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29 Nov, 2023 19:07

Tech conference canceled over bogus women

The organizer of the DevTernity event was accused of padding its diversity bona fides with fake women speakers
Tech conference canceled over bogus women

Online software developers’ conference DevTernity has been canceled, organizer Eduards Sizovs confirmed in an email to Fortune on Monday. Nearly half of the event’s speakers had reportedly pulled out by Monday night amid reports the conference had attempted to inflate its diversity credentials with fake profiles of female speakers and participants.  

DevTernity and JDKon, another conference organized by Sizovs, both featured fake women as speakers on their male-heavy schedules, tech newsletter editor Gergely Orosz revealed in a post on X (formerly Twitter) on Friday, pointing out that three of the four women listed on the program at DevTernity were not actually speaking there and two did not appear to exist at all.  

Sizovs quickly admitted to manufacturing one woman, an “Anna Boyko,” who supposedly worked as a staff engineer at Coinbase and a core contributor at Ethereum. Boyko “doesn’t exist, except as a listed speaker at a prominent online conference,” he explained, claiming she had only been created as a “demo persona.” He removed her from DevTernity’s roster on Friday night.  

Julia Kirsina, said to be an influencer who goes by “Coding Unicorn” on Instagram, backed out of her speaker role because she was helping to organize the event instead, Sizovs claimed, after he was accused of operating Kirsina’s profile as a female “sock puppet.” Critics noted that Kirsina’s social media posts exactly mirrored Sizovs’ own with a few stereotypically feminine touches – at least one post showed a login under Sizovs’ own username – and pointed out that both her employment education history were clearly fabricated.   

Programmer and author Sandi Metz, the third woman speaker on the program, had dropped out for “personal reasons,” though her existence in real life was not questioned. That left just one female speaker, Amazon Web Services developer relations executive Kristine Howard, who withdrew from the conference amid the fallout over two of her female co-presenters being fake. 

Sizovs lamented that “1000s of events chasing the same small sub-group of female speakers” had prevented him from booking more women. He denied padding the roster with women to “boost diversity,” however, insisting that removing Boyko, Kirsina, and Metz from the site while he searched for replacement speakers would have been too much work, coding-wise.  

While he admitted he had made “a mistake,” Sizovs insisted “I did nothing terrible that I need to apologize for” in a post on X on Saturday. “The amount of hate and lynching I keep receiving is as if I would have scammed or killed someone,” he complained. 

However, Orosz’s investigation showed previous conferences organized by Sizovs in 2021 and 2022 had also included fake females, raising the question of why he would repeat such a “mistake.”

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