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Programming Education

Programmer Privilege 353

Posted by Soulskill
from the overlooked-inequality dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Philip Guo, an Asst. Professor of Computer Science at the University of Rochester, has written a thoughtful article on his education in programming. Guo explains that he was no particular coding wizard while growing up, but when he jumped into a CS major when he went to college at MIT, he received all sorts of passive and active encouragement — simply because he 'looked the part.' He says, 'Instead of facing implicit bias or stereotype threat, I had the privilege of implicit endorsement. For instance, whenever I attended technical meetings, people would assume that I knew what I was doing (regardless of whether I did or not) and treat me accordingly. If I stared at someone in silence and nodded as they were talking, they would usually assume that I understood, not that I was clueless. Nobody ever talked down to me, and I always got the benefit of the doubt in technical settings.' Guo compares this to the struggles faced by other minority groups and women to succeed in a field that is often more skeptical of their abilities. 'I want those people to experience what I was privileged enough to have gotten in college and beyond – unimpeded opportunities to develop expertise in something that they find beautiful, practical, and fulfilling.'"
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Programmer Privilege

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  • Guilty As Charged (Score:5, Interesting)

    by assertation (1255714) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @04:35PM (#45969099)

    I've been guilty of this too.

    When I meet a programmer who is a woman, an attractive woman, a much older person or a non-Caucasian & non-Asian man my automatic thought is "really?" despite my conscious mind knowing better.

    Back in the dot com era I went to work with my hair pulled back in a pony tail and it had a similar effect as the author of the article described. Having it was like wearing a power suit in a law office.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @04:45PM (#45969199)

    My experience was the exact opposite of Guo's experience—you might say, I got treated like a minority or a female.

    So, what do you say now, Guo?

    The reason you didn't have these problems, Guo, is because you—like many successful people, especially at places like MIT—are a natural confidence artist. Look! You said it yourself:

    If I stared at someone in silence and nodded as they were talking, they would usually assume that I understood, not that I was clueless.

    Your mistake in this whole issue is assuming that other people who are like you have the same experience, and that being "like you" means—for some reason—having both a penis and lighter skin. However, this is what it really means to be like you: Lying publicly about your private throughts—being a con man who works the con so hard that he finally becomes what he's pretending to be.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @05:02PM (#45969373) Homepage Journal

    Never underestimate the power of looking like you're supposed to be there, doing that.

    You have no idea how many "secure" facilities I've been given full access to, just because I dressed and talked like I knew exactly what I was doing.

  • important part (Score:5, Interesting)

    by globaljustin (574257) <justinglobal@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @05:42PM (#45969767) Homepage Journal

    here's the important message of the whole thing:

    'I want those people to experience what I was privileged enough to have gotten in college and beyond – unimpeded opportunities to develop expertise in something that they find beautiful, practical, and fulfilling.'

    academia is typically a very alienating place...in college/undergrad I saw many people discouraged form EE who would have been very good at the actual work of an EE in the real world, but couldn't/would not get past the insane 'weeding out' classes.

    in my experience (I changed my major before I started classes but I attended a class just to see what it was like) these were classes all Engineers must take, usually taught by a prof that looked well qualified on paper but was horrible.

    The only way to pass the class was to either a) know the material already or b) study all night with other Engineering students in the class

    There really wasn't an option to 'have a life'...some tried but one or the other would win out. In order to get an EE degree you simply MUST become a dork. or at least 'dork' in the colloquial sense of looking neutral/unstylish at best, poor social skills, lacking manual skills, etc etc...which would inevitably remain under developed due to a lack of formative experiences, time spent instead in dark rooms eating breadsticks looking at computer screens. Yes alot of good work has gotten done this way, but that doesn't mean you use it as a way to 'weed out' students from the industry!

    It was possible, but you had to fight against the grain all the time, and few did it.

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