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Kubernetes / Open Source / Software Development / Tech Culture

Harassment Complaint Tests Kubernetes Community’s Code of Conduct

May 8th, 2017 6:00am by
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An engineer was told to leave the Kubernetes community last week for violating the organization’s code of conduct.

The decision by the Kubernetes Community to enforce its code of conduct means the engineer has been removed from all Kubernetes resources, including related GitHub and Slack accounts, mailing lists and special interest groups (SIGs).

The removal is a big deal in open source circles. For the Kubernetes community, the issue is forcing the organization to tackle questions about how it manages the process for the actual reporting of violations related to the code of conduct itself.  They acknowledge it needs work but have quickly taken steps to get a process in place.

The issue arose when a highly-regarded engineer in the Kubernetes development community charged that a former harasser had joined her project. In a series of tweets ranging from incredulity to outrage, she alleged the former harasser had joined to continue attacking her. Names of those involved are being withheld at this time.

Following her tweets, others joined her in protest.

The engineer called on the maintainers of the open source community to do something, charging that “Your code of conducts are bullshit if they do not cover things that happened outside the project.”

Her challenge got a response.

Code of Conduct

David Aronchick, product manager at Google tweeted: “We take this critically seriously; a project is nothing w/o a safe community & we’re taking steps to fix right now.” He included a link to a Google forum on the topic.

Management of the open-source Kubernetes container orchestration tool is shepherded by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). In the Kubernetes developer/contributor discussion in the forum, Sarah Novotny, Program Manager of the Kubernetes Community at Google posted a missive, “Concerns about Kubernetes Community Newcomers.” She stated that issues raised about a new contributor were deemed worthy of follow-up. “The Kubernetes community,” she wrote, “prioritizes safety, transparency and authenticity through RESPECT of all people and their contributions to the project. “

She assured the community that they take enforcement of our code of conduct seriously.  “Reports by our community members of current and prior bad behaviors will be weighed as part of our action if any.”

Codes of Conduct have become de rigueur across the tech industry in the last few years in response to growing complaints about widespread sexism at conferences and in open source communities.

But victims of harassment have often found that these are codes with lip service and no teeth. Whether as company policy or as a code for a conference, there is often little repercussion for the perpetrator. Women report that when they report harassers at conferences, the men are sometimes asked to leave, but are often allowed back the next day, causing the women to feel unsafe.

Tech Still Doesn’t Take Discrimination Seriously,” charged an article on Wired, written just after rock star engineer Susan Fowler posted a blog item about how Uber’s systemic sexism drove her to find other work.

All of this makes what happened in the Kubernetes Open Source community this week all the more amazing.

The Kubernetes Community Code of Conduct is quite straightforward, only one page long, and easy to understand. There’s the now-standard verbiage about providing a harassment-free environment along with a clear list of unacceptable behavior:

  • The use of sexualized language or imagery.
  • Personal attacks.
  • Trolling or insulting/derogatory comments.
  • Public or private harassment.
  • Publishing other’s private information, such as physical or electronic addresses, without explicit permission.
  • Other unethical or unprofessional conduct.

Novotny explained that project maintainers are given the “right and responsibility to remove, edit, or reject comments, commits, code, wiki edits, issues, and other contributions that are not aligned to this Code of Conduct. This code of conduct applies both within project spaces and in public spaces when an individual is representing the project or its community.”

Changing the Process

In addition to following up on this specific complaint, the Governance Bootstrap group decided to “immediately create a Code of Conduct Committee.” In addition to Novotny, the Governance Bootstrap group includes Brendan Burns of Microsoft, Brandon Philips of CoreOS, Brian Grant and Tim Hockin of Google, Clayton Coleman of RedHat, and Joe Beda of Heptio.

Once the committee, whose volunteers will be fully vetted, is in place, the Kubernetes project will help guide the community norms in regards to the code of conduct violations. “The Kubernetes project will have exclusive rights to remove people from our community via temporary or permanent revocations of, but not limited to, GitHub access, git commit access, mailing list access, slack organization access, etc.,” she wrote.

That’s some serious consequences for any open source contributor turned harasser and good news for the community as a whole.

The Result

On May 2, a scant one day later, Novotny posted an update, saying that through mutual agreement the person named as harasser will not participate in the Kubernetes community at this time. “This includes resources of the community, including but not limited to, Slack, mailing lists, SIGs, and GitHub organizations,” she said. If he wants to return to the community in the future, he is welcome to “reach out to the Code of Conduct Committee, which will perform further investigation.”

And the Twitter fray, not known for known for reversing its options, noticed.

Alice Goldfuss, a site reliability engineer followed the story throughout:

And the support for the harassed engineer came from the community as well.

“Hey, thanks for everything you’ve done,” said one guy, “esp in kernel/containers/k8s and their communities. I believe you and you don’t deserve this.”

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation is a sponsor of The New Stack.

Feature image via Pixabay.

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