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As GitHub’s Conference Begins, Five Employees Resign Over ICE Contract

Tech workers are protesting outside of Github’s biggest event of the year—and several speakers have dropped out.

by Janus Rose and Lauren Kaori Gurley
Nov 13 2019, 4:59pm

Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images 

At least five GitHub employees have quit their jobs in response to the software development platform’s $200,000 contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to three sources close to the company.

The resignations come on the eve of GitHub Universe, the Microsoft-owned software development platform’s annual marquee event in San Francisco. Wednesday and Thursday, more than 1,700 engineers, developers, data scientists, product managers, engineering students, and executives from around the world will file into the Palace of Fine Arts to network and talk about the future of software.

Another topic of discussion will likely be the company’s refusal to end its business with ICE.

Several high-profile speakers have dropped out of the event, and protesters are planning a demonstration involving a replica of the cages that ICE uses to detain migrant children.

Motherboard confirmed with three GitHub sources that five employees have resigned from the company at least in part to protest its contract with ICE. ("All five cited the ICE contract and management's handling thereof in their resignations,” one source told Motherboard.) And, in recent weeks, at least four speakers scheduled to present at Universe have dropped out, including GitHub employees themselves, who have been organizing internally to end the contract.

“I have withdrawn from speaking at GitHub Universe because...they provide support for ICE,” Ada Rose Cannon, a developer advocate for Samsung Internet, tweeted in late October. “I will not be speaking there nor will I be attending.”

Yesterday, Lily Dart, a British product researcher who was scheduled to speak at the Github Universe Roadshow in London next week, also dropped out. “Super sad to say this, because I have always been a big fan of @github. I was supposed to speak their Universe Roadshow in London next week. Given their position with ICE I don't feel comfortable promoting them, so I have just dropped out.”

Twenty minutes before Github’s CEO Nat Friedman delivers his keynote address today, dozens of tech workers and immigrant rights activists will protest outside with a replica of the cages ICE uses to detain migrant families and children. “The demonstration will be shedding light on GitHub's contract with ICE and is intended to show support for the GitHub workers who are organizing internally to get the contract cancelled,” Tech Workers Coalition, the group organizing the protest, told Motherboard.

Friedman, who came on as Github’s CEO after its $7.5 billion acquisition by Microsoft in 2018, has been a leading defender of GitHub’s contract. On October 9, he sent an email to employees announcing and defending his decision to renew the company’s 2016 ICE contract. “While ICE does manage immigration law enforcement, including the policies that both GitHub and Microsoft are on record strongly opposing, they are also on the front lines of fighting human trafficking, child exploitation, terrorism and transnational crime,” he wrote, adding that the company would donate $500,000 to non-profits working to combat the effects of Trump’s immigration policies. As of now, the money has not yet been donated.

In that same email, Friedman admitted revenue from the contract is only worth $200,000, which he claims is not “financially material for the company.” In other words, GitHub has committed to spend more on positive PR to counteract the damage of the contract than the contract is worth, leading employees to speculate to Motherboard that either Microsoft or GitHub has other contracts to hide.

Friedman’s response has outraged many employees. Nearly 25 percent of the company has signed onto an open letter demanding Friedman cancel the contract, including half of the engineering department.

Do you work for GitHub or Microsoft, or are you organizing your tech company? We'd love to hear from you. You can contract Lauren at lauren.gurley@vice.com or on Signal at 201-897-2109.

Sophie Haskins, the first GiHub employee to quit her job, told Motherboard that the decision to renew the ICE contract was “certainly was not in line with the morals that I expect from people in leadership positions at GitHub, and I did not want to be a part of it.” Motherboard confirmed Wednesday that four other GitHub employees have followed Haskins out the door.

In recent months, tech workers at Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Chef, and most recently Tableau have organized to end such contracts, in some cases facing retaliation from their employers. This week, Google admitted to firing at least one worker and putting two others on leave who leaked information to the media.

GitHub did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tagged:
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