Skip to main content

This dev conference organizer seems addicted to making up women

This dev conference organizer seems addicted to making up women

/

Eduards Sizovs, the organizer behind the Devternity and JDKon developer conferences, admitted that at least one woman speaker’s profile was ‘auto-generated.’

Share this story

An illustration of a woman typing on a keyboard, her face replaced with lines of code.
Sizovs is also believed to be running (or at least influencing) the popular Coding Unicorn tech influencer across social media.
Image: The Verge

Something seems to be amiss with the diverse speaker list of the Devternity and JDKon developer conferences. The women, some of whom allegedly work for the parent company of both conferences, Dev.events, do not appear to exist. Devternity founder Eduards Sizovs has come under fire for creating fake women guest speakers for the events — and possibly creating a popular “tech influencer” that’s amassed over 115,000 real-world followers on Instagram.

As first noted by 404 Media, on November 24th, engineer Gergely Orosz claimed that several women listed to appear as Devternity speakers — including Coinbase staff engineer Anna Boyko and Coinbase “software craftswoman” Natalie Stadler — didn’t actually exist and were made up by the event organizers to “seem like there will be more women speaking.”

Orosz also claimed that the profile for Microsoft MVP and WhatsApp senior engineer Alina Prokhoda — a speaker set to appear at the JDKon 2024 conference for Java developers (run by Dev.events, the company also behind Devternity) — had no online presence outside of the event and was likely fake as well.

Coinbase has confirmed to The Verge that the company “is not aware of any Coinbase employees speaking at the conference,” but did not clarify if Boyko or Stadler were real employees. We have contacted Microsoft and Meta to verify if Prokhoda was ever employed by the companies. Or better yet, if she even exists.

In a lengthy response to Orosz’s accusations on X (formerly Twitter), Devternity founder Eduards Sizovs admitted that at least one profile was “auto-generated, with a random title, random Twitter handle, random picture,” used for website testing, and should not have featured in the speaker lineup. Sizovs claims that he first noticed the issue in October but elected to keep the unspecified fake persona live while searching for replacement speakers.

Sizovs claims two women speakers who were initially lined up to attend the Devternity conference — head of developer relations at Amazon Web Services, Kristine Howard, and “tech influencer” Julia Kirsina — dropped out of the event, leaving it with a “worse-than-expected level of diversity of speakers.” Which is certainly a rationale for keeping fake women on your speaker list to make your conference appear more diverse than it is, but not a very good one.

Sizovs implies that the lack of diversity for guest speakers was due to “1000s of events chasing the same small sub-group of female speakers,” and that booking three (one of which included the now-removed fake profile for Anna Boyko) was somehow a commendable achievement. It should be noted that the Devternity conference doesn’t accept external applications to speak at the event and instead chooses to contact speakers directly.

But wait a minute, we still haven’t talked about that one likely fake influencer. Julia Kirsina, who goes by Coding Unicorn on social media, has over 115,000 followers on Instagram and lists the Devternity conference as one of her employers on LinkedIn. Sizovs claims that her dropping out of the conferences is partially what led to this whole house of fake women collapsing. But it seems that Kirsina might also be fake!

Despite being named a Devternity speaker on several occasions, Kirsinia does not appear to have ever delivered a talk. Orosz noted the possibility she was fake in his initial investigation, as did some other developers. Noted hacker SheNetworks claims that Sizovs himself may be “catfishing” as the influencer, pointing to a string of evidence on X that shows Sizovs had access to the Coding Unicorn Google account, and that Kirsina used the moniker “eduardsi” in Instagram posts of her coding. Eduardsi sounds a lot like the handle of someone with a name like Eduards Sizovs. A larger report by 404 Media adds weight to these claims, noting that several of Kirsina’s LinkedIn and Instagram posts were copied word-for-word from Sizovs’s own social media accounts.

The Coding Unicorn influencer accounts have been described as “reminiscent of catfishing or booth babery.”

Developer advocate Liz Fong-Jones also believes that Sizovs is masquerading as Kirsina, saying that her posting history is “reminiscent of catfishing or booth babery” and that she had provided reviews for projects led by Sizovs without disclosing a connection. “If a man is dishonest to the point of trying to infiltrate women in tech communities and doing the shitty trope of ‘flash skin for extra reach/views’, they should be ejected from our industry entirely,” said Fong-Jones in her statement on Linkedin. “This kind of shit makes every single woman have to prove herself 100x harder to prove we’re not a ‘fake’ and that we got to where we are through hard work, not through sexy pics/flirting.”

The RISEBA University of Applied Sciences — one of the schools that Kirsina claims to have attended between 2011 and 2014 on her LinkedIn Profile to obtain a bachelor’s degree in information technology — also told The Verge that its systems “do not indicate any records” of that qualification being transferred to a student with her name.

Sizovs denied creating artificial profiles to boost diversity but hasn’t addressed questions about Kirsina’s possible existence (and as of publishing, Kirsina has not responded to The Verge’s request for comment). At the time of writing, both the Devternity and JDKon websites have been taken offline for unexplained reasons.

Several confirmed speakers have since withdrawn from both events, with Ruby on Rails creator David Heinemeier Hansson telling 404 Media that he was unsatisfied with the organizers. “Sizovs’ response to the allegations didn’t pass my sniff test, so I withdrew,” he said, adding that the organizer’s “failure to respond to my request to be removed from the conference website” didn’t help the situation.

Meanwhile, actual women developers who exist in the world right now continue to exist.