SAN JOSE, Calif. – A female developer was fired after tweeting about a group of men she said were making sexual comments at a computer programming conference, fueling an already vigorous debate about gender equality and culture in Silicon Valley.
Adria Richards wrote on her blog, butyouareagirl.com, that she was seated in a ballroom at the Santa Clara conference Sunday when the men behind her started talking about “big dongles.”
A dongle is a device that plugs into a computer, but Richards tweeted that the men made the comment in a sexual way.
After hearing their remarks, Richards turned around, took a photo of two men and posted it on Twitter with their alleged comments.
Conference organizers said they were concerned by the tweet and quickly met with Richards and the men, who immediately apologized.
“We pulled all the individuals aside. We got all sides of the story. They said she was right, and they were very apologetic,” said Jesse Noller, who chaired the conference, PyCon 2013, for people working on Python programming language.
Richards worked for SendGrid, a technology company with offices in Orange County and Colorado. CEO Jim Franklin wrote on the company’s website that SendGrid agreed with Richards’ right to report the incident to Pycon staff, but not the way she reported it.
“Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line,” Franklin wrote in a blog post on the site.
“Publicly shaming the offenders — and bystanders — was not the appropriate way to handle the situation.”
Franklin said Richards put the company’s business in danger, divided the developer community and could no longer be effective at the company.
One of the men in the photo Richards posted has also been let go from his job at San Francisco-based mobile game company PlayHaven.
“PlayHaven had an employee who was identified as making inappropriate comments at PyCon …, and as a result of this investigation led to the unfortunate outcome of having to let this employee go,” PlayHaven CEO Andy Yang said in a blog posting.
The company said a second man in the photo “is still with the company and a valued employee.”
In her blog post about the incident, Richards wrote: “Have you ever had a group of men sitting right behind you making a joke that caused you to feel uncomfortable? Well, that just happened this week but instead of shrinking down in my seat, I did something about it.”
Richards said she also had confronted a man earlier after he told her what she thought was a sexist joke at the conference.