What Are Brogrammers Afraid Of?

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Disclaimer: these opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent the opinion of any person or institution who are not me.

The topic of sexism in the software industry has flared up recently. This post by Katie Cunningham (aka The Real Katie), entitled Lighten Up, caught my attention. As a father of a delightful little girl, I hope someday my daughter feels welcomed as a developer should she choose that profession.

In general, I try to avoid discussions of politics, religion, and racism/sexism on my blog not because I don’t have strong feelings about these things, but I doubt I will change anyone’s mind.

If you don’t think there’s an institutionalized subtle sexism problem in our industry, I probably won’t change your mind.

So I won’t try.

Instead, I want to attempt an empirical look at some problems that probably do affect you today that just happen to be related to sexism. Maybe you’ll want to do something about it.

But first, some facts.

The Facts

Whether we agree on the existence of institutional sexism in our industry, I think we can all agree that our industry is overwhelmingly male.

It wasn’t always like this. Ada Lovelace is widely credited as the world’s first programmer. So there was at least a brief time in the 1840s when 100% of developers were women. As late as the 1960s, computing was seen as women’s work, emphasis mine:

“You have to plan ahead and schedule everything so it’s ready when you need it. Programming requires patience and the ability to handle detail. Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming.

The same site where I found that quote has a link to this great Life Magazine archive photo of IBM computer operators.

ibm-60s

But the percentage of women declined steadily from that point. According to this Girls Go Geek post, in 1987, 42% of software developers were women. But then:

From 1984 to 2006, the number of women majoring in computer science dropped from 37% to 20% — just as the percentages of women were increasing steadily in all other fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, with the possible exception of physics.

The post goes on to state that the number of CS grads at Harvard is on the increase, but overall numbers are still low.

So why is there this decline? That’s not an easy question to answer, but I think we can rule out the idea that women are somehow inherently not suited for software development. History proves that idea wrong.

Ok fine, there’s less women in software for whatever reasons. Maybe they don’t want to be developers. Hard for me to believe as I think it’s the best goddamn profession ever. But let’s humor that argument just for a moment. Suppose that was true. Why is it a problem for our industry? I’ll name two reasons.

The OSS Contributor Problem

If you’re involved in an open source project, you’ve probably noticed that it’s really hard to find good contributors. So many projects are solitary labors of love. Well it turns out according this post, Sexism: Open Source Software’s Dirty Little Secret:

Asked to guess what percentage of FOSS developers are women, mostly people guess a number between 30-45%. A few, either more observant or anticipating a trick question after hearing the proprietary figure, guess 12-16%. The exact figure, though, is even lower: 1.5%

In other words, women’s participation in FOSS development is over seventeen times lower than it is in proprietary software development.

HWHAT!? That is insane!

From a purely selfish standpoint, that’s a lot of potential developers who could be contributing to your project. Even if you don’t believe there’s rampant institutionalized sexism, why wouldn’t you want to remove barriers and create an environment that makes more contributors feel welcome to your project?

Oh, and just making your logo pink isn’t the way to go about it. Not that I have anything against pink, but simple stereotypical approaches won’t cut it. Really listen to the concerns of folks like Katie and try and address them.

I don’t mean to suggest you will get legions of female contributors overnight. This is a very complex problem and I have no clue how to fix it. I’m probably just as guilty as I can’t name a single female contributor to any of my projects, though I’ve tried my best to cajole some to contribute (you know who you are!). But a good first step is to remove ignorance and indifference to the topic.

The Employment Problem

We all know how hard it is to find good developers. In fact, while the recession saw high overall unemployment, that time was marked by a labor shortage of developers. So it comes as a surprise to me that employers tolerate a work environment that makes a large percentage of the potential workforce feel unwelcome.

According to this New York Times article written in 2010,

The share of women in the Silicon Valley-based work force was 33 percent, dropping down from 37 percent in 1999.

Note that it’s not just a gender issue.

It’s an issue I’ve covered over the years, so I was interested to see that while the collective work force of those 10 companies grew by 16 percent between 1999 and 2005, the proportion of Hispanic workers declined by 11 percent, to about 2,200; they now make up about 7 percent of the total work force. Black workers declined to 2 percent of the work force, down from 3 percent.

Again, my point here isn’t to say “You should be ashamed of yourself for being sexist and racist!” Though if you are, you should be.

No, the point here is shift your perspective and look at the reality of the current situation we’re in, despite the reasons why it is the way it is. For whatever reasons, there’s a lot of people who might be great developers, but feel that our industry doesn’t welcome them. That’s a problem! And an opportunity!

It’s an opportunity to improve our industry! If we make the software industry a place where women and minorities want to work, we’ve increased the available pool of software developers. That not only means more quality developers to hire, it also means more diverse perspectives, which is important to creative thought and benefits the bottom line:

So a sociologist called Cedric Herring has just completed a very interesting study that obtained data from 250 representative companies in the United States that looked at both their diversity levels as well as various measures of business performance there. And he finds that with every successive level of increased diversity, companies actually appear to do better on all those measures of business performance.

That’s a pretty compelling argument.

So, what are brogrammers afraid of?

For the uninitiated, the term “brogrammer” is a recent term that describes a new breed of frat boy software developers that are representative of those who don’t see the need to attract more women and minorities to our industry.

Given the benefits we enjoy when we attract a more diverse workforce into software development, why is the attitude that we shouldn’t do anything to increase the numbers of women and minorities in our industry still prevalent?

It’s not an easy question to answer, but I did have one idea that came to mind I wanted to bounce off of you. Suppose we were successful at attracting women and minorities in numbers proportional to the make-up of the country. That would increase the pool of available developers. Would that also lower overall salaries? Supply and demand, after all.

I can see how that belief that might lead to fear and the attitude that we’re fine as it is, we don’t need more of you.

But at the same time, when you consider the talent shortage, I don’t believe this for one second. At this point, I don’t have any studies to point to, but I would welcome any links to evidence you can provide. But my intuition tells me that what would happen is it would simply decrease our talent shortage, but a shortage would still remain.

What would happen is we’d see the shakeout of bad programmers from the ranks.

Let’s face it, because of the talent shortage, there’s a lot of folks who are programmers who probably shouldn’t be. But for the majority of developers, I don’t think we have anything to fear. We should welcome the influx of new ideas and the overall improvement of our industry that more developers (and thus more better developers) bring. A rising tide lifts all boats as they say.

Now, I’m not sure this is the real reason these attitudes prevail. It sure seems awful calculating. I’m inclined to think it’s simple cluelessness. But it’s possible this is a subconscious factor.

Or perhaps it’s the fear that the influx of people from diverse backgrounds will require that they grow up, leave the trappings of their college behind, and become adults who know how to relate to people different than them.

Conclusion

I know this is a touchy subject. I want to make one thing very clear. My focus in this post was on arguments that don’t require one to believe there’s rampant sexism in the software industry. The arguments were mostly self-interest arguments in favor of changing the status quo.

I don’t claim there isn’t sexism. I believe there is. You can find lots of arguments that make a compelling case that institutionalized sexism exists and that it’s wrong. The point of this post is to provide food for thought for those who don’t believe there’s sexism. If we change the status quo, I believe attitudes will follow. They tend to follow one another with each leading the other at times.

In the end, it’s a complex problem and I certainly don’t claim to have the answers on solving it. But I think a good start is leaving behind the fear, acknowledging the issue, recognizing the opportunity to improve, and embracing the concrete benefits that diversification bring.

What do you think?

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Comments

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81 responses

  1. Avatar for Craig
    Craig March 22nd, 2012

    One thing I have found is that IT organisations are not family friendly at all. My wife is an experienced .NET developer but would like a part time job but despite many job listings, part time work is non existent. This really hurts women trying to get back into work after having a child.

  2. Avatar for Steve Fenton
    Steve Fenton March 22nd, 2012

    I find these figures really surprising - how do we get from here to a situation where people actually don't need to collect statistics because there just isn't a problem any more as anyone can do any job if they have the skills to do it?
    Having seen the arguments this week, I worry that the more we highlight this as a problem the harder it gets to solve it - but we can't exactly ignore it either.
    I guess I need to hear some suggestions about what can be done (other than the obvious answer of not pitching women as beer-fetchers or sexy t-shirt models).

  3. Avatar for Kevin Pang
    Kevin Pang March 22nd, 2012

    Fantastic post, Phil. As for your question as to what brogrammers are afraid of, I think Hanlon's razor sums it up quite nicely:

    Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.


    In other words, I don't think there's some grand scheme to keep women out of the industry. I think it simply boils down to this:
    Programmers who don't understand what the fuss is all about are either too stupid to recognize that there is a problem or too stupid to realize that they're a part of it. They need to grow up and learn to behave like adults, at least in the workplace if not in their day-to-day lives.

  4. Avatar for Lachlan B
    Lachlan B March 22nd, 2012

    Personally, within Australia (Melbourne at least) I don't believe there is institutionalised sexism within the IT industry. Having sat on a few interview panels and had plenty of discussions on hiring policies, I have never come across the situation where anyone has ever been acting in way that they are thinking "she's great, but gee if only it was a bloke". Race, religion and sex just don't come into the equation, all we care about is communication skils, being passionate about programming, and your (potential) coding skills! In the music industry, that's another matter - you wouldn't believe some of the stuff I've heard.
    Personally I would love to hear any stories from women (or anyone who isn't a white male aged 25-35) who purposely chose to not go into IT because of perceived descrimination. I actually think that ageism is a far bigger problem within IT.

  5. Avatar for Mark Miller
    Mark Miller March 22nd, 2012

    Is there a clear connection between brogrammers and sexism? It would seem to me you could rage and the gym, code all night, be proud of how much product was stored in your hair, and still be totally supportive of gender and racial diversity in your workplace. Am I wrong on that?

  6. Avatar for Jayson Knight
    Jayson Knight March 22nd, 2012

    Phil, I don't know if subText sends out emails, but very interested in following this thread...will leaving a comment subscribe me? If so, sub'd! Or do you have RssComment feeds for specific posts? I see this thread generating some decent conversation. At least, I hope it does.

  7. Avatar for Craig
    Craig March 22nd, 2012

    I don't think it's a conscious effort at discrimination, I think there's more of a "frat boy" perception of the industry, and especially around OSS projects that's a big turn off.

  8. Avatar for Chris V
    Chris V March 22nd, 2012

    I agree that sexism at any level is bad, and where it's obvious (or at least, identified), we should take the necessary steps to reduce or eliminate it.
    However, I do not agree with the mindset that we should actively encourage women and minorities to join the field strictly for the purpose of diversity. In fact, I cannot even fathom such a position. Doesn't that amount to some sort of voluntary affirmative action?
    No, I believe that whoever wants to be a developer should be encouraged to, and given every opportunity, same as the next guy, but I don't buy into the idea of actively pursuing minority candidates for the sole purpose of increasing workforce diversity.

  9. Avatar for Obi
    Obi March 22nd, 2012
    I’ve tried my best to cajole some to contribute


    I think this is one of those moments where trying to help actually makes things worse. We are talking about equal rights/opportunities, not trying to cajole more women into tech because the sausage party is getting boring. Probably the only case where ignorance (of gender) is the best course.

  10. Avatar for Rachel Appel
    Rachel Appel March 22nd, 2012

    Hey Phil!
    Nice post! The fact that a diverse workforce is critical in today's global economy for your business to succeed is one of the best reasons to try to obtain and keep females in software. So +1 to that!
    I addressed the hostile male culture and sexism in this post rachelappel.com in case you are interested (I've done quite a bit of research in this area).
    -Rach

  11. Avatar for Keyvan Nayyeri
    Keyvan Nayyeri March 22nd, 2012

    The truth is that the problem is bigger than this and covers the whole area of discrimination in software industry that is just like any other industry. In fact, a friend and I suggested to Hanselman and Conery to have a This Developer's Life on discrimination in software but I guess they didn't want to do that.
    If you look around, you see that there is a frustrating discrimination for very old and very young people in software. As a young person who was actively involved in this industry at the age of 19, this discrimination killed many opportunities in my career and future. Likewise, I have older friends who always tell me how their age is a problem.
    There is also the problem of nationality. Like many other industries, software is not open to many nationalities.
    It's also about academic education, degrees, and even where you get your degree from. There is a very frustrating discrimination in there as well.
    And yes, sexism is yet another aspect of discrimination in software, but it's not the only one. In order to solve this problem, we have to wipe out discrimination from this industry IMO.

  12. Avatar for Keyvan Nayyeri
    Keyvan Nayyeri March 22nd, 2012

    And I also agree with Obi. Unfortunately, we're always overdoing or underdoing something. To solve discrimination, we discriminate more against those who deserve a job only because we want to have diversity.

  13. Avatar for Craig
    Craig March 22nd, 2012

    Chris V, I think it is wrong to promote unqualified or less skilled candidates for reasons of diversity. But there are many women and minorities who could be great developers if only they knew what a great industry it is and are not scared off by incumbents. That's the point.

  14. Avatar for Lachlan B
    Lachlan B March 22nd, 2012

    Rachel thanks for the link to your article - really interesting stuff (BTW I think the link doesn't work because of an extra forward slash at the end, stupid wordpress).

  15. Avatar for Max S.
    Max S. March 22nd, 2012

    I could tell you that there is hope.
    First, I know a lot of ladies that took the codeacademy.com challenge and may learn the trade, at least on a high level this year.
    Second, it's easier nowadays to not only get into it, but get excited about coding - by way of blogs. From Tumblr to WordPress, I personally know females that took it upon themselves to learn HTML , CSS, and even dabble in some JS, originating from the desire to customize their sites and blogs.
    They may not be CS majors, but it is a gateway to the back-end languages if the artform of "getting computers to do stuff" resonates with them.

  16. Avatar for Obi
    Obi March 22nd, 2012

    I have to agree with Keyvan as well - there is a lot of discrimination. I also started professionally working in the industry at 19 and a lot of guys people can't live with the fact I have as much experience as them at 2/3 of their age.
    And don't start me on the racism - Indian developer is an insult around here...
    It's a huge problem, but it's a problem with society as a whole, not only tech.

  17. Avatar for Andrew Tobin
    Andrew Tobin March 22nd, 2012

    I see it all the time, and unfortunately for all the times this topic comes up nothing ever really changes - but more and more awareness is always welcome.
    Programming can definitely be a boys club and it's not even just in regards to women involvement, you see so much frat boy behaviour apart from that.
    And part of it might just be because there are so few women involved they're seen as "different" and singled out. Definitely not right, but hopefully something that will change.
    Anyway, I know it's a plug, but as for OSS anyone is welcome to get involved in Code 52 (http://code52.org/) and if you have any problems with behaviour then we're happy to deal with it - we want everyone to feel welcome to contribute and welcome to be part of the group.
    We've definitely noticed that, even though we've had a lot of offers, the ones that make it through to actual contribution is even fewer, and we haven't had much contribution or involvement by women as yet - and just from the point of view of wanting to do more, and get more involvement from the .NET community into Open Source, and especially first timers - we'd be more than happy to have the help, and to offer help.

  18. Avatar for Jayson Knight
    Jayson Knight March 22nd, 2012

    My thoughts have always been that the feeder programs into IT (e.g. colleges, trade schools, etc) are also male dominated, therefore it would make sense that just by simple math, our industry is going to be more male dominated. I have a few female friends who are changing careers and getting degrees in Comp Sci, and they are sometimes the only female in the entire classroom. This probably has the effect of becoming a vicious cycle...women get into computer programs, see that it's a boy's club, and say "forget it"...and go on to something else.
    That all being said, I don't think hiring diversely just for the sake of diversity fixes anything; it actually would compound the issue IMO. I will say this, I worked for a company, and we interviewed a very nice, intelligent African-American woman for a networking engineer position. The general consensus was that she wouldn't "fit in" even though I thought she was qualified (but agreed that she wasn't a good team fit)...so when do the lines blur between pure talent, but also putting personality into the dynamic? Had it been a caucasian male, I probably wouldn't have even given it a 2nd thought had he had the same team dynamic problems.
    Just some food for thought. Great post Phil.

  19. Avatar for Obi
    Obi March 22nd, 2012

    Ok, I have to chime in once again - can we please stop with the 'frat boy' stereotype as well? It was 'til yesterday when alpha geeks/nerds/neckbeards were the know-all bad boys of the industry and no one else was allowed, now the brogrammers are vilified... it's the everyday normal guy who moves the industry and has the word.

  20. Avatar for cbp
    cbp March 22nd, 2012

    What often goes unmentioned in this debate is the poor understanding and perception of programmers from those outside IT.
    The problem is not that there is a lot of girls struggling to get into the IT industry. The problem is that girls are not signing up for CS courses at all (in fact, at least in Australia, a shortage of computer science enrollments is a general problem for boys and girls). Now remember that people we choose our university courses when we are only 17 or 18 years old.
    The perception from outside IT is that programmers are socially inept, strange, ugly, outsiders with magical skills that can only be acquired through long periods spent in dark basements.
    Things like 'brogrammers' are trying to break this stereotype, and if they are successful, they may actually encourage more people to enroll in CS courses. Movies like the Social Network and Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, and having prominent computing celebrities who are not ultra-nerds (think Steve Jobs vs Bill Gates), may also start to change the perception of programmers by at least humanizing the industry a bit.

  21. Avatar for Brian
    Brian March 22nd, 2012

    From what I (white male, so I have bias and blindness) see there is a belief in our culture, popular and otherwise, that programming is a solitary pursuit about individual prowess. I even met a handyman recently who dropped out of CS because it was all about being alone. Think about any dysfunctional programmer or dev team you know and that's the reason. This myth attracts people who are self involved, lack empathy, and are actively anti-social and proud of it. If more people were aware of development (as I and my coworkers practice it, at least) as a team effort where communication and empathy are as important as intellect and creativity, we might cast a wider net as an industry. And further more, we need to seed this opinion when people are kids.
    Racism and sexism are nasty, but I think they are only the most visible of the real problem. Fix that, and a more diverse crowd will see what we see in this, the best damn career out there.

  22. Avatar for Brian
    Brian March 22nd, 2012

    Looks like cbp said the same thing whil I was typing.

  23. Avatar for Jayson Knight
    Jayson Knight March 22nd, 2012

    I should clarify my previous comment:
    "Had it been a caucasian male, I probably wouldn't have even given it a 2nd thought had he had the same team dynamic problems."
    What I meant by that is not that we should have hired a white male, but that if it had been a white male and we decided he wouldn't fit in, I wouldn't have had a 2nd thought about why we didn't hire him...I would have dismissed him as a candidate and not thought twice about it. The African-American female, we all thought twice about, simply for the sake of diversity. There were some very interesting conversations about her that we had behind closed doors that would have not otherwise been had.
    I know this is a touchy subject, but our industry struggles with it...so why not air some dirty laundry and get it out in the open.

  24. Avatar for Abhinaba
    Abhinaba March 22nd, 2012

    The whole problem is the image we have created of this profession. Just like scientists wear white lab coats, programmers are beer+cola drinking nerds with beards. They are anti-social and lack the essential skills to communicate.
    I have a 8 year old girl who is already a "maker" and loves tinkering with stuff, yet already knows that only "geeks" who don't have many friends work on computers. Sad but true.
    "You must be the change you want to see in the world" so lets start by changing the perception one at a time

  25. Avatar for haacked
    haacked March 22nd, 2012

    Great comments folks! For those asking about more stories, just look around. There's a lot out there.
    As for encouraging women and minorities, why not? Don’t we do a lot to encourage white males already? Craig nails the point I was making (emphasis mine):


    Chris V, I think it is wrong to promote unqualified or less skilled candidates for reasons of diversity. But there are many women and minorities who could be great developers if only they knew what a great industry it is and are not scared off by incumbents. That's the point.


    @cpb I𕲁m not sure trading one stereotype for another is helping anything. Just look at the recent Sqoot debacle. Is that making software development more interesting to women?
    But I do agree with your point that we probably need to really focus hard on the perception problem. That’s a great insight! I think there’s two aspects of it. Show software to be a social activity taken up by normal interesting people and create a culture of respect.
    @Brian great insight! Yeah, it’s so sad because that myth is so far from the truth. Great software is built by teams. Software creation is a social activity!

  26. Avatar for Govind
    Govind March 22nd, 2012

    I have mixed feelings and not sure they will come out the right way. I too have young daughter and hopefully she gets opportunities I had access to.
    Opensource contribution - This may not be the right "barometer" to take away the "contribution". As many women programmers also graduate into "project management/people management" and do better job at least in services industry - you can check the ibms, hps. I can certainly confirm Infosys, Wipro, TCS. They are also working on customer projects as programmers, but somehow this profession does not have the "glamor" associated with it. So idea is to move out of it quickly and become "manager".
    Time requirement for being passionate about "programming" - In general the feeling is still of "women" at eod representing the good part of the family, managing it, nurturing it. I have seen so many excellent talents, freinds keeping their passion for solving problems and becoming that yoke in that other world. Programming /learning requires time, isolation which social etiquette abhors. Most of their life they have been "trained" to please others - parents, teachers, society. They have not been nurtured to do their own thing.
    Diversity for sake of it - "reserved/push" at expense of others - today in name of diversity many-2 people are pushed ahead of others. Sometimes it is ok in name of justice, but being at other side of the stick all the time is not fun. This needs to be avoided and opportunities need to be same for everybody despite the background. I do not have an answer but I am hoping it will smooth out over years. WE are part of the solution and generally people do right things , faith in good part of people works wonders.

  27. Avatar for Anonymous Corporate IT Dev
    Anonymous Corporate IT Dev March 22nd, 2012

    I've not encountered any of this brogrammer stuff, but then I work mostly with corporate customers and not many startups.
    You aren't going to get into corporate IT these days. The entry level positions have all been farmed out to off shore companies. It's high stress and very little reward outside money. Many of the best people I've worked with have abandoned IT for other work.
    So absent a career path of entry level, and people leaving the industry... there's not many of us left with experience.
    It pays well, but there's less "good" work out there. It's mostly just cleaning up.
    Given this environment, I don't see why any women would want to work in it.

  28. Avatar for Brandon
    Brandon March 23rd, 2012

    Honestly, I think men enjoy being pigs/vulgar when in the 'zone'. And their are women around, men may feel they have to restrain themselves and shower. Women seem to become a distraction for the best of best programmers and maybe it became easier to shun them instead of fighting over them.

  29. Avatar for Rich Dudley
    Rich Dudley March 23rd, 2012

    It's sad that we have to waste cycles on something that is such a waste. This is not what I want my adorable little girl to face, but she'll come prepared should she face it.
    There is one thing that concerns me here. It is the issue of a diverse workforce being more productive. Several other people touched on this. I think diversity is an effect, not a cause here. I think when people ignore what's irrelevant for the job (race, religion, age, gender, whatever) and focus only on what's important, you'll naturally and without realizing it build a diverse team. I bet if you pointed out the diversity of the team to most of the diverse teams, it would come as something of a surprise. I doubt they give it much thought. There is too much camaraderie and pride to notice the unimportant. If they do notice it, they probably appreciate the differences in one another.
    My fear is, the focus will be on building a diverse workforce thinking that will bring competence, rather than focusing on what is required to do the job and letting the diversity chips fall where they may. The exception being, maybe instead of "why is a manhole cover round" questions, we perhaps need to concoct a scenario where we can see if the guy is a neanderthal, and not hire those guys.

  30. Avatar for James Ashley
    James Ashley March 23rd, 2012

    I find myself agreeing strongly with cpb. I wouldn't deny that there is active and passive discrimination against women as well as general boorishness in the software industry, but I find it hard to believe that it is any higher than in other fields that women actually want to enter, for instance sales, where gender inequality is less prominent.
    What makes the software culture hostile to women is our insistence on "passion" -- frankly an ability to be single-minded, compulsive and anti-social in the pursuit of a programming task -- as the quality most admired in a programmer. We measure this passion in terms of time spent on open-source projects and conference attendence rather than on other pursuits like staying fit or reading a good book.
    According to this Carnegie Mellon study of gender inequality in CS programs (http://news.cnet.com/2008-1082-833090.html, www.cs.cmu.edu/.../intwomen.html) the culture of the "golden boy" is one women can't see themselves fitting into. Women who pursue CS degrees see it as one of a spectrum of interests they hold and they generally want to integrate these interests. In programmer culture, software is treated as if it should be an end in itself.
    I believe that a quota-based hiring system would indeed meliorate this situation. If we make a point of hiring women programmers into good paying jobs and even pay them a premium over men in order to attract more women into the profession, this will dramatically shift programming culture in a positive way to be less of a hacker culture (no pun intended, Phil) and more of a professional 9-to-5 culture.
    Alternatively, we can just do this ourselves without quotas in order to make programming more attractive for women. Let's celebrate the fact that we have lives outside of programming. Let's not congratulate coders for staying up all night programming or letting their health fail in order to push out a product. Let's remind ourselves that not going to conferences and not blogging about technology and not giving public talks about coding is a likely sign that people have real lives and alternate interests.
    Let's change our male dominated programming culture that, as a factual matter, is hostile to women by making these obvious changes to improve all our lives.

  31. Avatar for Brian Henderson
    Brian Henderson March 23rd, 2012

    Great post Phil.
    Brogrammers should be very, very afraid! This is one stereotype that needs to become extinct.
    I'm shocked by some of the numbers you quote; knew number of women in the field was low, but didn't realize it has become so low. Curious to the percent of women on Stack Overflow, GitHub & other major online forums? Be it perceived value, time commitments, personal privacy concerns, or other factors… we need to create communities that are more welcoming.
    The bigger question is "why are brogrammers able to survive in the software industry?" To me the open display of disrespect is a sign the industry is not yet professionally mature. We as individuals need to insist on holding our peers to higher standards!
    We also need to look beyond our peers to the general environments we work. Businesses tend toward rewarding one-off fire fighters more so than quieter team enablers. Employee ranking systems and strange metrics can influence career choices to ones with better life balance. Working hours in a typical software shop may not be so flexible… not just on an individuals time, but to time demands of the business & to demands of cross-timezones.
    There may be no one-off solutions, but WE are definitly part of making solutions & change happen. Take pride in speaking up and in doing your part to make our professional environments more diverse. Lose the losers and WE all WIN!
    --Brian

  32. Avatar for Jonathan van de Veen
    Jonathan van de Veen March 23rd, 2012

    I'm from the Netherlands and around here, I don't experience any discrimination. In fact I've been involved in hiring numerous developers and one of the best I hired was a women.
    My personal list of things to look for are technical skills, communication skills and cultural fit (not what culture someone is from, but will this person fit in our team and how will this person affect our culture). I don't care about gender, rase or age (although I do have some though questions for you if you've been programming for the past 30 years and are still a medior programmer). In fact, if I would take a poll amongst my co-workers right now, I'm convinced I would have a 100% score on hiring more women. I just don't get any resumes from women.
    I agree with the notion that our industry has a bad reputation as to what type of people work in it. I also feel that, besides having the neccesary technical skills, you need to have social and communication skills. They make the difference between a decent programmer and a great one.
    As for your explenation on what would actually happen if more talent would arive (the talent being female or not), I completely agree it would wash out the bad programmers (this is a problem if you have imposter syndrom).

  33. Avatar for Chris
    Chris March 23rd, 2012

    What do I think? I think that any blog/news outlet/tweet that uses the phrase "brogrammer" is full of shit and just looking for page views to fill the dead space between iDevice speculation windows. Professionals (IE - the 99% of tech folk working at sexy news targets) really don't give a shit about the gender of the person in the cube next to us, as long as they write decent checkin comments. Just my opinion, of course.

  34. Avatar for ctrlShiftBryan
    ctrlShiftBryan March 23rd, 2012

    There has to be something to the fact that girls don't choose to go into programming at the same rate boys do. I can remember maybe one or two female classmates while getting my degree. Some of my MIS courses had more women in them but they were never computer science majors always management information science. The pure CIS class never had any women.

  35. Avatar for James Curran
    James Curran March 23rd, 2012

    First of all, I think this is largely an American problem. From what I've seen of Chinese, Russian and India developers, they are far more gender-balanced. But finding an American-born female developer is rare.
    And I think this is based on different motivation for entering engineering related fields. From what I've seen, Men do it due to an obsessive love of the field. Women seem to do it because it a good career. This is supported by the facts in Phil's post: Contributing to OSS for free requires love to the subject more that career interest, and women studying CS started to decline when developers started to become a commodity.

  36. Avatar for Militis
    Militis March 23rd, 2012

    I know that when I was in school, there were TWO (count 'em folks) ladies in the CS field that graduated with me. In that same class were 25-30 males.
    When I got into the work force, though, I was shocked. My individual department is overwhelmingly male (unanimously, even) but the company I work for as a whole is pretty darn near the 50/50 mark for male/female developers.
    Even among my friends in town, they generally think that all "tech geeks" are guys...which is unfortunately true in my peer group, but certainly not the case in my workplace.

  37. Avatar for gr
    gr March 23rd, 2012

    When on an interview I look around. If everyone dresses very different or looks very different from me I think "maybe I won't be comfortable working here". So if the company had 20 women programmers and zero men I might feel outnumbered and decide to work elsewhere.

  38. Avatar for William Bosacker
    William Bosacker March 23rd, 2012

    While I do believe that this article is completely biased to one side, I also acknowledge that sexism and discrimination are a serious problem and that they are in no way limited to just men. It's a 50-50 split, men vs. women. Women are just as bad as men when it comes to sexism, though they tend to be meaner (more cruel) than men, and I am speaking from experience. For me, the best person with the best attitude gets the job. Most people don't get the job solely due to their attitude.

  39. Avatar for haacked
    haacked March 23rd, 2012

    @Rich: More and more studies are showing that it's the diversity of attitudes and views that has the benefit. If you compiled a team of diverse people who all think alike and are competent, you wouldn't do as well. Here's another set of studies that back that up.
    @William when talking about "institutionalized sexism" we're talking about discrimination from a position of power. So while women can have sexist attitudes for men, industry wide, those attitudes have very little impact on men's day to day. Simply look around. How many female CEOs do you see? How many in the tech industry. How many execs in your company are men? When you have all the power, a sexist remark, while still unnacceptable, doesn't have any real power.
    Also, it's not a 50-50 split because our industry is heavily skewed male.

  40. Avatar for David Nelson
    David Nelson March 23rd, 2012

    "Programmers who don't understand what the fuss is all about are either too stupid to recognize that there is a problem or too stupid to realize that they're a part of it." - Kevin Pang
    Or maybe we have actually never seen any evidence of this supposed bias? Of the approximately 50 technology professionals (programmers/DBAs) I have worked with directly in the last 7 years, in environments ranging from small ISV to medium sized hedge fund, approximately 8 were female. I have read Katie's article, and I can very confidently say that I never once heard any comment directed at any of the them that remotely resembled any of the examples she gave. And if anyone had ever made such a comment, they would have been ridiculed and ostracized by the other males before being fired. Now the analysts and traders at the hedge fund, THEY were sexist, and they showed it every day; and everyone else, including the programmers, were turned off by it. THAT is a culture that needs to deal with its sexism problem. Technology has nothing to worry about (not just in comparison, but period).
    Does that mean that sexism is never exhibited in a technology setting? Of course not; sexism exists, and there will be times when a sexist also happens to be a programmer. But I simply see no evidence that it is an 'institutional' problem; if anything it is a cultural problem.
    What I DO think we have a problem with is perception, as cpb, Brian, Abhinaba, and James pointed out. 'Programmer culture' makes the profession seem unappealing to many people, and I think it strikes a particularly negative chord with women. If they don't start programming early, if they don't study technology in school, why is it surprising to so many people that they don't end up in a programming career? It is that perception (and possibly that reality) that we should be focusing our energy on changing, not this ephemeral 'bias'.
    "...why is the attitude that we shouldn’t do anything to increase the numbers of women and minorities in our industry still prevalent?" - Phil Haack
    Maybe because we think that gender and race shouldn't matter? I do NOT think that attracting more women and minorities will help our industry. What will help is attracting the most qualified people, regardless of gender or race.
    "I think when people ignore what's irrelevant for the job...and focus only on what's important, you'll naturally and without realizing it build a diverse team." - Rich Dudley
    Very well said Rich.

  41. Avatar for AlanP
    AlanP March 23rd, 2012

    I personally have never seen this discrimination, but am sure that there are places where it exists. My former workplace's IT department is currently almost 50% female,so bucking the trend a little. I personally don't care what gender my colleague is as long as they are competent.
    I don't know what the solution is but the answer to promoting diversity is never positive discrimination, individuals should be employed based purely on their abilities, not on evening up the gender %s. What we need is to get more diverse applicants for these jobs in the first place and ensure a FAIR assessment process, then the capable ones will float to the top naturally.

  42. Avatar for Micah
    Micah March 23rd, 2012

    You are letting too many people off the hook by pinning sexism on "brogrammers". It's often not the more well-rounded types - those who enjoy gyms and clubs in addition to programming - who belittle female programmers. It's the insular, pale, basement-dwellers (figuratively or literally) who don't understand women because they are afraid to talk to them, and therefore don't see how they could possibly contribute useful code.

  43. Avatar for haacked
    haacked March 23rd, 2012

    @Micah you are absolutely right. I used the term "Brogrammer" as a catch-all, but it's not entirely accurate. I'm sure many brogrammers are not part of the problem. And many non-brogrammers are part of the problem.
    The reason I fixated on that term was some recent events advertised to "brogrammers" that also tried to feature women as objects. So it seemed a good focal point, but not the end all and be all.
    And it made a catchier title too. :)

  44. Avatar for Micah
    Micah March 23rd, 2012

    It does always help with the title :)
    Cheers,
    Micah

  45. Avatar for Robert Young
    Robert Young March 24th, 2012

    The transition is easy to understand, if you lived through it. I did, the tail end, anyway. My mother was a "programmer" around 1950. At the time, this meant inserting, by rule, jumpers into patch panels (look it up). Once languages, other than machine or basic assembler, came to be, the profession continued along similar lines. That is, the EE who told Mom what to do morphed into an "analyst" (who was likely trained in EE) who provided pseudo-code to the FlowMatic or AutoCoder programmer. This person, who needed to be detail oriented to translate the pseudo into "real code", tended to be female, just as lace makers and other "detail oriented" workers dating back to the beginning of industrialization in the 19th century.
    What motivated today's structure was the creation of CS curricula (starting, IIRC, with Carnegie Tech in the mid 1960s). With this change, software, soup to nuts, moved from real engineer and coder to one-man-band non-engineers. For those who were there: CS was created to satisfy those who couldn't cut it in a DiffEq class and such, but still demanded to be a part of this exciting computer industry. Carnegie, The Institute, and such were barely co-ed (if that much) at the time, so the girls were shut out from the start. The boys' club came to be, and it persists still.

  46. Avatar for Dave
    Dave March 24th, 2012

    Why are people so quick to assume that any statistical imbalance is the result of sexism or racism? There may be a statistical imbalance regarding gender among software developers, but it's nothing compared to the statistical imbalance regarding gender in another context. Can you think of even ONE situation comedy TV show or ONE commercial where the male is NOT portrayed as less intelligent, less sophisticated, less ambitious, less sympathetic, and less reasonable than the female? The vast majority (if not all) of such programming portrays females more favorably. Why?

  47. Avatar for FrenchGirl
    FrenchGirl March 25th, 2012

    6 years ago, after three years studying computer science, I stopped and started a law school. Why ? I was always considered as the last of the moron. Worse, I started to think myself that I was really bad, and falling into depression. Today, I realize, I'm really better than many programmers with 5 years of study and experience ... No regret.
    "One thing I have found is that IT organisations are not family friendly at all", glass ceiling, as a certain level you just can't ask for part-time ... It's not different in other organisations.

  48. Avatar for sondra
    sondra March 25th, 2012

    Interesting that the majority of the responses are defensively addressing the question of whether or not their job environment is diverse or should be. When only 20% of CS undergrads are women, then clearly this is a moot debate. The crux of the issue to ask what's going on at the high school and collegiate level that results in such a gender imbalance in CS enrollment? Clearly there are cultural stereotypes at play, and to a degree there are some moments of hostility that any women in a male dominated environment will face (I call these the off-by-one problems: there's always some immature little *(&% with offensive wallpaper on his classroom laptop), but my two cents is that if you want to attract women and other minorities into CS, you need to show that CS is not geekiness for geekiness' sake, but that the power of being able to build programs by hand also offers the power of being an agent of social change. The CS program I followed (now six years stale) offered very little interdisciplinary outreach. Like the stereotype of programmer who works in isolation, the CS program was an isolated path (save a few cross-over math courses). Maybe that needs to change.

  49. Avatar for CMike
    CMike March 26th, 2012

    Phil, have you considered the topic of sexism from the opposite direction? As a programmer, you know what kind of odd-ball lot the typical group of (male) programmers are... why would any sane, self-confident woman want to voluntarily select a career where she would work 8+ hours a day around stereotypical programmers? As guys, we're drawn to programming because of the intellectual challenge, the mental rigor, the technical creativity... and it doesn't phase us that we and our colleagues are, well, nerds. Why are we surprised that women aren't flocking to join this profession? A much more interesting study would be to examine (and explain?) why women left the field in the first place. My guess is because the typical, dorky, programmer types gravitated to the field and the women were repulsed.

  50. Avatar for BobW111
    BobW111 March 26th, 2012

    Perhaps this explains it: "From 1984 to 2006, the number of women majoring in computer science dropped from 37% to 20% — just as the percentages of women were increasing steadily in all other fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, with the possible exception of physics."
    Perhaps women shifted their choices to go into other fields?
    Alos, we are continually told that women are significantly more "social" than men. Perhaps the stereotype of the developer being a non-social loner also has something to do with it.

  51. Avatar for Mia
    Mia March 26th, 2012

    Although I think it's good to support diversity, in the end the company will choose the best person suited for the job, and the future employee will choose the best offer.
    Today globalization provides a bigger pool of experts and companies in search for those people. So not only that a company chooses its employees, but also people have the choice to become employees in a certain company.
    Although, I acknowledge that there aren't too many girls in the IT / programming field, I can't say that i've been discriminated, or that I know such an example.

  52. Avatar for Stacey
    Stacey March 26th, 2012

    As a woman in IT I can offer the following observations.
    while I have enjoyed some of my career, I have almost left the field several times. But not because of discrimination.
    As already mentioned it is culture and perception. Where I have worked, it has always been expected that there would be NO work life balance. Live by the blackberry, burn the midnight oil, make no plans for evenings or Friday nights, be ready to jump, etc. And, if you should actually get some free time you should be reading, advancing your skills on your own time, publishing, etc. if you really want to advance. I have seen folks rejected in interviews because they indicated they expected some respect of their personal time or because they had small children that might require their attention. It has taken me 20 years to find a company where I feel like I can have personal boundaries without fear of reprisals.
    When I have tried to encourage others to work in IT because it can be an awesome career, none are willing to give up their life because of how IT culture is perceived. Colleagues with college age children say their kids want nothing to do with it because "who wants that aggravation?".
    I feel blessed to have finally found a company that has real work life balance for IT folks. No more cancelling family plans or working evenings and weekends without respectful consideration on my employer's side.
    Our children are watching us and don't want our lives. And it's sad because it is a manufactured culture, grown out of martyrdom (as someone pointed out, reward the hero, not the solid performer), not necessity.

  53. Avatar for Robena
    Robena March 26th, 2012

    I must admit it's always interesting for me reading posts to articles on this topic. Speaking as a female who has been developing web and database applications for almost 2 decades there were several points made that I'd like to focus on as food for thought, if I may...


    The general consensus was that she wouldn't "fit in" even though I thought she was qualified (but agreed that she wasn't a good team fit)...so when do the lines blur between pure talent, but also putting personality into the dynamic?


    @Jayson Knight: On the surface your observation is sound. I agree that choosing talent that is competent but also "plays well with others" is good, but I encourage you to look a little deeper at the "dynamic" being perpetuated by the decision you describe, and be open to considering that changing that dynamic may not be all bad?


    As guys, we're drawn to programming because of the intellectual challenge, the mental rigor, the technical creativity...


    @CMike: Interesting observation -- no, need something stronger, WTF! What makes you think that "as females" we wouldn't be interested in those same aspects? I know those things are exactly why I do what I do!


    ...my two cents is that if you want to attract women and other minorities into CS, you need to show that CS is not geekiness for geekiness' sake, but that the power of being able to build programs by hand also offers the power of being an agent of social change.


    @sondra: Here, here!! Cudos for saying it.


    I have seen folks rejected in interviews because they indicated they expected some respect of their personal time... want nothing to do with it because "who wants that aggravation?"


    @Stacey: Excellent observation. I have seen the same thing as well. Heaven forbid that someone (regardless of race, sex or other attribute) may want to maintain some work/life balance, regardless of whether they have children or not. I do not have children but that does not mean I don't have a life outside of work as well.


    @All: Keep up the good discussion folks, self-awareness is the first step toward change.

  54. Avatar for Suq Madiq
    Suq Madiq March 26th, 2012

    There aren't any women programmers because you don't put computers in the kitchen.

  55. Avatar for CMike
    CMike March 26th, 2012

    @Robena After posting that comment I began querying ladies I know, inquiring whether they would be interested in being a programmer (assuming they were at the point in life where they were choosing their career). The majority answer so far is that they aren't interested in being colleagues with the stereotypical programmer (too nerdy, too creepy, to anal-retentive).
    Speaking of genders and roles: what is the gender distribution among business analysts and project managers? I know I'm not a representative sample but of the BAs and PMs I know, they are almost all women...

  56. Avatar for kamranayub
    kamranayub March 26th, 2012

    My girlfriend was told by her adviser during high school that she shouldn't try to take the higher level math classes, even though she was really good at math. She always tells me, who knows, she could have gone into math or CS if it wasn't for that. It's too bad, really, I think she'd make a great programmer or at least would have done well in a science career.

    There aren't any women programmers because you don't put computers in the kitchen.


    @Suq Madiq, dump your trash somewhere else, it doesn't belong here, "joking" or not.

  57. Avatar for Stephanie Brown
    Stephanie Brown March 26th, 2012

    As a woman with over 30 years in the IT arena, I have experienced discrimination (sexism) both in salary (making 20% less that the male colleague who kept coming to me with his basic questions...) and more directly as boorish commentary. I have also worked for companies that worked to alleviate discrimination in both of those areas. I could have left many times to pursue other careers, but I happen to like solving problems and creating solutions so I "educated" the boorish and kicked a little butt (metaphorically speaking) when necessary. I prefer to work as part of a team, because my experience has been that the best, most robust solutions are created in a team environment (regardless of the many fine, robust solutions I created solo). The more diverse, the better, and since my current company values diversity I get to work with a lot of really great people from various backgrounds.
    As several people have already mentioned, the cause starts much earlier than the interview for a CS position (or conference, or blog comment, or whatever). Girls are often discouraged from pursuing careers that are seen as "technical" - including scientific or lab work. I excelled at math, and in junior high was taking algebra a year ahead of my peers. In high school I was a teachers assistant for one of the science teachers for three of the four years I was there. So why did the school counselors try to steer me away from math and science, towards more "womanly pursuits" such as secretary or nurse? Lucky for me that I follow my own advice much more often than the advice of others - especially when the advice is that divorced from reality.
    Fortunately these outdated ideas are changing, but in the USA that change is slow - in part because our society still has large numbers of people who insist on perpetrating those views on the rest of us. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard those "women belong in the kitchen" remarks. And not just in this industry, mind you, but yes on occasion from colleagues. But more often I saw colleagues take a stand against that sort of bias.
    I do not necessarily agree that our industry as a whole has a bias, though certain narrow areas definitely do (I have not looked at pay-grade issues recently, but last time I did there was still disparity between genders). But I certainly do agree that whenever we witness a bias, we should speak out and shine some light on it. There is a good chance it will shrivel up and die when exposed. And even if it doesn't, at least the person taking the brunt of the foolishness knows they are not alone and that others around them disagree.
    Thanks, Phil, for writing about this. I hope your daughter has a better experience than many of us have had, and is valued for what she is capable of rather than limited by stale ideas of "what should be".

  58. Avatar for Johanna
    Johanna March 27th, 2012

    "When only 20% of CS undergrads are women, then clearly this is a moot debate. The crux of the issue to ask what's going on at the high school and collegiate level that results in such a gender imbalance in CS enrollment? " As a woman working in higher education in a CS related field, I cannot overemphasise the importance of this point. Girls are still in many cases actively discouraged at a high school level from entering technical profession.

  59. Avatar for Robena
    Robena March 27th, 2012

    @CMike: Thanks for responding. Your local poll yields a rather humorous (to me) perspective -- "they aren't interested in being colleagues with the stereotypical programmer (too nerdy, too creepy, too anal-retentive)". The majority of programmers I know, while somewhat nerdy and rather *ahem* detail-oriented, are far from being what I consider creepy; a little misunderstood perhaps, but not creepy.
    Your summary just reinforces for me that stereotypes somehow seem to be perpetuated in all aspects of life. We all have our quirks and qualities, they make us unique (something to be valued, not supressed, IMHO).

  60. Avatar for Kat
    Kat March 27th, 2012

    Like many other women, I've worked as a Programmer for quite a few years and have experienced sexism. I've also experienced the whole "boys club" in unlikely positions I've held. No, I don't want to be a UI person, or get pegged into working with CSS or photoshop or be a Business Anaylst. I am a core developer. I may not have as much time after work to learn everything I can get my hands on - but I do my part and LOVE programming. I often look for places I can chat or connect with other female Programmers going through the same situations as me, but there aren't many professional organizations for someone like me. I have one other female programmer buddy. I also go to events that get women into STEM technologies..but haven't been to one yet that focuses on Programming and Technology.
    I think at the end of the day though - if you can prove yourself and your technical talent, you will earn the respect of your peers. And if you can't earn that respect, then work with it or find another job where you can. They do exist.
    The guy (@Brandon) that mentioned the thought of having to behave a bit more around women... yeah, I have seen and heard that too. I know that many men get over this and appreciate the beauty and brains of their female coworker and focus on the code that THEY love instead of the person sitting next to them.

  61. Avatar for Rita
    Rita March 28th, 2012

    Thanks Phil, this is interesting post.
    I worked as developer for 6-7 years but after that gradually I move to work as a QA Engineer,even being in QA that my team is a big team from 28 just 6 of us are women.As a woman I can say we like to solve problems and being creative and even works on long hours to get result but somehow in this Industry it plays the way that not showing openly welcome the women and count on them as brogrammers so it seems we need to work on that.

  62. Avatar for Case Talbot
    Case Talbot March 28th, 2012

    Another female chiming in here:
    I'm actually very curious about the open source number. I've been moderately active on github with my own projects, but I've never really joined a team except at work. In real life, I don't know any programmers who have committed substantial work to an open source project, and I wish I did! I'm not sure really how one goes about finding the right project and the right team to work with, or any team at all.
    Most people just say that you should find a project you're passionate, pick a bug or feature, and then get coding. And this works fine for my personal projects. But usually the things that I'm passionate about for bigger group projects (such as adding HTML/ePub support to lilypond) seem giant, and I don't know who to talk with to find out whether that work would be appreciated by other developers or the community. Because of the size of the effort, just jumping in seems like I could waste a lot of time, and it would be a terribly inefficient way to get ship projects.
    I was talking to a coworker at work the other day and we discussed my strategy of merging lanes versus his. He described himself as an alpha personality and said that if there's a quarter car's width available, he just noses right in with his giant suburban. That seems preposterous to me, since I'm a polite and cautious driver who signals any cars nearby that look like they might let me in, and then patiently waits for a driving response (slowing down or speeding up in a manner the provides space) from a nearby vehicle that indicates acceptance before merging.
    That's a vastly different strategy of going about things. I can't speak for all women, maybe they feel more comfortable just jumping in and meeting people online and throwing out ideas. (Maybe they meet and chat on IRC? I've never had an experience on IRC that indicated other developers in the room cared about my existence or participation in the project.) It always feels like people in open source groups all know each other already, and I'm not sure how to introduce myself as someone worth investing a bit of time in, maybe in getting the build system working successfully, or even updating the documentation so that I can get the build system working myself (*cough* gnome *cough*). I guess I feel like there should be some social buy-in ("Yeah, we could use some help!") from at least one team member before investing in a project via contributions.
    Well, that's why I haven't contributed much code. Yet. I'm working on it!

  63. Avatar for Aimstress
    Aimstress March 28th, 2012

    I am a female programmer, having worked in several areas of IT from tech support to management for over a decade and a half, but my love will always be programming. I have also been an avid DIYer for many years, lately the large project being a house renovation (and no, that doesn't just mean throwing some paint on the walls). I thrive on "there's a hurdle - figure out how to fix it or make it better".
    I can't count the number of times I have been spoken to as if I were a child. This may just be the communication styles of people who generally tend to talk down to others, so take that as you will... though I'd have to add that most of those same people didn't ever talk to their male colleagues like that. I also can't count the number of times I've sat through meetings and had comments and ideas ignored only to have a male colleague say the same thing later and congratulated for the contribution. Perhaps the latter stems from my personal communication style (or lack thereof) which doesn't match the group. Or maybe it's that I'm a woman and the man was taken seriously. It's hard to say. We as people tend to gravitate toward things that are comfortable. We also understand better when we are told things in a way that matches how we learn. Boys and girls tend to have different communication and learning styles, so the perpetuation of male dominance will continue until we as a whole figure out how to shift it. But how do you fix something that is really chicken and egg? In order to get more girls, have more women teaching/mentoring.. but where do the women come from? There are so few of us, and we're so busy....
    On top of the general "sexism" problem, there is the problem of life outside of work. As I've mentioned before, I have a house, but I also have a family. At the end of the day, including the hour commute (to keep the kids from having to move) and x hours of work, there's dinner and family time, house maintenance, and not much left over for brushing up on skills or diving into an open source project in that hour before I crash in bed. How do I help foster the future when I can barely keep up with my job? And what if your response is "then you are in over your head at your job"?

  64. Avatar for Andrew Tobin
    Andrew Tobin March 29th, 2012

    I find it amusing that one of the things that puts women off the profession is the "nerdy, creepy guys"... where are the nerdy, creepy women - surely they can be "one of us"?
    I'm liking this conversation for pointing out all the ways I've been sort of oblivious to the minor, subtle ways that things can be taken even though I know even the jokes can get to you over time.
    @Sharon I completely get where you're coming from - a couple of years ago I was so "how do I open source?", I was looking for small projects I could do by myself, I wasn't sure how I'd play with others, or how we'd get along.
    I've seen people put off contributing to OSS by people that are really hard to get along with (and occasionally have been difficult to deal with, some days are like that).
    But to be honest, I think, even if you're not communicating fully, that finding a project you like, that you're interested in, and that you can see something you can do - something small: add a small feature, fix a bug.
    It doesn't hurt to try and submit it, and if it gets accepted it feels AWESOME.
    If it doesn't, then just write them off as something that can't be helped - if it's github and you've forked it then you still get the benefit of your changes! :)
    And if they ask you to change something, take it as constructive feedback and try to learn - sometimes they may be wrong, but it's their project.
    Hopefully larger projects have guidelines on how they take requests, but if they don't - a quick tweet or email off to one of the heads usually will get you some information on how open they are - if they're helpful and open then you'll be more encouraged, if they're not then you move on.
    To some degree it's hard to care a lot about people who promise or enquire about joining a project because so many of them immediately find they don't have the time, maybe it's a reaction to how they were received, but I'd hope that we were fairly friendly.
    I've found that if you are talking in a chat to developers in a group, they really do warm up if you're around, friendly, and /really/ friendly once you've contributed and become one of the team.
    The people who sit around suggesting ways the team should be doing things, instead of helping the team do things? Not so much.
    If you are looking - then feel free to join any of ours, we'd be happy and lucky to have more help and maybe in amongst our projects you'd find something to interest you (or come in and suggest something that interests you) - http://code52.org/
    @aimstress I get the "being ignored and having someone else suggest the exact same thing". And I think it's more to do with communication skills, or lack there of, and the amount of respect, timing, approach, and a lot of things.
    I think a lot of what you said is more about communication and hopefully not sexism, but just we are in a profession where a lot of non-communicators seem to get accepted, seem to be attracted to, and often get excused for their lack of communication skills.
    I try to work on that, at least for myself.
    I also have the commute and totally empathise, OSS can either be a quick jump in, do something and jump out, or like any problem solving can take your time.
    You can only make the time you have, and you can't sacrifice your life to it.
    But. Having done it, I've learnt so much, more than I would have trying to find time to read a book on a topic, when sometimes books don't keep up with software these days - and I've had friends who have helped a tonne with teaching me things, pointing me in the right direction for solutions.
    It is changing rapidly, and sometimes software is more about getting things done the way you know how, than keeping up with every new shiny thing that comes out - no matter how much your co-workers/twitter loves them. If it's important then you'd manage to find the time, or you'd be learning it for work.

  65. Avatar for Eric
    Eric March 29th, 2012

    Maybe women just aren't interested in programming?
    I went to college 10+ years ago during the last dotcom boom/bust and there was less than 1% females in every single programming class. And if they were female, they weren't white. Maybe white women don't have any interest in programming? I certainly don't remember any guidance counselors preventing them from enrolling in the degree or telling them a woman couldn't operate a keyboard or click a mouse.
    Why do people keep inventing problems? Are we really going to be sexist and say something cliched like "programming is missing out because women would bring something special because they're able to juggle childbirth and baking cupcakes!"?
    Maybe little girls just aren't as interested in computers and programming as little boys are? Every single class I had in high school or college was 1% or less of girls. No one EVER tried to exclude them. Hell, the boys always wanted more geek girls who were into computers.
    Just about anyone can program a computer. Someday only robots will be employed as programmers.

  66. Avatar for ThePesin
    ThePesin March 29th, 2012
    Maybe little girls just aren't as interested in computers and programming as little boys are?


    @Eric I don't get this argument. Do you suggest it's something innate in female brain - and that the females who are interested in computers are mutations or whatnot?
    I personally (as a woman and a developer) think that the situation is much more along the lines of social conditioning which starts very early and reinforced by the education system. I myself was told by the school principal when I was 15 that "girls don't need to study physics." Of course, since this was my first time meeting this kind of attitude it didn't make any impression on me (bless my parents for making zero difference in how they raised me and my brother.) But if a girl hears that stuff from early on, she wouldn't even consider CS (or other sciences) as a career choice.
    There's another thing to consider: "computer" jobs are not perceived as family-friendly. (Long hours, etc. - doesn't matter if it's true or not.) And once again, girls and women make the choice against CS as they are the ones expected to "raise the family" when push comes to shove.

  67. Avatar for Sparkle
    Sparkle April 1st, 2012

    A very nice post indeed.. and starts quite a debate..
    Belonging to the fairer sex myself, I have had my share of prejudices. This is because of the inane mindset "guys" have that "girls can't program", right along with the thinking "girls can't drive".
    To quote an example: I remember when I wanted to participate in my first ever programming competition, a person from my class quite clearly said.. "Umm.. a girl.. in a programming competition.. would she be able to, well, program?"
    Another instance was when a team of three girls (myself and two of my friends) visited another university for a programming competition. We were the only all-girls team, and once again, we heard a guy, flabbergasted at seeing us, asked "All-girls team for a programming competition?"
    This and many other incidences of the sort may be the things that have driven me to work even harder and prove myself. But this may also be the thing that might have demotivated a few.
    When you keep hearing people say that girls can't program out loud, you are bound to start believing them some day.
    Once I graduated and started my very first job as a Software Engineer, I again faced the same kind of situations. The people in my team often didn't even call female programmers for interview, for the reason that they were female.
    And then there is the hurdle for every lady's promotion. She's going to get married and eventually resign. Well to all those people who think on the same thread, here's a question: "Do male programmers NEVER resign?"
    The only way the ratio as stated in the post can be changed is when people start changing their perspective, their thinking. When I see one bad male programmer, I don't decide that all male programmers must be bad. Female need the same kind of non-discriminating attitude from their male colleagues.
    As for the part where I said the discriminating comments drove me to work even harder to prove myself.. that enthusiasm is wearing down.. slowly but still wearing down. I am getting tired of trying to prove myself at everything I do, just because of my gender. And I guess this is what happens with a lot of ladies.

  68. Avatar for kg
    kg April 2nd, 2012

    I see not conspiracy at work here and no active sex discrimination either. While my lengthy career (30 years+ and still coding) is not a representative sample, anecdotally, I can tell you I have never seen any evidence of discrimination except with respect to age. And the age discrimnation was mostly subtle with just a few overt instances.
    I believe it is wise to steer clear of coding and I coach prospective programmers (mostly male) to go into medicine. With proper training, a medical person can have a much more satisfying career with far more autonomy and respect.
    When I started coding a long time ago, the half-life of a coder was ten years. For good reason. Doing stupid tasks for studpid people just gets old. Dilbert was right!

  69. Avatar for Julia
    Julia April 3rd, 2012

    What I think? I think that the author quite underestimates the sexism existing in the industry. It's very common for a male programmer not to see it. The fact that THERE ARE STILL WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY doesn't cancel the fact that THEY ARE BEING FORCED OUT. Those who have been already forced out, don't speak. So, they impression is, women that are still in the industry experience only subtle sexism (the rest who experienced more of it, quit). Come on, who needs more women "joining" the field, if the field is already losing them?
    The numbers are, 52% of females quit STEM mid-career, while the number of males quitting the field is 17%. With the raise of brogramming, I would expect a further decrease of female and minority developers at all levels. I'm a female developer in mid-career and consider quitting myself. I got my share of sexism and hostility:
    1. open source - the only group project I was able to participate in, was when I took a male name. Otherwise, I was either ignored or experienced direct hostility. I stopped contributing, and either develop something on my own or fork somebody's else project and develop what I need on the top. No more bros around, no problem.
    2. Groups and public speaking - again, ignoring (taking as a "wife") and hostility. I was kicked out of a group after the organizer invited me to speak, but saw my (female) name and made up a totally bs excuse to kick me out. Nobody spoke for me.
    3. marginalization at work - got assigned menial tasks and fixing things after "big balls" (because they are too geniuses to do it), was told off for petty reasons, excluded from decision making and meetings, no credits given for work, disrespect and abuse. I quit this job, but only to get stuck unemployed.
    4. With the recent rise of brogramming, rampant discrimination in hiring. My skills are in such demand, that I get recruiters contacting my profile on LinkedIn literary every day. Then I get 1-2 phone interviews, statements that I did great and "we will contact you" and then get "forgotten" in the process and they repost the job... (good chance not to *notice* discrimination, as it's a good chance not to notice some people ever applied). I look at the teams and they are all male (like 20-50 people), and almost all white of the same age, if they don't hire any diversity, there was no chance for me anyway. If I can't get a job anymore, it should be time to go, right?
    The root of the problem, it takes only one sexist (misogynist, racist, big ego etc) guy for the whole team, and the rest of the team being passively supportive or not caring (but they are nice bros!), to make sexism and discrimination work. Nobody would ever "hear" anything bad, after all they would trust their bro rather then some "other". Been there. Especially with the management having conflict of interest - either I stand up against sexism or I piss off my brogrammers. Well, don't hire brogrammers then, hire employees.
    Now somebody come, and tell me to lighten up... The whole discussion looks like a group of white people discussing racism - "Hey, white guys, what's racism, I've never seen it. What's a black person saying in this discussion?".

  70. Avatar for Kumar
    Kumar April 10th, 2012

    Interesting numbers Phil but you would have to delve deeper than mere numbers and stats to understand the real issues.
    I am an Indian male living in India, still in his 20s and a self-taught programmer. I am amazed to see that a lot of these 'good guys' speak of women and minorities as perpetual powerless victims, they are not! It is insulting, please stop it!
    Every race and gender has its fair share of tough ones, sissies, whiners, doers, victims, fighters etc. The voices you most often hear when it comes to topics like these are those of the whiners, because the fighters and doers are too busy actually doing something to even comment on topics as silly as 'brogrammers'.
    It is the easiest thing in the world to say something that is politically correct but it takes a lot of integrity and courage to speak your mind when that means having to offend some people and perceptions and more importantly not being politically correct.
    You speak of decreasing percentages of Hispanics and Blacks but can you look at what has been happening to the percentage of Asians in the same sector during the same time. Are white males less racist to Asians than they are to Blacks and Hispanics? They must be because otherwise Asians could not have managed to up their numbers. Since minorities are a weak bunch of people there is no way they could have fought a force as overwhelmingly strong as 'subtle sexism' from a group as intimidating as 'the great white nerds'.
    Please tell me you don't believe that because if you do then you are the real racist.
    Now lets talk about women. You say the percentage of women has decreased in programming, that is the statistic but is the field of programming the same as it was back when women made up a larger percentage. Looking at that picture, programming looks like a social activity rather than an individual task as it has become now. Could that be the reason why most women don't fancy programming? Lets look at the video gaming market, the overwhelming majority of gamers are men, why are there few women there? Please don't tell me it is because the games are sexist. Women are a lot stronger than you estimate them to be, not all women are delicate cry babies. When they are driven to a field they even deal with industries that have casting couches, nerds are probably the most harmless group of people to women and they get accused of being sexist! Only reason women don't make up a larger percent is because only some of them are excited by the concept of slogging in front of a lighted screen for long hours with no social life.
    If you would want to continue thinking that women and minorities are weak enough to be intimidated by white geeks then may long live your arrogance, kind sir!

  71. Avatar for Kumar
    Kumar April 10th, 2012

    One thing I would like to add to my earlier comment is that in even the most sexist tech/non-tech companies the human resources departments would have women in majority. Any theories on how the sexism that drove female programmers from those companies did not drive them away?

  72. Avatar for haacked
    haacked April 10th, 2012

    @Kumar, so you're suggesting that those who speak out against inequality are sissies and whiners? Ghandi? Whiner. Martin Luther King Jr.? Sissy. Susan B Anthony? Victim.
    Where did I call these folks "Powerless Victims"? No, the very fact that we're talking about this is because people are raising their voice.


    ...because the fighters and doers are too busy actually doing something to even comment on topics as silly as 'brogrammers'.


    And yet, here you are, commenting on this topic.
    Does the fact that you took the time to comment mean you're not actually doing something? Of course not! So why would you say the same about those who want to fight against inequality? Such folks can still be doing something while at the same time they speak out against inequality.
    If you made $0.70 for every dollar that someone of equal skill to you makes just because you're a woman, then I wouldn't consider it whining to demand a change. You can do that at the same time as you continue to do productive work.

  73. Avatar for Kumar
    Kumar April 10th, 2012

    If there actually was inequality then everyone who raises a voice against it is a hero. The question here is if there is inequality and that cannot simply be explained from statistics. NBA players are overwhelmingly black so does it mean that NBA is racist to whites? I don't remember the last time a non-black person won the 100m, racism again?
    Please send me contacts of those women who would develop my applications for 70% of the cost of an all male developer team, I would hire them in a second and beat my competitors on cost. Heck, for a 30% reduction in cost I would hire monkeys if they could code just as well. In a capitalist economy any company that cares about factors other than skill when hiring people will go eventually go bankrupt. I come from a country that has unbelievable amount of diversity in terms of language, caste, skin color, religion and so on. Group-ism and favoritism based on these factors was common place until quite recently and that continues to be the case in lesser educated regions. But the place where none of these factors even come in to play is in hiring talent, I can vouch for that from my personal experience in different parts of the country for more than 7 years. Finding good talent is so hard especially because so many leave to more developed countries that nobody cares about the other factors. If you claim that silicon valley recruiters favor these factors more than merit, then that puts them beneath their peers in the country where Slumdog Millionare was shot, I find that hard to believe.
    When I said fighters and doers don't waste time commenting, I did not mean 10 minutes spent on commenting on a blog or even writing a blog entry like you have done. I am talking about those people who spend excessive amounts on time and energy on speaking at events and so on where they blame the lack of women in tech simply on white males. They are the whiners.
    I was expecting some reaction on the other points I made on my earlier comments but it is sad that you only chose to respond to the more trivial sections of my comment.

  74. Avatar for Ann
    Ann April 20th, 2012

    If you are using "team fit" as your excuse for discrimination then it is time to completely change the shape of your team. There are many experienced women developers out here in the cold. Every time you shut the door you drive us away from the ever growing, ever changing skill sets required.
    I believe smart young women are seeing it as the no-win situation it usually is now. Older women, who have invested themselves in the industry are less able to walk away from the role they'd love to be able to continue.
    If you have driven someone out, then you need to make sure you engage with them in a non critical, enabling way when they come back in. You need to have good on-boarding. You need to leave space in your schedule to on-board properly and adjust the bridging skillsets. You need to not leave them stuck in a corner without contact. This affects all developers.
    You need to not advertise for rockstar gods. It gives people an inflated sense of their own importance and ability. We are engineers. A clever and conscientious engineer will not want to fit in with a team of egotistical and error-prone children.

  75. Avatar for Kumar
    Kumar April 25th, 2012

    I found this video that attempts to explain why men and women have dissimilar interests. It would be hard not to be convinced by this unless the viewer is a very closed minded person.
    Link to the video: www.youtube.com/watch

  76. Avatar for Kei
    Kei May 12th, 2012

    Thankfully I have not yet encountered this legion of brogrammers. But despite the comments above insinuating that women are somehow whiners, or fundamentally different, the reasons are entirely cultural. As stated before computing wasn't always seen as a man's arena, and there were more women in the computing industry in the past. It has been on a steady decline. Given this you have to ask "Why?" Not to mention that women consistently cite "hostile workplace" as a reason why they do not enter the tech field or why they leave it. To counter this problem it will take a critical mass of women to enter the field. Unfortunately, unless we improve our tech and science education from K-12, we will never be able to achieve that.

  77. Avatar for Alex
    Alex June 21st, 2012

    I was shocked with 1.5% OSS women developers, I think they should contribute more to the industry they are working in.

  78. Avatar for Rachel
    Rachel August 30th, 2012

    I'm afraid the problem doesn't stop at recruitment. I'm a disabled woman computer scientist, but I often think about leaving the field. And it's not because of the work, which I love.

  79. Avatar for Kumar
    Kumar February 21st, 2013

    Phil, I was wrong. Some recent events have made me realize that. I don't have anything to say about racism in the industry since I haven't faced it personally but I have come to realize that the current environment in tech is not really very welcoming towards female geeks.
    I was probably a bit harsh in the earlier comment, my apologies for that.

  80. Avatar for haacked
    haacked February 21st, 2013

    Kumar, thank you for coming back and following up. I appreciate it. :)

    I'm curious what recent events changed your mind.

  81. Avatar for Kumar
    Kumar February 23rd, 2013

    The change is based on my observations over a handful of recent technical conferences and meet ups (in India). I won't go in to details to save a long post but the few women who were there felt completely out of place and alienated. When one feels like an outsider in an event related to their own field it can be a pretty discouraging and spirit dampening experience I think.

    I think out going and extroverted women can still thrive in the current scenario. But the fact that most geeks generally tend to be socially shy and introverted makes it a real problem for the majority of women.

    I think the cause of the problem is not really sexism but a general lack of empathy. I will be doing whatever little I can to improve this situation and the first step in this direction was to ensure that everyone I had agreed with and argued against in the past on this topic knows that my earlier perceptions were off the mark.

    This post was one of the triggers that lead to the change, so thanks for that :)