The founder of a software developer conference has been accused of creating fake female speakers to bolster diversity numbers—and some speakers are dropping out, with the event just nine days away. 

Devternity is an online conference for developers that’s invite-only for speakers. In the past, it reportedly drew hundreds of attendees both when it was in-person in Latvia and even more after it moved online. Eduards Sizovs founded the event in 2015. 

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Engineer Gergely Orosz tweeted on Thursday that he’d discovered fake speakers listed on the Devternity site. Two women—Anna Boyko, listed as a staff engineer at Coinbase, and Natalie Stadler, a “software craftswoman” at Coinbase—were included on the site as speakers but appear to not exist in real life. Neither have an online presence beyond the Devternity website itself. 

Imagine a tech conference having no CFP, as they reach out to speakers directly. They successfully attract some of the most heavy hitter men speakers in tech, and 3 women speakers.

Now imagine my surprise that 2 of those women are FAKE profiles.

They do not exist.

Nada.

— Gergely Orosz (@GergelyOrosz) November 24, 2023

Orosz found archived versions of the Devternity site where Boyko and Stadler were listed; Stadler’s listing was up for years, according to archives from 2021

DevTernity has had fake women speakers listed for years.

Here is fake Anna Boyle’s “colleague” fake Natalie Stadler claimed to be at Coinbase (no such person ever worked there ofc – I checked).

She “spoke” in 2022 there as well.

Just incredible.https://t.co/q4mpwrw3ym pic.twitter.com/2sdhEcuORc

— Gergely Orosz (@GergelyOrosz) November 25, 2023

Sizovs responded to these claims in a 916-word tweet, admitting that he’d made at least one fake speaker, Stadler, in the process of building the Devternity site and then left her up. 

Dear Reader,

If you know me well, you know that I have high standards of work and professional ethics. You know that DevTernity has been my life’s work, and DevTernity is the event that I love and deeply care about. We’ve always delivered on the promise, and the event has been…

— Eduards Sizovs (@eduardsi) November 25, 2023

He said that the profile was “auto-generated, with a random title, random Twitter handle, random picture,” and that while he noticed it was still on the site, he delayed taking it off because it wasn’t a “quick fix” and that “it’s better to have that demo persona while I am searching for the replacement speakers,” he wrote. In his tweet, Sizovs did not elaborate on why he believed this was “better.” 

Sizovs wrote that after this year’s upcoming conference “achieved a worse-than-expected level of diversity of speakers,” author and programmer Sandi Metz, “Software Craftswoman, Tech Influencer @ Instagram” Julia Kirsina, and head of developer relations at Amazon Web Services Kristine Howard were the only three women he was able to bring on as speakers. But two of the three dropped out, he said:   

“Sandi for health issues; Julia switched to helping with the organization (you can’t do both speaking and organization). Sandi and Julia didn’t make it to the final schedule, but they kept appearing on the website while I was looking for a replacement. This, partially, led to an accusation that, since they’re not part of the schedule, we’ve probably added them just to meet arbitrary diversity criteria. That statement is bold and unfair. Sandi and Julia confirmed their participation; they should have been part of the final schedule but dropped out for reasons out of our control at the worst possible time. Ask Sandi or Julia. So, we ended up with only one female speaker—Kris. So, while I was looking for a last-minute replacement, hoping I’d find it, Sandi, and Julia were still mentioned on the website.”

Metz told me that she is, in fact, recovering from recent knee replacement surgery and had to drop out for that reason. Sizovs has been “good naturedly hounding” her to speak for years, she said. “I finally agreed to speak this year, and then had to bail because of this surgery.” 

Howard told me that she was traveling when this situation unfolded on social media, and she emailed the organizers of Devternity immediately. She also said Orosz reached out to her before he posted his Twitter thread with the allegations about fake accounts 

“While I was legitimately on the agenda as a speaker (I was invited to speak six months ago), at this point I’m definitely not participating,” Howard said. “The last email I had from the organiser yesterday indicated that the event is not going to happen this year, which is definitely for the best. I don’t know yet why he hasn’t taken down the site, but I hope it’ll happen soon. Most of the speakers I know on the agenda that I’m in contact with have pulled out.” 

A spokesperson for Coinbase told me that they weren’t aware of any Coinbase employees speaking at the conference.

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Do you know anything else about Devternity, or the speakers mentioned? I would love to hear from you. Using a non-work device, you can message me securely on Signal at +1 646 926 1726. Otherwise, send me an email at sam@404media.co.

Orosz added in a later tweet, “So now I’m the bad guy for calling out your[siq] your conference had fake women profiles in 2021, 2022, and now, in 2023?” and reposted the Stadler listing. 

“Do you have any concerns other than this single poor random lady, who actually *never made it to the final schedule*? I double-checked. Ne-ver. For 8 years in a row, attendees were getting what they were paying for. Every. Single. Time,” Sizovs responded, referring to Stadler.

Kirsina is still listed as a speaker on the Devternity site, despite Sizovs saying she is no longer speaking. Sizovs removed Boyko (the other speaker alleged to be fake) two days ago, according to the Github repository for the site, after Orosz’ thread went viral. 

A few hours after his first post, Sizovs tweeted again:

“I said it was a mistake, a bug that turned out to be a feature. I even fixed that on my website! We’re cool? Nooooo, we want blood! Let’s cancel this SINNER!” he tweeted. “The amount of hate and lynching I keep receiving is as if I would have scammed or killed someone. But I won’t defend myself because I don’t feel guilty. I did nothing terrible that I need to apologize for.” 

So I’ve been called out (and canceled?) by listing a person on my conference’s website (who never actually made it to the final program). JUST A RANDOM PERSON ON THE CONFERENCE WEBSITE canceled all the good work I’ve been doing for 15+ years. All focus on that.

I said it was a…

— Eduards Sizovs (@eduardsi) November 25, 2023

Even if Sizovs’ story is true, and Stadler was a demo listing that he left up by mistake, some speakers feel misled and are dropping out of the conference. Scott Hanselman, VP of development community at Microsoft, said he also pulled out of the conference. “This whole conference debacle is so disappointing. Speakers like myself, when invited to a conf will immediately say ‘who alls gonna be there?’” he wrote. “I’ve my rules for participation posted on my site—including an inclusive lineup—for years. I was duped by the fake speakers also.” 

This whole conference debacle is so disappointing. Speakers like myself, when invited to a conf will immediately say “who alls gonna be there?” I’ve my rules for participation posted on my site – including an inclusive lineup – for years. I was duped by the fake speakers also. https://t.co/LBWIPZILT2

— Scott Hanselman 🌮 (@shanselman) November 27, 2023

David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails, responded to Sizovs’ tweet saying he was “out” of the conference, which lists him as a speaker. “What a strange tale. Never seen anything like this in decades of speaking at conferences,” Hansson wrote. “Regardless of what may ultimately be up or down here, I’m out.”

What a strange tale. Never seen anything like this in decades of speaking at conferences. Regardless of what may ultimately be up or down here, I’m out. https://t.co/97aK4525NV

— DHH (@dhh) November 26, 2023

“Sizovs’ response to the allegations didn’t pass my sniff test, so I withdrew,” Hansson told me. “His failure to respond to my request to be removed from the conference website didn’t help either. Hopefully people can get their money back, if they so desire.”

Software engineer Kelsey Hightower also dropped out of Devternity. “I have made mistakes of my own, so I’ll show some empathy by not calling out everything I would have done differently in hindsight. I will say this, the pool of qualified speakers is much larger than it has ever been,” he wrote in a reply to Sizovs’ tweet. “This isn’t all on you by the way, and as a paid speaker I also need to take a bit of accountability. Given the allegations and your response, I can no longer participate in the event, and have asked that I be removed from the program, and removed as a listed speaker on the website, GitHub repository, and any future promotions for the event.”

As someone who has organized and helped run large events, I understand how challenging it can be to put together a program and oversee an event from start to finish.

However, based on your own telling of the events, I take issue with continuing to advertise speakers who have…

— Kelsey Hightower (@kelseyhightower) November 26, 2023

Speakers at Sizovs’ other events are also dropping out after Orosz’s claims that Sizovs made up speakers at the JDKon conference, too: Alina Prokhoda, listed as a Senior Engineer at WhatsApp, Microsoft MVP, has no online presence. Vlad Mihalcea, a Java programmer who was set to speak at JDKon, tweeted that he was no longer speaking at the event because of these allegations:

You still talking at his conference, JDKon, where fake Alina was listed for a few months, and fake Julia is still listed as a speaker (she will “pull out” last minute as with all conferences since 2021)? https://t.co/Hhaasd0RQi

— Gergely Orosz (@GergelyOrosz) November 26, 2023

Sizovs did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Updated 11/27/23 with comment from Coinbase.

About the author

Sam Cole is writing from the far reaches of the internet, about sexuality, the adult industry, online culture, and AI. She’s the author of How Sex Changed the Internet and the Internet Changed Sex.

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