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The Ugly Underbelly of Coder Culture 715

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-so-old-boys-club dept.
snydeq writes "Today's developers are overwhelmingly young and male, and they're barring the door from a more diverse workforce, writes Fatal Exception's Neil McAllister. 'Software development isn't just failing to attract women. It's actively pushing them away. ... Put all the pieces together, and you're left with an impression of developers that's markedly different from the geeks and nerds they're made out to be in popular culture. On the contrary, developers harbor the same attitudes and engage in the same behaviors you see whenever a subculture is overwhelmingly dominated by young males. They've even coined a clever name for programmers who think and behave like fraternity pledges: brogrammers,' McAllister writes. 'Developers like to think of their culture as a meritocracy, where the very best developers naturally rise to the top. But as long as the industry tends to exclude more than half of the potential workforce, that's nothing but pure arrogance.'"
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The Ugly Underbelly of Coder Culture

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  • by RightSaidFred99 (874576) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @03:26PM (#39687417)

    The problem is that whether you're going to be a good coder is generally decided by the time you're like 18. For those of you keeping score this is _before_ you typically enter the workforce.

    I think this is pablum is just a bunch of silly navel gazing. Most of us are too busy doing work to run around acting like 15 year olds.

    More common in my personal experience as a developer in a large corporation is that there's a rush to hire women developers of any ability. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find good candidates when _half_ the applicants are pre-screened out due to having a Y chromosome?

    To be honest, I have only seen or heard about _great_ female developers online working other places, I've never met one in my job and I've been there a looong time. I've worked with decent and even good ones, but a great one that is the "go to gal"? Never.

    I attribute this largely to upbringing. I think we'll see more in the future, but my generation and the next few generations tended not to immerse girls in technology from a young age like they did boys. I think in the current generations this is more common.

  • Re:Where? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rwven (663186) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @03:34PM (#39687483)

    Yeah the article is ignoring the real problem...

    As the lead developer on a software team, I'm one of the ones interviewing potential candidates. Typically the vast majority of applicants are male, and the females who apply typically can't pass our coding questions and tests. Granted most males can't either, so the ratio is probably about the same (in regards to the pass vs fail). The fact isn't that women aren't pushed away, it's that there are just very vary few of them.

    I'm completely unbiased on the male vs female front, but if a male OR a female can't answer the tech questions and complete the coding tests properly, there's no way I'm going to hire them. End of story. We only hire Sr level devs (or ALMOST Sr), and only about 1 in 15 or 1 in 20 applicants are actually capable of high-mid-level or sr-level coding. We typically see less than 1 in 20 candidates actually being women. In our current round of hiring over the past month, we've seen about 15 males, and only one female. We've only hired one person so far, and it happened to be one of the males.

    It's not that we're biased against women, it's just that the numbers are against them. I honestly couldn't say if males are better programmers than women, because I haven't worked with, or interviewed enough women to know if there are decent female coders out there... I HAVE hired a very capable sysadmin who was female once, and she was absolutely wonderful at her job. There was nothing we asked of her that she couldn't do... She was lost in a round of layoffs a few years ago, and I've been sad about that ever since.

    There will unfortunately be sexism, racism, and other forms of bias in ALL environments, but saying the coding industry has an ugly underbelly of sexism is just ignorant. The fact of the matter is that most young male programmers would jump at the chance to get a talented female among them.

  • by xzvf (924443) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @03:37PM (#39687505)
    I agree that there is little to no overt exclusion of any race or gender. Yet, I've observed young male groups of developers use language that is not polite in mixed company. Males and females are inherently different, and technology is a boys club. The women I've seen in the field are generally more tolerant of the normal behavior of a pack of young males. I think the solution is age and maturity, and if you want a diverse workforce, it has to be age diverse as well. Regardless of how silly the article is (probably written by academics that have never seen the real world), there is a lack of black, Hispanic and female representation in IT in general. The typical classroom/workplace where engineers and IT workers are groomed is male white/Asian. You have to question why black and Hispanic males and females of all genders avoid the technology field? Maybe they haven't embraced the Geek culture, because it isn't the companies. As a consultant, I've walked through hundreds of companies, large and small, and seen highly diverse workforces, until I get to the IT department.
  • by dryriver (1010635) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @03:37PM (#39687513)
    Back in the day of home-computers (8bit/16bit, 1980s&'90s), computers were very much marketed to a boy/male demographic. Almost all games made for these computers were pretty "guy oriented". So while the boys were learning some BASIC programming and blasting away at jump-and-run & action games all day, the girls were playing with dolls, reading romantic YA books and teen magazines, and swooning over rock singers, or doing whatever it is that girls aged 5 - 16 do growing up. It is only in the last 10 - 15 years or so, with everyone, regardless of gender, starting to use things like email & IM & FaceBook & the internet, that women have started to become regular computer users. Is it really so surprising, given that a lot of women discovered the joys of computing only in the 2000s, while guys were using/playing computers massively back in the 80s and 90s, that there are more male coders and IT specialists than women coders and IT specialists today? The computers and software apps of the 1980s & 1990s were very much "guy oriented". Anyone who's over '30 and comes from that home-computing background is more likely to be male than female.
  • WHAT? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 14, 2012 @03:52PM (#39687635)

    Brogrammers. . . are you serious? who the hell calls themselves or anyone a brogrammer? I have never herd this and have been a professional programmer for over 10 years. I don't see any of the behavior talked about in the article.

  • by MindPrison (864299) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @04:01PM (#39687681) Journal

    I'm an old Commodore 64 guy, a coder that has been around since the ZX80 jupiter ace days, yes...I've been around and been into every computer and every language you can think of - never mind that...it's besides the point I am about to make... ...Nowadays I work as a 3D artist at a smaller ad-company, we live in a rather huge building containing various companies, some working with programming...that of course work with us...since we're like a big family in this house we rent...if you like.

    The company next door has a woman employed, she is rather new into the business, but she really kicks ass. When it came to programming, I could literally ask her anything, she was modest, not implying that she actually knows anything, but she kicked ass every time...every time she found the answer to any of the programming issues that we had at hand, any problems we had...she solved. In other words...Women can KICK ASS when it comes to coding, and trust me...I am as old SKOOL as it comes, I've been coding everything from C64s to microcontrollers at any bit..but she?...She understood everything...and fixed it all...you know what that means? This is a woman! She kicks ass at coding...she is a natural...and I don't believe for a second that women can't kick it at this stuff, it's just a matter of attention, women can do this stuff as well as we can. Seriously...

  • At work, we're all probably too busy with work to bother with this shit, but I remember in college, whenever there were a bunch of us in the computer lab working together on something (more specifically the Linux lab that was separated off from the regular computers), guys would be looking out into the window to the regular computer lab, and make some of the most misogynistic comments I've ever heard, and talk about how "nasty that bitch is" or what a slut this other one is, or how they'd tap that one, and they even did this when there were women in there with us (who didn't say anything). I didn't really know what to say, but just sat there in shock.

  • by lgw (121541) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @04:08PM (#39687747) Journal

    Could someone with mod point mke the parent more visible please? It's definitely informative.

    I've been doing this "coder" stuff for 20 years now, and I've never seen either "bro culture" or sexism against female coders - on the contrary there's a a subtle bias towards hiring female coders (doesn't Google have an overt quota?), and development managers are disproportionately female to a vast degree.

    But I've always done kernel, systems, and general server-side work, not the modern web-stuff. Perhaps the parent post has a point about that culture? Any front-end veterans care to comment? Or is this just a case of "magaers need to grow up and not staff the dev team with all 20-somethings", regardless of the work?

  • BS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by englishknnigits (1568303) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @04:15PM (#39687807)
    Complete and unadulterated BS. Of course some of this exists but not in significantly different amounts than any other group. In a typical class of 30 comp sci students, there were typically 3 women. I never once witnessed them be patronized, degraded, or excluded for any reason. I've never worked with a female programmer so I can't speak from experience but I can't see why it would be any different working with one for a job versus working with one on a school project. I have never witnessed these "brogrammers" in the stereotypical male chauvinist fraternity sense either at school or in the work force.

    I really wish everyone would get off of the whole equal outcome bandwagon and care about equal opportunity. If a woman applies to a job and gets denied because she is a woman, I care about that. If a woman applies to a comp sci school and should get in based on merits but doesn't because she is a woman, I care. If there are less women than men (or vise versa) in any field I don't care. I don't care about ratios of men, women, blacks, whites, gays, lesbians, liberals, conservatives, or any other group. I care about competent people getting jobs they deserve.

  • Re:Where? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Javagator (679604) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @04:26PM (#39687903)
    We have a fair number of women where I work. The interesting thing is that they are all Asian. Whatever we stupid males are doing to drive away women apparently doesn't work on Asian women. Or it could be that there is something in Western Culture that discourages women from pursuing careers in programming.
  • Re:Where? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rwven (663186) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @04:39PM (#39688033)

    Actively inclusive? What does that even mean? Including females just because they're females even though they aren't skilled? That's blatant sexism in itself. I sure hope that's not what you're encouraging...

  • Re:Flamebait (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @04:41PM (#39688053) Journal
    A meritocracy? Software development isn't that, not even on a good day, not officially... I've seen my fair share of professions in action, and while there are few professions where there is such a large difference in performance between the good guys and the merely adequate, it's also one where that distinction is rarely made. Sure, the hot shot coders will rise to the top... but that amounts mostly to the top of the team pecking order. I've seen too many excellent coders go unrecognised and unrewarded by management, who fail to make the most of what excellence they have on hand. The waste of talent in the software industry is astounding.
  • Re:Where? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 14, 2012 @04:58PM (#39688203)

    Where I work (as a senior systems/development engineer), we have a relatively large percentage of women, but with just a few exceptions they are Asian (Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Singaporean, etc), Russian (and countries of the former Soviet Union), or from the mid-east. In our entire software division of 200 (mostly engineers), only one or two of the women engineers are Americans by birth. Also, most of the men are not Americans by birth. My office mate is from Bangladesh. My manager is locally born/bred, but his manager is from the Caribbean - Trinidad-Tobago I think. My previous office mate is from the Ukraine, though he was educated here in the USA and has lived here since he was about 10. Ages of our engineers? From 22 and fresh from college to old, bald, and grey-haired 64 years old (me). In case you are wondering, our division is located near Chicago, Illinois though the company itself is European with about 100,000 employees world-wide. Perhaps it is the international flavor and orientation of the parent company itself that encourages a more catholic (small 'c') view.

    And for whatever it is worth (and $5 will get you a latte at Starbucks), I get along best with the younger staff. They are all very, very smart, and even the youngest have been working as interns here for a couple of years, and are already very competent developers. They are also smart enough to ask us old farts for advice when necessary, especially with regard to design issues. In turn, I am smart enough to ask them for help with devices with which I am not familiar, so we get a good bit of quid pro quo going on.

  • Re:Where? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SvnLyrBrto (62138) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @04:59PM (#39688207)

    I think you may be seeing bias where simple demographics are at play.

    Where I work, my group has eight people when we're fully staffed. When we have an opening to fill and HR starts sending us resumes of potential hires, perhaps one candidate in fifteen is female. So with all other things equal and assuming no gender bias at all, simple percentages result in our department being all male the vast bulk of the time.

    Hell, even if we were to purposely decide we specifically wanted to fill a slot with a female, we can't very well hire candidates who don't apply.

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @04:59PM (#39688215) Homepage

    Guys build products that appeal to themselves. Imagine that.

    If girls aren't getting into the industry on the ground floor due to lack of interest, you can hardly blame it on "institutionalized sexism". It was simply never there to begin with. They weren't there to influence the industry because they chose to be.

    Clueless geek males trying to "appeal to girls" likely would be an even bigger disaster. It would probably trigger even more severe whining about sexism.

  • Here we go again... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by malv (882285) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @05:07PM (#39688281)

    Sounds like another complaint about there being too many white males in computing without being so overtly racist/sexist about it. What I want to know is why this is such a bad thing? It's not like women or minorities are being discriminated against on anything but merit. There are plenty of Asian/Indian developers. What more do you want?

    And why should the coding culture be neutered for the sake of diversity? Why should the minority dictate the emergent culture? This is just more anti-white diversity-sanitizing nonsense. You're in a white male dominated field. Computing has always appealed to white males in general. Perhaps it's biological, perhaps it's cultural, but there is no reason to suggest that this is a problem. Adapt, become part of the culture, and guide it. Nobody should be expected to adapt to you just because your the one black, Islamic, homosexual, mentally/physically handicapped, transgendered computer scientist. If you are uncomfortable about being surrounded by white males then I suggest you pick a different career that caters to your white-male phobia.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 14, 2012 @05:09PM (#39688293)

    exactly, there is 70 guys in our company and ONLY one female, and she got the job with only being to do basic low level work, we did interview a lot of males that were much better than her, but everyone agreed that we do need at least one female in order to keep sanity in the workplace, and we can use somebody willing to do boring parts

    up until now only 4 girls EVER applied and other 3 do not reach even basic level of skill needed, they actually knew only HTML, CSS, and a bit of SQL and JS (split among them) and i heard even them got job somewhere as "software developers" companies are really desperate to get ANY girls, i think major problem is too few girls actually getting engineering degree (at least software engineering) there is enough competent COMP SCI girls but COMP SCI majors only work for 150K+ would laugh at you for offering anything less so as consequence company needing ordinary developers cant recruit any reasonable amount of female workers even after reducing requirements to bare minimum

    I think we need more programs like http://www.girlsgotech.org/ and maybe even offer to girls willing to get degree in software development free ride at university (if they are pretty enough) so they move from stupid things like french literature and art to more useful things like system programming, or embedded programming.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 14, 2012 @05:13PM (#39688317)

    We have an all male Development and QA shop. However, the CEO, CFO, most of marketing, about 1/3 of sales, and all the administrative support staff are female. We have an on-going debate about why Dev and QA lack females, here are a few of our thoughts:

    * Severe shortage of females applying for Dev and QA positions
    * We are in a relatively out of the way location for a software shop (thus a small pool of applicants)
    * Our Dev job openings are all looking for 15+ years of experience
    * We have a very demanding work schedule that often requires working at odd hours to support clients in strange time zones
    * Our existing female employees often mention how they would never take a job with the stress and hours that our developers endure, but that is just anecdotal

    That being said, we have sub-contracted some development work to an out-of-state female contractor and were very happy with the work.

  • Re:Maybe. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lightknight (213164) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @05:38PM (#39688523) Homepage

    Been in this industry for some time, first time I've heard the term 'brogrammer.' Where exactly is she getting this stuff?

  • by misexistentialist (1537887) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @06:29PM (#39688993)
    Talking about sexual interest isn't misogynistic. Women have similar discussions about men, but they hide it. Back before "women's liberation" a man would be reprimanded for talking that way before a lady, though actually the men and women would go to gender-segregated colleges. Equality means women talking about the guys they want to fuck...but that conflicts with their mating strategy, so the tendency is to pressure men to act like debutantes.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 14, 2012 @06:30PM (#39689009)

    If Google, Mozilla, Opera and Apple got together and embedded Python in their web browsers, close to 50% of web users would have have everything you desire, and then so much more. Best of all, JavaScript would become irrelevant.

  • by Kell Bengal (711123) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @06:41PM (#39689099)
    Obvious troll is obvious. The moment you used "patriarchy" I knew you weren't earnest (or at least not a modern feminist). I've been involved with feminist advocacy in the workplace, and nobody uses 'patriarchy' as an excuse anymore... at least, not without irony. The GP didn't say females weren't smart enough to get in male-dominated programs - he said they didn't want to. And he's absolutely right.

    Women in Engineering (the local Australian female advocacy group at the university I'm at) recognises that the problem isn't that women are some how barred from getting into engineering. They know how many women apply to the courses, how many are admitted and how many leave before completing. Simply, females apply to engineering programs in far fewer numbers; it's ridiculous to suggest they're being barred or forced out by the existing engineering populace, before their uni applications even arrive. It will be four years at least before those women even experience the current work force.

    Women in Engineering goes to great length to get female undergrads in engineering. In fact, in my undergrad there were 7 scholarships females could apply for (compared to the three who actually enrolled) vs 2 scholarships males could apply for. The gates were wide open. Double the number of students could take the course, with full financial support. Nothing is stopping them from signing up, they simply don't want to.

    The problem is that young women finish their high school certificates, look deep within and don't see engineering there. It simply isn't 'them'. Engineering has an image problem amongst women. It is often seen (perhaps rightly) as a competitive, technically-focussed bandsaws-and-soldering-irons sort of job that alienates you from other people, best suited to career introverts. Few woman wants to work in an environment that they feel is isolating - especially not one which does have a reputation of being 'not for women'.

    The sad truth is that there are lots of opportunities for working with other people, and for having growing experiences outside of simple technophile interest. The women I work with in my job enjoy the collaborative parts of coming up with a solution, getting it to work and then getting it out the door. They enjoy what they do. But how do you communicate that to the women looking at career choices just now?

    And if you don't believe me, then I urge you to sign up for an engineering program at your local university and find out for yourself - see if anyone tells you "Sorry you can't do engineering: you're a woman". I'm sure they won't. We'd love to have you.
  • by netsavior (627338) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @07:33PM (#39689411)
    My first development job had a Go-to hacker girl. She was awesome (and we still keep in touch). She taught me a lot about how to be a good developer, and was always arguably more skilled at programming than me.

    She is the same age as me and started her career earlier than me. Today I am a VP System Engineer at a fortune 500 and she is a Registered Nurse.

    I think that about sums the whole snafu up.
  • by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @10:00PM (#39690199) Journal

    [software developer:] a highly stressful, demanding, and often-times not very rewarding career

    If you have worked in other industries and that's what you really think, then one of the following must be true...
    A. The ship is sinking.
    B. You're young and you're expectations are set way too high (welcome to the real world :).
    C. You need to see a doctor about your anxiety attacks.
    D. You are useless at the job and should find something less 'demanding'. Not an insult, I'm a useless metal polisher and was (kindly) sacked after the first week of trainning ( filthy, hot, and uncomfortable job anyway :). On the upside, your degree will help to open doors into other careers.

    Back on topic, I stated my CS degree in the late 80's with 160 other people, 3 of them were women. Not sure why so few but I don't think it was the prospect of hard work that was scaring them away. In the commercial world I can count the number of female developers I worked with on one hand, 2. There have been plenty of women involved but almost always in a documenting/testing/management role.

    OTOH, in the 15yrs before I started Uni I worked as.....
    A lumberjack - No females at all.
    A deck hand on a fishing trawler - a half dozen of the toughest women you could possibly imagine in a fleet of about 50 trawlers, none on our boat.
    A nylon factory worker - Plenty of women, all in the packing area and admin building, none on the factory floor or warehouse. (No men in the packing area).
    Builder's labourer - No females at all, although I see a few around today.
    Carpenter's lacky - ~200 males building window frames and 1 old lady attaching winders to them.
    Taxi driver - Like now, maybe as high as 5% female day drivers, virtually nil on night shifts.

    The difference is that the software industry and CS degrees have been actively trying to attract females for at least 20yrs but have failed miserably, All those other industries I worked for pre-1990 actively discouraged them.

    Now maybe there are macho software houses full of arrogant young men and pornographic decor that effectively scare most women away, much as they do in some blue collar workplaces. However I've never worked in or seen such a software house. In fact moving from blue to white collar the first thing that struck me was how polite people were to each other in an office, even the bosses say please and thankyou. Not saying white collar workers are better behaved than blue collar (there not, just ask any city waitress how ill-mannered 'suits' can be), but like waitressing, standard office politics requires people to be polite, even if it's through gritted teeth. Standard blue collar politics in a male only workplace is, "Any fist fights and you're both sacked".

    So to sum up, there is no doubt in my mind that some male domintaed workplaces are overtly hostile toward females and will openly disscuss (with each other) why they think women should be kept out (and vica-versa with female dominated workplaces). OTOH, I'm clueless as to why there are so few female developers.

    PS: When I went to HS boys were not allowed to attend certain classes, typing was one of them (because all the jobs involving typing were female dominated). I was (secretly) interested as a kid in what the girls were learning and it would have been useful when I first got hold of an AppleII. Instead I learnt to 'two finger' type ~35wpm because I was interested in making the computer do something , stopping just to lean how to type faster was always on the bottom of my list. I've had that bad habit for 20+yrs now, I long ago decided the ROI is just not high enough for me to go through all those mind numbing excersices, if I need something typed up fast the missus can do 100+wpm and flirt with me at the same time. Sure, that ancient state sanctioned discrimination hasn't hurt my career prospects in the software industry since typing is definitely not an essential skill for a software dev, but that's aside from the point I'm trying to make.

  • by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @11:18PM (#39690559) Journal

    Few women want to work in an environment that they feel is isolating

    I think you've hit the nail on the head, think about 'Penny' from Big Bang Theory (stop drolling nerds). What young woman in real life would want to hang out in Sheldon's apartment? Thing is, 'Sheldon' is just as much a sterotype as the dumb blonde part of Penny's character, and from my long experince "Sheldons" are almost as rare as women in real life software houses, most real life nerds are closer in personality to Raj or Lenorad than the other two, and those that do act like Sheldon rarely have the intelect or skills to be considered irreplacable..

    The problem is that young women finish their high school certificates, look deep within and don't see engineering there. It simply isn't 'them'.

    Again this matches my personal experience. I have two kids both older than Penny, they have both had access to me as an inhouse software dev and had access to my hardware from an early age. The boy was interested in programming to the point of building a BBS when he was ~12.

    My daughter, a self confesed 'tom-boy' and dedicated mum who was hooked on WWF wrestling for a while. She wasn't interested in programming, she was more interesed in using the computer to play games and read about WWF wrestlers than fiinding out how it all worked. They both had the same diverse aproaches to cars, the boy pulled several of his cars apart, the girl complained she had nowhere to park because the driveway was littered with car bits. Nethier I nor their mother discoraged our kids from doing anything because of their gender. But exactly as it was in my childhood. Dad was an engineer and Mum was a housewife, so perhaps just the fact that we had those roles influenced thier behaviour, or perhaps there's an evolved tendency for the wetware in different genders to look at the world from slightly different angles? - I'm starting to think that those two different answers constitute a "chicken and egg" paradox, but I will poner some more while I'm putting out the garbage. ;)

    Cannot resist 'sexist' joke...
    Child: "How do you have your tea grandpa?
    Grandpa: "I don't know, ask grandma".

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