Something worthwhile from the Adria Richards PyCon blowup

The senseless, polarizing feud sparked by a “dongle” joke at PyCon had nowhere to go but to the bottom-feeders. Adria Richards’s artless public shaming of two joking developers led to one of the developers being abruptly fired by his employer, PlayHaven. The firing predictably led to a vicious, cowardly backlash by misogynists, which could only force moderates, whether or not they agreed with her initial reaction, siding with Richards against the ugly attacks.

Now Richards’s has been fired by SendGrid, almost as a ritual sacrifice to the DDoS crowd.

With two martyrs, I don’t have hope that the discussion to become any more rational and less reactionary. But I almost forgot the ex-PlayHaven developer’s apology two days ago, after his own firing and before Richards’s.

In the annals of gracious responses on the Internet, “mr-hank’s” ranks at the top. Of all the ways he could’ve criticized Richards, with an angry Internet mob behind him, he not only called for peace, but killed Richards’s accusation with kindness:

Hi, I’m the guy who made a comment about big dongles. First of all I’d like to say I’m sorry. I really did not mean to offend anyone and I really do regret the comment and how it made Adria feel. She had every right to report me to staff, and I defend her position. However, there is another side to this story. While I did make a big dongle joke about a fictional piece hardware that identified as male, no sexual jokes were made about forking. My friends and I had decided forking someone’s repo is a new form of flattery (the highest form being implementation) and we were excited about one of the presenters projects; a friend said “I would fork that guys repo” The sexual context was applied by Adria, and not us.

My second comment is this, Adria has an audience and is a successful person of the media. Just check out her web page linked in her twitter account, her hard work and social activism speaks for itself. With that great power and reach comes responsibility. As a result of the picture she took I was let go from my job today. Which sucks because I have 3 kids and I really liked that job.

She gave me no warning, she smiled while she snapped the pic and sealed my fate. Let this serve as a message to everyone, our actions and words, big or small, can have a serious impact.

I will be at pycon 2014, I will joke and socialize with everyone but I will also be mindful of my audience, accidental or otherwise.
Again, I apologize.

Only Richards and the joking devs know what was said at PyCon, how it was said, and the intent behind it. But mr-hank avoids even the slightest hint of misogyny and instead pleads with Richards to use her “great power” more responsibly in the future.

No accusations of man-hating. No calls for vengeance. Just a straightforward apology and an appeal for everyone to learn the importance of patience in confrontation. Besides the loss of the two jobs and the needless fear and hate generated by this incident, my greatest disappointment is that Richards didn’t get (or ignored) a chance to respond to “mr-hank”, whose gracious apology will likely be forgotten in the angry debate that will continue for the next few days.

Update: Richards messaged me to point out that she did respond to the HN commenter. I do remember reading this and fault myself for not mentioning it, as it was a civil response. I guess what I was disappointed in not seeing was a full-blown dialogue, but it’s hardly Richards’ or mr-hank’s fault that that didn’t happen amid the fallout and the Internet’s rush to judgment.

Richards’ response is posted below:

Thanks for speaking up, contributing your viewpoint on HN and not attacking me.

I’m sorry to hear your employer deciding to not to work with you on this and I hope they reconsider, bring you back on and dealing with it constructively.

For context, I’m a developer evangelist.

That means I’m an advocate for developers, male and female. While I hear abou demanding bosses with impossible deadlines for product launches, I also hear about the experiences of women working at startups.

In both cases I offer suggestions, ideas and mentoring to help the developers become problems solvers. Sometimes the answer is our API or not answering email after 7pm while other times it about being assertive and shedding impostor syndrome.

The forking joke set the stage for the dongle joke.

Yes, this time I decided I didn’t want to argue my perspective. I decided instead to accept it bothered me and took action based on the PyCon Code of Conduct. It sounds like if I’d said something about the forking you would have denied it having a sexual association. Not sure if I smiled but I’m also unsure what facial expression you would have expected.

I just got done writing my blog post you can read here:…

See you next year.

I'm a programmer journalist, currently teaching computational journalism at Stanford University. I'm trying to do my new blogging at