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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Node.js - How a Grammar Mistake Can Cause a Core Contributor to Step Down?

It is just amazing how things can escalate over the web. Something that starts with an innocent pull request can cause a total storm. In the end nobody wins as a core contributor is more or less forced to step down.

How to Blow Things Out of Proportion?

It looks like it all started with a pull request that removed the usage of gendered pronoun from libuv, one the libraries Node.js relies heavily upon. Interestingly the original phrasing itself was faulty and could have been simplified to avoid a pronoun altogether. That's beyond the point, however.

The interesting bit is in what happened next. You would think something simple like this would get accepted just like that. Ben Noordhuis, one of the core contributors, rejected the patch given it was deemed so trivial. Later on he explained why. Looks like it would have just generated more work (CLA etc.) with little gain.

But wait, the saga doesn't stop here. Isaac Schlueter, the Node.js guy, overrode Ben's decision and accepted the patch beyond the normal process. Ben reacted to this by reverting the change. Now whether or not that was a good move, I won't comment on that.

In addition Joyent, the company behind libuv, commented on the issue saying they would have fired Ben over this in case he was their employee. Things really escalated here.

To crown it all Ben said he will likely step down from libuv and Node.js development.

Misogyny in IT

Misogyny in IT was likely one of the main reasons for the strong reaction. That was what the original pull request was about after all. You could say it was a really bad move from Ben politically to reject the patch. But if you accept one little one then you will have to accept many other ones and deal with the bureaucracy. It looks like Ben just wanted to follow the process and maximize the impact of his work.

I agree misogyny is something to condemn. But it seems like the whole thing blew out of proportion. There must be better ways to deal with something like this. Who is to blame really? Does fixing gendered pronouns actually fix the underlying culture?

I would say the issue is way deeper than that. Rather than fighting over gendered pronouns it would be more proactive to take the battle to streets so to speak. Instead of flaming people over the web, what if you made something about it? Start organizing courses and get people involved to break barriers. Ironically it looks like Ben is doing this already. I bet that is more than his flamers do presently.


I feel both stunned and disappointed. It still amazes me how something like this can happen. They should have dealt with the issue some other way. Perhaps they could have changed libuv organization somehow? Maybe some people would actually be interested in devoting their time for these kind of patches and improving the quality of documentation? I would say that would be pretty constructive.