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Next demographic: Gender and programming

I think this forum and perhaps forums in general are, by far, more male than female.  I think that the programming profession is the same.

My personal experience in a nutshell:  The women were better multi-taskers, managed detail better.  My most reliable and productive coders were female.  The men loved it more, get more satisfaction from it, and were more likely to talk about computers on break.

Terry Kearns
Saturday, January 12, 2002

Same thing at our place. There's one female developer in our company out of 6. She doesn't care much for technobabble, has a real life outside of work, and seems more consistently productive than the rest of us.

Johannes Bjerregaard
Saturday, January 12, 2002

could be a variety of reasons for this.  last i checked (1994), SAT scores in places like Mississipi were actually higher than Massachuttes.  the reason is that *fewer* students take them in Mississipi, and those tend to be the better ones.

programming tends to be a male dominated field-so the women that go into it probably have a very high aptitude.  the mediocre female programmers are more likely to drop out of the field because they don't have the comradeship and intagible workplace factors that keep mediocre male programmers in the biz.

(i felt the same way about male nurses back in the 80s when i was in emergency care a lot because of a childhood respitory problem.  back then, there weren't many male nurses, but the ones that were in the profession were invariabley the kindest and most considerate caregivers i encountered)

razib kahn
Saturday, January 12, 2002

There's been a lot of serious work done on gender and computing. Try:

- Ellen Spertus' page on Women and Computer Science,
- CPSR's Gender Page,
- Sherry Turkle's syllabus on Gender, Technology, and Computer Culture,

Any of those will get you to a deeper understanding of the issues than random "we have this woman in our department" anecdotes.

Mike Gunderloy
Saturday, January 12, 2002

I went through those links, and could find nothing explaining higher performance among women.

Some off the top of my head:

- Ender effect
These women in IT gain maturity that their male counterparts don't, by virtue of the little insults and problems which come up.

- Only top women survive
Razib Kahn's post.

- Pure superiority
This is pretty sexist and I won't go there.  It could very well be true, but this is a stupidly competitive way of looking at things and solves nothing.

Possible solutions:

- Telecommuting
From Mike Gunderloy's links, there are women who write CS papers under pseudonyms or just use initials.  Perhaps there are women who do the same for open-source projects.

When telecommuting is possible, it might alleviate some of the problems caused by intimidation in the workplace, and increase employee focus.

- Gearing companies towards both genders
Case study:  SAS

I believe this is the anonymous company profiled in Peopleware for having a large daycare center right in the middle of things.

Perhaps we should throw up our hands in thinking that equal people have identical needs.  Workplaces should be molded to people, instead of the other way around.  With SAS, apparently half of the managers were women.  I don't know about pure programmers, but this might be enlightening.

Easier said than done, when talking about a startup that doesn't have huge resources.  But perhaps there are inexpensive things that can be done.

- Societal change
People are tempted to give up, saying that the problems occur earlier in the pipeline.  What can one company do in the face of a society with millenia of sexism?

And the answer to that would be, not only does society change because of individual change, but making a more thoughtful workplace has great advantages of its own.  Not just for females, either.

Louis Rice
Sunday, January 13, 2002

If you had called this "Next Demographic: Sex and Programming" you would have gotten more replies . . .

A Nony Mouse
Monday, January 14, 2002

I am yet to meet a woman who knew as much techo "stuff" as many men that I know. I know they're not stupid (generalization), but I just think that they are not really interested (generalization). Of course their are exceptions, I have never met a single one.

Monday, January 14, 2002

One of my female coworkers, a very wise person with a small child told me, "My husband can do anything around the house that I can, but he can only do one thing at a time."  Sounds like the "zone" to me.

Another favorite:  Project management is something you have to teach people who aren't moms.

Monday, January 14, 2002

> One of my female coworkers, a very wise person with a
> small child told me, "My husband can do anything around
> the house that I can, but he can only do one thing at a
> time." Sounds like the "zone" to me.

Why would I want to do more than one thing at a time? That sounds stressful and inefficient: too many context switches. I prefer the classic scheduling algorithm of Shortest Job First, which has the provably shortest average time per job. Plus the short jobs are completed sooner than if I had interrupted them by working on longer jobs.

Monday, January 14, 2002

I think the point may be that women bear the heavier burden of nature, that is - child bearing and rearing.  Thus, nature must endow women with better multitasking talents.  Men get more focus, the "zone."

Exceptions to everything:  It takes all kind of animals to make a farm.

Monday, January 14, 2002

as a real live woman (not a programmer but  a cisco kid) i have noticed that many people in the industry are not necessarily "logical" or even particularly bright. they weren't necessarily good at math or science as students. they may have a love for technology, or they just stumbled into it as a good career and have managed to get by without much aptitude. i refer mostly to men just by nature of the demographics but i do meet women who are the same.
myself, i don't love the technology, but i knew it was a good career fit based on my life-long aptitudes: logic, problem-solving, math. frankly i think i have the potential to be better at it than most of the people i work with. 
as for the zone, who said it's only for guys?

jules k
Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Shortest task being superior to a context switch? Any programmer worth their salt knows that scheduling algorithms have tradeoffs and throwing a context switch in here and there can certainly make a job better done and a team better run (or a set of OS tasks achieved in a more timely fashion) in many situations.

But tying these apparent differences, like ability to multitask, to biology is dangerous. It's without strong basis as it is very likely socialized into women. But even the most liberal parents subtly cue their daughters to approach technology differently than their sons, and the CS curriculums and culture -- as many have said -- have been defined by men. I think it's time that we took the women in CS, and the women who decided not to do CS, but had an aptitude for it, and asked *them* what needs to change because anyone who has been in the culture long enough is fundamentally limited in their ability to critique and see bias, no matter how good their hearts and intentions.

Lilly Irani
Tuesday, January 15, 2002

I think most women like to socialize and programming is not a social endeavor.  A number of girls said they didn't like programming because they would have to be in a room all by themselves and not get to deal with people very much.  Those women that like programming can handle the aloneness you need to be a good programmer.  Most men on the otherhand, don't necessarily need to be social.  Most endeavors that men are into are antisocial so programming is just another one.  I am a woman in computer science and I don't like programming at all.  Plus I am not good at it.  I do have the skills to find out what people need with regards to hardware and software and I can teach people how to use existing programs.  I like dealing with users, but I don't like being by myself trying to get a program to work.  Yet, I still love computers and I am good at what I do.  Does this make me a failure in computer science because I can't program?  I don't think so.  I think that we need to broaden our view of what computer science is besides programming.  Yes, we need good programmers, but we also need those people that can be a go-between between technology and the end user.  I think of my self as a technology facilitator.  Women are very good at doing that.

Stacey M.
Tuesday, January 15, 2002

I would disagree that programming is not a social activity.
From architecture, requirements gathering, feature descriptions, design documentation through support, interaction and collaboration with others are not only required but are crucial to success and customer satisfaction.  Softskills (i.e. interpersonal, verbal, presentation) enable anyone regardless of gender to succeed.  If  you are stuck in a room alone developing then you must be on a very small project.    Attention to detail is a talent that isn't exclusive to either gender.  I have worked with and for excellent people male and female.  This is just one person's opinion.

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

>> One of my female coworkers, a very wise person with a
>> small child told me, "My husband can do anything >around
>> the house that I can, but he can only do one thing at a
>> time." Sounds like the "zone" to me.

>Why would I want to do more than one thing at a time? >That sounds stressful and inefficient: too many context >switches. I prefer the classic scheduling algorithm of >Shortest Job First, which has the provably shortest >average time per job. Plus the short jobs are completed >sooner than if I had interrupted them by working on >longer jobs.

Why would anyone *want* to do more than one thing at a time?  You do it because you *have* to, sometimes.  Being a parent while running a household is a very common reason.

By the way, the simple SJF algorithm is not generally the best approach.  What about starvation?  You've got to at least have a priority value for each job and have it increase with time so the longer jobs get a chance.

Okay, enuf about OS design - I couldn't help myself!  I gues I'm one of those supposedly rare females who love engineering and math and technology.  I also love cooking, sewing and crafts, but my techno side is what got me into a computing career.

I'm still wondering why there aren't more women in this field (although the proportion of females has increased in other scientific fields)  and my informal impression is that it has a lot to do with culture.  I'd love to see some big, scientific studies on this.


Beth Koessler
Tuesday, January 15, 2002

My experience is similar to Jules K... I have worked both in the Cambridge, MA area and in Silicon Valley and was suprised at the number of "engineers" who are unqualified for the positions they are in, and don't have an aptitude for any sort of "problem solving" career at all. Computer related careers now seem to attract foggy thinking individuals who don't have the ability to think logically, they just think technology is "cool."  (read for an hour if you've been lucky enough to miss out on this type of person)

From this perspective, it isn't strange that women with an aptitude for a career in computing do not choose a computing career. A woman who is "smart and gets things done" can go off and be smart and get things done in other fields, and have the added bonus of not having to deal with the dork culture of software.  For the most part, the industry is composed of mildly retarded people who are fascinated by things like the differences in string types in different languages and honestly enjoy just farting around in front of a computer all day. Smart people who just want to solve a problem , then go home and enjoy the other aspects of life are going to end up disappointed and frustrated with a career in computing.
I think Philip Greenspun said it best, when he responded to "why are there so few women in computing?" with "Why are there so many men?" 


El Grumpo
Tuesday, January 15, 2002

re a comment made way up in the posts:
- Societal change
People are tempted to give up, saying that the problems occur earlier in the pipeline. What can one company do in the face of a society with millenia of sexism?

well, i can tell you what two companies have done. my first job out of technical school was at a help desk, our group was managed & supervised by two women. the company has an internal internship program where people try out a different job for 3 months. the helpdesk was a popular choice for bright, frustrated young people working in customer service, etc. my ex-manager invariably selects women for these coveted spots. if they perform, they are contenders when permanent jobs came up. in fact, i ended up working there because of my school's co-op program. the manager takes two students every semester, and again it's pretty obvious she favours females. word amongst the guys was don't even bother applying for the internship. so here's a case of obvious prejudice against men that i know has helped several capable, qualified women launch their careers in IT. i'd like to know what the guys think?
at my current company our (new) hr rep told me there was pressure to hire more women due to equity concerns, but that she was having trouble finding qualified women. nevertheless since she started, the stats have gone up from 2 women out of 40 people to 7 of us who are no less qualified than the guys. is it 'magic' that she found us where previous management didn't? all i know is that it makes for a much more comfortable atmosphere for me. I wish the demographics had been like this when i started, when i was very tempted to quit and go back to my fem-oriented helpdesk job, in part because of the constant need to prove myself to the guys, constant staring ("oh look, it's a girl!"), etc.
in both these cases it took women to create the female-friendly atmosphere. in one case it took some pretty extreme prejudice.

my question for you guys is, what are you willing to do to change the demographics?

jules k
Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Thanks El Grumpo for the Philip Greenspun link.  The post by Lili Griffin included the following statement that summarized the gender issue for me: "Without women role models in engineering and science, women will continue to choose women-friendly occupations. And the day that men are as comfortable doing secretarial jobs is the day that women will be as comfortable doing computer science and engineering jobs."

As a female IT professional (programmer/architect/analyst) who has always excelled in math and CS, I bristle at the suggestions that (a) the women who are in the field aren't really interested in technology, i.e. we don't have it in our blood, (b) the women who leave the field are wimps or idiots who just couldn't cut it, and (c) the men who sacrifice their social lives and proclaim themselves as "geeks" are by default excellent developers.

I happen to love my area of expertise (cryptography and security).  But it's been a lonely uphill battle.  I have never had any role models at work: although there are women in upper management at my current post, I am the only female techie in the entire department (this is a very large company).  I'm NOT one of those reactionary feminists who freak out over dirty jokes in the workplace, but the boys' club mentality definitely drives a wedge between myself and the rest of the team.  For example, I have seen male colleagues ogling and making lewd remarks about other women in the office.  And my current manager has made inexplicable jokes about me, suggesting that I am a lesbian or a man in drag (my boyfriend and other friends assure me that my appearance doesn't warrant those remarks).  If this is the prevailing atmosphere (it has been for me, from as far back as university), why would any woman want to stay in this industry?

Finally, to address (c): I have known many brilliant CS people of both genders, but I have also had the misfortune of cleaning up after astoundingly incompetent "geeks".  My former boss once interviewed a young man who boasted that he created a Shareware application, and attached it to his CV.  It promptly crashed the very first time we tried to run it.  These guys live and breathe computers 24 hrs a day, but they can't code for s**t.  And for some reason, people still hire them. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

if women can run good computer companies with "female-friendly" policies, they should try it.  i'm tried of this crap about "what are you going to do about it?"  most of the women i know in the IT industry are hard-nosed and mean bargainers.

i don't know that many programmers who love working ONLY around men.  i think most of us would LOVE to meet women.  i used to work in a biochemistry lab, and there were more women in there, but we always felt sorry for the physicists and envied the psychologists (mostly becaues of their better sex ratio and therefore better socialization).

i used to be pretty liberal (gotta say i don't have much time for politics anymore) and through high school and college i tried to convince my smart female friends to take physical science and math courses.  some of them obviously had the math aptitude, but they just kept saying they weren't interested.  not all, but enough that i got discouraged (generally after someone loudly told me to mind my own business), and some of them genuinely got irritated.

after a while, my conclusion is that people are responsible for their own choices.  yeah, parents give their kids cues and stuff like that.  but i was raised by religious muslims who believe in arranged marriage, and i've always been a pretty socially liberal atheist.  so i can see parents and culture as an explaination, but it gets tiresome as an excuse-plenty of ppl transcend their upbringing.  i also think there are genuine *average* biological differences.  i doubt the stats for male/female ratio are going to be as lopsided as they are forever.

but you're always going to have men and women in different professions at different proportions just by the fact that we are different biologically and that leads to different life experiences (pregnancy obviously).  i can't give reasons why that would lead men and women into this profession or that (yeah-you can throw all the stereotypes out-or couch it in sociobiology, or if you aren't into that culture theory then).  but it doesn't surprised me that there are average differences.

you can criticize the IT industry for being filled with dorks.  what are you going to do about it?  i think it's pretty obvious that only dorks care enough about arrays, strings and the lot to sit on their ass in front of a computer all day.  it ain't rocket science, but it's like the same crap as my g/f criticizing me playing for uselessly wasting time on my playstation 2.  i don't complain about how much of a waste of time shopping is (now that i'm into stereotypes).  us guys look like little kids to a lot of women-and maybe we are.

and a last point-whenever i listen to NPR and they're talking about 'turning women on to technology', they babble on about how classes and training needs to be more 'practical.'  they say stupid stuff like 'women want to *use* computers, men want to *play* with them.'  that's the whole problem with why a lot of women with lots of brains (my girlfriend for one-she's a good chemist!)-they always want to be practical.  they can USE a computer really well-but they never PLAY with it.  all the stupid useless crap that seems inane and obscure comes in handy later on.  it's like taking math classes that only do 'application problems' through examples ("Business Calculus" anyone?).  you never really learn the abstract higher concept stuff if you aren't willing to screw around with non-practical stuff.

so over and out.  all i can say is let us and be dorks.  we're good at it.  :)  and no offense, a lot of the women in the tech industry strike me as pretty dorky too!  so there are more male dorks-go figure?

razib kahn
Wednesday, January 16, 2002

I have noticed a number of hot shot boys that work in industry that still think that they are in college and can do the things they used to do in college like download hacker tools, pornographic pictures, video games, etc.  Most of them do not realize that they are working for a company that doesn't allow that kind of thing or they are ignoring their company's policies.  I wouldn't be surprised if they were using their company's computers to hack into other computers.  Remember that these activities can be traced over the network and the perpetrators can be identified.  I have never heard of a woman doing this kind of thing.  Maybe maturity is a factor in this. 

Stacey M.
Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Our industry, at least in the West, is fairer to human potential than ever.  By and large, talent, ambition, results, and people skills win out over other factors including gender.

But there are certainly sex differences.  Social barriers exist but aren't the whole story and probably aren't even most of the story.  Seeking 50/50 sex ratios for programming, nursing,  chess grandmasters, or PTA Boards is foolish.  Identifying, attracting, and nurturing talent is the goal.  Eliminating illogical barriers is wise.

Most systems work isn't about brilliance.  It's about managing boatloads of boring details.  Luckily programmers have frequent if brief moments of very satisfying brilliance: solving a problem, rooting out a bug, finding a nugget that leads to a solution, understanding an algorithm for the first time, selling a customer or project manager.  Good stuff.

Wednesday, January 16, 2002


> [...] but the boys' club mentality definitely drives a wedge between myself and the rest of the team [...] If this is the prevailing atmosphere (it has been for me, from as far back as university), why would any woman want to stay in this industry?

I feel a wedge sometimes; sometimes jokes or whatever are above me or beneath me. I feel a little more friendly towards some than others.

As for why you'd want to stay ... well, there's the pay, there's the work, etc.; and if you won't stay here, then where *will* you stay?


Christopher Wells
Wednesday, January 16, 2002

> my question for you guys is, what are you willing to do to change the demographics?

I'm willing to not take great notice of your name, if I read your resume. I'm willing to work. My mother and wife teach pre-school, that's OK with me. They see gender bias in their profession too. I'm willing to help out, but not to lose.

Christopher Wells
Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Well, I am a female programmer, and even though I am the only woman in the software department of our company, I never encountered gender related problems.

I would not have noticed the fact that I am the only woman in a team of about 20 programmers if this would not have mentioned to me as something special from day one of my employment here. In the job interview, one of the first questions I was asked, was: "Will it bother you to be the only woman?"

Well, why should it? Programming is great, working together with my colleagues is great, the salary is great, too. If I really need other women to talk to, I have friends outside of work (yes, I have a life, too) or hang around with the women from other departments (we have women in almost all other fields of work).

I cannot tell you, why there are so few female programmers. From my point of view and my experience, programming is a wonderful profession. I feel sorry for my fellow female programmers out there who seem to have experienced a lot of frustration in their jobs. It really does not have to be like this and surely is no reason to drop out of the industry, but it might be a reason to look for a better job.

Have fun,

Jutta Jordans
Thursday, January 17, 2002

uh huh.  right.  i'll tell you why i dropped out: i got sick of the office politics.  i got sick of my bosses saying things like "we realize you're a truly hot shit intelligent creative high-powered programmer, but what we need are team players" (a.k.a. drudges).  and, i got rich enough to bag it all and stay home.

if you want to attract and retain women you gotta treat them like Real Human Beings (tm), not cabbages or something.

Friday, January 18, 2002

interesting how many self-identified female posters here have sigs which do _not_ denote their gender!

Sarah Mould
Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Padon me for my unisex name, Terry.  I'm male.

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

The best project manager I have ever had the pleasure to work with, was a woman.

The most talented software developer I ever had the pleasure to manage in a software project was a woman. Highly technical, very talented and stunningly creative when it came to solve very very complex problems, which is something that very highly technical people often lacks.

Beka Pantone
Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Wise man once say:

"Man who walks sideways through airport turnstile, going to Bangkok"

Guy Incognito
Wednesday, January 23, 2002

I'm in the process of hiring a Jr. Network Admin. Due to a snafu, the initial job posting was more general than we require (i.e., about half the job requirements were dropped), so we got lots (approx. 250) resumes. Of those, only about 5 had names that were definately female, and maybe 10 more were possibly female. Only 1 woman made the resume cut for an interview (we are interviewing 9 out of the 250).

It seems a shame to me that women (in general) are excluded/exclude themselves from the workpool. It means that half of the potential talent pool isn't being used.

Ian Lowe
Wednesday, January 23, 2002

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