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Developer Conference in jeopardy

by on29 November 2023

Fake females fail to impress speakers.

A developer conference is in trouble after speakers started to pull out when organisers added fake female speakers to meet diversity expectations.

Headline speakers started dropping out of the DevTernity conference over the weekend after tech newsletter writer Gergely Orosz posted accusations on social media that organisers posted fake speaker profiles to show that women were showing up.

The sudden shortage appeared when senior software engineers supported Liz Fong-Jones, CTO at, in declaring that women would not speak at any conference alongside Robert [Uncle Bob] Martin, a 70-year-old controversial software developer who has made negative comments about women working in the industry and trots out the usual cliches about fighting “wokism” as a free pass.

In this case, Uncle Bob was not the real reason for the issue. Some speakers who dropped out of the event told Computing they would not stand for a conference organiser with fake personas in its line-up, regardless of the organiser's explanation that it was a silly mistake.

DevTernity conference organiser Eduards Sizovs said in defence against the accusations on X/Twitter that the fake speaker was a demo persona from his test website that he noticed had slipped through that he knew needed fixing. Still, it would not be easy, and he was busy. He was trying to find a real woman to fill the speaker slot, but it wasn't proving easy.

"There have been 1000s of events chasing the same small sub-group of female speakers," he wrote. "Despite our attempts, we've achieved a worse-than-expected level of diversity of speakers.  It's far from what we wanted."

But Fong-Jones, Orosz and tech news website 404Media accused Sizovs of creating another fake persona: a glamorous female software developer with her Instagram account and a speaking slot at his conference. She pulled out at the last minute. They gathered evidence asserting that Julia Kirsina, though a real person and an employee of Sizovs' conference firm, was in her online guise merely a sock-puppet for Sizovs: a persona inhabited by Sizovs himself. They said he wrote inspirational Instagram messages for young female coders.

Kristine Howard, head of developer relations at Amazon Web Services, had been the only female speaker on the conference programme after Kirsina and another genuine female software engineer pulled out. Howard told Computing she had pulled out of the conference, that Sizovs told her it was cancelled, and that she didn't want to get involved in the controversy.

Software developer David Heinemeier Hansson told Computing that he resigned from the conference line-up because Sizovs had crossed a red line with even the little he had admitted.

"I can't offer any support. He admitted to using fake profiles "while looking for other speakers". That's just a huge no-no," he said.

Kelsey Hightower, a distinguished former Google software engineer, told Computing: "The conference organiser's response to the situation didn't sit well with me." He wrote on X/Twitter that he understood how tough it could be getting a conference together. But this was not an excuse.

As expected, Bob Martin wrote on X/Twitter: "This DevTernity affair smells a lot like Cancel Culture -- and it doesn't smell good to me."

Sizovs wrote on X/Twitter that he had high standards and ethics, and the accusations against him were unfair.

"DevTernity has been my life's work, and the event has been highly regarded... It's all the result of hard and ethical work.

"Orosz didn't bother contacting me and sharing his concerns. He went straight to socials, and, using the power of his social network, shared all his assumptions without validating them, damaging my life's work and reputation," he wrote.

Last modified on 29 November 2023
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