While some of us daydream about being cyborgs, Naomi Wu has already unlocked major cyborg status. The Shenzhen-based Maker and engineer has been making waves in the open source hardware community for the past few years, for projects from smart wearables like her LED Skirt, to works of peak hacker cool like her 无影鞋 (Wu Ying) shoes, which contain a hidden pentesting box with OpenWRT that can be used for wifi sniffing and logging.
Wu is prolific and passionate in her work, working on projects and producing how-to videos while making ends meet during the day as a web developer. In addition to making open source projects, Naomi directly challenges gender stereotypes, especially stereotypes in tech.
Despite once being a female-dominated profession, the widely held stereotype of a computer programmer or hardware engineer today is a guy wearing thick, wire-framed glasses. This stereotype is being challenged by smart women across the globe, from Silicon Valley to Bangalore to Shenzhen. Unfortunately, as veteran programmer Ellen Ullman once said, “People in power do not yield so easily.” As a result, women engineers often experience a questioning of their technical abilities, sexual harassment on the job, and are excluded from events and technical conferences for perceived lack of know-how.
This past year, Wu raised the issue of how women and locally-based makers were underrepresented at Maker Faire Shenzhen, which wrapped last week. She also tweeted at Maker Faire founder Dale Dougherty about the issue. Maker Faire is produced by Make: magazine, and dubs itself “part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new” and “a celebration of the Maker Movement.” Dougherty is considered the “father” of the Maker movement, as he is creator of Maker Faire and CEO of Maker Media.
Did I email prior to Maker Faire SZ specifically to dicuss local representation after seeing there were no local female Makers invited? https://t.co/CpcRrDi7aG
— Naomi Wu (@RealSexyCyborg) May 24, 2017
As Dougherty and Wu exchanged words over Twitter, out of the blue Dougherty sent a bizarre tweet claiming that Wu somehow wasn’t real.
I want to be very specific and accurate about our exchange. I was not planning to publish it, but since I think it's important I'll push the first few lines with apologies. Dale owned & apologized for these comments, so I think it's okay. pic.twitter.com/SByOA7AlIA
— Coder Formerly Known As 'Joe Lieberman of Ruby' (@KirinDave) November 8, 2017
After continuing to claim Wu wasn’t real, over several tweets and direct messages, support for Wu came from various people, including American engineer Andrew “Bunnie” Huang, who published a lengthy blog post about the situation.
Unfortunately, the damage had been done to Wu’s reputation despite Dougherty issuing a lukewarm apology on November 6. In questioning her credibility — even her existence as a person — Dougherty did a huge amount of damage to Wu’s reputation, sponsorship and business opportunities.
It wasn’t until this past Sunday that Dougherty issued a more meaningful apology. In it, he pledged that Make: magazine would feature Wu’s projects, and that his organization would bring Wu to a US Maker Faire in 2018, covering her visa and travel expenses. Dougherty also pledged to create an advisory board on diversity for Maker Faire.
My reference to a web page that claimed that a white male was responsible for her projects was insulting to Naomi, to women, and to the technical and creative capabilities of the Chinese people
Naomi shared pointed criticism around diversity at Maker Faire Shenzhen, including the very important issues of not being sufficiently inclusive of female makers, and the over-representation of foreign-born makers. I should have put more effort into addressing those issues myself and I fully accept responsibility for not doing so. I realize that I contributed to the marginalization of women and local makers in China and I apologize for that.
Despite losing sponsorship deals due to the slander, Wu graciously wrote that after Dougherty’s most recent apology, she considered it resolved and would be working on repairing her reputation in China as well as continuing to advance and support the status of women in tech.
I consider the issue with me resolved. This apology is more comprehensive and I have been promised tools with which I can repair my reputation here in China. https://t.co/smPygIJKeh
— Naomi Wu (@RealSexyCyborg) November 19, 2017
Through support via Patreon, she also been able to spend less time on web development contracts and more time on building and making projects that continue to inspire and empower makers everywhere, such as her most recently released Sino:bit project. We look forward to seeing Naomi Wu Stateside soon, and applaud her for the attention she’s brought to not only women in tech, but also innovation in China.