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Ask YCNews: Any lady hackers using the site?
24 points by pchristensen on Jan 21, 2008 | hide | past | favorite | 103 comments
I just realized that I assume all of the users here are guys. I sure hope I'm wrong. Any ladies want to speak up? While girls are few in number in CS, they usually have valuable insights.

Hi there. I use the site pretty religiously. I hope that my comments are insightful.

I know a few girl hackers. They do mention a lot of what might be called 'social friction'. In some cases, they stay around through undergrad because computers are a really magical, flexible medium.

The good news is that we like a lot of hackers and scientists and technical people. They're interesting. Other fields have their human debris, too. Lawyers have frat-boys. Lit-majors have bullshitters. But rarely do other fields have people getting together to make things, and that's just a lot of fun. :-)

Gentlemen, we have our first lady to speak up! Let's take a sample and see if the "insightful comments" thing holds up:

"I read somewhere that the blockbuster title 'Gears of War' had only about half a million lines of C++ code"

"We're starting a startup in computer vision. We're deploying across the web, but that's just because it's the cheapest distribution mechanism."

"I asked: in principle, if these black-boxes handled all the trades, where would the decision to trade or not come from."

"I asked if it was moral to play such a risky game with the economy."

"my most productive periods (in the sense of producing something) have all involved some kind of death march"

"The concept of sending electricity wirelessly has been imagined, but nobody had come up with a decent way to avoid the losses except by using an actively controlled beam method."

All of these were in the last 3 weeks. I'd say they definitely qualify as insightful. Glad to have you, DaniFong.

I have a lot of respect for women who like the idea of building novel applications but don't want to get their hands dirty with the programming/computer science involved.

This is kind of like architects who want to design buildings but would rather leave implementation details to engineers.

That's the way it should be.

Well, that's the way it often is. But I hesitate to agree that it's the way it should be. I try not to shy away from implementation myself, and I think there's a lot of benefit to exposing oneself to details.

To quote PG: "In principle you could make any mark in any medium; in practice the medium steers you. And if you're no longer doing the work yourself, you stop learning from this."

I speak for myself, but this true almost everywhere. Small changes in the resistance of medium, and in the convenience of doing one thing or another, often lead to drastic differences in the sort of things people create.

I heard that someone actually managed to play 'Flight of the Bumblebee' on Trombone. I'm not sure I can impress upon you how difficult that sounds -- there are like 5 notes per second, each requiring precise intonation, and it never lets up long enough for the poor soul playing it to breath. Apparently, it can be done. But I'm almost certain nothing of the sort would have been composed on it.

Programs are often the same way. Sometimes, the idea doesn't occur to you until you understand how to implement it. Or, as the case may be, until you actually implement it. I read that Scheme was in part an attempt to implement an Actor model. When they implemented lexical closures and actors, they discovered that the implementations were the same!

If the medium steers you, then that's not a good thing and you need to fix the situation.

For example, if writing by pen tends to force you to write a novel in a particular way that is undesirable, then fix the situation (e.g., use a word processor).

As a creative individual, you should be the one calling the shots.

Sometimes, while 'creating', it's less like trying to cast my visions onto some medium and more like an exploration. Sometimes it's more fruitful just to let myself be guided by my impulses, my abilities, and the medium. I don't know if it works for everyone, but it works for me. One might worry that I'm being commanded by the medium, but what I make seems to be original, anyway.

I actually prefer writing by pen. It's more fluid. And since things can't be easily rewritten, you give a bit of thought before you commit something, and are always driven forward.

Knuth et al. notes, in an article on technical writing (http://tex.loria.fr/typographie/mathwriting.pdf):

"Towards the end of the editing process you will need to ensure that you don't have a page break in the middle of a displayed formula. Often you'll simply have to think up something else to say to fill up the page, thus pushing the displayed formula entirely onto the next page. Try to think of this as a stimulus to research!"

A pen sometimes functions in the same way. And if I find it's results undesirable, then I'll try not to think of it as a problem to fix, and rather as looking for a new medium to explore.

While limitations of the medium may help you be more creative, it doesn't mean that the same holds for me or most other people for that matter.

If, for example, you can find a scientific study that demonstrates that people are more creative with a pen than a word processor, then I would be interested.

For me, one should strive for ideas that transcend the particulars of existing mediums. Such ideas are more likely to be influential in the long term.

> I have a lot of respect for women who like the idea of building novel applications but don't want to get their hands dirty with the programming/computer science involved.

It seems to me that you were making an assumption that didn't fit the parent poster's actual circumstances. (Not entirely fair, since I have the benefit of hindsight and having read her reply. ;-)

I have a lot of respect for people, regardless of gender, who actually know how to do things, so perhaps my bias is showing. (Don't worry: the "big picture" ideas guy, and the fluff-spinning Ph.D. who can't code to save his life, both earn an equal share of contempt. Partly because they're basically the same person. :)

But I really couldn't bring myself kowtow to either of them even if they happened to be female, which, frankly, is partly why reading your post leaves me feeling a bit repulsed. (Sorry, I know this sounds awful, but I can't think of a gentler way to accurately phrase it).

> This is kind of like architects who want to design buildings but would rather leave implementation details to engineers.

> That's the way it should be.

All the really interesting architecture of recent decades has been done by architects who could think like artists and engineers.

Your ideal architect reminds me of the stupid king in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who disregards the "implementation details" and builds his castle on a swamp.

Definitely not the way it should be.

> It seems to me that you were making an assumption that didn't fit the parent poster's actual circumstances.

I wasn't referring to the poster's circumstances.

> All the really interesting architecture of recent decades has been done by architects who could think like artists and engineers.

Do you have a reference?

> Do you have a reference?

Sure: tautological by my definition of "really interesting" ;-)

I recently had an intriguing conversation with a female friend who is starting a CS program, after spending years in another field.

She's about as used to "geek culture" as a person can get, but even she finds the people in CS to be overwhelming. Her take? CS departments need to focus a bit less effort on attracting women (a task which fundamentally defines them as different), and a bit more effort on repelling socially retarded men (who really are different). I can't say that I disagree. CS is the last refuge for some really damaged people; I get sick of it too.

IMO, CS101 should be a mandatory class on hygiene and social skills for people who already know how to program.

> a bit more effort on repelling socially retarded men

What would she suggest? Gaswagen?

A lot of what gets called "social retarded" behavior results from high-functioning autism, and isn't really curable. Working with computers is a final refuge for many people who for one reason or another are treated like revolting mutants by the rest of humanity.

So instead of having highly rewarding and productive computing careers, these socially retarded men should do what instead? Become criminals perhaps?

I don't accept your premise. Very few people have highly rewarding and productive careers when they are socially retarded. Inversely, a little social etiquette never hurt anyone.

The culture of computer science is currently unique, in that it gives the seed of antisocial behavior a fertile place to take root. That doesn't mean that antisocial behavior should be encouraged or accepted.

Maybe there's a good reason why so many computer programmers are antisocial. Maybe it takes an antisocial person to devote the enormous amounts of time and effort required to write non-trivial programs.

Also, computer technology may make most people anti-social. Consider for example flamewars that would never take place off-line.

I don't know if I buy that, either...is jwz anti-social? pmarca? pg? Joel (of on-software fame)?

My personal experience has been that the best programmers have a large personality overlap with the best visual artists and musicians. That's not necessarily well-adjusted (crazy intensity and burnout often go along for the ride), but it's not anti-social either...certainly, you can't very well argue that artistic careers are unappealing to women!

In any case, my gut instinct is that computer programmers tend to be anti-social, because anti-social people are drawn to careers that involve minimal human interaction. The computer gives anti-social tendencies room to grow, but I don't think it causes the problem.

You're retarded if you don't think that programming is one of the most anti-social activities in existence. You only know of those people you list because they are successful writers. That has absolutely nothing with how good they are at programming.

Further, if you think that schools have an substantial share of the blame for women getting into programming, then your misunderstanding of the topic is even greater.

Thanks for providing a great example of what we're talking about, Steve.

thanks and I'm not steve.

Why? Experts in other fields have no reputation for being socially retarded, and yet they must have to devote enormous amounts of time and effort as well. Do you think da Vinci allowed himself to become socially retarded so he could focus on drawing and inventing, or that Erdos decided to isolate himself from other people so he could work on math? (Which he didn't, he wrote many collaborative papers. Hard to believe someone socially retarded could publish so many papers in collaboration.) Unless you have proof that programming is harder than becoming a great musician or mathematician?

Your premise doesn't make much sense anyway. I think a lot of simple social skills are picked up early, at a young age, before you start fanatically devoting yourself to whatever occupation you choose. I can understand it if you're not a smooth talker and even a little rude, but some of the social mistakes I've witnessed are simple ones like following me back to my room when I've stopped making eye contact and responding to their conversation. Like--FTW, following me back to my room?! When I've stopped talking to you? I really do not think you have to sacrifice a deep understanding of recursion to grasp a basic point like eye contact.

I also disagree with your last sentence. Social retardation is relative, not absolute, and social skills exist online, too.

Where I work there are like 25 guys and only one girl(She is super smart and pretty). We have been trying to hire girls but we can't find any. For some reason they don't want to be programmers. That is very unfortunate.

I feel badly for her, for you just mentioned her attractiveness when it has no relevance. Perhaps when we (being the male gender we) start considering females' intelligence as the _only_ factor and not half of the equation things will change.

Out of the 26 coworkers, you mentioned the physical attributes of the one female.

Sorry to pick on your one quick post, but it is just very representative of our society's lingering gender gap.

I think it has some relevance, because it shows that being in IT does not imply unattractiveness. Talk about unattractiveness of male geeks is quite common, too.

Also, I think it would be nonsense to deny our human attributes. Men are interested in women's looks, and vice versa. Actually, isn't it another complaint of successful women that to be successful, they had to become like men (a ka Margaret Thatcher)? So if a successful women is still attractive, it might be a good role model after all.

It isn't "human" it is "cultural". Still shouldn't deny it, but it can and will change. (And has changed a lot already!)

So you mean in other cultures looks don't matter? Maybe if the parents set up the marriages? Do you have any references?

I don't mean other existing cultures are different. (Although, there are differences.)

I mean it is a matter of culture (ideas) not "humanity" (DNA).

There are many reasons to believe this. Two are:

- memes evolve orders of magnitude faster than genes, so once they existed, they responded to almost all selection pressures first. anything with complex social interactions that require intelligence couldn't have evolved before memes (ie, before we had intelligence).

- people sometimes make changes to how they treat women, how they interpret appearances, to all sorts of related ways of thinking and behaviors. this points to culture because our ideas are designed to be changeable at runtime, and our DNA isn't.

Sexual attraction seems kind of important to the survival of humans, though. Or at least it used to be (cloning and stuff like that might change that).

Of course there are cultural aspects to how women are being treated. Granted, there could be cultures where people would not automatically remark on the attractiveness of a female colleague. For example, if all women are hidden behind veils, and infidelity can get you killed, maybe people are much more careful about what they say (just guessing, I don't know).

Before intelligence, there was no such thing as 'sexual attraction' in the current sense. There was only the exact same thing animals have: programs that behave in certain ways, based on certain inputs. Like a DARPA car steers left on certain input, an animal has sex on certain input.

With the advent of intelligence, came the ability for high-level interpretation of sense input -- we might say that events took on meaning. From a survival point of view, the ability to reinterpret arousal chemicals, and other things, was no serious danger: any culture that did that would die out. (And even if it was dangerous for the species, evolution doesn't do advanced planning of that sort.)

What we have today, and call sexual attraction, involves many layers of intelligent interpretation, which we (largely unintentionally) teach to the next generation -- ie, it is culture. If parents behaved differently, the meaning of sexual attraction would change.

Edit: By analogy, DNA = assembly language. We program in higher level languages. (Imagine programming in 500 years though, so it's much further removed from assembly). At some level of abstraction, the original details of DNA/assembly are totally irrelevant to the level we normally think in.

I remain skeptic. Sure, there are cultural signals we learn to interpret (short dresses, suits, marriage rings,...), but on a basic level, for the most part, women will be attracted to men and vice versa? Diseases will be repellent, as will other attributes of unfitness? You think you can raise men to be gay? (I don't know). Surely there is a lot of research on that, but the final word is perhaps not out yet?

People do raise men to be gay. Happens all the time. A few percent of parents do it (I don't know any reliable statistics). Not on purpose, sure, but parents don't raise straight kids on purpose either. (Yes, people try to "make their kid straight" occasionally, but there's no evidence the things they do actually have the intended effect.)

I definitely think one day we will learn how to analyze what parents do that causes men to turn out gay, and be able to copy it (or not).

However, I won't be surprised if the answer is: all present-day parents enact parenting strategies capable of causing homosexuality, but they only behave to cause it (unintentionally) when triggered in the right way (i.e., by some characteristic of young children other than homosexuality itself).

Just ask 10 guys and 10 girls what they think the average IT/programmer girl looks like and you'll see why it was a useful observation. Both men and women put emphasis on women's looks.

That will never happen. Read any book on evolutionary psychology to find out why.

I think girls tend to be more social than guys, thus less inclined to be lurking on yc all day...and may I note that no female has seemed to respond here yet...

admit it kids! hanging around on yc isn't helping us get laid! ;)

Current stats on this thread:

Mentioning dating: within 1 hour of original post

Mentioning getting laid: within 7 hours.

I was afraid this would happen, I just hoped it would take longer. Please lets be polite.

Is it impolite to talk about dating and getting laid?

Marriage was also mentioned, but I guess it won't appear in the list.

Hah, I'd say that the girls are fortunate. My life of programming is not so enjoyable at all. I just do it because I have to accomplish something big. I guess it's like being a pirate.

He he, I was kind of thinking the same thing: in my (jaded) opinion, girls are more likely to simply choose the career that is most fun, because they can always marry and have children, so no financial worries. So if few women choose programming, perhaps it tells us something about the job...

> I guess it's like being a pirate.

Being a pirate is an end unto itself!

Speaking as a member of the homogametic sex, I've been lurking on news.ycomb for a few months now. About the time I was considering speaking up on an algorithms topic, this appeared as a leading link: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=99255. The comments included such insights as "where can I get me some of that" and "those chicks aren't hot enough for the likes of me."

Now the use of "lady hackers" has raised my hackles as well. (See the American Heritage Book of English Usage for a deft explanation of why: http://www.bartleby.com/64/C005/021.html.)

I keep lurking because the community here is small enough to wash up a few pointers I wouldn't otherwise find. But, gentlemen, I take my insights where they're welcome.

As someone who never studied much biology, I must thank you for adding the word "homogametic" to my vocabulary.

>But, gentlemen, I take my insights where they're welcome.

Where is that? And... I would tell you to give the community a chance and all that, but I'll let you make up your own mind.

YC is not perfect. But which places are considerably better?

Certainly there are places where people focus narrowly enough on the topic for gender never to come up. But, that's probably true on YC too. Go to a different thread, make an on-topic post, and you can probably even post under a female sounding name with no one noticing.

Does it really matter? (See if you can infer my gender from this question alone.)

There are 5 females in my company's R&D, comparing to about 30 males. That was way better than at my previous employer, where I was the only female in the 25-person team.

I'd say it does. Maybe not specifically to yc, but overall for the industry. Not that the prevalence of women is directly proportional to a given field's success, but it's like money: having more than someone else doesn't mean you're better, but if you don't have any at all, you're probably fucking up somewhere.

It would definitely be more motivating to go to work every day if there were some female colleagues.

I think it matters. A more diverse group of people will make the conversations more interesting. The same way that it is good to have hackers from many countries.

This topic matters because it is a natural extension of those, quite thought stimulating, lists of traits of the best programmers. Lots of stereotypes are held merely for lack of data. Lets put more data on the table.

I'm yet another one, though I don't spend much time on yc; I spend more time on reddit and slashdot (not under this name), and actual coding.

This subject is a huge can of worms.

On the one hand you'll have members of a largely-male audience say that there should be more women in CS and that the industry is extremely sexist. They'll say women are wonderful.

Then you have the people who agree and say women are great and sexually attractive.

You have the people who complains at this objectification and say that it's people like these that are responsible for gross gender inequalities.

Then you have the people who point at IQ research.

Then you have people that question the validity and conclusions of the research.

You then have extreme self-righteousness. Then there's blatant sexism.

Then someone mentions Carla Fiorina as a good example, but someone says she didn't deserve her success.

You get people trying really hard to put a finger on why they think men are better hackers without sounding like bigots. They can lie on either sides of the spectrum of intellectual honesty. When scientific studies are mentioned, they can be rationalizations of bigotry or attempts at honesty and open-mindedness.

I hope I didn't overrepresent the point of view of any of the many sides of the argument. I've looked over this post and alternated the order of the points of view in the sentences and paragraphs above. However, I feel really weird about this discussion. I suspect that no matter how hard I try to talk about these issues without taking a stand with regard to politically incorrect subjects, I'm going to look like an asshole if I don't ultimately rule in favor of the politically correct viewpoint. But if you go so far as lying about your viewpoints in order to look politically correct, you're a bullshitter, and no less of a bigot. On the other hand, being too concerned about the dangers of political correctness might actually make me more prejudiced. What worries me is that there might not even be a safe zone between being a bullshitter and being a bigot. It might be impossible to add to this topic without being either a bullshitter, a bigot, or a little of both. But then, every person with an opinion on the subject would be an asshole in some shape or form, and that doesn't seem reasonable. There should be a safe zone. Of course, if you believed every politically correct statement, and you expressed those views, you'd be fine. But how common is this? Who can say they're totally unbiased? Should we only let he (or she) who is without sin cast the first stone? If we did things this way, though, guilty parties would avoid getting a stoning they may deserve.

It's a can of worms. There's not a lot you can say without someone going ad hominem on you.

It is not a bad idea to put this kind of question on Hacker News; it is supposed to be an open forum about what things interesting to hackers. But because it is an open forum, try not to wantonly go around chastising other posters.

As a reader, you should know what you're in for when you choose to read this link. People can say whatever they want, and they will. Sometimes they'll be too politically correct, sometimes they won't be politically correct enough. On top of that, there's the bullshit from both sides. You might end up reading something you'll find personally hurtful. But then, this is a forum. People have been asked not to be mean, and for the most part they'll try not to be. But if you don't want to risk being hurt, don't go into the forum.

I didn't write this very well. I apologize. I wound up being pedantic, too. And I said some things that might cost me. But I can't keep rewriting this and make semantic barricades that I can later hide behind. I can't censor myself based on what future employers and people like that might think when they google me.

"there should be more women in CS and that the industry is extremely sexist."

I don't think the industry is extremely sexist at all. If anything, it's incredibly equalizing. I do web design, code in XHTML/CSS, and manipulate PHP/ASP/JavaScript -- it's how I make my living. I don't think any other field has such an emphasis on raw skill and talent, and if anyone demonstrates the ability to do it, the field welcomes it.

I took only one course in CS, got a fluff degree in liberal arts, and can never call myself a "hacker" because I'm just a code monkey, but I've been attracted to the technology / computer field since I was 12. A lot of things here are interesting to me, so I read this daily (and sometimes resubmit to reddit if it hasn't already been submitted).

If a woman wants to make it in this field through her looks, wit and charm alone, she won't. She can't expect the fact she's female to give her any edge whatsoever, just like the men in this field do not expect to be given breaks because of their maleness. If she wants to make it through her skill, ingenuity, problem-solving ability and willingness to learn new things, she'll do just fine.

Many successful women in technical disciplines say just what you've said here. A favorite teacher of mine did a Ph.D. in math in the 1940s when she was typically the only woman in the room. In the 50s she worked at the Institute for Advanced Study and in the 60s with Tarski at Berkeley. She's been asked countless times by journalists and women's groups to talk about barriers and sexism she faced and has always said that it wasn't that way, that the men in the field were delighted to talk math with her and supportive of her work. She also says that if her parents had ever urged her to be a mathematician she would have immediately gone off and designed furniture or something.

If women are interested in programming, they should have a fair shot. But there's a culture that goes with every activity, and that culture can attract people or it can drive them away. We need to look at our culture and decide whether it is fair and practical, not whether or not it appeals to "women". The second question is totally meaningless - it's 50% of the population! So I stay, stick to the basics. Evaluate ideas on their merits, evaluate work on the circumstances and result, and evaluate people on their ideas and on their work. Stick to that. And if you really want more women in the field, get mothers to tell their bright daughters to go be programmers or computer scientists instead of doctors or veterinarians. Honestly, it will have a hell of a lot more of an effect than anything we can do.

"get mothers to tell their bright daughters to go be programmers or computer scientists instead of doctors or veterinarians" - there's the best answer yet. Impossible to implement universally, impossible to resist if implemented effectively.

Bright children comply with what their parents tell them to "go be"?

A statistically significant portion would. If nothing else, it changes the perceived value that a given career has to know that it's what your parents aspire to.

I think grown up men are statistically better hackers than women and children. Sexist, ageist, true. Anybody have scientific evidence for equality? Before replying, please make extra sure that your argument works for women, but not children.

>Before replying, please make extra sure that your argument works for women, but not children.

That's a very good point, one that I've made in the past. If you try it with a slightly less intelligent crowd than YC, you will get the following response:

"How dare you compare adult women to children?"

Wow, a comment so long it needs a summary. Here's the condensed version: It takes lots of practice to be a good hacker. Young (HS) girls have more pressure to be popular, which takes time away from recreational hacking. Older (college and above) girls are at a disadvantage because they didn't start young. They get discouraged and major in something else. Repeat over a statistically significant population and voila! Also, kids haven't lived long enough to accrue the practice.

Long version:

I'll bite. While we can't how much of hacking (or anything) is because of innate abilities and how much is from practice, most of the research I've read says that excellence in any field comes from sustained (years) of meaningful practice. This means that even if you're really smart, you need to spend lots of time to be really good. And no matter how smart you are, if you don't spend time on something, you won't accidentally get good at it. (nothing controversial so far)

So I'll make the claim that if men are statistically better hackers, it's because they're statistically more likely to have spent more time hacking (solve the children question). It also explains why people in their 20s who have hacked meaningful projects are better than older, more "experienced" 9-to-5ers who do the same types of things over and over again and don't expand their knowledge and experience.

As for women, I would say that women statistically find greater rewards for pursuing other interests than computers. More to the point, I would say that there is more pressure for girls to be attractive and popular than for guys, and greater consequences for not being so. This both cultural and biological, and I believe that much of it is because most girls have to be asked out by guys. So, average girl needs to be popular, and as pg explained in "Why Nerds are Unpopular" (http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html), being popular is a lot of work. So much work that it crowds out everything else.

Fast forward to college, and girls that would then want to learn computers are at a disadvantage to guys that have been hacking for years because they didn't bother taking the time to be popular. They're mentally capable but years behind in practice, and it makes them feel inadequate, so they choose a different major. Note: this also works for guys that didn't hack in high school - they're at a disadvantage to those who did, no matter how smart they are. Most people don't like discouragement so they go somewhere where that makes them feel better.


Societal pressure has been ongoing for a long long time in favor of women being popular and practical - perhaps long enough for there to be actual evolutionary selection in favor of women who are disinterested in abstract thought v/s more people-oriented thinking.

Taking this to a logical (although politically incorrect) conclusion - women would just not be as equipped as men (in the general case) to do stuff like hacking.


Why "bite"? You're not disagreeing with anything I said, you're giving reasons, and I think you're right on. Within this theory, do you have any thoughts on how to get more women hacking?

Maybe "I'll rise to the challenge." I thought "I think grown up men are statistically better hackers than women and children" was a question that begged to be answered and I thought I'd try my best. Any thoughts, hmm.

I don't know if stuff like this (http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2007/12/YE_sexy_...) is helpful or not. On the one hand, it shows that you don't have to be ugly or frumpy in order to like computers, but it also doesn't do much to lessen the expectation that women should always be beautiful.

I don't have any practical ideas, just stuff like 1) give every little girl a hacker/geeky dad, 2) give every elementary school kid teachers that love and can clearly teach math, and 3) convince high school kids everywhere that computers are cool. Gonna happen soon, right?

As a college educated white male, I know all too well how it feels to tread lightly on gender (and race). And since this is Hacker News, I figured there would be lots of debate. When I posted the original question, I just wanted to see if there were any women. So far 2 have spoken up (one appeared to be a lurker who registered to comment on the discussion). I don't know how many total active users there are (~500 who comment?) so I hoped there would be 5-10. Thought it would be cool anyway. Thanks everyone for the great discussion!

The solution to this problem is simple: stop telling various groups of people what they should do with their lives.

Anyone who has talent and is a hard worker will probably succeed anyway.

Males have a strong "play ethic". This, I think, explains why it's largely men who become world-class hackers. The male play-ethic has less to do with brains or ability, and more to do with desire and a compulsion to play with technology as a means of having fun. Women rarely exhibit this sort of behavior.

I don't think the industry is particularly sexist.

Kudos for trying hard to be even handed with a "you can't talk about it" subject. Difficult even on hacker news.

people are talking about it. there are much more difficult subjects.

Let's hear them!

if i try to give you an example, one of two things will happen:

- i will seriously offend you

- i won't seriously offend you

so either you'll hate me, or think i'm wrong. i don't see how i can win.

I don't think I "offend." I seriously can't think of anything that offends me. I might consider you immoral though, say if you thought genocide was a good idea or something. But, I'd do this on principled grounds and explain why.

However, many people's profiles are linked to their real selves, so this isn't a non taboo area for them.

An interesting issue is that what you can or cannot say, depends a lot on how you say it. If you talk in a way that is easy for people to ignore, you can get away with almost anything -- people just won't pay enough attention to understand what you meant.

At the other extreme, if you take ideas that are currently say 90% accepted, and you talk about them in such a way that the other 10% feel strongly pressured to change their minds, you can seriously offend them. You can generate resentment, by saying there is no reasonable middle ground, and the wrong view is wrong, and elaborating in detail on how bad it is, and why it's so bad, and how they are hurting their friends and family and themselves by not changing their mind, etc... Even if all that is true, and even if there do not exist any half-decent arguments for the 10%-and-declining view.

You can even offend people who agree with you, but who think you're putting it too strongly, or something. Even if they have no rational reasons for saying your claims are too strong. They may not even consider it a matter of truth, but instead a matter of being nice, or something. Most people think that way, some of the time.

What you are actually talking about matters too. On some subjects, it is easier to trigger defensiveness, on others, harder. So there are some "least possible to say" things, and they are a lot worse than discussing sexism.

PS I think you may have a typo with that double negative isn't + non.

I'll try to talk to you in private, then. The added constraint of writing for everyone else is too hard. Send contact info to curi@curi.us

> so either you'll hate me, or think i'm wrong. i don't see how i can win.

He could be seriously offended, but then not hate you. He might realize you were right, and be glad to find out.

Or if he isn't offended, he might still recognize that many other people would be. He might also consider whether he would dare say it, and discover he wouldn't.

So those are two ways you could win. However, in both of those cases, while you'd win with yters, you'd lose with a majority of the audience. You could only win with a majority of the audience if you said something that can be safely said on Hacker News (and thus you were wrong).


of course there is safe ground: the truth.

you don't have to actually be right, you just have to have the truth as your only motivation, and then no one can fault you.

> you just have to have the truth as your only motivation, and then no one can fault you

Larry Summers could give you a few pointers about that...

There still exist people who (sometimes/on-some-issues) act and think unreasonably. Good ways of life do not reliably make these people like you. That is as it should be. Aiming to please them would be a mistake.

Meanwhile, you'll notice nothing all that bad happened to him. He wasn't assaulted. He wasn't put on trial or sent to jail. All that happened is some people he did business with found out that he and they disagree about a lot of stuff, and they realized they didn't want to do business with him anymore, and prefer he go do business with people more like himself. That reaction is so reasonable that it actually works whether you are in the right or wrong.

You might say his reputation was ruined. But that's not true. I think well of him now, and didn't think of him at all before. His reputation simply became more accurate, which, on the whole, tends to be a good thing.

BTW, I say all this while happening to disagree with him about one of his major points, about gender differences contained in our DNA. I think he's wrong about that, but I also think he was interested in the truth, so I praise him anyway.

Edit: According to wikipedia, both students and donors supported Summers more than not.

> nothing all that bad happened to him

most people would characterize "getting smeared on pretty much all major media outlets" and "forced to resign" as pretty bad.

> He wasn't assaulted. He wasn't put on trial or sent to jail

"you probably won't go to jail" is a pretty far cry from your original post, that "no one can fault you."

He got faulted bigtime.

He pretty much got ousted by the faculty. Harvard lost hundreds of millions in alumni donations because they were upset Summers was treated this way.


No one reasonably can fault you. No one published reasonable explanations of why/how he'd done anything wrong. No one said anything that would be embarrassing or difficult to explain to his friends. No one said anything that would weigh on his conscious.

He clearly was in the wrong job, for a man like himself. He should aim his life more towards cooperating with people he considers decent human beings. A push in that direction, isn't so bad. The only reason he might not like it, is if he isn't focussed on the truth, and still has mixed feelings (sometimes preferring status, reputation with silly people, etc). Mixed feelings are not safe ground.

I see your point. Part of being the president of Harvard is never saying anything controversial, no matter how much the organizers of a conference push you towards it. I think it was Vartan Gregorian who said a University president could charm, but never offend.

You basically give up your freedom of speech.

Not that I know of. I think there's a lot of stigma on both sides. There may be stigma against women in chat rooms like this one, and women may have a stigma against becoming hackers. These are just hypotheses, of course, and by no means do they apply to all hackers or all women. They're just general trends I've heard cited. That being said, the ratio of girl haxxors to guy haxxors in my dorm seems to be getting better. It's like 1:4 where it used to be 1:7. Another problem is that hacking is not very glamorous.

It's definitely a bit of a mental block. A lot of girls who would love to be able to do things requiring hacking skills, but they don't want to actually have to learn the foundational stuff, i.e, Data Structures/systems programming. They want to be able to jump from the intro-level courses straight to bioinformatics or graphics/multimedia courses, not because they think it's too hard, but because they almost feel like it's going to do something to them as a person.

"Yesterday, I gave a talk to our new cohort of Computational Media undergraduates about the CS classes that they will be taking. One student asked me about 3-D modeling, and I told him about our computer graphics classes. Then a young lady asked me a question that bowled me over, "If we don't take computer graphics and we get a Computational Media degree, is all that we can do is become programmers?" The last word just dripped with disdain, as if that was a mid-level in Dante's vision of hell." --Mark Guzdial

> The last word just dripped with disdain, as if that was a mid-level in Dante's vision of hell.

That's dead-on. It is exactly that.

One thing I really liked about MIT was that there were plenty of women studying computer science. It seemed as if the ratio were around 50/50.

50/50 for MIT at large. Nowhere near that in Course VI, though.

1:4!!! That's got to be a record. When I was in school, there were 4 girls in my entire year of CS. They were all TAs, and you know what? They were the best TAs.

Donna, http://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=donna

but she disappeared several months ago :) I assume she changed her nickname not to be abused by nice looking hackers using this site. I think the problem is that PG doesn't allow us to publish our photos, so your question could be inspiring for him :) YC.news => Hacker.news => YC.Hacker.Dating.news

Why talking about women needs to bring along dating? No wonder women hide away.

I believe the answer lies somewhere in our DNA. Please direct your complaints to Mr. Darwin.

Hey, don't shoot the messenger.

Why not ? that's totally counterproductive, but so distressing :)

I get it now. Darwin designed our DNA. Intelligent design, and Darwinism, are both right.

...I'm kind of taken aback by how clever that is. I wish I could upvote that many times.

What is it about geeks that turns women off? Is it merely the social maladjustment?

We males tend to adjust our behaviors based on what women find sexy, which is partially why universities used to be male only. Geekiness correlates with good intellectual work, but as mentioned, women don't like it.

Which also makes me think that the key to guiding society is by defining what women find sexy.

I like geeks. I'm not a very good geek myself, but I can mostly follow the technical discussions, with lots of Googling.

I can't speak for other women, but I hate it when people exhibit a lack of social skills, and it especially infuriates me when they're not funny or overly shy.

Aside from confidence, health, social skills, and ability to entertain and amuse, I think the only thing society can define about male sexiness is the prestige of his financial prospects. Perhaps some other woman will have more input.

I'd say the definition of sexiness has changed. Now "sexy" is dashing, promiscuous, childmen. The qualities essential for good families are not considered very sexy, whereas they used to be moreso.

OMG a woman on the internet. Pix plzzz!!!

Unfortunately, repeating an ill meme, particularly in a way that seems as if you are falling into the trap isn't particularly ironic or clever, it's just socially awkward.

I understand what you're going for, but it doesn't accomplish your goal, and it just continues a stereotype rather than working to create an environment that's conducive for discussion.

I understand that, and I normally am not the kind of person to say such things, but I thought it was rather meta-ironic, considering the xkcd comic...

edit: unless, of course, you were trying to be meta-ironic too...

The problem is, these ironies and meta-ironies are just as old, trite, tiring, and grating as the same thing meant seriously. Believe me, meta-irony on this topic has been done before, many times, and not only based on the irony of an xkcd comic.

It might be the first time you do this, and you think it's funny, clever, and 'meta-ironic' (oooh). I suppose it's somewhat like lists of jokes that people forward around: funny the first few times, and "I'm going to auto-killfile this" after a few years of hearing the same ones.

p.s. before you mod me down: http://xkcd.com/322/

Should tell you a lot about the kind of incorrect attention that women get in this site (and anywhere else in the internet, including chat rooms) the fact that nearly no women get an obvious female nickname.

Just imagine what would happen if you create a user whose name was "Laura". Try it.

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