“This whole conference debacle is so disappointing.” DevTernity AI-faked female speakers to bolster the gender diversity

The founder of a software developer conference DevTernity has been caught creating AI-generated fake female speakers using to bolster diversity numbers, 404 Media reports. After the word about fake speakers got out, many speakers started dropping out of the conference.

What is the DevTernity tech conference

DevTernity is a Riga-based online conference for developers. It is invite-only for speakers. In the past, it reportedly drew hundreds of attendees. Eduard Sizovs is the founder of the event, having started it in 2015. The prices to attend the conference started from $860.

However, the conference is not an all out success story. On November 25, engineer Gergely Orosz tweeted 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 showcased as the speakers. However, neither existed in real life nor had online presence other than on the conference website. Stadler, for example, was listed as a speaker for years, according to archives from 2021.

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Sizovs responded to these claims, admitting that he’d made at least one fake speaker, Stadler, in the process of building the DevTernity site and then left her up, because it wasn’t a “quick fix” and “it’s better to have that demo persona while I am searching for the replacement speakers.” Why exactly is it “better” Sizovs did not elaborate.

One of the reasons why the organizers did not delete these fake speakers, may be the need to bolster diversity, as out of the only three real female speakers, one couldn’t manage to arrive and two others decided not to go after the accusations came out.

What happened next

Eduards Sizovs did not take the accusations lightly. In a series of tweets the organizer tried to shift the blame on, firstly, technical errors, secondly, on the absent female speakers, and, lastly, on the criticism from the public as a whole. This did not go well with the attendees and the speakers, who started to drop out of the conference one by one.

One of those who left is Scott Hanselman, VP of development community at Microsoft. He said that he also pulled out of the conference, because “This whole conference debacle is so disappointing. Speakers like myself, when invited to a conf will immediately say ‘who all 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.”

He followed on the steps of David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails, who was one of the first speakers pulling out. Software engineer Kelsey Hightower also dropped out of DevTernity, saying he asked Sizovs to remove himself from the website, but didn’t even get a response.

The accusations escalated to the point, other fake speakers were found in other Sizovs’ conferences. In particular, Alina Prokhoda, listed as a Senior Engineer at WhatsApp, who was listed as a speaker at the JDKon conference.

Eventually, the conference got cancelled altogether. Sizovs did not respond to any requests to comment on the situation or the retrieval of the tickets.