Want to succeed on GitHub? Your odds are better if you’re white.


Software developers with names with a white sound might have greater satisfaction on GitHub than those with names that are perceived by users as Black, Hispanic or Asian-Pacific Islander, as per an article published recently.

The results, published in the spring of this year’s IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering are serious concerns about the implications of the lack or diversity in GitHub as well as in an open-source community generally.

Researchers from University of the Waterloo University of Waterloo analyzed more than 2 million contributions or “pull requests” that were submitted by 365,607 developers on GitHub. Making use of an AI tool known as NamePrism which analyzes the names of people in relation to the perceived ethnicity and race, they discovered that being considered White on GitHub generally boosts the developer’s chances of getting their ideas accepted. In contrast to developers that are perceived to be Hispanic or Asian Pacific Islanders, this increases the chances between 6 to 10 percent.

“Theoretically this is the only location where you can have the possibility of a meritocracy that is fully meritocratic. There’s no one who is an open-source software developer. You’re unlikely to have had a conversation with them or have an opinion about them. It’s at most you know their name.” stated Mei Nagappan, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Waterloo who co-authored the study.

It is possible that racism discrimination is still present, even in the present it is troubling, considering the power that open-source communities like GitHub have on the development of products, Nagappan said. “If we don’t take into account different voices that’s when software becomes created by and by the same people,” he said.

It’s not just that, GitHub is now a kind of portfolio site for developers. This means this type of attitude could have an impact on the development careers of developers. “If you’ve made contributions that have been accepted to any of the most popular projects, as newly-arrived, you may be able to turn that into a lucrative job in a firm,” Nagappan said.

GitHub hasn’t responded to Protocol’s request to comment The company did not respond to Protocol’s request for comment. Nagappan stated that the purpose of the study isn’t toa address GitHub specifically and to address the issues within the community of open source more generally. Nagappan stated that the findings are based upon previous research that has revealed there are developers who use GitHub whom are seen to be women and are less accepted. Acceptance rates also have been observed to differ based on the developer’s country of birth.

He says his findings that the NamePrism tool that his team employed does not have the best accuracy in making predictions about people’s race or ethnicity. In cases where the tool was able to provide the highest level of confidence, researchers did not assign a race or ethnicity to developers. For the rest, they classified the developer’s race to be “unknown.”

Although the Waterloo researchers did not shy away from the possibility of attributing this discrimination based on race on GitHub to a specific source, they did observe most developers who contribute suggestions on GitHub and that the majority of those responding to these contributions have names that researchers believed were white. Additionally, they discovered the developers viewed to be Black, Hispanic, and Asian-Pacific Islanders are more likely to receive pull requests in the event that the people who reply to them belong to the same ethnic or racial group.

To counteract this bias, the researchers recommend that GitHub use the double-blind or single-blind model that is similar to the way research is evaluated in academia. Another suggestion is that it should need multiple people to evaluate an individual contribution in order to avoid having one individual’s biases be impeded.

The issue of how the perceptions of race influence people’s online interactions aren’t only a problem for GitHub. In the year 2000, Airbnb launched a research project named Project Lighthouse which also sought to study the way that racial discrimination can manifest through the site and the role that the names of people influencing the perceptions of other users.

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