March 7, 2007

Australia's LinuxChix unite to form AussieChix

Author: Melissa Draper

LinuxChix, a social networking group for women who use Linux and other open source software, was formed in 1999 by Deb Richardson, a Linux user who was frustrated by the attitudes of many other Linux-oriented groups. Since then, the organisation has grown dramatically, and there are currently more than 40 regional LinuxChix chapters around the world. Until February, LinuxChix had chapters in Australia in Melbourne and Sydney. Following discussions at the Linux.Conf.Au conference in Sydney in January, members realised that a national group would better serve the country. Last month the groups united to form AussieChix, a new nationwide chapter that makes the group more accommodating to women from across Australia, whilst also improving the communications between the members of the previous chapters.

AussieChix is not an exclusive club. It is free to join, and the only requirements are to "be polite, be helpful." According to the group's pitch to members, "You don't need to love Linux -- you don't even need to have dabbled in the deviant delights of open source software. If you are a woman who wants to get more out of her machine, we want you."

Being a woman in IT can be lonely at times, according to Donna Benjamin, the chapter's spokeswoman. "Many of us have expressed a sense of isolation. The image created for our conference T-shirts this year showed one woman in a line of men, and the caption was 'standing out from the crowd' because it's a bit like that. We're often the only girl-geek in our local communities."

Benjamin first started using Linux via an account on a friend's computer 12 years ago. "It was just an account on someone else's Linux box, and I used to Telnet in, check email, browse the Web, and connect to bulletin boards."

She met her husband on a bulletin board in 1994, and they, along with a group of other guys, set up and ran their own BBS. "That was my first experience in being involved in the leadership of a virtual community. It ran software called YAWC on Linux."

Benjamin now has many roles in the open source community. She is director of Open Source Industry Australia, an industry association for open source companies, and conference director for the 2008 Linux.Conf.Au, which is to be held in Melbourne. Additionally, she runs a business, Creative Contingencies, which she started back in 1997 and which runs on Linux. It offers Web services, research, meeting facilitation, and more recently, event management.

"All our servers run the Linux operating system and a range of other free and open source applications," she says. "Our desktop computers run Linux almost exclusively, and our laptops are multiboot machines running a range of different operating systems."

Quite a few of the AussieChix members are veteran geeks. Some started out in the early '80s when computing was not quite a male-dominated industry, but there are many novices too.

"LinuxChix is a place to hang out with other women who appreciate technology, and most importantly, to have fun," Benjamin says. "It's early days for us, but we're all keen to increase the number of women in our network, to reach out to each other and share our experiences, knowledge and ideas."

March 8 is International Women's Day. To celebrate, AussieChix is holding its official launch, with the aim being to highlight the existence and importance of women in the IT industry. You're invited to visit the chapter's Web site or drop into the #aussiechix IRC channel on irc.linuxchix.org.

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