Do we need a Code of Conduct for Business of Software Conference?

I don’t think so but I am interested in other views…

There has been a lot written and tweeted in the past week or so about the fallout from PyCon which has spiraled out of control. Terribly. It led to PyCon revising its code of conduct for participants and subsequently, a number of people have contacted us to suggest that we have a code of conduct too. I feel for all of the individuals who have been caught up in the mess.

It matters to me that people can feel they can come to our conference and feel comfortable participating. A lot. Here’s why.

Last year at Business of Software, some people took offense at some of the remarks that one of the speakers made (I believe the details are unimportant for the purposes of this post). What is important is that some people were made to feel uncomfortable. As a conference and event organiser this is a failure on my part. Watch the video if you want to know why this is so important to me personally – but short cut – I want my children to feel comfortable going into the software industry if that is what they choose to do. I believe we all do.

It was interesting that one person who had been the most enthusiastic supporters of the speaker in question on the day, decided to change their attitude when they smelt a possible fight in the offing. One in particular deleted their enthusiastic tweets from the day before and tried to start a campaign of some sort against the speaker, the conference, the attendees, I’m not even sure quite what. I don’t believe this represented the views of almost anyone else involved. It was extraordinary to me to see how quickly negative sentiment would travel via Twitter and what an extraordinarily bad medium twitter was for nuanced conversations.

It matters to me that we are a welcoming and inclusive community because Business of Software is a special group of people that care. We don’t run the event to maximise the profit we make, we run it to make money but more importantly, to make a difference to the community we serve. This year in fact, despite selling out last year, we are making the event smaller to maintain the intimate feel that we have built so carefully over the years. The Business of Software Conference is my home for the few days it is on and our delegates are paying guests in that home. I think people instinctively know how to behave in someone’s home and I trust people to understand that and behave accordingly.

I don’t ask people to agree to a code of conduct when they come to my house for dinner. If someone offends someone else at a dinner party I am holding, I would have a quiet word with that person. They would probably be mortified to know what they had said or done had caused offense and they are likely to modify their behaviour in the future.

The Business of Software Conference is a small event for people who care about building long term, sustainable software businesses. The people who attend are overwhelmingly lovely, thoughtful people. I have made many wonderful friends through putting it on. The content and discussions at the conference mean that the people who come have generally self-selected to be of a certain type. It is one reason we want to keep the event small. It is also the reason that I don’t think we need a code of conduct. I genuinely believe that people are good and don;t need to be told how to behave.

What do you think?

P.S. I would also welcome thoughts, in the comments or via email, if you have any ideas that can help us make the programme more welcoming to anyone if they care about our core philosophy of wanting to help people grow long term, sustainable software businesses.

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11 responses to “Do we need a Code of Conduct for Business of Software Conference?”

  1. Tyler Rooney says:

    I really think a “Code of Conduct” is truly unnecessary. Business of Software is a small, personable conference of well-meaning professionals. If you take issue with anything you heard (or even overheard), you have ample opportunity during the conference to bring it up with the attendee, speaker, or Mark personally.

    If you were offended by something, you can help make a difference by approaching the speaker or attendee and talking about it. As they’re friendly and professional people, they’ll be happy to hear your feedback and would probably be mortified to know they offended someone.

  2. Stephen Kellett says:

    I don’t think a code of conduct is necessary.

    Regarding the talk in question that evening various people mentioned it, but all of them mentioned it for the use of F word not for the issues you mention. And when I finally found out what the fuss was the people screaming the loudest were men on behalf of women and yet the women present were “if I need protecting I’m capable of standing up for myself, thank you” opinion.

    As for PyCon, that anyone lost their job is a complete over-reaction. Simply turning around and asking the person to shut up and respect the speaker should suffice.

  3. Justin James says:

    If someone demands that another person have the maturity to not be potentially offensive in remakes not directed specifically at them, that person would be equally right in demanding that the listener have the maturity to not be offended by remarks not directed specifically at them.

    If someone is too immature to not be offended by remarks not made specifically at them, they have no business demanding that someone else not be too immature to make offensive remarks not directed specifically at them.

    If someone is directing offensive remarks at someone else, it is perfectly fair for them to be offended and have an issue with it. Otherwise they need to get over it. Yes, some people are hyper-sensitive, and some people are total boors who truly are offensive. That’s life. There are much more important things to be worried about than “things someone said to someone who wasn’t me”.


  4. Lou Franco says:

    We see that conferences with a code of conduct still have issues. People who wouldn’t follow them, don’t read them. It’s nice to say a few words somewhere about what we believe, to set a tone — the less, the better. The more specific it is, the more it’s treated as exhaustive. Having one doesn’t mean that you are a sell out or that you won’t have issues. Not having one won’t invite more bad behavior.

    What does matter is how the organizers, speakers, and community leaders behave. Mark’s statement (and this blog entry) are a good examples of what I think works. I would expect that the meta/back-channel that I assume is in place, would be a good place to have these discussions and to make sure everyone is on the same page and sets a tone — I would hope that there is a diversity of opinion in that group.

  5. Brian Webb says:

    Definitely no code of conduct. There wont’ be children at this event.

    I was there, and I’m guessing the event in question was about the swearing? If so, I would completely ignore this issue and move along. If someone can’t handle a bit of swearing, I have no clue how they’re going to run a software company.

    • Actually, I may well bring my daughter this year. Who said child labour is a bad thing? 🙂

    • Lou Franco says:

      It was not about swearing. Swearing is common in BoS speeches. I have absolutely no problem with swearing and have a high tolerance for offensive material (in the right context). In real-time, I found the comments inappropriate for BoS. I talked it a little with my audience neighbors after it was over, and there was definitely an uneasy feeling. I was relieved that Mark addressed it — until then, I didn’t even know that others were discussing it (didn’t follow on twitter or elsewhere).

      A lot of the problem was context — the talk wasn’t good, the inappropriate remarks were a crutch that just made it worse. This is why I think a code of conduct doesn’t work — “Don’t be a jerk” or similar is better — set the tone, react appropriately (and proportionately) and quickly when necessary. The organizers, community leaders, and speakers bear most of the responsibility.

  6. John M. P. Knox says:

    I’m hopeful that BoS doesn’t need a written code of conduct to stay friendly. Writing a code of conduct for a conference seems like hanging a “beware of pickpockets” sign in a public space. The warning was hung with the best intents, but it detracts from the place and perhaps scares folks away.

    It seems to me that the best bet is to keep the conversation going, and to make sure everyone knows it’s OK to say something to folks who seems to be misbehaving. And we remember that the folks on both sides have feelings.

    I think everyone involved in the PyCon incident probably had a pretty unpleasant experience. Hopefully they will figure out how to make the best of it, but positive outcomes aren’t guaranteed. Even if their careers are OK, I bet those people are getting a lot of hate from the anonymous internet trolls. Not fun.

  7. Sukumar Jena says:

    Very nice and effective video, I am happy to see this video.

    Sukumar Jena

  8. mike says:

    Didn’t one of the talks at last year’s conference say something like ‘Don’t make a rule just because you had one bad incident’?

    see last year’s video: Peldi: Coding is the easy part

  9. Michael says:

    The questionable content of onespeech among so many awesome speeches does not merit changing the way speakers are vetted or their subject – as long as it is related to the business of software.