Sexist culture and harassment drives GitHub’s first female developer to quit

A year ago, Julie Ann Horvath ushered in GitHub's women-friendly outreach program. Now, she says she's sorry she spent 2 years defending GitHub's sexist culture to other women like her. (Updated)

 

Aja Romano

Tech

Published Mar 15, 2014   Updated May 31, 2021, 3:19 pm CDT

It’s no secret that open-source coding community GitHub is one noted branch of a tech culture that continually struggles with sexism at every level.

Now, a leading female developer at GitHub is calling it quits, lashing out at what she calls a culture of toxicity.

I regret defending GitHub’s culture to feminists for the last two years. I’m sorry to everyone I’ve hurt in doing so.

— Julie Ann Horvath (@nrrrdcore) March 15, 2014

Just over a year ago, Julie Ann Horvath created Passion Projects, GitHub’s women-friendly outreach program designed to teach more women to code, get them interested in being a part of GitHub’s open-source community, and hire them to work for GitHub.

But last night on Twitter, after praising a successful Passion Projects event, she unexpectedly did an about-face, confirming she was leaving GitHub at the end of the month and launching into a series of accusations against GitHub’s “systematically fucked” culture of bullying and harassment.

Here is a sampling of Horvath’s statements on Twitter:

I’ve been harassed by ‘leadership’ at GitHub for two years. And I am the first developer to quit.

— Julie Ann Horvath (@nrrrdcore) March 15, 2014

I’m incredibly happy to moving on to join a more healthy work environment, with a team who doesn’t tolerate harassment of their peers.

— Julie Ann Horvath (@nrrrdcore) March 15, 2014

Don’t stand for aggressive behavior that’s disguised as “professional feeback” and demand that harassment isn’t tolerated.

— Julie Ann Horvath (@nrrrdcore) March 15, 2014

My only regret is not leaving or being fired sooner. What I endured as an employee of GitHub was unacceptable and went unnoticed by most.

— Julie Ann Horvath (@nrrrdcore) March 15, 2014

In one day, all of the work I’ve done at that company to be a better place for women to work has come undone.

— Julie Ann Horvath (@nrrrdcore) March 15, 20140

While at GitHub, Horvath worked to change tech culture to be more woman-friendly. Last year, in the wake of the tech community’s backlash against Adria Richards over #Donglegate, she wrote an eerily prophetic missive of her struggle:

I’ve tried my best to point things out that are fundamentally wrong within organizations I’m a part of, and have often been dismissed or given the ultimatum of keeping quiet or losing my job.

I’ve digested those experiences, have tried my best to move past them, and instead of continuing to lend power to people who thrive on conflict, have decided to focus my energy toward making my own company and this industry a better place for women to be. It makes me really sad to think that I could be martyred for this.

She’s not alone in her frustration. Last fall, a community member of GitHub’s code base, Ruby on Rails, blogged about being sexually harassed by her own boss while attending a Ruby conference. She later deleted her post due to receiving an onslaught of victim-blaming, rape, and death threats. Last night, Selena Deckelmann, the Passion Projects speaker for the evening’s event, spoke of women needing to cease trying to change the existing, white-male-dominated tech community, and start trying to make their own, new tech spaces:

@amysue key i think is making our own things. Building our own system, not trying to fix existing.

— Selena Deckelmann (@selenamarie) March 15, 2014

Meanwhile, on the anonymous iPhone app Secret, a GitHub employee using the name “greenshirt” aired numerous accusations of incompetence and “a history of RAGING against any professional criticism:”

.@getsecret told me they took down a post that’s attempting to assassinate my character. They didn’t. It continues. pic.twitter.com/JKCHH1prC6

— Julie Ann Horvath (@nrrrdcore) March 15, 2014

As greenshirt urged current employees of GitHub to form “a safe [anonymous] place where we can talk,” Horvath said, “I have never wanted to quit tech more than after having startup PTSD like this.”

Horvath found plenty of supporters both from within and without the GitHub community:

I really used to think GitHub was cool. Between Passion Projects and training videos and engineering blogs, I could almost see myself there.

— Ben Hutchison (@Aldaviva) March 15, 2014

But having a culture that’s so toxic that you can’t keep Julie Ann Horvath happy is what’s called a dealbreaker.

— Ben Hutchison (@Aldaviva) March 15, 2014

But with women like Horvath packing up and leaving, it may take even longer for that culture to see real change.

Update:  In an interview with TechCrunch, Horvath elaborated on her accusations. She claims that the source of the harassment related to hostile actions taken towards her by the wife of a an unnamed cofounder.

Horvath recounts a confusing HR system in place to deal with the relationship between Horvath, the founder, the founder’s wife, and Horvath’s partner, another GitHub employee whom Horvath claims was subject to investigation because of Horvath’s dispute with the wife. Horvath claims intimidation by the founder and his wife, and an unequal grievance system to deal with the issues. Additionally, Horvath alleges various other sexist incidents, from comments on pull requests, having her code reverted by a male employee, and being made to feel “unsafe” because of an incident involving numerous male employees “gawking” at a pair of women dancing with hula hoops

Update: GitHub issued the following statement Sunday night: 

“This weekend, GitHub employee Julie Horvath spoke publicly about negative experiences she had at GitHub that contributed to her resignation. I am deeply saddened by these developments and want to comment on what GitHub is doing to address them.

We know we have to take action and have begun a full investigation. While that’s ongoing, and effective immediately, the relevant founder has been put on leave, as has the referenced GitHub engineer. The founder’s wife discussed in the media reports has never had hiring or firing power at GitHub and will no longer be permitted in the office.

GitHub has grown incredibly fast over the past two years, bringing a new set of challenges. Nearly a year ago we began a search for an experienced HR Lead and that person came on board in January 2014. We still have work to do. We know that. However, making sure GitHub employees are getting the right feedback and have a safe way to voice their concerns is a primary focus of the company.

As painful as this experience has been, I am super thankful to Julie for her contributions to GitHub. Her hard work building Passion Projects has made a huge positive impact on both GitHub and the tech community at large, and she’s done a lot to help us become a more diverse company. I would like to personally apologize to Julie. It’s certain that there were things we could have done differently. We wish Julie well in her future endeavors.

Chris Wanstrath
CEO & Co-Founder

Photo via dasprid/Flickr; CC BY-SA 2.0

Share this article
*First Published: Mar 15, 2014, 1:26 pm CDT