Mozilla Summit 2010, day 0

Bus, a train, a plain, later, I arrived in Vancouver, B.C., ready to depart for Whistler and look for the answer to one simple question: what does one do at a gathering of 600 people from around the world, all working towards the same vision of the web? The answer became clear as soon as I arrived at the airport. One talks, one befriends, one learns about the fellow geek’s world, and above all, one discusses common ground, whether it be city life, weather, food, or the latest point release of Android. Geeks are people too and today proved no exceptions.

Of course, there are a few things that’s making this particular gathering unique. For example, one of my bus mates was particularly proud of her backpack designed for toting roller skates (just as I am proud of my slim wallet and matching laptop bag and case). Another was proud of weaning himself off the mac to more open linux and Google platforms. There was also fervent discussion of accessibility barriers imposed by IRC but also of the richness of the immediacy enabled by the waves of logins, logouts and rapid, near instant replies. My lunch friend came all the way from India to get a masters degree in software engineering in the bay area, leaving friends and family for a career in quality assurance. At the evening reception, I chatted with engineers on the JavaScript engine and HTML layout, learning about the subtle distinctions between the invariants in both and speculation about the role of C in trashing comprehensibility. These are people that love things to death, but most of all, love code and all the things around it.

The people aren’t the only thing that makes this crowd unique. The crowd itself is unique. As an academic in a field as diverse as HCI, I’m used to conferences with a fairly even balance of men and women. But this is, without a doubt, a gathering of men. The women stand out as rare breeds, something to behold. This line of thought led to discomfort as I realized how easily difference led to objectification. It was only after mentioning this to some of the women that I realized I was in the minority: this disproportion was an everyday fact for the people in the room, and not something so relevant to the topic at hand.

The days to come should prove interesting and revealing. I want to understand what this community values and how they express those values. I want to see how it’s culture breeds its strengths and weaknesses, and its biases. I want to see of what use 4 days in the great north sunshine really means to a group of collaborators already so close in vision and values. Do they really need this to be productive, or is this just to feel human?

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