is deeply, deeply wrong.

Protecting your volunteers should be a no brainer. The CoC committee’s priority should be to listen to and protect people with any association with the conference, at any associated event, venue or communication medium and at any time associated with the conference planning, events or aftermath. Period.

Some of these volunteers, and at least half the attendees, are new to the Perl community. They have no connections, no power and no authority. If the conference organizer and the CoC committee will not defend them, will not step in on their behalf, who will?

I have left the conference because this, and other conversations with the YAPC::NA organizers, demonstrates that the CoC isn’t worth the web page it’s written on. The CoC process has already broken down and the conference hasn’t even started. The CoC Committee and conference organizer have stated they are not invested in protecting people. The CoC is being treated as some optional chore. Some contractual obligation where YAPC::NA is only going to meet the minimum requirements.

Fortunately, this was a relatively minor incident. Nobody was physically abused and the verbal abuse was relatively minor. What if this were a major incident? What if someone were told “sorry, we don’t have the time” or “we don’t think your problem is a problem” or “they had every right to act like they did, they were busy” or “that happened before/after the event” or “even though we sent you there, you were in a place we don’t enforce or control”?

You might think “well, if this were a real incident they’d take care of it” and that’s all wrong. The point of a CoC is you don’t get to decide what is and is not a problem for someone else. There was an incident reported, someone had a problem at your event, you deal with it. Before you rule on the matter. Before you decide if it’s a CoC violation. Somebody was hurt enough to report a problem. No matter how minor or silly you might think it is, you uphold the CoC. You help the people at your event. This does not mean you start handing out punishment, or that you even have to start assigning blame. The CoC is there because we’re all different, we have different needs, different values, different problems, and we don’t agree on them. You at least acknowledge that their problem is a problem for them. You at least speak with the people involved. You mediate. You intervene. You get involved with people.

The YAPC::NA organizers, and the CoC commitee, clearly are not getting involved.

It’s not enough to just have a list of rules, you must get people involved. Why? Because people are messy. People are complicated. Their problems are complicated and messy. They’re the sort of problems we can’t just write rules for, can’t write a program for. People have to be involved to interpret those rules, not according to their letter, but according to their intent. The CoC is not just a list of rules, it is the foundation of a system of justice.

Why? Because nobody else can be counted on to do it for an outsider. Because people should be able to volunteer for and attend a Perl conference without having to fight. Most of all because people are coming to Perl and getting treated badly right now.

That is the job of a CoC enforcer. This person’s job is to receive complaints and respond to people in crisis without being too busy or worrying about other conference issues. They are there for the people. YAPC::NA does not have CoC enforcers, nor enforcement policies. I tried to warn the organizer months ago, and members of TPF last year, that it was not enough to just have a CoC. That it was not enough to leave it to one person, there need to be people on the ground and comitted to helping people. I pointed them at existing resources, the Geek Feminism resources for one. I suggested they adopt the PyCon Attendee and Staff Procedures. There was was some enthusiasm around this, but nothing official came of it. The YAPC::NA director thought the CoC was enough. He refused to do the work. The CoC commitee has refused. The whole thing breaks.

YAPC::NA cannot be counted on to enforce their CoC.

There is a dichotomy in There are people who are primarily concerned with the CoC as a restriction on their behavior, because they’re afraid it might be used against them, or that they’ll have to take time to enforce it, or that it might make them uncomfortable. There are others who see it as protection, as a fundamental requirement for any community they are involved in, because they might have to use it. YAPC::NA and are dominated by people who look at this as a restriction, for them it is an optional hassle.

The CoC is for people who do not have the protection of the community. Who do not know or go against the community norms. People who are at risk against backlash for speaking out. People who do not hold power and do not know people who do. People who cannot or do not want to fight. The CoC process is their advocate. The CoC is for them, first and foremost, so they can participate and enjoy YAPC::NA and Perl the same as the people with power and privilege do. The conversation within YAPC::NA is skewed in the wrong direction. It is skewed towards the restrictions and hassles of the privileged, away from protecting people.

People are being abused. People are leaving the conference. People are leaving the community. The conference has lost three speakers, a project manager, an event coordinator, and an experienced OSS conference organizer. One is new to Perl and programming and wanted to find out more. One is a former YAPC::NA speaker and prominent OSS member. One is a former Perl Mongers leader. One, myself, has the highest level of power and experience in the community as you can get. We cover the spread of power and experience with Perl. We have all left in disgust or fear over the CoC process. And these are just the people I know about.

People like to think it doesn’t happen, that Perl is somehow exceptional. But this sort of mistreatment happens, even here. This isn’t the first time, and I’m not the first to speak out. But it is the first time I’m being loud about it. Let’s start being loud.

If you would like to express your opinion to the conference, email the YAPC::NA 2013 director at and the Code Of Conduct Commitee at

  1. I am still doing my “Git For Ages 4 And Up” classes. It wouldn’t be fair to the students who signed up, booked extra hotel nights and took time off to attend if I cancelled.

  2. YAPC::NA is not directly associated with YAPC::Europe or YAPC::Asia. They are organized by different groups. I don’t have details about how they’re run.