Every few months I trip over another earnest attempt to rectify the gender imbalance in software and computing fields. Very few women opt to become programmers, system administrators, or hardware/software engineers. Indeed, the number of women who try seems to be falling rather than rising. This observation is invariably accompanied by a lot of hand-wringing and proposals for elaborate and (too often) coercive schemes to achieve “gender parity” – all doomed, because the actual problem is misdiagnosed.
I’m writing about this because I think the misdiagnosis arises largely from a refusal to speak uncomfortable truths. Discussion of the problem is nearly suffocated under a cloud of political correctness, cant, and willful blindness to the actual conditions of working in this field. Honesty won’t automatically fix the problems, but it’s a prerequisite to fixing the problems.
Let’s get one shibboleth out of the way first: Larry Summers was right to be skeptical about the prospects for “equality” in STEM (science, technology, math, engineering) fields in general. Just the difference in dispersion of the IQ curves for males and females guarantees that, let alone the significant differences in mean at spatial visualization and mathematical ability. Removing all the institutional, social and psychological barriers will not achieve a 1:1 sex ratio in these fields; the best we can hope for is a large, happy female minority – that is, as opposed to a small and unhappy one.
It needs pointing out that 1:1 parity is not achievable without coercing men out of these fields, because there are actually political moves afoot in the U.S. to try to achieve this through an extension of federal Title IX legislation to STEM fields. This would be a disaster, compounding already-serious incentive problems in academia that threaten the U.S.’s ability to sustain STEM research at all. (Summary: Cash-strapped corporations won’t fund basic research, and the academic system to support it is collapsing because grad students are underpaid, overworked, and no longer have a realistic shot at tenure.)
Having recognized this, though, formulating a goal with recognizable win conditions does get more difficult. It has to go something like this: any woman who wants to be in a STEM field should be able to get as far as talent, hard work, and desire to succeed will take her, without facing artificial barriers erected by prejudice or other factors. If there are women who dream of being in STEM but have felt themselves driven off that path, the system is failing them. And the system is failing itself, too; talent is not so common that we can afford to waste it.
Now I’m going to refocus on computing, because that’s what I know best and I think it exhibits the problems that keep women out of STEM fields in an extreme form. There’s a lot of political talk that the tiny and decreasing number of women in computing is a result of sexism and prejudice that has to be remedied with measures ranging from sensitivity training up through admission and hiring quotas. This talk is lazy, stupid, wrong, and prevents correct diagnosis of much more serious problems.
I don’t mean to deny that there is still prejudice against women lurking in dark corners of the field. But I’ve known dozens of women in computing who wouldn’t have been shy about telling me if they were running into it, and not one has ever reported it to me as a primary problem. The problems they did report were much worse. They centered on one thing: women, in general, are not willing to eat the kind of shit that men will swallow to work in this field.
Now let’s talk about death marches, mandatory uncompensated overtime, the beeper on the belt, and having no life. Men accept these conditions because they’re easily hooked into a monomaniacal, warrior-ethic way of thinking in which achievement of the mission is everything. Women, not so much. Much sooner than a man would, a woman will ask: “Why, exactly, am I putting up with this?”
Correspondingly, young women in computing-related majors show a tendency to tend to bail out that rises directly with their comprehension of what their working life is actually going to be like. Biology is directly implicated here. Women have short fertile periods, and even if they don’t consciously intend to have children their instincts tell them they don’t have the option young men do to piss away years hunting mammoths that aren’t there.
There are other issues, too, like female unwillingness to put up with working environments full of the shadow-autist types that gravitate to programming. But I think those are minor by comparison, too. If we really want to fix the problem of too few women in computing, we need to ask some much harder questions about how the field treats everyone in it.
Mandatory uncompensated overtime is the reason that I (a male) left the field. It may have been a rational bet to make in the 90s, with the lure of a big stock-market lottery payoff, but that really isn’t going to happen for anybody in a corporate setting these days. Unfortunately, I don’t see a way to solve the problem that doesn’t end up with even more work being sent overseas.
A large proportion of the men who are good at this stuff are also easy to exploit. I will grossly generalize and say that women have a fundamental expectation that when they get screwed, they will get compensated.
Yes, yes, yes. That’s why I left science, and why I left programming. My husband is a sys admin. I *cannot* keep crazy hours like that (which, IMHO, are illegal out here in CA. Some people are starting to notice that.).
Furthermore, (TMI!) I couldn’t conceive when I did programming type stuff because I was too stressed out. It’s a battle every day, you know? Arguing over bugs, features, schedule, etc.. Seriously. I conceived my kids on vacation, after I quit, etc.. Biologically, it just didn’t happen.
I chose loyalty to my family over money, glory, fame, etc.. It’s a hard sacrifice when you grow up expecting to do something great. But hey, kids are only kids once. I can’t go back and re-do it if I’m unhappy later.
I can’t believe the crap men out here are expected to put up with. It’s ungodly. It was one thing when the money, perks, and stock was flowing. But what’s the point now?? Oh, yes, we’re leaving the state. Bye valley…
Love it! You’re saying the real “problem” with the gender ratios is not sexism, its that most women have more sense than we males do!
Yes tech, that’s exactly right. And I would have to agree. I work in IT (I’m an engineering school dropout who is now a Unix sysadmin) and my wife is an aerospace engineer. Unlike some married couples we know, we talk. We each have a decent perspective on what the other’s work life has been like.
Let’s just say that my wife has recently left engineering, despite a VERY prestigious degree and 10+ years experience. Some of the shit she had to put up with in those 10 years amaze even me. Engineers get treated *badly*, even by my low IT-worker standards.
I’m not entirely sure why men eat all that shit and come back for more, I suspect it has to do with some kind of deep down “I am a man, therefore I am fundamentally expendable, I do this for the people in my life who matter, i.e. my wife and kids” programming that women simply do not have.
techtech: not necessarily more sense, but different goals. There are a lot of smart, capable developers that love going to their cave to code for days on end.
Some men, like myself, are willing to work the crazy hours and take lots of shit early in their career, but less so later. I’m now in my mid 30’s, >15 years of paid, professional programming experience under my belt, and I’m so done with the notion that 60 hours is a normal work week. I’ll be looking into a more architectural/managerial position for my next mood, because I’m just done with slinging code for 10-12 hours a day. Either that, or I need to work on radically different technology; I’ve been doing 60% of my coding Flash/Flex for the better part of a decade because it pays really well, but I absolutely *loathe* the platform, and wish it dead. At the same time, I’ve been having a ball in my spare time trying to play with coding Android apps and adapt my web site to be more mobile-browser friendly.
ESR>Just the difference in dispersion of the IQ curves for males and females guarantees that
I feel uneasy when I read that, and yet I know I shouldn’t. (The distributions have a large overlap, so they cannot be effectively used to predict an individual’s performance based on their sex). I wish we were taught more statistical litteracy and less PCness.
@Aaron, my solution is to switch jobs frequently (more-or-less every 2 years), typically switching domains, and often technologies. I’m starting a new job on Monday: primary language will be Python/Django. Previous one was C/C++/CORBA/Embedded Linux. Before that, C#/.NET/Windows. Before that, Java/J2EE/Unix. My selling point is that I’m a technology generalist, with a LOT of experience in building and deploying applications in a LOT of environments.
Yeah, I don’t get “seniority” in the sense of corporate longevity, but what’s that worth in today’s corporate environment, anyways? On the other hand, most of my recent jobs have included paid overtime, in one fashion or another.
“Now letâ€™s talk about death marches, mandatory uncompensated overtime, the beeper on the belt, and having no life. Men accept these conditions because theyâ€™re easily hooked into a monomaniacal, warrior-ethic way of thinking in which achievement of the mission is everything.”
I disagree. I’m a man and I did put up with these sort of things in the first 2 years because I considered it an investment, but find myself less and less willing to put up with it. I want to be the internal expert – the guy who is getting paid for being around and providing useful advice and the occasional hack instead of beating the keyboard 8-12 hours a day. Currently it is not clear if I will get away with it or not – I think if I can get into the position of being the only internal expert in a relatively big (300+ people) company, the only guy who knows a certain part of the system then I might get away with it, if not, then I will probably be fired a couple of times and then will just have to force myself to adapt.
I think the warrior ethic has little to do with it because the warrior ethic is all about defending people who are “we” – the tribe. The kind of ERP programming activity I do has nothing to do with it – it is all about helping other people (the users) enter data more easily and helping another person (the consulting company owner) make money. There is no “we” in the picture, there is not an ounce of feeling of community or togetherness, nor are there any shared interests: I want to gather the most amount of status with the least amount of effort while the owner and the users want it the other way around. We are, at some level, opponents, of opposing interests – thus the warrior ethic cannot even come into consideration because it is all about a shared sense of “we, the tribe” and “our interests” – and defending them.
I wonder where did you get this warrior ethic from. I have always seen the opposite. Such as programmers giving sky high estimates because they want to make things easy and comfy for themselves, while company owners, users, customers, or salespeople reducing them because they want to force the programmers to work hard. There was always a clear conflict of interest. How could any sense of a warrior ethic come into this picture?
I’m not sure the “early career” and “late career” distinction means much. The only thing that has to change for that sort of phenomenon to appear is the level of knowledge, world-weariness, and cynicism in the employee’s own mind.
You only need to have the experience of earning a year of comp time in the course of 7 months of work — and then being summarily fired (and cheated out of the last paycheck, too…not to mention all that lovely comp time) — once, before you learn to adopt a policy along the lines of “a failure on your part to foresee the eminently foreseeable does not constitute an emergency on my part”.
In the course of my career I’ve lived under employer policies including:
1. Employee may never, at any time, for any reason, turn off his cell phone, or go into or through a location where the cell phone is unable to operate.
2. Employee may never, at any time, for any reason, travel to any location more than 20 miles from company office.
3. Employee must be prepared at all times to travel to any location of company’s choosing, for any duration of company’s choosing, on 2 hours notice, at his own expense. Company may choose to reimburse some expenses, 90 days after employee returns.
Et cetera, ad nauseam. My last FTE employer refused to give me the day off to get married. (Which is why I don’t regret quitting, even though it took me 3 years to get another job, and my wife and I nearly ended up homeless.)
This is simply how things _are_ in our field. It seems the only way to avoid being essentially enslaved by an employer is to start your own company…which means the work itself is even harder, but at least you avoid getting bossed around by petty tyrants who pay for approximately 23.8% of your attention and imagine it gives them title to your soul.
Women smart enough to be even marginally qualified to be sysadmins or programmers have options open to them where the ratio of reward to punishment is much more favorable. I’m not surprised we have so few women…I’m surprised we have any at all.
“Employee may never, at any time, for any reason, travel to any location more than 20 miles from company office.”
This is the exact time when my general pro-capitalistic, somewhat-libertarian attitudes evaporate. This is something I find completely unacceptable and if it takes big gov to regulate such things out of existence then bite the bullet and let it be.
I might need to reevaluate my attitudes regarding those forums – say, Reddit – that are populated by many capitalism-critic Americans. I have usually been very hard on them – but it could be that they are neither socialists nor left-liberals, just people who have encountered this kind of shit – which I as a European have never encountered – and hate it. And this at some level I must appreciate and accept – yes, we as rational beings must be pro-business, pro-capitalistic and pro-market but not to that extreme level where it means depriving even highly trained experts of their basic freedoms.
>This is the exact time when my general pro-capitalistic, somewhat-libertarian attitudes evaporate.
Why? The free-market solution is simple: don’t work for abusive assholes. It won’t take a lot of programmers refusing to do that before they change their tune, especially since the ones most likely to refuse are the most capable. There’s no collective-action problem here, so there isn’t even the semblance of a need for coercive regulation. You were right the first time, Reddit really is populated by idiots with a bad case of socialist groupthink.
Your experiences are radically different to mine. Anecdotal and apocryphal stories both point in my experience to programmers underquoting most tasks through lack of information(including information that no-one knows) or an insufficient buffer for externalities.
The managers et al reducing estimates is sometimes accurate (particularly when sales is involved) but note that to a technologies team, sales is not a part of the tribe, not a part of the “we”. The relationship is similar to that of the officers vs the enlisted troops.
i think there is something to what you say, but there is also a dangerous implication that women aren’t willing to work as hard as men, which I think, broadly speaking is not true. I’d like to add two points though from my perspective.
Firstly, I think the main reason women are less inclined to work in tech is because, as a general rule, women are much more sociable than men. I am sure you are aware of the good, evolutionary reasons why that is so. I believe this is more than a nurture thing, I think it is also to do with the way their brains are wired, which is notably different than the way men are wired. (This isn’t some handwavy opinion, it is a physiological fact.)
Because they are more social, they tend to want to do things that involve sociability more. The scientist or programmer tends to be a lone wolf, spending most of his time talking to his computer or test tube, rather than interacting with people. This fits in considerably less well with the preferences of women. it is also why women who are in computing tend to drift toward the more social jobs, such as testing, tech support, management and GUI design.
Secondly, because computing has tended to be dominated by males, the systems and processes that are in place tend to be more male oriented. for example, design meetings tend to be confrontational rather than consensus oriented, aesthetic is eschewed for functional, individual preferred to group. None of these are intrinsic properties of programming, neither are death marches for that matter. But the dominant class has set the system to their preferences, and so there is a feedback loop that decreases the attractiveness of programming to the less dominant group.
Women are quite willing to work hard when they know what they’re working for (traditionally for their family or for some cause with which they identify) but aren’t as willing to put up with the sorts of things men just take for granted is part of a job. ESR refers to the warrior ethic; there’s a lot to that. Men have internalized the stories of teenage boys fresh out of Basic pouring out of landing craft on the beaches at Normandy, etc. When a job requires us to work long hours, we figure at least we aren’t subjected to enemy fire too.
ESR says: I confirm that Monster gets correctly what I was driving at.
> but there is also a dangerous implication that women arenâ€™t willing to work as hard as men
I didn’t perceive that implication anywhere. If STEM workers are treated unfairly, then saying that the women tend to bail out of that bad treatment is a compliment.
I don’t know if you are correct, but you are a heck of a lot closer than the people who argue that the ratio should be 1:1.
> Why? The free-market solution is simple: donâ€™t work for abusive assholes
This is the most correct statement I’ve read today. You probably don’t remember me; but you tried out my keyboard while a couple of these types attempted to herd you into more pony show meetings.
I’ve since quit that job, and though I’m although I’m currently as broke as I’ve ever been, I don’t regret it for a moment.
Your article is also very well reasoned, and rings of the truth of my experiences as a male in the field.
And Slashdot, and digg… Unionization really isn’t the answer. It doesn’t even work in areas where it has traditionally dominated, such as the U.S. auto industry (which I used to work in).
The other problem I have with the argument that it is some failing in the STEM world that is driving out women is that major advancements-for-women have been made in every field, to the point that more women are graduating with bachelor’s degrees then men every year and the proportion is (last I knew) still swinging yet more in the women’s favor(*). Clearly, the problem of clearing a path for women into various fields is a solved problem. This is good. I am glad. But at some point, if the path is cleared and no-one is walking down it, it’s time to stop self-flagellating.
In 1990, maybe this was an issue. In 2000, maybe this was an issue. To be honest I doubt it, but hey, let’s give the argument the benefit of the doubt. In 2010, I have a hard time imagining there is some sort of wide-scale systematic anti-woman prejudice in the field. (A person here and a person there, sure, but I can find those anywhere.) If anything, women seem to be cajoled, enticed, begged please won’t you take computer science? Personally I think we’re perilously close to the solicitations being a bit creepy.
(*: If it were the other way, the University system would right now be aflame with the need to balance things better. Since it’s men getting the shaft, nobody cares. 80% female graduation? A-OK! No prejudice here! In other news I keep getting told as a “white man” I can never understand how other people feel but my advantages seem to stay nebulous even as my disadvantages get ever more real… fortunately I’m graduated and in the workplace and past the point where I have to care about what Universities think. But the decline of the Universities can’t come too soon.)
(Oh, BTW, I’m not saying we’re at 80% female graduation, I know that’s not true. I’m saying I don’t think the system would be bothered if the imbalance got that strong. Assuming the Universities are around long enough for the system to get to that level of imbalance, which I don’t think is actually likely.)
Men are drawn to fixing computer problems. And most women are not. period.
If you attend any tech meetup on the latest technologies: MongoDB, Clojure, etc., almost all the folks there are white and asian men. These are people that choose to take time out of their personal lives to learn new things and meet people with similar interests.
The field is mostly male because men and women choose it that way.
The problem here is that free market solutions only work when there is a free market, including meaningful choices to make. What do you do if the only jobs available are working for abusive assholes?
>What do you do if the only jobs available are working for abusive assholes?
Change careers. Or start your own company. Anyone bright enough to work in a STEM field has that option.
>Letâ€™s get one shibboleth out of the way first: Larry Summers was right to be skeptical about the prospects for â€œequalityâ€ in STEM (science, technology, math, engineering) fields in general. Just the difference in dispersion of the IQ curves for males and females guarantees that, let alone the significant differences in mean at spatial visualization and mathematical ability.
Please, not this again. A quick look at the development of IQ values over the last couple of decades should make it easy to understand for *everybody* that high-level aptitude is *strongly* education-dependent. Add to that a gender difference in society-imbued attitude towards different fields and – voila – all the sociobiologist nonsense disappears in a puff of smoke.
Other than that I think the article is sort of stumbling in the right direction. The main point that it is missing however (it’s usually the childless men who forget that) is that due to the fact that responsibility for children is still distributed quite asymmetrically, women in the majority of the cases do not have the luxury of adjusting their work-life balance, they *have* to make time available to care for the kids*. Until men with equal willingness offer to sacrifice their career (or parts of it) in order to be able to have a family equality is just not possible.
*) This problem is greatly increased in countries where the glorious free market economy leads to childcare being either crappy or ridiculously expensive.
The Monster Says:
> Men have internalized… out of Basic pouring
> out of landing craft on the beaches at Normandy,
Right but I would (and did) argue that the reverse is true, which is to say programming has internalized the idea of pouring out of landing craft. Which is to say, programming is shaped to the work methodology of men because they tend to dominate the profession. To be clear, this is not a complaint, just a simple observation of the facts. There is nothing intrinsic in computer programming that requires death marches or excessive overtime except in rare exceptions. On the contrary, excessive overtime is almost always counter productive in my experience, and death marches generally produce very poor quality software. (And poor quality software takes longer to write, btw.)
The bottom line is that death marches and long overtime are a serious problem of software team management, not an intrinsic quality. Men have made programming in their own image, and women do not, in general, want to be men.
However, I’d certainly argue that the MAIN reason women don’t go into programming is the social aspects I mentioned before.
>Right but I would (and did) argue that the reverse is true, which is to say programming has internalized the idea of pouring out of landing craft.
You’re certainly right, Jessica, but your correctness does nothing to falsify the argument you’re responding to. There’s nothing to say the arrows of causality can’t run in both directions. As industrial programming gets more male-dominated, it appeals to the warrior-ethic hyperconcentration mode of male behavior more, so projects look like Normandy landings. And as it internalizes Normandy-landing-like behaviors, it filters out women more strongly. It’s a vortex of suckage in which dysfunctional management is ever more tightly symbiotic with rather male-specific patterns of obessive behavior. And around and around we go…
You’ve probably seen this but Phil Greenspun said similar things awhile ago:
Women in Science (2006), prefigured in 1995 by the much less carefully considered Women in Computer Science Research
Jessica Boxer Says:
> On the contrary, excessive overtime is
> almost always counter productive in my
> experience, and death marches generally
> produce very poor quality software.
I should clarify that the above statement is only true of average to good computer programmers. Rock stars can produce gold twenty hours a day.
I’ve found that abusive assholes are the ones with the dumbest looks on their faces when you quit.
Once upon a time, I was working for a company (and had been there for 4 years) where I was literally working from 10am to 3am or later during the week (and then commuting from Virginia to Philadelphia and back to see my girlfriend for the weekend). I did this for several months, to help bring a product out (including getting called in on a Sunday to fix a problem in another companies software stack). End of the year comes around and it’s time to hand out bonuses — everyone on the team but me and the tech writer gets a bonus. I go to see the director about this and his answer is “you weren’t in at 8:30 like I asked”. I replied “I never got that directive, who did you tell?” He says “Your boss”. Turns out my boss was happy with my work, and didn’t mind my work schedule. So I reminded the director about all of this and asked for my bonus and he’s all “too late — budgets already spent”.
So I started looking for another job, and surprise, surprise, found one: 20% pay increase, half the commute, working with newer/better tech. I went back to the director to hand in my resignation, and he’s all “you haven’t given me a chance to make a counter-offer”, with this really stupid look on his face, like he thought I was going to put up with his crap for the next 20 years.
There’s always another job out there (but make sure you’ve got cash in the bank for 6 months, just in case the economy sucks when you go looking for it).
I don’t doubt that women’s brains are wired differently; esr alludes to things men tend to be better at, such as spacial visualization and mathematics. A perfect example can be found in looking at the industrial design and product engineering fields. (Note: a lot of the work I’ve done is in support of product engineers and industrial designers). Looking at one company I’ve worked for, there were fewer women and more men. And the women that did work there tended towards areas that required less math and lower 3D spacial visualization, such as board design, while there wasn’t a single woman working in mechanical design or mechanical engineering, areas that generally require more math and more ability with 3D CAD tools. Not saying that there aren’t women who work in these areas; I knew one woman at a big car company who was far better than most of her male co-workers, but I think she was simply an exceptionally smart and motivated person in general.
But the things you mention, like design meetings being confrontational; I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. I think a lot depends on the team leadership and their style of management. I knew one PM who was very, very consensus-oriented. He wanted everyone’s opinion heard, and when conflicts did arise, he always listened to both sides, taking a mediator role and steering the discussion towards a compromise. Another PM I knew was more dominant and it was going to be his way unless you could convince him otherwise, which was never easy.
OTOH, you’re probably right about programmers, scientists and techies in general being very much lone wolf types.
One thing which I’m sure you realize to some extent, but perhaps haven’t really internalized, is that, sometimes, even when you’ve done the design right, and the coding well, debugging will take a long time. A very long time. This is because hardly anything has zero outside dependencies, and there will be bugs in compilers, bad documentation, erroneous assumptions, etc.
Often, some of this debugging can be sociable, but usually, most of the debugging is a very solitary activity. There are a couple of other salient features about debugging. Debugging, like design, often happens best in “flow.” I never start debugging at the end of the day for anything major — I get a good night’s sleep and then go at it early and hard.
I only do this once or maybe twice a year (and half of the time I’m debugging someone else’s stuff), but nonetheless, this is a defining activity for a lot of developers. And although women are often willing to work hard and long (on stuff I wouldn’t be, even), many women are really not too keen on this sort of activity.
Effective debugging of truly difficult problems requires not only a reasonable native intelligence, but also the attitude of “I will not be beat by a machine” that is elevated above all else. So when (in response to the Normandy scenario), you say:
I absolutely agree with the first sentence, but disagree with the second — the Normandy landings will happen and the developers who are good at them (you don’t have to like them to be good at them) will win.
Forgot to add to that last sentence “and tolerate them” — you don’t have to like them, but you do have to be good at them and tolerate them…
# esr Says:
> Itâ€™s a vortex of suckage in which dysfunctional
> management is ever more tightly symbiotic with
> rather male-specific patterns of obessive behavior.
Right, I agree 100%, that is why I described it as a “feedback loop”, though “vortex of suckage” is such a great expression, I will have to steal it.
However, I think that software is missing a great deal by not having more women as part of its production. I think the female mind set would add considerably to the types of software that gets made. For sure, I think it would be more people oriented, and after all probably 50% of software users are female. Surely the different way women think about things has an impact on how they would use software? And surely women have a great contribution to make in making software more female friendly?
I suspect that women would have a distinct advantage in the new trend in computer programming, namely multi core computers. Generally, I think they are better at conceptualizing many things at once (again for good evolutionary reasons.) Being able to do that is one of the core skills going forward.
As I said earlier, I think the key problem is the lack of social connection that women tend to need more than men. One thing that I thought of in this respect is the XP practice of pair programming. I have never done this, and have never seen it done, but I wonder if it would be a more attractive way for female programmers to work? I’d be interested to know if there is any data on that.
# techtech Says:
> I didnâ€™t perceive that implication anywhere. If STEM
> workers are treated unfairly,
I am sure I will regret asking this but, why is asking people to work very hard, or be on call classified as “unfair”. Lots of people work much harder than computer programmers, and are on call a lot more than computer programmers, and lots of people work longer hours than computer programmers and get paid a lot less than they do.
I think it is particularly interesting in the day and time we all live in. As Eric pointed out it has never been easier for a computer person to step out on their own. The internet has shrunk the transaction costs to tiny small amounts. So there is no chains on anybody’s feet.
>I am sure I will regret asking this but, why is asking people to work very hard, or be on call classified as â€œunfairâ€.
I never used the word “unfair”. Unfair implies that you think you know, at least by theory if not by example, a “fair” way to do things. And whether that’s true or not is irrelevant to my point, which is that most women simply won’t put up with what men in IT do.
Lots of people work much harder than computer programmers, and are on call a lot more than computer programmers, and lots of people work longer hours than computer programmers and get paid a lot less than they do.
At least one such profession is predominantly female: ER nurses.
# Patrick Maupin Says:
> debugging will take a long time. A very
> long time.
You make an interesting point Patrick, specifically that some parts of programming are, intrinsically, anti social (or at least unsocial.) For sure, that is true. Of course every job has some amount of that.
I’d also argue that large amounts of deep debugging is a process failure not an intrinsic property. Of course, computer programs are intrinsically complicated things, however, there are many mechanisms available for managing the complexity very effectively. The problem is that weaknesses in the process prevent them from being used consistently, or even at all.
One particularly good example is the aforementioned death march. Code produced at 2am after seven Jolts rarely is of very good quality, and rarely puts in practice the necessary guards and structures against bugs that are so necessary in the complex coding world that we live in. It is too easy to make an exception or let it slip this one time because we need to meet the deadline. You put in a unit test for that feature you just coded, right?
Fact is that the exceptions build up over time and end up as a massive pile of crud all over the code. That is a process failure, and is, in my experience the most common source of the types of bug that require a week of debugging and an oscilloscope to fix.
Let me give you an example: how many coding shops demand that all code compile at the highest warning level of their compiler? Most don’t. This is insanity to me. The compiler is telling you for free where there might be bugs in your code, and you allow your programmers to turn it off? Especially so since the sorts of bug the compiler detects are often the very hardest to find in debugging. (Assuming size_t is 32 bits, assignment in an if statement, using an uninitialized variable, not all code paths return a value etc.)
How many coding shops have a serious program of regression testing, black and white box? Not many, which again is insanity. Not having quality regression is saving time early on when it is cheap and abundant, and paying it back later on when it is rare and expensive.
Of course another major source is fixing other people’s crud, but that is really the same process failure in someone else’s programming shop.
The death march and similar practices are part of a kind of male macho culture that I see in software programming, though it really comes more from the management than the programmers themselves. I think of it as a male thing, but maybe I am wrong. The fact is that death marches basically never work. They produce crappy code, and crappy code always takes longer to produce than quality code. So it is a futile exercise. It is the triumph of hope over experience.
Let me put it this way, women clean up the house as they go about doing stuff, men clean up the house when the pizza boxes are blocking the TV.
So I think you are right to a certain extent, but I think the two things are not entirely independent.
(I apologize for the gross stereotypes above, I am of course talking in broad generalities. I realize that not all men like pizza.)
I don’t have much direct knowledge of the kind of coding shops of which you speak. I think I might have some indirect knowledge, though, as I originally described and you acknowledged as “fixing other people’s crud.” It’s really hard to know what to do about that.
I spent most of the first half of my career working for great small shops, and most of the second half working for semiconductor companies. As I mentioned, a lot of debugging, etc. is caused by externalities, e.g. somebody else’s compiler, synthesizer, timing analyzers, etc. But my most serious debugging has been caused by subtle, hard to simulate, physics problems, and/or compromises to meet conflicting intractable specifications.
I don’t think that’s a “macho culture” — I think that’s some brown-nosing manager trying to make himself look good at the expense of his subordinates (and too often succeeding, because nobody doesn’t want to be a team player). I left my job two companies ago because of my manager being like this. I actually spent two days sequestered with the division VP. He was trying desperately to keep me, because from his perspective things were working well, and he really didn’t understand because everything was filtered with my boss.
In general, I love working at chip manufacturers. You don’t spend hundreds of thousands, or a few million, dollars on a mask set, then wait 6 weeks or so to see your chip, without taking lint warnings seriously and running lots of tests.
However, I now work at a small company, and unlike Intel or Freescale (who can afford to create monstrous processes that support even the stupidest developer), our processes require conscientious developers. We had one for awhile who didn’t fit in, for all the sorts of reasons you describe. Interestingly, he was never the one working late… But he’s no longer here, and it wasn’t his choice, and he was very surprised.
That’s absolutely true, but men do tend to keep the armory clean and in good working order…
One more thing:
I don’t disagree with this at all. As I said, I will do deep debugging once or twice a year. To give you an idea of the kind of thing I’m talking about, I’m often actually building hardware tools to help with the debugging process.
Debugging is still a defining activity. Especially when you’re young (typically in college) and faced with your first huge bug eating all your time the week before finals, you could easily develop the opinion “this is programming.” And this meme seeps into the general consciousness. So, back to your point about “male-oriented” (and Eric’s original point of “women are too smart for that”) perhaps, part of the answer boils down to better education which reinforces good habits and doesn’t let students flounder too much. Work can be like that. Maybe it takes a generation of more men learning how to do it properly before there are enough men in the profession doing things in a way that women could enjoy. Because many women, even young women in high school and college, are perceptive enough to see how programming actually is for a lot of the practitioners, but perhaps not perceptive enough to see how it could be.
Instead of guessing, folks, why don’t you ask a woman who quit a STEM field? :P ESR is right.
Am I social? Hell no. Yes, I can talk to people. But, gosh, I’d rather go wallow in my cave and code rather than go to one more freaking meeting talking to morons who want to change my schedule again even though I’ve told them it can’t happen sooner if they want everything they asked for. (Well, unless you want it to be really crappy code. Or not tested? I mean, come on!)
I quit science. Because I don’t like math? No, love it. Love science. Love math. But I refuse to live in the lab at 3 am day after day so some professor can tell me what to do and get all the credit while I toil for $16K per year for 7 years. And not even get into the lab want. No. That’s stupid. Waste 7 years of my life on that?? No. I want a family. Plus I knew too many PhDs in the 90s who had to stop listing their PhD because they were too overqualified to get a job. (What a kick in the head that has to be.) So, looking at the pros and cons, it would be insane to stay.
If there are people whining that they need the government to tell their boss to stop exploiting them, they are victims. Quit! Do something else! Geesh. Grow a pair!
If you want a family, make it happen. Don’t whine that you can’t afford childcare or you don’t get maternity leave. Save up your vacation instead of going to Hawaii every summer. Save some money. Stop being irresponsible and blaming everyone else.
>If there are people whining that they need the government to tell their boss to stop exploiting them, they are victims. Quit! Do something else! Geesh. Grow a pair!
Attagirl, silvermine! I like your attitude. If we weren’t both happily married I’d be asking what you look like right now, because you certainly sound like a woman I wouldn’t mind fathering children with. At least the little perishers would have backbone. :-)
> I am sure I will regret asking this but, why is asking people to work very hard, or be on call classified as â€œunfairâ€.
> Lots of people work much harder than computer programmers, and are on call a lot more than computer programmers,
> and lots of people work longer hours than computer programmers and get paid a lot less than they do.
I don’t know about other programmers, but my week day generally works like this:
* Wake up, eat breakfast, sit down at my computer, spend 1-2 hours keeping up on correspondence, news, trends.
* Go to work (usually 10am-7pm, sometimes as late as 9pm).
* Come home, eat dinner, spend time with my wife.
* Hit home office, usually for another 2-3 hours, usually learning about tech that either (a) applies to my direct job, (b) supports my wife’s business or my hobbies, or (c) I think will be useful/needful in the next year or so.
* Sleep for 4-5 hours.
That’s anywhere from 12-16 hours a day (and weekends aren’t much different), and there have been plenty of times where I didn’t get home from work until after dawn the next day. I will admit that I am well-compensated, but that’s only because I keep my edge, and I pay for that edge by putting in those ‘extra’ hours in the mornings and evenings and on weekends.
Does a ditch digger work harder than I do? He (she) will certainly work in less pleasant conditions (though office buildings can get damned uncomfortable after hours once they shut off the Heat/AC) and is certainly at greater risk of physical harm. On the other hand, your average ditch digger is going to work shorter hours than I do, will get paid overtime if he needs to work longer, and doesn’t require a high school degree, much less continual education. I would contend that work does not have to by physical to be ‘hard’ — the average ditch digger couldn’t do my job no matter how much training he received. Frankly, the average programmer can’t do my job, since the average programmer only learns a single set of technologies, and usually only a subset of those.
I don’t consider my work day ‘unfair’ — I’m doing what I have to do to continue to be marketable and employable. When I walk into an interview, I expect that I will be the most highly qualified candidate that the interviewer will see. When they hire me, they want someone who solves problems, and will do whatever is necessary to see the job through. They also expect to pay fair market value for my skills.
The flip side of this is in settings dominated by women, in which stereotypically female behavior is the norm, and men are marginalized. Government offices (especially the social services) and elementary schools come to mind. Those of you who have kids, think back to the teachers they had in grade school. If you can think of more than two men teaching in a grade school at the same time, I’d be surprised.
But when men are underrepresented, no one thinks of applying Title-IX-type sanctions against the employer.
Well, the original question (or at least part of it) was more about attracting to the field than attrition. I’m not even sure if gender differences in attrition have been well studied.
As far as attracting to the field, I’m probably not guessing as much as some people are. I have two daughters who are not at all interested in anything related to programming. It’s not for lack of ability. One of them is in an MD/PhD program, and the other one is double majoring in physics and music as an undergrad, maintaining a 4.0 at UT Austin. But “physics” is only really a back-up plan — I think she knows she can get into lots of technical things with that if she needs to, without suffering all the pain that comp sci majors do at school.
So I’ve probably been a terrible role model, but for reasons kind of the opposite to the ones Jessica postulates. If I spend a lot of time on work at home, it typically has more to do with making the code look good and be something I can be proud of, or solving a nifty problem, than extrinsic deadlines. Jessica’s blanket assertion that “male-dominated” == “no pride in work” (obviously, I’m paraphrasing here) is certainly an overgeneralization as far as I’m concerned — it’s extremely important to me in a lot of cases that the code actually look good.
My situation and experience is similar to what Craig Trader describes. My wife doesn’t work outside the house (doesn’t really want to; doesn’t really need to) and that allows me to focus more on aspects of work that interest me.
Does that give me a work advantage over someone with a more somewhat balanced life? In most cases, yes.
Actually, the more I think about this, the more I take exception to Jessica’s characterization of the profession. I’m sure there are “death marches” and ball-less wonders in the profession who mindlessly put up with that stuff, but, when I work long hours, it is mostly about the creation, not external deadlines. (Of course, “the profession” is a big elephant, and I readily concede I have only felt a small portion of its surface. Nonetheless, I’m sure I’m not that unusual.)
So, the difference between me and a driven “starving artist” is that I make a lot more money, and have a lot less chance of massive fame and truly massive money.
“Just the difference in dispersion of the IQ curves for males and females guarantees that” I continue to wonder why this mythical IQ is a valid test for any thing I sit at a terminal while on my shift (3rd) an IQ well over 135 BFA in Studio Art from a major University monitoring chillers and boilers while as has been said some one who can toss a ball through a hoop make hundreds of millons of dollars. As esr says the only thing that can make it worse is the government getting involved. At the age of 52 I went back to school to get a degree in Computer Science and was told by one of my proffs that I could never hope to get a job as I was to old companies want younger people should I also demand the government to give me a leg up I think not
Much of what I know about process scheduling I learned in high school, by observing a popular and attractive girl dividing her attention amongst several friends and wanna-be mates. Each one got maybe a ten to fifteen second timeslice of her attention; sometimes more or less depending on a closeness function. Little glances and gestures were the signaling protocol that indicated both when your timeslice was up and when you could continue addressing her. Somehow she could keep all these threads of conversation going — sometimes on very disparate topics — without missing a beat, resuming her place in each thread for each timeslice right where she left off.. And perhaps because she was so socially adept, this protocol was remarkably unambiguous, even to a “shadow autist” like myself.
The female mind is a remarkable thing, and in many cases remarkably different from anything we men have in our experience…
Again, as above: your brains are optimized for fine-grained parallelism! :)
>At least one such profession is predominantly female: ER nurses.
Daniel makes a good point here. I think ER nurses eat the amount of crap they do for reasons very similar to the reasons programmers do. That is, programmers get hooked by their genetically wired warrior-ethic to the point where they’ll tolerate an abusive work environment; female ER nurses get hooked by their genetically-wired nurturer ethic.
> there are people whining that they need the government to tell their boss to stop exploiting them, they are victims. Quit! Do something else! Geesh. Grow a pair!
> If you want a family, make it happen.
You are so right! I couldn’t find an employer who could offer me the work/life balance I needed, so I started my own company. It wasn’t easy, but it worked. I’m home with my son every day, and still making a living coding. He tells me he wants to grow up to be a mad scientist like his mom. (I’m not that mad, honest :P )
I’ve not found any part of the tech world unwelcoming to me because I’m a woman. I have found that people obsessed with achieving the ridiculous 1:1 gender ratio often destroy good teams trying to get it.
First, I’m not going to return here to engage in an ongoing conversation, so if you reply to me or for my benefit, you are writing to a blank wall and sending your remarks into a black hole, never to be seen again.
Second, I’m writing a comment because Francis is a friend and tagged me on FB so I read his article and enjoy having conversations with him but he doesn’t seem to be participating here so … self-evident I hope.
Third, Jessica. Wow. How are you staying so true to your calm, grrl? :-) You are a better “man” than me! I’d be “pouring out of those craft onto the Normandy beach” that is this comment thread if I were you.
Okay, enough with the numbers. I completely agree 100% with everything Jessica said in her first comment, the one making the 2 points about how (a) male and female brains are physiologically different and (b) the system being utterly designed by men, for men and then populated exclusively by men, for men, with lone women (like Jessica, as evidence here in this 50-comment thread at the moment) being assaulted for HAVING a brain–a female brain–let alone using it. And especially, for speaking her mind.
The #1 difference between male thinking and female thinking in the workplace–from MY experience in both DoD contracting w/USAF, US Army and aeons ago, NASA, Ghods help the Range–was that male-dominated environments (not JUST coding environments, ALL of the STEM environments, even more so for the hands-on mechanical workers) tend to really feel threatened by a female way of doing things. It is, IMO (not your opinion, MINE) the result of precisely the differences Jessica pointed out. We women are team oriented. We LIKE being in teams. We PREFER group accomplishments over individual achievements. We like to shine within our group and exult in group praise but we like for our group and support system to shine with us. We don’t like–and it’s NOT a sociological training thing it’s pure physical wiring of our brains–when we are singled out for praise or ridicule.
On that note, and again, Jessica has illustrated the case in point in the first 50 comments of this discussion–beautiful job of illustration Jessican, it’s hilarious! Males don’t like to be ridiculed individually and will absolutely defend their position, refusing to accept “fault” if it’s the last thing they do. Sadly, it often is. This kind of defensiveness and stubbornness often leads to snowballing bad situations that COULD have been remedied if only it were “okay” to be wrong. Male-designed and dominated environments do NOT make it “okay” to be wrong. Ever. Making mistakes means you must cover it up or get into trouble–classic Pavlovian punishment and reward system there.
The last thing I’d note is that one remark everyone all the way back up to Francis in the original post has made is one I disagree with: you are all claiming there is a universal or gender-based disparity in the IQ levels of male and females. NOT AT ALL. The problem there starts in pre-school. The very last comment before mine was (at the time I sat down to write this) by a woman named Susan whose pre-school son wants to do what his Mommy is doing (a natural thing for children to want to emulate their parents). In fact, from 1993 when the web was born to 1995 or 1996 when the TechBubble began growing beyond healthy proportions, women dominated the PRODUCTION side of web content and males were the #1 USERS of it. Women did not get online to “play” or engage in social activities. Men did. Back then and still today, women tend to get onto a computer to use it as a tool.
Now, I’m not saying that with the advent of XBOX, Wii and PS3’s there aren’t women playing computer games. Of COURSE there are!! Geesh, don’t be stupid. But there are probably MORE women than men DESIGNIGN them. Historically, since 1993 when the first studies on the subject began, that has been the case. I see no reason for it to by otherwise now. Women are NOT welcome to work in male-dominated environemnts but we do exceedingly well with abstract and high-level intellectual problems such as design of a computer world environment, so we tended–and still do–to work virutually and do our teamwork via our online networks.
I have some e-friends I’ve known for over 20 years and never met F2F but I’ve known them through marriage, divorce, death, birth, grandkids, you name it, all of life’s cycles. I even threw a fantastic virtual baby shower for one e-friend back in 1995 (and that baby boy grew up on his mother’s lap, learning to type before he went to nursery school – she STILL runs a successful web business from home, more so after the little boy went away for hours a day to go to school…little boys NEVER stop asking questions and wanting attention while girls will sit and “play with dolls” as society likes to say condescendingly, which is really to say we’ll sit and amuse ourselves with our active imaginations from the time we can sit up unattended. It keeps coming back to Brain Sex :)
Thanks, Jessica, for standing your ground so gracefully – on behalf of webbiegrrls everywhere :)
Sarah, The Webbiegrrl Writer
Being an ER nurse is also one way a female adrenalin junkie can get her regular fix and get paid for it. That job is intense.
Susan (HedgeMage) Says:
> You are so right! I couldnâ€™t find an employer
> who could offer me the work/life balance I
> needed, so I started my own company.
You go girl!
ESR is in his own little world and it clearly shows by this post.
Women are in STEM fields, and quite frankly, taking names. Let us just address the free and open source space for the purposes of this response.
Ms. Mitchell Baker is the Chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation, a role that could have been filled by Mr. Jamie Zawinski or Mr. Scott Collins. Both gentlemen sadly burnt out of the software industry.
Ms. Jane Silber is the CEO of Canonical, a role that was once filled by Mr. Mark “Benevolent Dictator For Life” Shuttleworth.
Ms. Elizabeth Naramore is the new OSS Outreach Coordinator of Sourceforge. What can I say about this beyond “Victory!”
Women are tough enough to hack it. Ms. Rikki Kite Associate Publisher and Managing Editor of Linux Pro Magazine agrees and has a blog for tooting the horn of the ladies. In fact, she just recently published my essay on why we should mentor girls in women in FOSS.
The problem is not biological but environmental and the good news is that things are changing for the better. I recently joined the Fedora Project. The word from Fedora Women is that the working conditions are so pleasant that it would “make a true feminist cry tears of joy.” Indeed, it is wonderful working with my new Fedora brothers and sisters. Everyone operates on a paradigm of abundance. Not elitist supremacy.
By the way there are two women on the OSI board: Ms. Alolita Sharma and Ms. Danese Cooper.
Mr. Eric S. Raymond, do you really want to assert these women should be too concerned about their own fertility to secede you?
>Mr. Eric S. Raymond, do you really want to assert these women should be too concerned about their own fertility to secede you?
That’s “succeed”, not “secede”, Ms. Eicher. And your examples are remarkably badly chosen – every single one is in a role that’s management or communications work, not nitty-gritty STEM stuff like software engineering. The most they actually demonstrate is that women are willing to hack non-STEM jobs in corporations and nonprofits linked to computing, which was never in question. Mitchell Baker, your lead example, is a lawyer! The women on your list that I know well enough to judge are very good at their jobs and I respect them for it, but they utterly fail to make the case you seem to think they do. If you are doing actual programming work on Fedora, you are yourself a much better argument for your proposition than they are.
But what do you think you are arguing against, anyway? I credited women with having too much sense, in general, to stay stuck in jobs where they’re overworked and underpaid and not allowed a life. This is a sane attitude and if more men in STEM emulated it they’d be less exploited than they are. When you mistake my nod at the evolutionary-bio basis of this sanity as some kind of normative demand that women ought to obsess about their fertility, you sound like a shrill parody of feminism – determined to miss the point, take offense, and hunt a scalp.
If I were an unkind person, I’d say you’re “nuts and in decline”. But I think you’re quite sane, just prone to taking yourself and your causes way too seriously. Take this advice from an old campaigner: relax, stop being so twitchy. Grow a sense of humor and proportion. Don’t be in such a hurry to find enemies behind every leaf and bush; you create them when you do that. Use your energy wisely so you can win more battles that matter.
I used to work in a fellow travelling field: Technical documentation.
Most small software companies hire tech doc writers on the last 6-9 months of a project; the job is to take the design document, corner each engineer in turn, ask them for how things have changed since the design document, document said changes, then go and validate those changes with testing and QA, because very one of those fucking engineers lies to get you out of their cubical, because they’ve got to get something more important done, because their bonus isn’t tied to people actually using the piece of shit software they’re coding – it’s on meeting deadlines set in meetings.
Do this for 6-9 months, product releases, your contract isn’t renewed, because they only need you at the end. Take two weeks off to recover, find next gig, lather, rinse, repeat. I worked for the same company four times in four different stints.
Eventually, I had a job where I was travelling to call centers and documenting procedures manuals and checking with compliance regulations that varied state by state. That had me travelling two weeks out of four for 18 months. Eventually, I said “What the hell do I need to work this hard for, on crap that I don’t enjoy doing?”
I still write procedures manuals. They’re called games. People buy them to learn how to have fun.
My work satisfaction level is MUCH higher, even if I’m making about 1/4 of what I’d be earning if I’d kept with my former career.
I have one piece of advice for anyone graduating from high school:
Spend two years living on about 12K a year. You can make that working something braindead and part time. Spend the rest of your time trying out things that you’re interested in; when you find one that makes you excited and happy, look at other people doing that and figure out how to make a living doing it.
Then, and ONLY then, consider applying to an education program to get into that field.
Jessica Boxer Says:
> I am sure I will regret asking this but, why is asking people to work very hard, or be on call classified as â€œunfairâ€.
If “unfairly” was a poor choice of words I hereby officially s/unfairly/badly.
I’ve worked at multiple companies that required their programmers to work 50-60 hours per week, forever. Counting commute time, you have NO life. I don’t consider that a reasonable way to treat workers, and when you also consider that programmers can only do sharp work for maybe for 20-40 hours per week it’s a completely stupid policy for any company.
> Thanks, Jessica, for standing your ground so gracefully â€“ on behalf of webbiegrrls everywhere :)
Anyone know what this person was talking about? We all friendly here. ;)
I have been working in the software industry for almost 30 years, have been involved with dozens of companies, had hundreds of male programmer colleagues, but only a handful of female colleagues. All but one were fairly weak programmers (and fired). This is NOT a problem of putting up with warrior-type shit, because excessive hours, rock-star programmer glorification and technically incompetent bosses are something patently American. Nothing of that is common practice in Europe, where I live and work. Despite this, women in programming are virtually unheard of here, too. HOWEVER, I met almost a dozen female professional (i.e. not teachers) mathematicians over the decades. For some reason ALL of them were from Iran. Any takers for explaining this? And here is another cliche datapoint: The only two female sys admins I ever met were at that really weird company, and both of them were openly lesbian (and of the type that would have a hard time concealing it). Conversely, gay programmers (or sys-admins) seem to be very rare. (A notable exception being Joel Spolsky.) Not only are they rare in my environment, they are also extremely rare on the internet — this is not a matter of what people I know or what company I keep. So: what does all this look like? Nature or nurture?
“Specifically, hackerdom is what anthropologists call a gift culture. You gain status and reputation in it not by dominating other people, nor by being beautiful, nor by having things other people want, but rather by giving things away. Specifically, by giving away your time, your creativity, and the results of your skill.
There are basically five kinds of things you can do to be respected by hackers:
1. Write open-source software
2. Help test and debug open-source software
3. Publish useful information
4. Help keep the infrastructure working
5. Serve the hacker culture itself
Eric S. Raymond of 2001… where the heck did he go?
First of all, IQ is malleable. There’s a reason IQ scores and rising with every generation – and it’s not that we’re evolving really really fast. And according to some recent research, girls have reached parity with boys when it comes to math and science:
Google NPR story: “Girls’ Math Skills Equal To Boys’, Study Finds”
Other researchers say the study is convincing. “The data that they’re presenting sort of documents the fact that, for most math problems that are likely to be confronted in typical courses that kids take in the high school years, we have essentially wiped out the gender differences that were there before,” says Jacquelynne Eccles, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Eccles believes girls have closed the gap because they are increasingly choosing to take the toughest math classes available. Meanwhile, shows like CSI, Bones, Numb3rs, and so on are providing many positive role models of smart women in STEM careers.
But these effects will be felt only when this new generation of girls hit college and the workforce, so in this regard, time will tell.
The second point — women don’t want to work as hard as men. That’s just not true. Many female-dominated professions — nursing, for example — have extremely difficult work schedules and long hours. And women are outnumbering men in law and other fields, which are also not known for their easy work schedules.
Yes, women with common sense pick careers that allow them to balance their work and their family lives, and maybe women do have more common sense than men. But we’re also willing to sacrifice family life, especially in our twenties and early thirties.
I myself was a math major in college, and worked as a relational data programmer in high school and college. I left computer engineering for journalism because I wanted my work to have a bigger impact (obviously, I didn’t foresee the dot-com boom — I might have rethought that decision if I had). But I also left tech because I preferred working with other people to working in isolation.
By restructuring the working environment, I think it might be possible for technology companies to attract female talent — and thus make their products better and more appealing to a wider market. For example, right now programming jobs are separate from testing jobs from usability jobs. Breaking down the barriers to allow programmers to work closely with end users, with designers, with beta testers may allow the developers to get out from in front of their computers to interact with real human beings, and also result in better code. The recent move to modular programming environments, where discrete pieces of the application can be developed independently (SOA), can make this process easier.
You don’t have to eliminate all solitary computer work to make tech jobs palatable. Journalists, for example, spend a lot of time alone with their word processors. But breaking up the workday with human interaction would help.
For example, when I worked as a programmer in high school, I had to interact closely with teachers, students, and other users of my software. I needed to know what they initially wanted, how they were using it, and what improvements they needed. I remember this work as being fun and fulfilling.
In later jobs, I worked in isolation, far from end users, focusing exclusively on the code. This wasn’t fun at all, even though the programming itself was challenging and interesting. I began feeling that the work was pointless — that I wasn’t making any difference in the world. Maybe if I had more contact with actual users, I would have stayed in the profession.
— Maria Korolov
Editor, Hypergrid Business
>First of all, IQ is malleable. Thereâ€™s a reason IQ scores and rising with every generation
Wow. That’s two errors in your very first ‘graph! First, IQ is “malleable” mainly in the negative sense that a bad environment can depress it – poor childhood nutrition is probably the single worst culprit. Second, the Flynn effect ran out of steam in the early 1990s; IQs are no longer “rising with every generation”. You have been failing to keep up.
As for the NPR story, I reserve judgment. It would be nice if it were true, but I’ve heard such hopeful trumpeting many times before and I know how the previous rounds turned out. I’ve learned to become suspicious of “studies” that are greeted with hosannas in the media and so neatly fit the political fashion of the day; often, the researchers have found a way to fool themselves.
I don’t consider the rest of your points controversial.
# thx1138 Says:
> only a handful of female colleagues. All
> but one were fairly weak programmers
My experience is that both the best and the worst programmer I have ever known personally were both women. However, neither data point is all that valid; I’m sure Roger is going nuts that we haven’t run a statistical regression on our data.
I’d say that in my experience (sorry Roger, no data just feelings), that well over 50% of programmers regardless of gender, suck so badly that you would be better off paying them to stay home.
> because excessive hours, rock-star
> programmer glorification and technically
> incompetent bosses are something patently
> American. Nothing of that is common practice
> in Europe,
Which I claim is good evidence to support my thesis, that it is more a social thing. BTW, rock star glorification is completely appropriate. A gold star programmer can get more productive work done than a team of ten good programmers. They deserve all the glory and support they get. (In fact, since they rarely get any, they deserve a great deal more than they get, which is ironic, because all they actually want is a quad monitor display card, more RAM and a faster hard disk.)
So to those who think I am being hard on programmers, I am not. I have the greatest respect for good programmers. However, I think there are very few occupations where there is such a wide disparity between the best and the worst practitioners. Most of the problems I outlined before were problems with program management. Software program management, from what I have seen, really sucks badly.
I have three friends who work doing digital effects for movies and TV and computer games. One is 47 and just does freelance small jobs; he decided that working 80 hour weeks with no overtime, only to be let go when the project is done blew chunks.
One is 36 and is still on the grinder. He and his wife work in the same field, and one or the other of them has a 6-9 month gig, while the other stays home and does child care.
One is 24 and fresh out of college, and seems to think that those 80 hour weeks somehow make him more of a man; he and his coworkers *compete* on how many hours and scene shoots they can do within a week…
And they don’t realize it yet, but the 24 year olds will be replaced in 2-3 years by kids who’ll work for entry level pay, and who will willingly compete to see who can log a 112 hour 5 day work week with 95 scenes tagged as complete, for a 40 hour paycheck.
(The reason why most experienced CGI artists work contract gigs is because they know that salary is shorthand for “Yeah, we’ll pay you 60K to live in LA, and work you for 60-80 hours a week with the threat that we’ll hire a replacement for you at 55K a year who’s willing to work harder.”)
Yet another one:
Women in grad schools in STEM programs.
I watched this one close up. Four times.
1) Male graduate students are generally expected to know how to program two languages acceptably, do stats regressions, and be able to learn a lab technique from a book, or know it already. Not all of them can do this, and the ones who don’t remedy this lack tend to get forced out.
2) Female graduate students are generally expected to know how to program one language, maybe do stats regression, and have to be shown a lab technique rather than learn it from a book. There is that constant expectation that they will suddenly ask for ‘help’ which translates into ‘please do my technical work for me’.
3) Female graduate students without enough colleagues (and ‘enough’ seems to be about 4-6) eventually feel isolated and unwelcome, because any time they want to ‘talk shop’ or ‘ask for help’, they’re painted with the brush of ‘not good enough to do it on her own’.
Is this meritocracy in action, or sexism, or “Women have enough sense to say ‘this is stupid'”?
Before you chalk it up strictly to sexism – the drop out rate for the first year of graduate school in the STEM programs is somewhere around 70% for women. A lot of the men regard this drop out rate as “Yeah, she couldn’t do the work.” Many of the women who stuck it out past quals more or less agree. It’s still nearly triple the dropout rate for men in that span.
I think it’s a combination of all three, myself. I suspect, strongly, that the “I won’t put up with this stupidity” aspect is about #2 on the list and #1 is meritocracy. I’d run the split as 50/30/20.
The women who succeed in those fields come out very changed at the far end of it. The closest I’ve seen to the results are women who come through the Navy nuclear programs.
>I think itâ€™s a combination of all three, myself. I suspect, strongly, that the â€œI wonâ€™t put up with this stupidityâ€ aspect is about #2 on the list and #1 is meritocracy. Iâ€™d run the split as 50/30/20.
Supposing you’re right – and I’d need more than anecdotal evidence for that – your ‘meritocracy’ filter sounds like it’s in the right intensity range to be explained by the known difference in IQ dispersion. As you probably know (but others among my regulars don’t) mean IQ is about the same for men and women, but the male bell curve has longer tails; more geniuses and more idiots. (Interestingly, I’ve seen evidence that this is only true of Caucasians; Black and Asian males have an IQ dispersion much like the females in their populations.)
What this means is that male and female IQ frequencies will differ very little in the broad middle of the curve but rather dramatically at the ends. It’s not hard to connect the dots here.
Ken Burnside: I’ve been thinking more about your report of female underperformance in STEM graduate schools, and I think there may be a simple reason why I mainly see women refusing to put up with shit while you see actual incapacity. To wit: computer science and electrical engineering are the low-IQ ghetto of STEM – the physics/biology/math crowd averages brighter than we do because they have to.
Combining this with the IQ-dispersion difference, I trust the implication is clear. In CS/EE, “can’t hack it” is less likely to be what filters out women, so “won’t put up with shit” becomes more important. In other STEM fields this reverses, leading to the pattern you observed.
Oh well. At least us CS geeks get to feel brighter than the business and humanities majors… :-)
Surprised this has gone on so long without anyone mentioning the the obvious different social expectations between men and women. Although we have come a long way since the 50’s, women are still afforded much more social freedom to work or not, to quit or not, to complain or not. Men are still bound by the macho standards of work hard to be the provider and complaining is not allowed.
I say macho in the loosest sense because it is really just fear that drives the meek majority. There is nothing macho about letting someone take advantage of you. But unfortunately fear motivators must work since any sociopath employer reading these comments would grin at the amount of people that were taken advantage of and for how long they put up with it.
And when they do finally break and run they give up pay, status, and dignity with their fight/flight response. And the excuses for what was the cause…money…society…class…all fear motivators. But the real kick is after years of reflection when you question these people on why they allowed themselves to be manipulated they immediately give up all their power again by playing victim and saying that its the world that is wrong and not themselves. And then the cycle repeats…sigh. The world is a cruel and unjust place. ;)
Beth Lynn Eicher Says:
“Women are in STEM fields, and quite frankly, taking names. […] Chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation […] CEO of Canonical […] OSS Outreach Coordinator […]”
Your examples illustrate a particular conception of what excellence is. It is, quite frankly, a characteristically “blue” (as in “blue state” vs. “red state”) conception.
(Incidentally, I think the characteristic blueness of that conception may be a significant reason why “liberaltarianism” fusion may never get much traction. It’s routine for conservatives and libertarians to be able to communicate with each other about this concept, which may make ESR’s “own little world,” in this context, roughly the “red” world, and that world is not so little as you might think from hanging out with academics, licensed professionals, government contractors, franchise monopolies, or politicians.)
If I were making a list of women “taking names” in STEM, it would involve women who’ve individually done excellent technical work (e.g., Ingrid Daubechies) or who’ve been directly involved in a crucial way in a group which did excellent technical work. (A “crucial way” might be a leadership role, an organizational role, or just team member role, but not just a patron or political enabler: e.g., Oldenburg was through his role in the Royal Society arguably one of those who were “taking names” in London science in the second half of the seventeenth century, but King Charles II was not.)
From what I’ve seen the pattern in open source is roughly comparable to the pattern I see in Americans playing games of pure skill (of which Go and Chess are the ones I’ve done personally). Some women do it very well, but women are seriously underrepresented at all levels, and women are particularly underrepresented among the people who get hardcore about it. I know some good female programmers, and I’ve seen various open source work by women. But I don’t know any women who would say “I don’t know whether the world needs a performant multicore implementation of this IETF standard, but it might, and I don’t know if I could write one, but I might be able to … and it sounds like fun!”
Not only do women seldom choose to lose themselves in programming for months, but more generally, it seems that women seldom act as though programming is intrinsically rewarding. I don’t really know why this is. Women do get hardcore about other things. ER nurses were mentioned above. Women getting hardcore about World of Warcraft seem far more common than women getting hardcore about open source. It’s fairly common for women to get hardcore enough about writing to produce publishable novels, which seems to argue against the “women just don’t find it rewarding to sit alone training themselves to do something and thinking real hard for a real long time” family of explanations. And it’s fairly common for women to find crossword puzzles intrinsically interesting; what is it about Perl Golf that doesn’t push the same buttons?
>But I donâ€™t know any women who would say â€œI donâ€™t know whether the world needs a performant multicore implementation of this IETF standard, but it might, and I donâ€™t know if I could write one, but I might be able to â€¦ and it sounds like fun!â€
I don’t either, though I may have met one. Once, in 34 years of programming. I’m thinking of a Linux kernel dev named Kay Sievers; she might have that quality.
It is also possible that Beth Lynn Eicher might herself be an exception. Beth Lynn, can you point us at a code portfolio?
>From what Iâ€™ve seen the pattern in open source is roughly comparable to the pattern I see in Americans playing games of pure skill (of which Go and Chess are the ones Iâ€™ve done personally). Some women do it very well, but women are seriously underrepresented at all levels, and women are particularly underrepresented among the people who get hardcore about it.
This pattern matches what I observe in adult strategy games in general, including wargames and Eurogames. Furthermore, there’s a gradient: women are more likely to be interested in relatively lightweight, multiplayer social games like Puerto Rico or Settlers of Catan than in high-complexity or two-player games, and women are especially unlikely to be interested complex two-player wargames.
In my entire life I’ve only known one woman who even approached being “hardcore” about two-player hex wargames. Her, I married.
There may be a comparative advantage factor here, too. If females have (for sake of argument) stronger social skills, even if technical skills were the same, there would likely be fewer in STEM because they have more opportunities elsewhere.
For all I know LeBron James is the best programmer in the world, but his lack of a programming job has nothing to do with discrimination…
>There may be a comparative advantage factor here, too. If females have (for sake of argument) stronger social skills, even if technical skills were the same, there would likely be fewer in STEM because they have more opportunities elsewhere.
Well, yeah. This is the same reason CS has a high percentage of shadow and not-so-shadow autists in it.
Mike Earl Says:
> There may be a comparative advantage factor here, too.
This is a good point. For sure, women are better at having babies than men. But I don’t think it is sufficient to explain the gap.
William Newman Says:
> Women do get hardcore about other things.
Please notice William that all the examples you gave involved either interacting with people (WoW) or dealing with words, which is to say communication. I’d say that is pretty good evidence for my thesis.
Now here is a question: why are there so few women on Armed and Dangerous?
>Now here is a question: why are there so few women on Armed and Dangerous?
That’s never seemed mysterious to me. The tone I set on this blog is one of tough-minded contrarianism that delights in mythbusting and mocking popular pieties. This is not a mental stance most women are comfortable assuming; they tend to interpret it as antisocial and hostile. Reality check: try to name even one great female satirist.
It is my understanding that ER physician or nurse is considered a good profession by a lot of females, precisely because, in general, in most hospitals, you aren’t “on call”, at least not in the sense that computer professionals are typically “on call.”
Sure, when something really egregiously bad happens, pagers will go off and anybody who can should make their way to the hospital. But, at least in larger hospitals, that’s not routine. It doesn’t happen once a day or once a week, because the hospital actually staffs up for the things that happen with that sort of frequency. But CS/IT people are often expected to be on call simply because companies don’t staff up to insure that person A’s job function can, in an average week, be done in a relatively contiguous 8-10 hours per day.
A family doctor is much more apt to be “on call” 24/7 than any emergency room personnel. But even they usually manage to band together to manage the on-call time much better than computer professionals seem to. (There are, of course both some good and not-so-good reasons why computer professionals don’t manage this better.)
And, of course, you get the odd scenario that a computer professional can feel he’s better than the lab tech because he gets a salary as opposed to being paid by the hour. Never mind that professionals like the ER doctors and nurses will get more scratch the more hours they work.
Patrick Maupin Says:
> But CS/IT people are often expected to be
> on call simply because companies donâ€™t staff
> up to insure that person
It is worth pointing out that nurses are fungible, computer programmers are, in general, not.
Ok, I haven’t been in college in a while (almost 20 years), but this: To wit: computer science and electrical engineering are the low-IQ ghetto of STEM â€“ the physics/biology/math crowd averages brighter than we do because they have to. is completely contrary to my experience at the time.
Maybe at lower-echelon schools than U.C.Berkeley, that’s true, but I have a hard time believing it’s true of the top-tier engineering schools.
>Maybe at lower-echelon schools than U.C.Berkeley, thatâ€™s true, but I have a hard time believing itâ€™s true of the top-tier engineering schools.
I was a theory-math major and (later) computer geek at University of Pennsylvania, and I knew physics people. The math and physics people were brighter, on average, than the CS people though the difference wasn’t large. Curiously, the CS people averaged noticeably brighter than the EEs – in fact I’d say the difference in means was larger between CS and EE than it was between math and CS. I say this is curious because Penn’s EE program was quite strong.
All this was more than 30 years ago now, so things may have changed considerably.
Just cause I feel like rousing rabble:
Jessica Boxer wrote “Please notice William that all the examples you gave involved either interacting with people (WoW) or dealing with words, which is to say communication. Iâ€™d say that is pretty good evidence for my thesis.”
I can believe that, but it’s not entirely obvious to me. The problem may be that I’m not sure what definition of “communication” we should use.
To me, a lot of programming seems rather like communicating with a computer. Deeply mathematical algorithms problems may not feel much like that, but many programming problems aren’t that deep. E.g., there are various large projects where much of the challenge is in capturing domain knowledge (e.g., business rules) and formalizing it for the computer. Admittedly it doesn’t feel anything like *socializing* with the computer, because it’s almost perfectly free of side channels like status tags and body language and so forth. But it feels a lot like explaining something to the computer, and also like trying to understand the computer’s point of view. And it’s enough like interacting with another mind to support jokes like “don’t anthropomorphize computers, they don’t like it.”
I thought for a while about this kind of thing when I was dating a librarian years ago, because I was so surprised when I found she couldn’t think of any pieces of software that librarians themselves had written and passed around among themselves. It seemed odd to have a community of people who chose to specialize in formal information retrieval where the impulse to produce such software was so weakly felt. Possibly librarians didn’t go into librarianizing because they found formal information retrieval nifty; perhaps information retrieval technology is only something they tolerate in order to have rewarding informal day to day interactions with humans. But as far as I could tell, formal information retrieval had some genuine interest to them, and was something they prided themselves on. And learning to build up systems of scripts and similar useful-in-less-than-a-page software to do useful information retrieval tricks seems considerably easier to me than learning to write a publishable novel. And it seems at least as much like communication as writing novels does (with all the plotting and proofreading and rewriting etc.), or as working with formal information retrieval systems does.
ER nurses can be on-call, and can work crazy amounts of hours. But they’re generally paid by the hour, so if they pull a 80-hour week, they’re getting more than twice what they do for a 40-hour week. Also, regionally, some nurses (especially ER) are pretty well-paid. Of course, part of that is compensation for having to work for doctors, who are not selected for their ability to not annoy their underlings.
And, as a folo, on why this stuff is generally so hard to talk about, take off your watch, take your blood-pressure pills, and maybe a valium, and then read this thread:
>And, as a folo, on why this stuff is generally so hard to talk about, take off your watch, take your blood-pressure pills, and maybe a valium, and then read this thread: http://lwn.net/Articles/343615/
Of course, Baylink, you do know that you were a bad person for trying to employ rational skepticism in a victimology debate. That just established that you were part of the problem! No one is ever innocent of those charges; protesting them or defending yourself just proooooooves your guilt. Paging Franz Kafka!
In India about 40% of programmers are Women. The massive divide is limited to Western culture, as its not repeated in countries less impacted by that culture.
It has nothing to do with the job of IT itself which is basically the same in India (if not quite a bit worse due to some Indian cultural aspects that make the bosses really nasty at times).
>In India about 40% of programmers are Women. The massive divide is limited to Western culture, as its not repeated in countries less impacted by that culture.
Easy to believe, if there’s less difference in IQ dispersion between males and females in that population. I don’t know whether that’s true for Indians or not.
“Can’t hack it” is less likely to be what filters out men. My observation has been that incompetent female doofuses who get ensconced and blight a company with their sloppy code (especially the future maintainers of that code) are even rarer than female programmers in general, notwithstanding anecdotes about the “brillant Paula Bean”.
I think two things are at work here: one is that incompetent female programmers are more likely to realize they’re in over their head (no male ego to stroke) and get out; the other is that their (usually male supervisors) are more likely to think “She’ll never get it” of a woman than “He’ll never get it” of a man and terminate them.
Eureka! I am pleased to report a more recent and sexually correct team-oriented example than the Royal Society: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~mmv/
This sounds all very well in its way: “I was General Chair for RoboCup-2001, held for the first time in the USA.”
This sounds impressive: “Our CMDragons’07 team for the small-size league is world champion. […] Our CMPack’07 team for the AIBO league came in 3rd place. […] Our CMDragons’06 team for the small-size league is world champion. […] Our CMPack’04 team for the AIBO league is champion. […] Our CMOwl’04 team for the coach simulation league is champion. […] Our CMLoki’04 team for the soccer simulation league came in 3rd place. […] We won first place in the RoboCup-2002 Sony legged league! :-)”
While I was perhaps too subtle…
Remember that ‘can’t hack it’ tends to blur into ‘sexism’. A male grad student is expected to devour a manual and be clever/brilliant, and asking for help is a sign of weakness.
The female model for solving problems has less to do with “must consume domain knowledge” and more with “Let’s talk to other people with similar experiences and see if they have any clever ideas.”
And in graduate school, the ‘let’s talk to other people’ modus turns into “She’s trying to get me to do her work for her, and I’m already behind on MY job…”
It has at least as much to do with the dysfunctional nature of graduate schools as any gender differences…
It wasn’t just me who thought that.
Thanks, Eric. :-)
>It wasnâ€™t just me who thought that.
What, it wasn’t obvious like a supernova? I think we need a label for this kind of sick behavior. I’m tempted to call it “kafkatrapping”.
It’s absolutely not just you.
That conversation reminds me of the people who try to convince me that I’m somehow lacking as a woman because I don’t see rampant sexism in the stereotypically male communities to which I belong. Since when are paranoia, alienation, and oversensitivity requisite qualities of womanhood?
Susan (aka HedgeMage)
Hacker, martial artist, firearms enthusiast, builder of random stuff, etc. etc.
Great female satirist: Jane Austen.
There is some discussion about why female satirists get over looked at http://www.amandacraig.com/pages/journalism_01/journalism_01_item.asp?journalism_01ID=56
>Great female satirist: Jane Austen.
Sorry, not buying it. Jane Austen bores me to tears, for reasons I explained in Pretty People Behaving Stupidly.
A data point:
My job is as a research chemist in a large pharmaceutical firm (like Derek Lowe only two or three places lower than him on the totem pole.
The research scientists are informally divided into the “biologists” and the “chemists.” The “chemists” are organic synthetic types who make the various potential-drug molecules (and are generally the ones who design them: “Lets try this structure and see if it has improved properties.”) They (we) are heavily skewed male.
The “biologists” are those who run the various biological studies and assays. They range from people doing cell-cultures to behavioral biologists (“dose the rat with the compound, and see how it behaves in various tests” – and some of those tests are odd.) The “biologists” are pretty close to 1:1 male:female, without much variation between the different branches of biology involved.
For what its worth.
“Reality check: try to name even one great female satirist.”
“Great female satirist: Jane Austen.”
Damn, beat me to it. And she was one of the greatest [satirists/authors] ever, although her satire is not exactly flinging poo at sacred ideals. It’s more of a gentle toss, and instead of poo she used tea and fine pastries.
There are four times autistic males than females. You should not expect a different ratio with coders.
> Sorry, not buying it. Jane Austen bores me to tears, for reasons I explained in Pretty People Behaving Stupidly.
You may be in the minority then. /Northanger Abbey/ was pretty much written as a satire on gothic novels of the day.
An alternate you probably heard of: Dorothy Parker.
>An alternate you probably heard of: Dorothy Parker.
You’re closer to the mark there. I was a fan of hers for a long time, enough so that some of my respect survived learning that she was a Stalinist and an active participant in the Soviet memetic war against the U.S. I never thought she qualified as “great”, though, not compared to contemporaries like P.G. Wodehouse or even Max Beerbohm. Great satirists have to proceed from moral passion; Parker’s mainspring was, alas, only a particularly entertaining species of bitchiness.
I don’t know eaxctly where the official boundaries of “satirist” are, and I grant in advance that people will argue about the difference between “great” and “wildly successful.” That said, it seems to me that we have one wildly successful female example of “tough-minded contrarianism that delights in mythbusting and mocking popular pieties”: Ayn Rand. _Atlas Shrugged_ is also other things, like a philosophical diatribe, but it’s long enough that just the parts that are mythbusting and mocking popular pieties are probably still book-length.:-) And its relentless acid is not as relentlessly clever as, e.g., _Tom Jones_, or as concisely polished as, e.g., _Animal Farm_, but it’s not for lack of d. in m. and m. p. p.
>That said, it seems to me that we have one wildly successful female example of â€œtough-minded contrarianism that delights in mythbusting and mocking popular pietiesâ€: Ayn Rand.
Great satirists also have to not take themselves too seriously (I’m not just handwaving here; I’m thinking of Swift and Rabelais, for example). Dorothy Parker, in spite of other flaws, passed that test. Ayn Rand did not. Indeed, had you tried to tell her she was a satirist, I have little doubt she’d have responded with a tongue-lashing that would tear your hide off in strips.
Indeed, had you tried to tell [Rand] she was a satirist, I have little doubt sheâ€™d have responded with a tongue-lashing that would tear your hide off in strips.
Only if she were in a good mood, Eric. In her normal vituperative harpy mode, her tongue lashing would remove fragments of bone. Mike Pondsmith of R Talsorian Games effectively grew up with “Auntie Ayne” while he and his siblings were in New York – she was a close friend of the family and an interesting character.
Her ability to tolerate fools gladly rapidly approached zero. The problem was her filter for ‘fool’. Picture a more articulate RMS with better social hygiene, but the same dogmatic intensity and belief that everyone not with them is against them or a traitor or deluded fool.
> Sorry, not buying it. Jane Austen bores me to tears,
You didn’t ask for a great sarist that you liked, just a great one, and she is. FWIW, I read your article, and I think you shouldn’t put her in the same class as pulp emotion junk, she is much more complex than that. Consider one of the most famous quotes from Austen, the first two paragraphs of Pride and Prejudice:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession
of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
“However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his
first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds
of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property
of some one or other of their daughters.”
Aside from the biting satire of these paragraphs it encapsulates what Austen is really about, namely the exposure of the unwritten rules of society, both their caprice and the devastating impact on the lives of those who would fight them. Atop that she weaves a tale of decent people trying to deal with the realities of this, and trying to find emotional satisfaction in such a context. The irony is that on the surface it talks of the women as silly, and the men as practical, but deeper examination finds the women in truth brutally practical, and the men trivial and careless. The women are not only practical, but they manage to flavor their lives with emotional joy too.
It might not be your cup of tea, but Steel Magnolias it is not.
You know I was thinking about the comment I just wrote about Pride and Prejudice, and it struck me how it is relevant to the original comment you made on women in computing.
Much of Austen’s writing is about how women survive in a society whose structures are not designed for their benefit, and which makes very negative assumptions about the capabilities of women. It is about how they can work within that context, and try to find satisfaction and enjoyment.
It strikes me as very similar to the situation women find when working in heavily male dominated situations such as computer programming shops. Societies not designed for their benefit, and many false assumptions about their abilities based entirely on their sex.
Anyway, just a thought.
I think Ayn Rand would be willing to agree that she was satirical about her bad guys– she was very snarky about them.
Patrick — attrition and attraction are just two sides of the same coin. Maybe other women were smart for not even trying, and I was the fool to waste a year in grad school before I quit. I just figured I’d find the other smart, interesting people there. (Silly me!) But I had to try it. Life is too short not to risk it. I really wanted to do basic research.
esr — Yeah, most women don’t like blunt honesty, I don’t think. That’s why in school I spent more time with the guys, or just with people who were older. I have no idea what I would have done without BBSes.
Something for discussion: Women in free software: Recommendations from the Women’s Caucus [LWN.net]
“Why? The free-market solution is simple: donâ€™t work for abusive assholes. ”
That works, but only with one condition: with a willingness to move where the good jobs are. For people who think the other way around: who decide where they want to live and then look around what jobs are available there it can be much more difficult. Esp. the type – and this is a type I highly respect – who aren’t willing to buy into the modern concept of rootlessness: they want to live within at most 3-4 hours of driving distance of where they were born, where their kin and at least some of their childhood friends live, a place where they actually belong and not just happen to live there rootlessly. If this place happens to be say, “flyover country” in America or rural Austria or rural France or Eastern Europe i.e. the places with low densities of intelligent IT start-ups it can be really difficult.
Having said that, you are right, I went overboard in my last comment, I didn’t actually 100% mean that, I was just too shocked and disgusted. What programmers actually need is a kind of a free-market union: not the usual kind of union that pressures governments for all sorts of special rules, but the kind of union based on voluntary cooperation: one that provides information to its members such as blacklisting and even suggesting to boycott certain employers but uses no coercion other than the usual non-violent group-pressure ones f.e. ridicule, shame etc. Plain simply sporadic personal complaining needs to be turned into a systematic one, for example, let’s make a website that rates employers with stars and with comments the same way restaurants are rated and commented on many websites.
I think I have learned something importart from reading this conversation. I’ll record it here for the helping of those who cannot deduce it for themselves. I’m a straight man but I have none of this “warrior ethic” or “won’t let the computer beat me” or “pouring out of landing crafts” mentality with regard to my job – with other aspects of my life, the aspects I actually give a damn about, hell yes – but not the job. If it would be an at least remotely interesting job then maybe yes – but it is in ERP so it is just about making money via helping others make money. I can’t fix it by moving to another kind of programming job because none of would I find really interesting – my real interests lie in fields you cannot make money with, like, philosophy, history, and so on. So I’m just like the rest of manking, like, 95% of it, to whom the job is just the job – not the passion but the necessary evil to make money.
So. What I have learned here is despite being a male, never work for all-male teams if you are in the same situation as I am in: when the job is just the job to make ends meet not the passion. Any team that has at least 30-40% females in I will find tolerable and the same is true for any man who has no passion for his job. Actually, it was true for 2 of my 3 previous jobs, and not true for my second one and my current ones. We are a team of 3 guys and we work too much, work too hard, and are generally too fanatic – I mean the other two guys, I am not, and it means they consider me kinda lazy because I never sacrficed my whole weekend, just the Saturday, once. I won’t last long, I suppose. And next time I will take a good look aroun the office and not join if I won’t see at least 30-40% women there.
And this is generally a good advice for guys for whom the job is just a job.
> If this place happens to be say, â€œflyover countryâ€
> in America or rural Austria or rural France or
> Eastern Europe i.e. the places with low densities of
> intelligent IT start-ups it can be really difficult.
I couldn’t disagree more. There has never been a time in history where people have more choices in the way they make a living. And that is MUCH more the case for people working in IT. If you can hack it in the IT world you can operate as a freelancer. At worst working hourly for a company as a pseudo employee, at best starting your own business, which you can do with a computer and an Internet connection.
I would love to see a day when most IT workers are small business owners, perhaps small businesses of one person. Or get together with a half a dozen of your IT friends and start something with them to share the minor costs. Problem is that if you do that you need to have the chutzpah to actually compete successfully against that guy in Bangalore. And, unfortunately, most people like the cozy protectionism that employment offers.
Let me say, the last thing we need in the IT world is anything that resembles a union.
>>This is the exact time when my general pro-capitalistic, somewhat-libertarian attitudes evaporate.
>Why? The free-market solution is simple: donâ€™t work for abusive assholes. It wonâ€™t take a lot of programmers refusing to do that before they change their tune, especially since the ones most likely to refuse are the most capable. Thereâ€™s no collective-action problem here, so there isnâ€™t even the semblance of a need for coercive regulation. You were right the first time, Reddit really is populated by idiots with a bad case of socialist groupthink.
But there IS a collective-action problem here. If you don’t want to be treated like a slave, there are hordes of programmers waiting for your job, who pride themselves on having servile attitudes. You have to get all the other programmers to not work for assholes, including the ones in India, China, and Vietnam, otherwise employers will always be able to select against those programmers unwilling to be treated like shit.
>But there IS a collective-action problem here. If you donâ€™t want to be treated like a slave, there are hordes of programmers waiting for your job, who pride themselves on having servile attitudes.
So? You didn’t want a job where you were going to be treated like a serf, and that’s the only kind their servility qualifies them for.
> there are hordes of programmers waiting for your
> job, who pride themselves on having servile attitudes.
What a depressing attitude. Don’t you think you offer any value? Are you just some fungible code monkey? Can you really be replaced so easily by that guy in Bejing? If you offer value sell your value.
Let me tell you what is at the core of the servility you mention: it is the very notion that the only way to make a living as a programmer is to work for someone else. Employment is intrinsically servile. What a sadly self limiting attitude that is.
I’d recommend you take control of your life. I’d recommend that you clearly articulate why you are worth ten times as much as the guy in Bangalore. I’d recommend that you find a way to provide your value in a way that is congruent with your values. The world is not a zero sum game. Someone else doesn’t have to loose for you to win.
The last thing we need it to institutionalize the very problem — the idea that we are fungible code monkeys — by having some sort of union to prove that we are just that. Bill the plumber is the same as Mary the plumber. Bill the programmer is rarely the same as Mary the programmer.
“In India about 40% of programmers are Women”
That has absolutely nothing to do with gender equality issues, genetics or social differences. It has absolutely everything to do with economics. IT jobs from offshoring pay much better then the other options in India. When the well-paying options are so few, intelligent people will choose careers that don’t match their preferences.
As the economy matures in India you will start to see pay equalizing across various fields and you will see the percentage of women in IT drop. Even now though, most of the women I deal with in India self-select to the least amount of programming. They push themselves toward the design work, database work, QA work and middle management.
Watching that play out has convinced me more then anything that the basic premise that programming is male-oriented _in and of itself_ is true.
If the know-it-all tough guy posturing of the majority of the comments here is typical of discourse in US programming shops then it’s no wonder women avoid working in them
I don’t know that she’d qualify as a GREAT satirist, but I like the satire Ann Coulter writes. But I cannot think of too many like that.
But I think some of the posters above got it right. You have to be highly intelligent to do programming well, and western men’s IQs do seem to have a larger standard deviation than women — more than enough, at the top levels of IQ, to overpower the slightly higher female average IQ. And most people who enjoy computer programming are somewhat autist (aspie?), which again favors men. And a highly intelligent person who is not somewhat autist (aspie) will likely have better opportunities in other fields.
> But I think some of the posters above got it right.
> You have to be highly intelligent to do programming well,
FWIW, I don’t agree. Most programming is at the level hacking HTML, CSS, or vary basic backends to that type of stuff. This includes non web stuff, which is mostly pushing data fields around.
Of course some types of programming are very hard, and require a large degree of smarts. But most isn’t like that.
It’s quite a mystery.
>Itâ€™s quite a mystery.
Would one of the women on here please set grendelkhan straight about this? He won’t believe me if I do it. Be nice; I think he’s mainly ignorant on this score, not malicious.
I’m sorry, but this is complete bullshit. If women were afraid of long hours, there would be no female doctors, lawyers, etc. Wake up and realize: it’s mysoginistic idiots like you who insist it’s “just nature” that keep women out.
> Iâ€™m sorry, but this is complete bull—-.
Not compared to the complete cow—- you just wrote.
Misogynistic folks are rare around here. Who are you talking about?
Also rare around here.
> there would be no female doctors, lawyers, etc.
You aren’t been paying attention. Plenty of women (like my wife) like working long hours when they are single or childless. Then we had kids and working long hours became less attractive to her. My wife really, really likes being with our kids. So her hours decreased dramatically. There are a large number of accomplished women, including doctors, lawyers and executives who feel the same way and who reduce their long hours when they have kids.
The numbers do not back you up.
> If women were afraid of long hours, there would be no female doctors, lawyers, etc.
Reading comprehension: do you have it? It’s not just long hours. It’s abusive working conditions. It’s being told to work 12-16 hour days (and/or be perpetually on-call with no backup, grumble grumble) on minimal pay because a company has no problem dropping you and replacing you with someone who is willing to take the abuse you won’t. It’s that many men, for whatever reason, take that abuse as just the way of things, so it becomes self-reinforcing. ESR is saying many women are too smart to accept that bs and walk, as any sane person should.
# jsk Says:
> Itâ€™s abusive working conditions. Itâ€™s being told to
> work 12-16 hour days (and/or be perpetually on
> -call with no backup, grumble grumble)
And all this is different from the doctor example she cited exactly how?
> on minimal pay because a company has no
> problem dropping you and replacing you with
> someone who is willing to take the abuse you
Seriously? Minimal pay? Have you ever worked at McDonalds?
> Itâ€™s that many men, for whatever reason, take
> that abuse as just the way of things, so it becomes
> self-reinforcing. ESR is saying many women are too
> smart to accept that bs and walk, as any sane person should.
That is just spin. In fact it is pretty patronizing. Women are too smart to do what men do? Are you making the claim that women are smarter than men on average? Do you have any evidence to back that up? Sorry, that is just another way of saying women can’t hack it.
I don’t buy Eric’s premise, though I think there is a small amount of truth to it. However, I think there are other, much more important factors in play, the two most important of which I have set out in previous comments: namely that programming is a pretty unsocial thing, and women tend to need more social connection than men, and the fact that programming systems are set up and oriented toward male culture and male ways of doing things even though there is little intrinsic reason that that would be true. This becomes a self reinforcing feedback loop.
However, all these arguments have been made above.
>Women are too smart to do what men do? Are you making the claim that women are smarter than men on average?
Actually, there was no such claim in my original post; that’s an interpretation or shorthand that others added later. My actual claim is that women normally lack a particular psychological vulnerability that the system exploits in men, the susceptibility to get sucked into warrior-band behavior where the mission is everything and a high level of self-sacrifice becomes a sign of virtue.
# esr Says:
> Actually, there was no such claim in
> my original post;
My comment was directed toward jsk primarily. However, I did re-read your post, and I might have read a little bit between the lines. However, female_programmer’s point still stands. She offers as a counter example physicians. According to this article from Business week one third of doctors are female, (though it is higher in school). The article does have some other interesting data, however, focusing on the hell part of doctor training, the death marches, the insane hours, the no money, women are still there in large numbers.
Perhaps the nurturing tendency compensates.
Jessica Boxer: My comment was directed toward jsk primarily.
Yeah, I was lazy in using ‘too smart’ as shorthand; Eric’s response clarifies what I intended but failed to say. I actually spent time trying to re-work it so not to use that phrase, but, alas. Apologies.
re: physicians, it’s been my perception (perhaps deeply flawed) that they are generally very well compensated, which is what my line of thought was based on. The article you linked seems to suggest that the women physicians (and in fact younger physicians in general) are fighting back against poor working conditions. How much could the weight of the huge initial investment (in schooling) account for someone staying in such a rough field rather than getting fed-up and quitting?
My last FTE employer refused to give me the day off to get married.
Hmm… That’s the kind of churlish behavior that would lead me to publish the name of the employer, the immediate manager, and any shithead in that chain of command who concurred in that decision.
I specialize in a particular area of software development in which most of my peers know each other. Anyone attempting to treat me this way would find it suddenly very, very difficult to recruit anyone with experience in my field.
> My last FTE employer refused to give me the day off to get married.
I missed this the first time around, and “Some Guy” brought it up again. I thought it was interesting. I’d say there is a lot more to this story than this simple sentence: however since it plays into the mythology of “employers are big bad nasty people” and “employees are oppressed victims” then the commenter, and no doubt others, is willing to accept it without the slightest hesitation.
Are we really to believe that Matt went to his employer and said: “Boss, eighteen months from now my fiancee and I are getting married: do you mind if I take that day off.” Did Boss really say: “No way you slacker, get back to the salt mine?” Seriously? Don’t you think there is a much bigger back story? Is Matt really the angel and Boss the devil? Can we get serious here? The only circumstance I could imagine that being true is if Matt worked in a third world sweat shop (or an iPhone manufacturing plant.) Color me a philistine, but “Matt” doesn’t sound like a Vietnamese name to me.
However, it plays into the mythology, so we can pretend it is true, even though it obviously isn’t.
In my experience and as my opinion:
Women have much more options to marry a programmer than men do, so some are taking that route rather than working in the field themselves.
Women are generally better prepared to handle conflict, and to be the winning party in a conflict, so they have less need to settle into such crap jobs.
Did I say crap jobs? I did.
Women generally go into science because they want to, more so than men who are often guided there by high school and college counselors.
Women tend to not stay in an abusive relationship with a job as much as men do. More self-esteem perhaps.
All in all, I would suggest that wishing for more women to get into IT isn’t being very nice to them.
Dear Eric, Do these responses count as win or loss? A post about the value/lack there of in rectifying an ‘imbalance’ in a field has generated a host of comments asserting ‘the imbalance’ does/does not exist because the initial definition is/n’t encompassing, and even if it was my, personal experiance/article I read/ industry insider knowledge leads me to believe that boys/girls rule and girls/boys drool. Interspersed with an offering of ‘Grand Torino’ anecdotes and the occasional comments of those who can’t (won’t?) read. I would agree that calls for, and worse attempts, to socially ‘engineer’ parity should hold off until a)we can reasonably agree on what’s actually occuring and b) demonstrate the badness there of. Sincerely, Murph. ps Have you seen any documentation of an increase in spelling errors/wrong word choice in both mainstream (edited) and general print media? pps Thanks for the Elizer fanfic pointer. M:)
Like many of the other commenters, I spent 20+ years as a database programmer and network administrator for a small company. On the plus side, I had a *lot* of autonomy–I could make my own schedule, pretty much, and I had a lot of say in the projects I worked on. On the minus side, however, I never had more than 5 days off in a row, I had to call in every day on vacation (until they got me a beeper, and then a cell phone), and there were many days when my day began with a phone call because someone’s computer wouldn’t turn on. There were also many, many 60-70 hour work weeks.
There were two main events that caused me to leave programming–my divorce and 9/11. I decided I wanted to do something a little more meaningful with my life and my degree. I joke with people that I became a high school math teacher because I wanted a lower-stress job, but I’m not really kidding. Anytime one of my fellow teachers complains about the work hours (or the “unpaid” overtime), I can’t help but laugh. I ask them when the last time was that they worked 36 hours straight.
This thread is probably dead by now, but I did want throw another thought into the mix. This isn’t going to be popular, but here goes…
STEM fields (and programming in particular) is often heavily populated by men from the Middle East, India, and China, all societies not well thought-of for their attitudes regarding women. While there is huge individual variation in any group, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the very ‘backwards’ attitudes that one finds in many of these cultures can often act as a disincentive to women staying in them. I have seen this sort of thing myself often enough, and my wife has been the direct target of it as well. Yes, I know, the plural of anecdote is not data, but the phenomenon is not exactly unheard-of, even in today’s ‘PC-all-power-to-HR’ workplace. I remember watching one group of Pakistani programmers essentially refuse to work with a woman who they felt was insufficiently deferential, and management simply decided that 5 angry middle eastern guys were easier to placate than one woman who would leave quietly.
What an interesting article – and the comments too. There’s many different strands of thought, and many different issues raised. I think most are right to a great degree.
My own experience and observations:
1. Sexism – Yes, it exists, more than you think (assuming you’re a guy). Far more than the article’s author believes. But it’s only a contributor, not the whole thing. The author’s main thesis is sound.
2. Historically, organisations have been set up by men, for men, because men were the vast bulk of employees. This has led to a hierarchical structure of employment. That is actually not a bad way of dealing with most problems, but can become pathological. There has to be a competition for the next level. When people are closely matched in ability, the only free variable is the amount of time they are willing to devote to the job, as opposed to the rest of their lives. Women, who tend to a) Value their lives outside their employment and b) For purely biological reasons, spend some time disabled from useful work while having children, tend to be left behind in the promotion stakes. Many eventually seek greener fields and pastures new, as there’s no future in it for them.
Employers value the Stakhanovite worker, a guy (almost always) whose life is his job, who works insane hours regardless of pay – and some get very well paid indeed. The archetypical Sarariman who only sees his family for a few hours a day, if that. High-flying corporate lawyers who in order to make Partner must put in 120 hrs/week of billable time are the most extreme case, even if they have 7-figure salaries.
Female employees are more likely to have a life outside work. Especially if they have children.
This leads to a waste of human resources. Women with talent, who just don’t value their careers to the exclusion of everything else, regardless of the money.
One way of dealing with the problem is the 24/7 dispersed office. One employee is available, doing a job, 24/7 and 365. It’s just that he or she only works 6 hrs a day before handing off to the next in line, in another time zone. This provides real-time responsiveness to crises, doesn’t cause employee burnout, and lets soccer moms pick up the kids after the game. There’s some inefficiency in the handover, but this is made up for the fact that no-one is left brain-fried and making stupid mistakes because they’ve been at work for over 40 hours straight.
Another issue – male and female brains. First, in one respect, there’s no such thing. There are only neuro-anatomical complexes that correspond more closely or less closely to typically male or female stereotypes. Some men can think in certain ways more like most women, while remaining almost a caricature of maledom in others. Yes, men and women differ in the way they think, but it’s like saying men are big (heavy, tall) while women are small (light, short). The metrics height and weight are real and measurable, they’re not a “social construct”. But not all men are taller than most women, not all women are lighter than most men, there are tall, thin men and short, heavy women etc. So while the generalisations regarding innate abilities are sometimes useful, one should never apply them to individuals.
“Are we really to believe that Matt went to his employer and said: ‘Boss, eighteen months from now my fiancee and I are getting married: do you mind if I take that day off.’ Did Boss really say: ‘No way you slacker, get back to the salt mine?’ Seriously?”
Well, it was more “sorry, you’re still on-call that weekend…too many people have been switching lately, and we have to clamp down”. And it was 6 months notice, not 18. But yeah, other than that…
I don’t work there anymore. From what I can tell, nobody does…the company isn’t completely dead yet, but the entire systems and support departments have quit, the product lines we were supporting have been retired without replacement, and all that seems left is the stuff that was being done by other people in other offices who’d worked for other companies until that ex-employer bought them out.
Likewise the employer for whom I used to sleep under my desk most nights. I accumulated a year of comp time during 8 months of work for them…they’re not around anymore either.
Life in technology seems to be divided between periods dominated by companies like that, and periods when companies like that all go bankrupt…but most of the technology workforce is unemployed. I’m happy to be working in a good job in my field that doesn’t demand the completely unreasonable, even during the worst economy of my lifetime…but I keep in mind how lucky that makes me.
I do dislike being called a liar, though.
“In accordance with the latest industrial law, employees will now only have a 37 not a 40 hour work week, and work contracts have been adjusted accordingly. Hourly rates will not change, and all employees are expected to work at least 6 hours of unpaid overtime per week. Compulsory overtime after that will be compensated for by time-off-on-lieu. Vacations and time off in lieu will be lost if not taken within 12 months after they become due, and can only be taken when authorised and at the company’s convenience.”
Yes, that was as near as I can recall the exact wording. I had over 900 hours accumulated leave when I was “let go” – which of course was lost.
I did have 3 months notice – but had to work through that notice, and I’d been posted overseas two days before. Trying to get another job while working on the other side of the world was difficult to say the least.
>Now here is a question: why are there so few women on Armed and Dangerous?
>>Thatâ€™s never seemed mysterious to me. The tone I set on this blog is one of tough-minded contrarianism that delights in mythbusting and mocking popular pieties. This is not a mental stance most women are comfortable assuming; they tend to interpret it as antisocial and hostile.
Just found this blog. As a gun-toting, libertarian, hacker chick, I think it’s great. I’ve never understood why this was such a rare combination in women. Anyway, thanks – your writing resonates with me and makes me proud to be a geek.
Sorry, but many women don’t work in tech because of discrimination….or they have been forced out. All my females tech colleagues worked harder than the guys and were many times more productive,even to the point of being asked to train the guys.
Gee, I have been too busy working my full time job while running the non-profit Ohio LinuxFest to care much about what the readers think of little ole me. Yes, I have written code, but I doubt you will find it useful unless you have a Beowulf handy.
The Ohio LinuxFest is proof that the elitist thinking behind this post is dead. We made it loud and clear that we do not tolerate *death threats* Our reward was close to 40% female speakers. This was accomplished by accepting the most interesting talks… not quotas.
Free culture can and has done better. Unfortunately Eric S Raymond of 1996 who wrote the following quote is not with us today to participate in the celebration of equality and diversity balance:
“Hackerdom is still predominantly male. However, the percentage of women is clearly higher than the low-single-digit range typical for technical professions, and female hackers are generally respected and dealt with as equals.”
One might say we all made ESR the legend he was. We can all take comfort in the fact that there is a little of that hacker spirit in all of us. The mission of spreading open source will live on with the survivors to inherit the spoils of GandhiCon4.
With that, I bid you all a sad farewell. May the memory rest in peace.
Great article which applies to much more than just the computing field. As a former executive and veteran of several major organizations, including one Dow Jones 30 corporation, I’ve seen my share of many of the issues cited, from political correctness run amok to the leashes too many of us accept and wear much too willingly.
As employees, we need to get much better at setting our own boundaries and, as one poster said, that includes refusing to work for abusive employers. I know times are difficult but there are options to being intellectually and fiscally abused. I, for one, am tending bar.
“They centered on one thing: women, in general, are not willing to eat the kind of shit that men will swallow to work in this field.”
Sorry, that is NOT the reason there are no women in computing. It may be a small part of the reason … but just as many men don’t put up with the abuse either.
Discrimination is real reason for lack of women in I.T.
There is actually a solution to this problem which has been proposed many times: programmers should form a labor union and strike when their employer mistreats them It’s proven very effective for other professions in the past.
Ironically, the quote at the top of this blog entry was “If it can’t be expressed in figures, it’s not science it’s opinion”….
Every discussion I’ve seen about women in computing misdiagnoses the issue horribly.
I’m a math PhD student whose work is applied enough to cross over into computer science, so I have some grounds to comment on this. The problem with these essays is that they miss the key point about women in computing. Namely, that the number of women getting undergraduate and graduate degrees in computer science is DECLINING, while the number of women studying all the other sciences, including math, is rapidly increasing.
So I see explanations like “Women have lower mathematical ability” or “male-dominated fields discriminate against women” or “women would rather focus on having kids than spend all their time at work”, and these are all generic explanations that can equally be applied to any scientific field. Except that computer science really is different.
My own theory is that programming is almost unique in that it’s almost always self-taught. Hackers usually started out fooling around on their computers as teenagers. And smart teenage girls are much more likely than smart teenage boys to focus all their effort on work that can be recognized by adult authorities — getting straight A’s and being track captain and paper editor — than putting a lot of effort into something “just for fun.” There’s something mildly anti-authoritarian about spending all your time on something the grownups don’t give a hoot about. I *was* one of those goody-goody teenage girls, captain of everything, etc., and programming just wasn’t a priority; math and science were, because they were taught in school. So it never occurred to me to major in computer science — which is why I’m now teaching myself all the stuff I probably should have learned a few years ago.
” to piss away years hunting mammoths that aren’t there” — so funny :)