(For Japanese readers: Not familiar with “Binders full of women?” Click here)
Once upon a time, I wondered if it was inevitable that programmers were predominantly male. Visiting another country disabused me of that notion. Surprisingly enough to me, that country was Japan.
Before visiting Japan for RubyKaigi 2011, I had the perception that while Japan was a technologically advanced country, it still remained socially very conservative, and that sexism existed to a much larger extent than in western countries such as Australia, the UK and the US.
In defiance of my expectations, I found that there were many women speaking at RubyKaigi, and also involved in the organization of the event. When I dropped in on ordinary meetup groups during subsequent visits to Japan, such as Ruby Sapporo and Minami.rb, I also noticed a high proportion of female attendees.
How could I explain this?
One possibility is that my perceptions of Japan were wrong. That would be interesting in and of itself.
But there’s an even more interesting possibility. What if sexism existed in the general Japanese community, but the Japanese Ruby community decided to behave differently? That we can decide what our community is like?
I have found the Japanese Rubyist community to be diverse in other ways as well.
I’ve found the Japanese Ruby community to be diverse in what programming languages they know. For example, when I showed off the [“1”, “2”, “3”].map(&method(:Integer)) trick to a Ruby meetup group, one of the attendees remarked that there’s something like that in Haskell.
In one way, this diversity is forced upon them – many of them don’t use Ruby in their day jobs. Instead, they use Ruby in their spare time. But I doubt that they’re using Haskell in their day jobs, either.
The Japanese Ruby community is making a strong effort to interact with western countries conference-wise. Virtually every piece of information about international RubyKaigis is posted in English as well as in Japanese. Talks at RubyKaigis are translated live from Japanese into English, and vice versa.
In RubyKaigi 2011, attendees were given conversation sheets, with a list of phrases they could say in English and Japanese. There were also anti-bocchi boards, which organized lunch between strangers. I took advantage of this to have lunch with Japanese Rubyists, and was often the last to finish lunch because I was talking so much with them.
At Sapporo RubyKaigi, the organizers accepted my proposal, which was about the Japanese language. The aim of that talk was to encourage other people to learn Japanese. In the same session as my talk was Yoko Harada’s talk “Why Don’t You Go To Conferences In US?” Harada also organized try(:english), an event where Japanese Rubyists practiced English with native speakers.
To be honest, there have been challenges. Some Rubyists I’ve talked to say that they’d like to come to Australia, but that it’s too expensive. Others have laughed when I suggested that they come to RubyConf Australia – not at me, but at themselves, because they feel that their English is too bad (a lot better than my Japanese, let me tell you!).
One regret I have is that not many Japanese Rubyists go to nearby asian countries, and not many people from Japan’s neighbours come to RubyKaigi.
I’m thinking TJRCINSWAN: The Japanese Ruby Community Is Nice, So We Are Nice!