In the past several years stories about harassment, particularly of women, have popped in and out of the headlines, both in the U.S. and other countries around the world. At the same time there has also been increasing attention paid to the lack of women in computing and the things that might be done about that. This week a story appeared that brings these two topics together.

The New Yorker reported that Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system, is stepping aside from overseeing the collaborative, open-source project that maintains the system. The articles goes on to describe decades of abuse that Torvalds has unleashed on contributors to the project, including emails that tell people to “Please just kill yourself now. The world will be a better place.” While his abuse was shared broadly with both male and female contributors to the project, the article makes a reasonable case that the abusive atmosphere has done quite a bit to discourage women from joining the project. The article also interestingly points out that such an approach isn’t necessary, noting that Guido van Rossum, the creator of Python, is a self-described feminist who has actively encouraged female developers to join the Python development community.

That stories like this appear and receive attention is something I appreciate and applaud, because understanding what’s happening is the first step toward changing it. And I have to believe that things will change. It’s simply too discouraging for me to think anything else.