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Programming IT Technology

Do Women Write Better Code? 847

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the better-than-me-at-least dept.
JCWDenton writes "The senior vice-president of engineering for computer-database company Ingres-and one of Silicon Valley's highest-ranking female programmers-insists that men and women write code differently. Women are more touchy-feely and considerate of those who will use the code later, she says. They'll intersperse their code ... with helpful comments and directions, explaining why they wrote the lines the way they did and exactly how they did it. The code becomes a type of 'roadmap' for others who might want to alter it or add to it later, says McGrattan, a native of Ireland who has been with Ingres since 1992. Men, on the other hand, have no such pretenses. Often, 'they try to show how clever they are by writing very cryptic code,' she tells the Business Technology Blog. 'They try to obfuscate things in the code,' and don't leave clear directions for people using it later. "
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Do Women Write Better Code?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:32AM (#23808849)
    I don't know, I've never even seen a woman programmer. And I work in the field. I bet nobody on Slashdot has either. (this is a joke!)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:04AM (#23809261)
      I haven't seen a woman (live one that is). Nor sunlight.
    • by eclectro (227083) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:06AM (#23809297)
      The day I see a female programmer is the day I see my VCR tell the right time.
    • by wtfispcloadletter (1303253) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:38AM (#23809731)
      I've seen 1, ever, a DB programmer, she was supposedly good. Heard of a few others through the grapevine, but only heard of them because how utterly useless and cruddy their code was. Just like I've heard of a few male programmers that I've never met. The phrase "complete rewrite" kept coming up from my associates after they (females and males) were canned.

      Oh, wait, I have met a few others. They were no longer coding, they somehow had left the field and had a change of careers (working minimum wage jobs through a contract agency...) Actually, no different than after the big dotcom bubble pop and I met several (male) "network admins" who were (and still are, 7? years later) driving delivery truck. Seems they can't find a job in their field of choice again. I think the companies were looking for any excuse to let them go as these guys were from some very large manufacturing companies that really weren't effected by the dotpop.

      Seriously, how many women, percentage wise compared to men, are in the field? How can they come up with some stat that says women are better programmers if you've got (pulling number out of air) 1 woman to every 1000 men in the field? How about a statement like "a percentage of women who become programmers and are successful at it (as in my experience a lot are not, but that's no different than men), tend to be better programmers than men"
      • by paeanblack (191171) on Monday June 16, 2008 @10:00AM (#23810015)
        I've seen 1, ever, a DB programmer, she was supposedly good.

        Inept male programmers have an easier time hiding in the crowd. Inept women programmers can't.

        Because of this culling effect, the women that are still around are, on average, more capable.
        Industries dominated by women have a similar effect. The males end up being better because they need to overcome the inherent prejudice to get the same performance review.
      • by COMON$ (806135) * on Monday June 16, 2008 @10:26AM (#23810401) Journal
        You are making an odd comparison here. The gen of dotcom grads werent necessarily computer people. They were people who saw a wave and tried to ride it. Back in those days the suits were grabbing anyone who was even remotely connected to technology and making them admins for code and networks. Some of these people fooled administration and stayed on as IT people, graduated to management before anyone noticed that they had no skill whatsoever.

        As for female programmers, I was a CS tutor at my university growing up and I can state from experience that any female that was able to make it through CS 101 was a much better programmer than their male counterparts on average. Unfortunately these females were all on the education path so they didn't go into dev work.

        Interesting sidenote; the females that didn't make it did cry a lot more but would forge on, the guys just threw hissy fits when they couldn't get concepts and drop the class. Maybe there is a bit to the female capacity to persevere and the male stubbornness :)

    • by Jerajdai (1221128) on Monday June 16, 2008 @10:13AM (#23810185)
      I know your post is a joke, but on a serious note ...anybody with a computer science background knows at least one female programmer. Matter of fact, she's the first programmer ever -- Lady Lovelace.
  • "They try to obfuscate things in the code, and don't leave clear directions for people using it later."
    Excuse me? "Try to?" Like, it's on purpose?

    I've seen all genders write obfuscated code--but it worked. And every single time it was because we were under the gun for a deadline or there was simply no other way to do it. It's preposterous to even try to sound like you have empirical data supporting this blanket assessment.

    There's a big need to fix testosterone-fueled code at Ingres ...
    Even in my state of extreme naivete about what is going on at Ingres, I would suggest you first dump efforts into your supporting teams to help your developers out ... like your systems engineers, test teams, database teams, etc. What McGrattan is accusing men of is just bad documentation. Anyone can suffer from this and anyone can do it expertly.

    I could combat her anecdotal subjective statements (probably describing herself) with my own anecdotes or go on a rant about how many of the great programmers are men (like Donald Knuth and his 'literate programming') but what's the point? Men can be just as meticulous as women can at providing good documentation and women can be just as sloppy.

    It's good to have a healthy mix of diversity and I wish that programmers were 50/50 split on gender (trust me, I really really do) but it's not because women are better than men at coding. Prime example of American sexism in one of the few forms it exists today.
    • by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:35AM (#23808887)

      Excuse me? "Try to?" Like, it's on purpose?
      I had these doubts to ... then I was introduced to Perl.
    • by TitusC3v5 (608284) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:36AM (#23808901) Homepage
      This article told me I code like a woman. I knew playing all those female characters in RPGs would come back to haunt me.

      /cry
      • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:55AM (#23809131) Journal

        Bah! I can think of three female programmers immediately who I've worked with closely enough to comment on their code. Two of them were C++ programmers and I don't remember their code being anything atypical in terms of comments, though one wrote very elegant code. The third works primarily in Java and somehow manages to turn out hideously unreadable code. Conversely, I've seen numerous men who program in a variety of ways, readable and otherwise.

        It's now well established that the human brain builds negative stereotypes more easily than positive ones and that people see what they are expecting and apply a double standard. This person sees what she wants to see.
        • by sheepofblue (1106227) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:34AM (#23809693)
          Women and Men DO think different. The men are evil and women rock tone of this article however is pathetic as are her conclusions.

          However you could leverage the fact that men and women think different to gain fault tolerance. If you have two independent programmers do the same work, with the same requirements they will frequently arrive at different solutions. As most know this can be leveraged by comparing the output of both solutions to verify the solution is proper. If one solution was done by a male and the other by a female the probability of difference should go up due to the difference in thought patterns, I would think.

          That is a real chance of benefit versus the male hating nonsense she spewed.
          • The biggest problem with "brains work differently" is that "differently" is too easily interpreted as "better". People simplify this down to a one dimensional score of IQ. No matter how you rig the scores, one group is going to come out looking "better". Then you get things like how former Harvard President Summers' speech was interpreted. And you get denial for purely political reasons, insistence that everyone is equal because otherwise it would be unfair.

            Which is the better chess piece, the knight or the bishop? That's not a good question. It presumes that there's a clear advantage to one or the other when actually it's situational. The knight is regarded as better for closed positions, while the bishop is better for open positions. Nonetheless, chess experts couldn't resist concluding that perhaps the bishop is overall slightly better, and have gone as far as giving computers a blanket preference in that direction. Perhaps the bishop is the better piece for the computer's typical style of massive tactical computation paired with ever more sophisticated but insufficient heuristic rules to compensate for zero understanding of the overall strategic considerations of a chess position. (For instance, computers have been known to continue to grind out move after move in positions where the outcome is already known, positions such as king and knight vs king which is a draw no matter what the players do, because unless specifically programmed to do so, computers do not assess positions from a view of what is possible.) What I wonder is if programming is a situation in which men's or women's style of intelligence seems to work better, or is programming a more varied situation than that?

      • by ranulf (182665) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:18AM (#23809461)

        This article told me I code like a woman.

        Actually, this article is almost completely fallacious... Let's look at the facts quoted:

        McGrattan boasts that 70% to 80% of the time, she can look at a chunk of computer code and tell if it was written by a man or a woman.

        ...at Ingres because only about 20% of the engineers are women, McGrattan says. (Most of them are in jobs involving quality assurance or adapting the product to a new locale, she says, and not the "heavy lifting" of writing code.)

        So, basically, she'd get a higher score if she guessed "man" every time than if she tries to be clever. Clearly, then, she does think some men's code looks like it's been written by a woman, which invalidates to point of the article.

    • by notnAP (846325) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:41AM (#23808941)
      [It's a] Prime example of American sexism in one of the few forms it exists today.

      What's a prime example? The fact that coding is a male dominated workplace? Or that someone can make blanket, derogatory statements against a group of people based on their sex/race/religion and get away with it?

      Never mind, actually. I'd agree either way.

    • by Atraxen (790188) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:02AM (#23809245)
      Not only that, but even if the observation (that women write better documented code than men) is true, that would only be a correlation. The gender itself is not causation - if you want to learn something meaningful, find out why the gender is correlated (e.g. women at that company are given more reasonable deadlines, men feel less secure in their positions so they don't care about helping others untangle the 'spaghetti').
    • Ha! That Donald Knuth comment reminds me of the obligatory xkcd reference [xkcd.com].

      Who said women couldn't code?

    • by Rogerborg (306625) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:09AM (#23809341) Homepage
      Also: I hear that Asians write really efficient code because of their little fingers. And black guys? They could write great code, if only Whitey would stop keeping them down.
    • Deadlines... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lonewolf666 (259450) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:16AM (#23809429)

      I've seen all genders write obfuscated code--but it worked. And every single time it was because we were under the gun for a deadline or there was simply no other way to do it.

      Yeah, been there, wrote my share of spaghetti code to tack on another feature the quickest and least elegant way.
      Now add a management that is not willing to invest in refactoring during slower times, and the code will degrade over the years as one quickhack is added to the next.
    • by Reverend528 (585549) * on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:24AM (#23809549) Homepage

      Like, it's on purpose?
      It was hard to write. It should be hard to read.
    • by cs668 (89484) <cservin@cromagnon.com> on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:39AM (#23809755)
      This brings me back to my first post college job. It was 1991 and the guy sitting next to me had a picture of Paula Abdul as his desktop background. Someone complained to HR and he was asked to remove it.

      At the same time my boss who was also his boss had an anatomical poster "Penises of the Animal Kingdom" on her wall with to scale anatomical drawings of about 10 different species penises - including homo sapien. HR never asked her to remove it, and she was in a position of authority.

      Never really bothered me, but did show me that sexism and sexual harassment rules are applied differently to men than to women.
      • by Simonetta (207550) on Monday June 16, 2008 @10:47AM (#23810643)
        I have not the slightest doubt that your experience is completely true.
            I had an experience like this at Hewlett-Packard in Camas, WA in 1993. I was assigned to tear apart fully-assembled printers so that the parts could be used for prototypes of the next generation. I worked alone in a room filled with printers. No one had access to this room except from me and my (supposedly) male boss.
            After a few weeks, I put a close-up picture of Claudia Schiffer on the PC's wallpaper. My boss saw it and flipped out. He ordered me to remove it immediately. I said that I liked it and that no one could be offended because no one had access to the room.
            A day later I was fired from Hewlett-Packard for 'creating an environment conducive to sexual harassment'. I couldn't get unemployment benefits.
            To this day I hate H-P and I don't believe anything anyone says about it being an advanced or great company. I will never sign off a purchase order for any of their products for any company that I work for. I suspect that most of the so-called great companies in the electronics/computer industry are the same way.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:32AM (#23808857)
    and see how harmonic they all work together
  • by mactard (1223412) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:32AM (#23808861)
    Men's code is sexist and demeaning whereas woman's code will marry you for the divorce settlement.
  • by larry bagina (561269) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:33AM (#23808871) Journal
    they freak out everytime they miss a period.
  • by blcamp (211756) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:34AM (#23808875) Homepage

    "Men and women think differently."

    This is such shocking news. Unbelievable.

  • Simplistic? True? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neapolitan (1100101) * on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:34AM (#23808883)
    Inflammatory short article to "sex things up" (pun intended); surprising for the WSJ (or maybe not.) Written by a Rebecca Buckman, quoting Emma McGrattan at database company Ingres.

    Any such broad classifications such as this should be taken with a *lot* of salt.

    That being said, the article reminded me of a large digital systems design project that I had back in college, writing assembly for a 6502 processor in a device we made. My lab partner was a girl (probably only 10% of the class was female) who really, really thought differently than me in a way. It was weird -- some of the things I thought were impossible or not worth doing she would code in 10 hours; and the reverse was true. It was pretty much pure synergy (forgive the cheesy phrase) and we were extremely productive and got along well.

    However, to reduce anything like this to gender differences is almost nonsensical. I could have been good lab partners with any number of people that thought differently than me, male or female. Personality is complex, not binary. I know many girls that code beautifully, and many more that can not code at all. This article is kind of interesting cocktail conversation, but nothing more IMHO...
  • by Zarhan (415465) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:35AM (#23808885)
    My friends include a woman who writes 100-line SQL statements embedded in a perl-script. You need a magic decoder ring just to see what's there.

    A male colleague, OTOH, likes to write code in style such as

    for (unsigned int i=0;ij;i = i + 1) // Loop counts from i to j, with increments of one
        { .... } ...and no, his job does not include teaching basics of programming.

    There, I've the counterpoint for the article with my own biased view!
    • by wiredog (43288) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:41AM (#23808957) Journal
      Partly because the comments start out as the design, to which I then add code.

      I also comment obsessively because I want to be able to come back to the code a year later and know, quickly, what I did and why I did it.

      Many years ago I was porting someone else's C code from 16 bit to 32 bit and came across "//Why did I do this?" at the top of a couple hundred lines of uncommented code that had multiple embedded while anf for loops, with a pow() and a couple of sizeof()'s in there. I had to print it out and trace it by hand to figure out what he'd done, and why. Took awhile.

      Too many comments can be ignored, too few can give you heartburn.

  • Not my experience (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hyppy (74366) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:41AM (#23808949)
    I know the plural of "anecdote" is not "data", but in my experiences this is far from true. I have found female coders in my jobs to be downright malevolent in their coding. All women I have worked with that write any sort of code obfuscate the hell out of it, document absolutely nothing, and will barely explain how to even use their product. If everything is not run "their way", then it seems like armageddon.

    Case in point. We have a coder who wrote an application for our office. Because of the fact that she refused to use any variable for the Program Files folder (hard coded as "c:\Program Files\") and she insisted that all workstations need a D: partition (to hold a 100kb support file), we had to rebuild 4 servers.

    Say what you will about women coders being "touchy feely." I won't fall for it, any more than the NOW propoganda that all women are natural caring mothers, even the coked out alcoholics.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:41AM (#23808953)
    And if I ever come across a woman programmer, I'll prove it.
  • by tomalpha (746163) * on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:42AM (#23808959)

    "They try to obfuscate things in the code"

    Forget a male/female issue. I think she needs to hire better programmers period. Anyone in a professional code shop that's deliberately trying to write obfuscated code shouldn't be there and she's not doing her job properly if she's not firing them or getting them into remedial classes of some kind.

    • by cptnapalm (120276) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:10AM (#23809351)
      "she's not doing her job properly"

      See, that can't possibly be it. Didn't you watch all those 80s after-school specials? Have you not watched all those female empowerment action movies?

      *Sigh*

      All women, everywhere, regardless of age, height, weight or any other consideration are absolutely fantastic at everything they do. All women are at least above average intelligence, though most are in the genius category. Obviously, since she is a woman, she is doing her job brilliantly!

      I mean look at all the uplifting, empowering stories that show how amazing women are. Can a 300 pound linebacker be flattened by a 95 pound girl? Of course! As long as she believes in herself!

      But there is danger out there. What if a woman does something and someone says that it is not very good. That would hurt her self-esteem! Since we've already proven that women are indeed capable of doing everything far better than men, this attempt to hurt women's self-esteem must be stopped. There will be a meeting followed by a handout of the new rules about how all men must grovel a sufficient amount everyday to be allowed in the room with women's amazing wonderfulness.

      So, obviously, Mr. "She's not doing her job" you are just a supporter of the white male patriarchy, since you hate women and want them all to be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.

      Don't worry, though. We'll re-educate you. Oh yes we will...
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:53AM (#23809941) Journal
      It's quite easy to understand if you look at the context. The gender ratio in the sampled workforce is quite heavily male-biased, which implies that the only women who are likely to survive there are the ones that are really good at their job.
  • Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pthor1231 (885423) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:43AM (#23808971)
    If someone wrote an article that was the opposite of this, from a "man's point of view" it would be extremely sexist, and the publisher, writer, and anyone quoted in the article would burn in the ninth layer of hell for being such a terrible person.
    • by Gazzonyx (982402) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:08AM (#23809325)
      True, but it is the greatest flamebait article ever! It kind of brings a little tear of joy to my eye.
    • Re:Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gsslay (807818) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:42AM (#23809789)
      I particularly liked the "There's a big need to fix testosterone-fueled code at Ingres because only about 20% of the engineers are women"

      Cos we all know that testosterone is bad, and women engineers are all better because, well, they're not mad things driven by their hormones, like silly men.

      Basically the woman is a fool with an agenda (women into computing) so is constructing a theory to fit the purpose using crass gender stereotypes. There are good coders who document and comment clearly. There are good coders who don't, but should. There are rotten coders who both do and don't document and comment clearly. But any attempt to assign any of the former attributes to gender specifics is pathetic, and more than a little worrying for someone who, I presume, is responsible for employing people under present gender discrimination laws. If I worked for her I would more than a little annoyed at being patronised and my coding style & skills being categorized by gender.
      • by mattwarden (699984) on Monday June 16, 2008 @04:21PM (#23814857) Homepage
        What the hell is "testosterone-fueled code" anyway? I mean, here is a excerpt from the code for an online store I recently developed for a client.

        // GONNA SHAVE WITH A RAZOR BLADE YEAH
        oStore.getValidator().validateInput(lstFormElements);

        // GONNA PUNCH YOUR LIGHTS OUT IF YOU KEEP LOOKING AT ME YEAH
        oStore.getCCProcessor().processPurchaseTrxn(listFormElements.get('CC'));

        // TIRED OF CODING TIME FOR WORKING OUT THEN STRIP CLUB YEAH
        oStore.getWorkflow().getNextPage();

        Seems pretty standard and I could see a woman coding it the same way.
  • by HappyHead (11389) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:44AM (#23808977)
    This sounds like a severe case of deciding on a problem, and then picking out observations to support it. Let's say you have 1000 coders, and 1/10 of your coders (100 of them) write poorly documented code. Now we'll also consider the gender-split - if 1/10 of the coder population is female, and the statistical 1/10 of the coders writing poorly documented code applies to them as well - this means you'll have 10 female coders writing poor documentation, and 90 male coders writing poor documentation. WOW! NINE TIMES as many male coders who can't document code properly, CLEARLY that means that men can't document code, right? Right?

    The same sort of thing applied here at the University I teach at - a certain ethnic minority had a very bad reputation as producing cheaters in Comp.Sci. So for a few years, I carefully recorded every instance of cheating, and kept track of the ethnic background of the people getting caught. You know what? The only reason more people of that background were getting caught is because they represented 85% of the population in the department - the overall percentage of them that were cheating was actually LOWER than others.

    Perhaps this McGrattan person should concentrate more on fixing the problems than on blaming them on some group she doesn't like.
    • by syzler (748241) <david AT syzdek DOT net> on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:22AM (#23809515)

      I completely agree with the parent.

      From the FTA:

      There is a big need to fix testosterone-fueled code at Ingres because only about 20% of the engineers are women, McGrattan says. (Most of them are in jobs involving quality assurance or adapting the product to a new locale, she says, and not the "heavy lifting" of writing code.)

      Hmm, most of the women modify existing code or review existing code rather than write from scratch. Where is the comparison between male and female "heavy lifting" code writers and between make and female quality assurance/adaptor coders. Or was this comparison not as sensational as blaming the sex of the coder rather than the type of coder?

  • by borizz (1023175) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:48AM (#23809021)
    -those strings of instructions that result in nifty applications and programs-

    Why do you need to explain what code is? This is news for nerds, not news for my mother. Give us some credit please.
  • by Idimmu Xul (204345) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:51AM (#23809079) Homepage Journal
    Now that I've lived to see this day,
    These are the things I must but say.

    Die a bachelor, if your options are few,
    Never ever love a female programmer,
    they'll make a program out of you.

    Don't laugh it away, mine has been an object lesson,
    They find syntax errors, even in a romantic expression.

    Alas! They search logic in love, where there is none,
    Your heart may skip a beat and they just hit return.

    You are in for trouble if you persist,
    You'll just be a pointer in her long linked list.

    --
    Free Playstation 3, XBox 360 and Nintendo Wii [free-toys.co.uk]
  • Gender differences (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sobrique (543255) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:56AM (#23809147) Homepage
    Women and men do tend to think differently.

    Not worse, nor better really, just ... different

    So yes, I can see women writing 'better' code, but I still think that's more likely to be a matter of training and discipline, as much as anything else. Or perhaps the 'female geek' effect - in a word where you'll be faced with massive prejudice and pressure, the 'female techy' is typically (and yes, I realise this is a broad generalisation) even more hardcore than male counterparts - simply because she's there because she _really_ wants to, and has had to face a lot of uphill struggle to get there. This seems to hold true in petrolhead circles too (see, I can do car analogies too) - the few 'girl racers' I've met, have extremely extreme car mods, and rigs, because they're competing against everyone else _and_ the gender stereotype.

  • McGrattan's Blog (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tsar (536185) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:59AM (#23809185) Homepage Journal
    Hey look, you can read Miss McGrattan's own blog entry [ingres.com] about the interview and perhaps provide some intelligent, constructive comments. Remember not to obfuscate!
    • by RobBebop (947356) on Monday June 16, 2008 @10:04AM (#23810069) Homepage Journal

      Thanks for the link. When she refers to gender as "women" and "boys" it really makes it clear where her prejudices are.

      As a young man, I have worked hard to mentally apply the words "women" and "ladies" in place of "girls" during recent years because I have found that many females have a reasonable personal preference not to be called "girl" ("chick" is also a bad choice).

      In any case, seeing "boys" applied within an "anti-man" argument is a refreshing reminder that women also suffer the negative effects of sexism and bigotry.

  • by Ogive17 (691899) on Monday June 16, 2008 @08:59AM (#23809187)
    We all know that even if a woman *appears* to document her code well that what is written isn't what she really means!

    Or women don't document at all and just expect the men to know what they are thinking.
  • by BForrester (946915) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:00AM (#23809209)

    They'll intersperse their code-those strings of instructions that result in nifty applications and programs-with helpful comments and directions.

    If women code anything like they act in real life, then you'd get a lot of helpful comments like this:

    /*If you don't why this function isn't returning your expected result, then hell if I'm going to tell you.

  • I don't think so. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DougReed (102865) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:04AM (#23809277)
    One of the better programmers I ever knew was a woman, and also one of the worst. The better one didn't even indent her 'if' statements, much less add comments until I shouted at her and made her review something she had written a few months earlier. The other one, wrote more comments than code... Like she thought she could justify the fact that it didn't work by explaining what it was supposed to do.
    Pretty much kills that theory in my book. Men and women often think differently, and even different programmers of the same sex think differently. There are a lot of generalizations one can make about women and men in the world, and argue religiously about whether it is environment or instinct... Somehow I don't think programming style is one of them.
  • by borgheron (172546) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:07AM (#23809305) Homepage Journal
    I think this is a stereotype like any other. You can't say that one group of people always does something in a given way.

    I certainly do not write my code in a "cryptic way" to show off. I find it a little insulting to my entire gender to be pigeonholed in that way.

    I was taught that when you write code it should be easily understandable and well commented and that's what I do.

    Sheesh.

    Greg C.
  • but i do know that wildly speculative sweeping generalizations provides lots of fodder for utterly useless watercooler chit chat

    congrats slashdot for picking a topic everyone feels entitled to comment on and absolutely no one actually says anything useful on
  • Think differently? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by foxtrot (14140) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:17AM (#23809445)
    Sure, men and women think differently, but perhaps the answer is even simpler. Look around your average IT shop, and it's pretty plain that there are a lot more men there than there are women.

    Perhaps it's just that for men, IT's a reasonable and expected field to go into, but for women, it's not as much, so a woman going into IT is much more likely to be well-suited for it and better at it?

    It might have very little to do at all with the difference in thought processes between men and women.
  • Even if true (Score:4, Informative)

    by dmsuperman (1033704) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:20AM (#23809479)
    Even if this statement is true, which I'm certainly not saying it is, in my experience women are also far more likely to clash with each other. We used to have a single woman programmer in our development department, and everything went smooth. She would make her points, most of the men would usually gang up on her and explain the opposite, it'd be one big fun-fest. About 20 minutes later, a major breakthrough would be achieved where both parties are happy.

    Another woman works here now. IF they finish arguing in an hour, it's not because they've come to a conclusion, it's because their throats are sore. They still can't even decide on some simple coding standards that the rest of us have already just been sort of using.

    Women together generally makes for a bad experience.

    These are just things I've noted, nothing sexist about it.
  • by YeeHaW_Jelte (451855) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:29AM (#23809609) Homepage
    .. haven't _ever_ worked with a woman programmer in my 10+ year career.

    That's a bad thing.

    However, compensating by ascribing generic traits to gender (tidyness, empathy, etc) is not going to help, and IMHO this is exactly what this VP does.

    I'm glad I don't work for her. She seems quite sexist.
  • by DrugCheese (266151) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:34AM (#23809695)
    I've always lived by the rule that there are three options when it comes to programming:

    1. Cheap
    2. Fast
    3. Correct

    You can choose any two options when developing something. Guess which two my clients usually make?

    Regarding this, I agree - flamebait, article - I've only ever worked with one other female coder. Her code was the sloppiest thing I've ever gone cross-eyed staring at. Usually that doesn't matter to the clients much as long as it works, her code didn't even work half the time. With 0 lines of documentation 2 out of the 3 projects I worked with her on I ended up completely redoing her responsibilities myself.

    Do I judge all women coders by her standard? No I'm not that ignorant.
  • by jcr (53032) <.jcr. .at. .mac.com.> on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:47AM (#23809859) Journal
    Anyone who assigns attributes to half of the people in the world is on very thin ice.

    -jcr
  • Code Janitor (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kcdoodle (754976) on Monday June 16, 2008 @09:59AM (#23810001)
    I have cleaned up and maintained programs from literally hundreds of other programmers.

    I have not noticed any sexual bias for bad code. Some people have it and some people do not. I see tons of unneeded and often unused variable with poor names. Databases with numeric fields where text should be and vice versa. Platform or vendor specific techniques where generic ones will do just as well.

    Oh yeah, I have seen the deliberate obfuscation. (Ranjeev Dolas where are you?) Splicing assembly code into a 4GL Informix program to make it say "Is the third octet = 192?". It is not hard to see when people have deliberately made things hard for others to figure out, probably all for job security.

    Me on the other hand, I know that I will probably be the fool that has to come back to this code later and fix it again. So I add comments to the things I can figure out and even to the things I cannot. Put comments and dates around my fixes. After a while the code starts to look like my own.

    My poor code comes from my throw-away programs. The kind you write once to solve a problem today. You run the code once and never expect to touch the code again. Except next month, a really similar tool is needed. Now I go back to my old code, if I can find it, and OMG it looks like a freaking third grade did it with construction paper and crayons. This is my biggest downfall.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Monday June 16, 2008 @10:29AM (#23810427)
    Up to 1960s or so. Military and some businesses would hire rooms of "computers", people working with mechanical calculators and graph paper. The autobiography "Surely you are joking Mr Feynman" has a segment about this. Some of these same women carried over to early vacuum-tube computers. Grace Hopper, inventor of the first widely used compiler, was of this generation.

    At one of my early summer jobs in a large corporation there was a gender split between "scientists and engineers" and "programmers". The guys did write code on large "coding sheets" of paper. But the females programmed keypunched the coding sheets, submitted the job decks and collected the printouts, and the guys would analyze the printouts. You were lucky to get one or two turn-arounds a day. The new people had did their own programming on teletypes of terminals (inverted 1974) in school, so declined programming assistants. Some theold guys NEVER touched a keyboard in their careers. They were either promoted into management or laid off during the late 20th century corporate restructurings.

    So early programming acquired the "taint" of effeminity and being "trade" taught in vocation school. That taint delayed computer science from becoming as degree offereing at places like MIT, Stanford, and Harvard, some untilt he 1980s. I attended all three of those schools and remember the faculty debates about this. Computer scientists hid out in other departments, typically math and electrical engineering. I guess it was when you started seeing coding superstars like Don Bricklin and Bill Gates (yes Bill wrote a legendary BASIC compiler OFF-LINE that worked within a day of finally getting the hardware) that commercial computer science became more acceptable.
  • by |/rad|/oder (202635) on Monday June 16, 2008 @11:54AM (#23811607)
    Way to miss the forest for the trees everyone.

    1) 80% of software cost goes into maintenance.
    2) Developers rarely stick with a position for more than 3-5 years.

    It's more cost effective to have code that is easy to maintain, thus her focus on READABILITY. I can't tell you how many man-hours have been lost on our projects because our code is stupid and unreadable. Remember every time you've wanted to throw a brick at the guy before you? Yeah, that's stress that I really don't want yo be paying for on my project. Now:

    3) Developers spend more time reading code than writing code.
    4) Developers absorb code density faster via code examples than they do via documentation.

    So, it's better to write self-documenting code, than to document highly analytical code. That means sensible variable/method names as well as collections/relationships that are relevant, at least where OOP is concerned.

    Now, most business software is non-algorithmic, i.e. it isn't really computing so much as it is moving data around. The math isn't all that complex when the hardest thing you have to model is your database and the queries used to run it.

    Considering all these things, I often hire programmers with better verbal skills, even at the expense of their analytical skills. Women tend to be more verbal than analytical, thus the authors conclusion. It's also easier to teach optimization and performance than it is to teach English grammar/syntax and how to "port" that to a programming language, and as outlined above, this is the part of the software that is not only the most expensive, but will give you the higher ROI over the life of that software. Enterprisey stuff can linger for tens of years, incurring maintenance costs all the while.

    Now if the author had looked beneath the surface of what her gut (correctly) told her into the real cognition of what was going on, she might not have pissed off a bunch of insecure slashdot trolls. She might have even realized what was "better" about what she was seeing and how to train the rest of her staff to perform at that level.

  • by song-of-the-pogo (631676) on Monday June 16, 2008 @12:46PM (#23812311) Homepage
    writing clear, readable code isn't a "guy" thing or a "girl" thing, it's a "good programmer" thing. similarly, writing confusing, obfuscated code isn't a "guy" thing or a "girl" thing, it's a "clueless programmer" thing (unless it's being done for the ioccc, in which case it's totally cool).

    do i comment my code? yes, but it's not because i'm "touchy-feely". i hate commenting my code. i hate documenting my work. it's a chore and a bore (and something i often leave until the very end). i do it because it's essential for me to be able to go back to my work in a few months time and understand what the heck it was i was doing/thinking at the time. this was drummed into us at school by our prof, who made code commenting and documentation 15% of the grade. he also required we use informative variable names and write legible code and we'd get dinged heavily if we didn't. i think he was right and so i continue to try to follow his advice every day, and this includes code i write purely for myself, but it goes against my nature.

    i'm reminded of one time, early in my career, where i was given a small problem to solve. i solved it, then set about seeing what i could do to make it tighter and more clever, getting very caught up in the process. finally, i was very pleased to have something that used all kinds of nifty, bit-shifting tricks and whatnot and fit all on one line. i was pretty stoked, actually. awesome! it looked cool! the senior programmer mentoring me took a look at it, told me he thought it was way neat, but requested that i redo it all so that it a) was on many lines and 2) made sense to everyone else who'd have to come by later and figure out what i was doing. oh, and could i please be sure to include comments? lesson learned.

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