On someone's complaint about Google setting up a special grant program for women, OP writes:
This stinks of jealousy. Why not be happy for the female students? Why rain on someone else’s parade? Something good happening to someone else seems to disgust fringley. Frankly, it comes off as childish.
That's a terrible argument. Can't you say that about any form of discrimination? "So what if all the nice houses and neighborhoods and schools and drinking fountains and restrooms and universities are all restricted to white people? Can't you be happy for them? Why rain on someone else's parade?" There are good arguments to be made for reverse discrimination, but "can't you be happy for someone else?" isn't one of them.
I believe CS and Web Development currently select for certain masculine qualities that are largely unrelated to someone’s prowess as a coder. I believe it is these tangential code-cowboy qualities women are unable or unwilling to emulate, and not their skill or capacity for abstraction, problem solving, creative thinking, or communication — All of which actually make them better developers.
Then she lists a lot of code-cowboy vs. good-developer differences, involving things like "working in teams" and "understanding human elements" and "respecting people" (which are implicitly feminine traits, according to the OP, unlike the focused solitude that "code-cowboys" employ.) This is triply problematic--she dismisses out of hand the idea that men are better than women at abstract reasoning and such, but implicitly argues that the qualities of "good developers" are feminine and the qualities of "code cowboys" are both bad for development and masculine.
After all this, she complains that her talents were viewed as better suited to management, when all that supposedly-feminine stuff like teamwork and respecting people are important parts of management.
Incidentally, I think the reason for the gender gap is something she pointed out in all of this--women are less likely than men to engage in deeply focused solitary activities. Unlike her, I don't see the deep focus and solitude of programming as a bad thing at all--even if it does keep out women.
EDIT HISTORY: Added "There are good arguments to be made for reverse discrimination..." sentence.
Then she lists a lot of code-cowboy vs. good-developer differences, involving things like "working in teams" and "understanding human elements" and "respecting people" (which are implicitly feminine traits, according to the OP, unlike the focused solitude that "code-cowboys" employ.) This is triply problematic--she dismisses out of hand the idea that men are better than women at abstract reasoning and such, but implicitly argues that the qualities of "good developers" are feminine and the qualities of "code cowboys" are both bad for development and masculine.
I think that there is something ironic about someone using sexist reasoning to justify anti-sexist policies. While I may agree that it is probably difficult being a woman working in an industry dominated so strongly by men, she's not helping her case by pulling the same kind of crap of which she accuses men.
Actually, a better analogy would be African-Americans getting extra scholarships, to compensate for the relative lack of wealth their families accumulated. I certainly wouldn't begrudge this.
Whatever cognitive differences there are between the sexes, I think they're very minor. Do they keep people like Shakespeare from being considered great writers, though women are said to have stronger verbal ability?
Anyone reading Hacker News knows how important communication, teamwork and the human elements are, in real-world software development. We are not troglodytes who shuffle into the office at night to partake in an ancient ritual of becoming one with the Platonic forms. (Not most of us, at least.) The reality is more like Office Space.
In fact, it is strange to consider men good at even just the technical aspects of programming. Most apparently have a hard time solving basic programming tasks (a common complaint here). Lore abounds of programmers with intimidating resumes who turn out to have problems with basic datastructures. The software world looks less like a meritocracy, and more like a cushy office job that beats working at Wendy's.
"Actually, a better analogy would be African-Americans getting extra scholarships, to compensate for the relative lack of wealth their families accumulated. I certainly wouldn't begrudge this."
While I most certainly agree I've always wondered why they don't give the scholarships based on economic rather than racial conditions. Quite frankly, with the way that the US is right now, this would end up mostly benefiting minority families anyway and would be much more palatable to the general public.
That said, I grew up in a fairly well-off majority white suburb so I may not have the best handle on the situation.
Let me first say that you are right that her comparison of 'cowboy' vs. 'good developer' is completely ridiculous. Talk about her prejudices showing in conjuring up that straw man. I've never worked with any developer that fitted in the cowboy category, while most did their best to fit in the 'good developer' category. However:
Can't you say that about any form of discrimination?
She could, but that's not what she is saying. She's saying it about this form of reverse discrimination.
You implicitly assume 'forms of discrimination' are interchangeable and you consequently draw a completely skewed analogy. 'Female students in CS' are the party being discriminated against, while 'white people' are not suffering from discrimination (when compared to 'black people'; we're comparing in general; I'm not saying individual 'white people' don't ever experience discrimination: I'm saying it happens much when compared to the amount of discrimination black people suffer). That's why your argument is wrong: we're trying to offset discrimination against women here and we're not trying to defend the continued discrimination against some other party (note: you have to look at the situation before this particular instance of reverse discrimination is instituted: this instance cannot be defended by itself).
Let me repeat that: female students in CS are being discriminated against. Almost nobody is doing that on purpose, but research in discrimination against women is crystal clear on this. There are many cognitive biases in our culture that prevent women from entering CS and becoming successful in it. We need positive discrimination to offset those cultural biases. Someone complaining about the unfairness of 'women-only' grants fails to understand the deeprootedness of prejudice.
This, BTW, is a trap sophisticated men keep falling into. We tend to think there isn't much discrimination against women: after all, aren't we being completely fair against our female colleagues? The answer is simply: no, we probably are not, even if we do our best. The aggregate result of even very small amounts of prejudice are still noticable.
Fallacious arguments don't suddenly become good arguments when they're used to justify good conclusions. Hence, when I say "X is a bad argument for conclusion Y", don't interpret that as "I disagree with conclusion Y". In reality, I just hate sloppy reasoning.
When you say
That's why your argument is wrong: we're trying to offset discrimination against women here and we're not trying to defend the continued discrimination against some other party
you misunderstand my argument completely. You probably interpreted me as saying "reverse discrimination is morally equivalent to normal discrimination", but that's not what I said. I said that in particular, the argument that "you should be happy for the people benefitting from this discrimination" is a bad argument precisely because that argument does not distinguish between reverse discrimination and normal discrimination. "Can't you be happy for the people benefitting from this discrimination" is a fully general argument in favor of any kind of discrimination.
As I edited my comment to say at some point (I think before you responded), there are good arguments for reverse discrimination, but that isn't one of them. You've even provided some good arguments! And if you're in favor of this form of reverse discrimination in particular, then you should be even more diligent than I am in criticizing fallacious arguments for your cause.
When I say there are good arguments for reverse discrimination, that implies that there are moral differences between normal discrimination and reverse discrimination that a good argument will be able to pick out. If you say "reverse discrimination in favor of women is good because you should be happy for the women", that's a bad argument because the exact same logic justifies any sort of discrimination ever. If you say "reverse discrimination in favor of women is good because women are discriminated against and it needs to be balanced out", that logic can't be turned around to support ordinary discrimination at all. You can only make the case for reverse discrimination by pointing out how it differs from normal discrimination--asking "can't you be happy for the discriminated-for?" isn't an argument that does that.
EDIT: Merged paragraphs which seemed to repeat each other.
Well, there's the investigation linked in the article . This  is a review of various types of unconscious prejudices that people entertain and you could well imagine what the consequences are for women. However, if you want experimental evidence, then Googling 'experiment gender discrimination' (leaving out 'for' or 'against' on purpose), yields plenty  of  studies  that support the common assertion that women are continuously being discriminated against. Admission to, and opportunities within, CS is simply no exception.
I can't do any better than Googling it; that's what I did years ago when I was looking to verify that women really were being discriminated against, because I figured we would surely be past such barbaric behavior. Since then, I wised up on the fact that we're just not really that much in control of our behavior. I'm not a psychologist, but I do know how to find and apprehend research in such a domain. Meta-analysis studies are quite convenient :).
Near as I can tell,  provides virtually no data beyond opinion polls, certainly none showing discrimination.  is also an advocacy piece written by people with a vested interest in finding discrimination, since it will get them more funding/chairs/office space/etc.
 seems to be a review of psychology, but whatever data they have on discrimination seems to be buried deep within the article (I only skimmed it). I skimmed , but it seems to have virtually no data on women in computing at all, and what it has seems concerned primarily with the 90's or earlier.
Then I gave up. I think you should read your sources before posting them.
I don't see a single source which, e.g., shows women outperforming men at the same level, which would be fairly concrete proof of discrimination.
but it seems to have virtually no data on women in computing at all,
Are you asserting that we need to experimentally verify discrimination in every single new context one can think of? Usually, we generalize from other research: there is no reason to suppose CS is miraculously free of discrimination against women, considering the variety of areas in which this kind of discrimination has been shown exist.
I don't see a single source which, e.g., shows women outperforming men
at the same level, [..]
Why do you have to outperform others before you can be discriminated against? The fact that they are being discriminated against is in itself a reason why they are unlikely to outperform the others.
Usually, we generalize from other research: there is no reason to suppose CS is miraculously free of discrimination against women, considering the variety of areas in which this kind of discrimination has been shown exist.
There is also no reason to assume that all or most of the gender gap is caused by discrimination. If we generalize, we discover that lots of other fields (e.g., medicine, law) have sexism, but they also have 50% women.
Remember, we are asking what makes CS special.
Why do you have to outperform others before you can be discriminated against?
Suppose you are biased against green cars. You want to buy fast cars, and you generally only buy a car if it drives at least 80mph. However, since you hate green cars, green cars must drive at least at 100mph before you will consider buying one. Therefore, you will have plenty of slow (80-90mph) red cars, but your green cars will all drive at least as fast as 100mph.
Substitute "women" for "green", "men" for "red", and "productivity" for "speed", and you'll see the same conclusion applies to workers.
If we generalize, we discover that lots of other fields (e.g., medicine, law)
have sexism, but they also have 50% women
Firstly: in neither medicine, nor in law, are 50% of the graduate students women. Secondly: even when the number of students in the field is 50/50, that doesn't mean there is no discrimination. Here's a nice study about discrimination among students of medicine, the consequences of which you can guess.
Remember, we are asking what makes CS special.
No, that's what you are asking, because you assert that gender discrimination does not influence gender ratios in other studies and occupations, which is simply not true. Solely based on experimental observation of cognitive biases, it is extremely unlikely to be true. Women are always, everywhere, underrepresented in the top echelons. Even in nursing, there are more males in leadership roles than you would expect from the number of male nurses.
[..] and you'll see the same conclusion applies to workers.
Wait, what? The women have to perform better to be even considered and only if they are then rejected, then they are being discriminated against? It's the fact that they have to perform better in the first place that is the problem. You are already discriminating against green cars. That's the point.
(BTW, I did an experiment here: I upvoted your comment some time ago. I have a feeling that in a discussion of 'score 1' comments, bumping one of them to '2' precipitates upvoting of the '2' and downvoting of the others)
The women have to perform better to be even considered and only if they are then rejected, then they are being discriminated against?
You've completely misinterpreted what I said. Women overperforming at a given level is a consequence of discrimination, not a precondition. Discrimination is equivalent to a higher standard. If women (or any other group) are held to a higher standard than men, then they should overperform men.
Another (non-emotionally loaded) example: colleges have a higher academic standard for regular students than for football players, equivalent to discriminating against non-football players. As a result, non-football players tend to perform academically better than football players.
For this reason, I'd like to see a study that measures performance rather than opinion.
Oops, my mistake. The actual numbers are 49% and 49.4%.
Those are the numbers of applicants, not the numbers of students actually finishing their education, where women used to have a larger dropout percentage. But that doesn't matter: even if the same amount of men and women start and finish law school, that doesn't mean the women aren't being discriminated against. It may mean they are just working harder to overcome the disadvantages. That works in school, but it doesn't work in the workplace, as research shows, when it once again turns out that women in the exact same position as men earn less than their male counterparts.
If women (or any other group) are held to a higher standard than men, then
they should overperform men.
They probably do. However, it doesn't show, because their performance isn't rewarded equally. They may work harder work or have better brains, but they will not be rewarded accordingly, so there is no way to show, by position or salary, that they are better.
I'd like to see a study that measures performance
I feel that's rather like saying you'd like to a study that actually measures how a lack of oxygen causes death, instead of accepting that all kinds of laboratory experiments show that various part of the body can't do without oxygen. Men have discriminated women for centuries and it's impossible that we suddenly stopped doing that during the past century, as many experiments show. The only things that have disappeared are the egregious cases, where it is easy for anyone to point out there is discrimination. Now we can only show it through statistics.
I have the distinct feeling that I'm misunderstanding the point you are trying to make, because we seem to agree on many points. Must be some fundamental assumption about what we are discussing, but I can't put my finger on it :/.
Obviously anyone making any comment about this article is wandering into a minefield of appearing sexist. While I agree with the sentiment (attracting girls into CS is OK, putting some money at the end of a stick is OK, and CS will benefit from them being there), one of the points did bother me.
The first time I spoke at a conference, John Allsopp contacted me to ask if I would do it. I never would have submitted a proposal. You might say that I should have, but I would counter that I shouldn’t need to act like a dude to get respect.
To which I shall counter, but you should have. This is an attitude of entitlement. "I am not the way you work, but I am a girl, thus everything is much harder for me, so I am entitled to have people bend over backwards telling me how wonderful I am and flattering me by asking me to speak at a conference."
She makes the assumption that all men are speaking at conferences too; but they're not. Speaking at a conference is an honor. We've seen lots of stuff on HN about how people make their own luck. If people are hungry, they will make things happen. She wasn't hungry. She didn't want to speak. That's not a girl thing, that's just her. There are plenty of men in that boat too.
These articles, as alanh described, are almost always strewn with male sexism too. I'm sad to see that this one is the same way.
The wider question is not one of male/female, but of equality in general. Locker-room antics (of which I am guilty), work/life balance, teaching of the sciences and engineering in schools... these are all things that need to be reviewed about equality, not an us vs them, male vs female, attitude.
"To which I shall counter, but you should have. This is an attitude of entitlement."
Clay Shirky has written about this at length ; the basic point being that women are socialized their whole lives to not be entitled or aggressive but to stay quiet and in the background, while men are constantly socialized to take what they want, step forward, go for it, "be a man" etc. Obviously there is much variation, and yes, geeks tend toward the not-so-aggro end of the table, but I think it's still an important point.
I'd also suggest that, sure, there are lots of men not speaking at conferences, but I suspect proportionally there are even more women for whom that is true.
> the basic point being that women are socialized their whole lives to not be entitled or aggressive but to stay quiet and in the background, while men are constantly socialized to take what they want, step forward, go for it, "be a man" etc.
I think this is related to what Nicole Sullivan is getting at when she talks about women needing female role models, e.g.: "The problem compounds itself as women see no role-models for how to be a woman in this field."
I suspect role-models are more important to women than they are to men. For example, I'm a man, and when I started designing a programming language I didn't know anyone else who had; when I co-founded a political party I didn't know anyone else who had done that either. The whole concept that do do something you need to know someone else who has done it seems alien to me.
I read his rant, and I love him, but that was a terribly written, poorly thought out and even more poorly researched "rant." That is not writing about it at length, which implies serious and long-term study... just writing lengthy, which implies volume.
Many women - and lots of men, too - do this thing where they attempt to control the world by being gentle, sweet and pathetic (in the sense of evoking emotions). By trying to be appealing so things come to them.
It's a nicer way of control, but it is still about control. It's emotionally dishonest.
And when it doesn't work, they go boo-hoo. So do the men who do the same thing.
Whenever you see a "nice guy" who refuses to ask the object of his affections out, and instead plays friend and hopes she'll wake up one day, that's this behavior at work.
I don't think women are socialized to be this way any more than men are -- but men are better at ignoring socialization and doing extreme things (both good and bad) in the pursuit of their goals.
"CS education also focuses a lot of effort on puzzles and very abstract concepts when practical applications where you can see the why and how might work better for women (and a hell of a lot of men). I like yummy algorithms, but we could make CS education more accessible by putting them in context."
Why must we make a field more accessible? It would also be more accessible if we just threw BS degrees off the back of a parade float. But, sorry, programming is at its core thinking about the abstract, learning to realize that, although you are writing in python/json/xml/rpc/wtf you are really just doing discrete mathematics. CS programs should not teach in the specifics, because frankly, the specifics don't matter.
This was the same argument that the women in physics tried to make when I was an undergraduate. Appalled at the poor retention rate of women in first year physics programs, the solution was to make first year physics more 'accessible' (i guess this means easier). I'm sorry, but this is not the right way of thinking about the problem. Raise the students up, do not bend the program to raise numbers.
Diversity is great, but context free grammers and recursive descent parsers are greater.
It also doesn't seem to account for the reduction in gender diversity over the past 20 years or so. Around 1990, women were around 35% of CS majors, and today, they're around 17%. What accounts for that drop? I don't think it can be "puzzles and very abstract concepts". If anything, the core theory/systems/PLs areas have declined as a proportion of the overall CS curriculum over that time period, and more applications-focused areas have increased in prominence. Many CS departments now have HCI faculty and classes, for example, which virtually none did in 1990, and there's lots more robotics and other explicitly applications-oriented areas in the curriculum as well.
Not that I know why there's been a decline in women in CS over the past 20 years, either. But I think any explanation of why there aren't many women in CS now has to account for why there were more women in CS in 1990--- despite CS not being that much different at the time, and probably actually more "hardcore" systems/theory oriented.
I was under the impression (and by impression I mean I have no idea where I read this and thus cannot back up anything I say) that the problem was at the secondary schooling level; girls started out with a healthy interest in science and engineering when they begin at 11 or 12, but that interest level rapidly decreases as they move through schooling.
The question is what is happening in the way we're teaching girls that they get so turned off by it? Obviously its not innate, because as you note, there used be a lot more women graduating with CS. I guess there could also be a societal argument as well, but I wouldn't know enough about the cultural norms of 1990 to comment.
CS education works best for people who already know how
to code before they begin. CS teaches the theory behind a
practice in which they assume you already have some
skill. Women are less likely to already know, because
they don’t play video games as much.
This does not make any sense. How does playing video games translate to coding skill?
One anecdote that I heard from people involved with the CMU admissions criteria for CS. In addition to GPA, leadership skills, etc. they used to also look for something interesting technical that you'd done prior to college. They have now removed that criteria from the selection process because they found that it did not correlate with success upon coming to CMU, but it did correlate with gender.
Could you provide a citation for that? I'd be VERY surprised if doing technical work before college did not correlate with success.
In my admittedly anecdotal experience (at a college way below the level of CMU), introductory programming classes had a classical bimodal distribution. There was a cluster of grades at 30 (people who weren't interested in programming) and another cluster at 80 (people who coded as a hobby and already knew nearly everything the class had to teach).
You are completely wrong. I am very good friends with one of the Deans of SCS at CMU and have heard first hand from him that the reason CMU has more women in CS than the avg university is because they DON'T do this.
"I like video games" often translates to "I want to work in the video game industry" often translates to "I'll learn how to program."
More generally, however, enthusiasm for video games makes kids keenly aware of the hardware that makes it possible. (Even at the age of ten, kids will get into console wars citing which has the faster processor, etc.) Having that technical background from an early age, however rudimentary, makes gamers more likely to feel comfortable with programming.
When I got into college I had no idea what a computer program was nor had I ever been exposed to anything related to programming. Despite that one of my first classes was C programming. Not by choice, but because the curriculum was chosen by my advisor. It didn't really hit me that I was learning how to program until about a week into it. Now I'm a professional software developer. My point is that you do not have to go into college knowing anything about programming to study it.
I remember an article on HN a while ago, that partitioned people into "people that are interested in One Thing, Everything, or Nothing." For the people interested in One Thing or Nothing, your comment sounds perfectly rational; but for the people interested in Everything, that's exactly how it is. "I like movies, books, games, music, math, tall buildings, rockets, genetically-engineered plants, [...] and so I want to learn how to make all of those things."
I would challenge that you can group people into those three categories. I'm interested in everything from quantum physics to category theory to python, but I have zero interest in basket-weaving techniques of the 18th century.
Note that I'm using "often" to mean "happens with statistically significant frequency," as opposed to something like "happens most of the time."
> An analog to your statement would be: "I like movies" often translates into "I want to work in the film industry"
But that's actually true, with the most desired movie-inspired career being actor/actress. The difference is that people give up this idea a lot more easily, because they realize that the odds of being a movie star are incredibly low. Analogous to liking rock music and wanting to be a rock star.
Note then that you were probably looking for a word like 'occasionally' or 'sometimes' rather than 'often'. The phenomenon you were outlining would only happen with a tiny fraction of video game enthusiasts, so regardless of its statictical significance it wouldn't be described as happening 'often'.
Not only is it a bad argument, it starts from a completely false hypothesis - the universities I graduated from had excellent programs which assumed no previous knowledge and I know that the best universities in EU have the same, if not higher, standards.
Also, something to think about: since the founding of the uni I got my MSc degree from, less than 3% of first-year students were women. You could count them with your fingers. The problem starts really, really early in a kid's education.
It doesn't, but it probably is an entry point, especially for older (PC-based) generations: involvement in tech & computing, desire to understand the underside of that world, modding (especially with full-blown programming language e.g. Python for Civ IV, Lua for WoW), involvement in communities more likely than average to be in tech and prog, etc...
Playing games other than twitch-shooters also feels a lot like programming in many ways: you have to discover the rules, features and limitations of the system and work within them to reach your goal, and all of these tend to be rather well defined.
I can only speak for myself, but video games were indeed what birthed my interest in computers, and later on in programming.
Yes, but 82.5% of female gamers are 18 or older, and they're more likely to be playing Bejeweled and such. The relevant time period here is during pre-college years, and the relevant video games are generally the ones that actually require the latest (or some recent) generation of hardware.
Casual games typically don't make you think, "Can I run this?" or "How would this be better if I had better hardware?"
While totally conceding the part about younger players being more likely to be spurred into comp sci by video games I do contest the hardcore games as a gateway drug theory. I think the thing that pulls kids in is the creativity of the games and the effect that the game has on them. So a fun casual game in my opinion would have the same pulling power as the latest version of crysis. fwiw this is subjective and I dont have any data to back this up.
One further point - maybe the 40% number is a recent phenomenon and it will take time for it to translate into more women entering computer science.
> I think the thing that pulls kids in is the creativity of the games and the effect that the game has on them.
This is absolutely what pulls kids into games. What pulls kids into knowledge about computers is the realization that better hardware means they can play "better" games. This means they wind up with a pretty good conceptual map of computers at an early age. That gives them a huge advantage at programming over someone who just sees computers as a black box.
Not necessarily to skill, but to exposure to programming in general.
I'd wager that people (kids) get interested in programming by using technology and wondering, "Hey, how does this work?" I'd further bet that this occurs far more often in connection to video games than, say, Word or Outlook, since video games are fun and creative. For the past few decades, far more boys than girls play video games. Hence, by college, more young men have been exposed to programming than young women.
Now, with the advent of the web (which is more or less gender neutral) and social gaming, I expect to see an increase in the number of women getting into programming over the next decade. Nowadays, it seems to me that there are more "fun" things that programming has made possible which have yet to be skewed towards the Y chromosome.
To coding skill? It doesn't, necessarily. But that's not what she's arguing; she's saying that there's a correlation between playing video games and interest in (and exposure to) computers & coding.
I don't know if that's as true nowadays, but back when I went off to school in '97, video games were essentially the only way a kid could get exposed to computing in a way that was fun, interesting, and challenging. They directly led to my interest in programming.
Instead of programming, video games got me into PC networking. In 1998 (I was 14 at the time), my friends and I had LAN parties because our town didn't have any sort of high speed internet. We each chipped in $50 and bought ourselves a "beginning home networking kit" which had an ethernet hub and a couple of NICs. I spent an afternoon getting our little network running so we could Quake. I was hooked.
A "sausage fest"? Classy rhetoric! Is nursing a "tits fest" or elementary education a "vagina fest"?
It'll be great when intelligent people can stop identifying themselves or their sense of humor by their genitalia, race, or any other physical characteristic that has little to do with how good they can be as people.
I agree that women might not want to hear "dick jokes" or "be groped" but most people don't regardless of gender. It's not a male/female dichotomy we're dealing with - it's a respect/idiocy dichotomy.
You're completely right, of course—but I have to point out that elementary education is a "vagina fest", and not even a self-selected one. There is definite discrimination preventing men from entering the field—mostly by parents who don't want men around their kids.
I seriously doubt that is the reason - on the contrary, I constantly hear that people would like more male teachers. However, I don't think the salary is sufficient to feed a family. Not sure if that is the main reason, but it might be a factor in men's decisions.
I went to get a elementary teacher degree. I dropped out after a year and a hald. Between being the only guy in a class of girls (it isn't as much fun as it looks) and having to put up with their sh (you think men are bad about dick jokes? try being around only women for the entire day) there is also discrimination from teachers (i had to prove myself every time, and was assumed to be riding on the work of the rest of my group on group assignments), parents were also quite suspicious of me. Though, the kids were great and didn't give a rats ass if I had a penis or a vagina.
I don't think that is as much of a problem here in Germany, so I doubt it is the major deterrent. Though in general being a teacher seems rather risky to me. Certainly if pupils or parents want to screw up your life, they have all the possibilities to do so.
I have heard the same complaint about almost all teachers being women here in Germany (at elementary school level). And of course we worry about paedophiles, I just don't think it has reached witch hunt proportions yet.
> On the other hand, he assumes those women didn’t deserve to be sent to JSConf. Why should he assume that?
Utter crap. That’s clearly not what the critics are concerned about. The women may indeed deserve to go — but no more than men who are not being offered the same grants. This is what is objectionable. This, and the implication that women need pushed into the field or artificially assisted, strike some as sexist.
While she does make some good points towards the end, this whole piece is strewn with similar assumptions of male sexism, and is devoid of any realization that some perceived affirmative action as reverse discrimination.
Except, they're _not_ just assumptions of sexism. You should at least skim the MIT study she refers to in her article (http://web.mit.edu/fnl/women/women.html). It was an eye-opening, empirical study showing that discrimination did exist – and that it didn't look like ordinary bigotry.
I can't help but think that it's only possible to get worked up about reverse discrimination if you don't believe that the "forward" discrimination exists in the first place.
You can also get worked up about reverse discrimination if you fail to understand how it differs from regular discrimination. Using the same word for different things can throw off the mind in surprising ways.
If women have the same potential both to succeed at computer science and to enjoy the work as men do, the underrepresentation of women in the field is a sign of problems that, if fixed, would result in more people leading more fulfilling lives. I think that is worth spending money on, and Google seems to agree.
Moreover, if one's goal is to benefit the field of computer science rather than just help individuals choose careers they are better suited for, targeting highly capable women when applying such fixes would have the most return on investment. If these same grants were given out without regard to gender, they would result in less capability added to the field per dollar.
> If women have the same potential both to succeed at computer science and to enjoy the work as men do, the underrepresentation of women in the field is a sign of problems that, if fixed, would result in more people leading more fulfilling lives. I think that is worth spending money on, and Google seems to agree.
If some _individuals_ have a potential to succeed at computer science and are currently not doing so, then I agree, helping them to do so would lead to people living more fulfilled lives. But such individuals should be helped equally regardless of such factors as gender, race, nationality, sexuality, etc.
If it happens to be the case that most such individuals are women, then any well-chosen but fair (i.e. genderblind) criteria will end up helping mostly women anyway.
If those assumptions about the underrepresentation of women in the field hold, then it's much easier to identify women for whom computer science would be a good fit but haven't chosen it than it is to identify similar men. Paying the costs for any qualified college student to attend JSConf would be less effective than paying the costs for qualified women.
Can you suggest gender-blind criteria that would be successful? Discriminating less while achieving the same goal is an unalloyed good.
> Can you suggest gender-blind criteria that would be successful?
Well, the original formulation was "potential to succeed at computer science". So we need to measure potential (P) and success (S). Then the people we are interested in satisfy (P and not S).
S could be defined as being a professor of computer science (or related discipline), or as earning more than a certain amount in a computing-related field.
P could be determined by getting someone to submit a computing-based project they've worked on; the submission might consist of a tarball containing documentation and source code, which would obviously have to be assessed according to subjective criteria (to avoid untoward discrimination at this stage, the submissions might be anonymised so reviewers wouldn't know the name of the submitter.
Or P could be determined by some objectively-assessible criteria, for example asking people to write a program whose performance would be measured objectively (e.g. the Google AI Challenge -- http://csclub.uwaterloo.ca/contest/index.php )
But however you determine S and P, the set of people you're interested in falls naturally from that.
…or, you know, the directly hostile and sexist things women sometimes experience in the industry. As described in the original post.
Not to say that Greenspun is wrong in his conclusions, but when women are saying "I find it unpleasant to be in the industry because…", it seems kinda patronising to turn around and suggest that they're wrong.
To experience the sexist things, you would first have to enter the industry, though. I somewhat doubt it is a good explanation. Also, is life in CS really so unbearable for Stubbornella and other women?
The problem I have with that logic is, why wouldn't men decide the same thing?
The author's reasoning seems to be
1. young men strive to achieve high status among their peer group
2. men tend to lack perspective and are unable to step back and ask the question "is this peer group worth impressing?"
but I ask, why? The article seems to be rejecting the idea that men are naturally better than women at programming (and some other ideas) and embracing the idea that women are naturally better than men at finding a suitable career.
I suppose this is just as valid of a hypothesis, but I don't think it is good enough to simply dismiss the other one.
> men are naturally better than women at programming (and some other ideas) and embracing the idea that women are naturally better than men at finding a suitable career.
If it's plausible enough that millions of young women can have their career and life choices distorted away from STEM by a little sexism (a distortion in the dozens or scores of percents), then why isn't it even more plausible that millions of young men can suffer from well-known traits linked with autism or Asperger's (which are known to be vastly more common in males) and make choices distorted towards STEM?
Or why not say "men are naturally more attracted than women to programming", and human beings have a decent track record of becoming skilled at what they're interested in. There's a big difference between not being interested in doing something and not being as capable at doing something.
I don't put it that way because it makes the causality sound wrong. If you think about men being attracted, then it all sounds neutral and due only to one factor, when it's that men being skewed to STEM makes the fields untenable to women who are, if anything, skewed away from STEM (consider the well-established superiority of women at verbal tasks and interpersonal skills).
The question is not why are the other occupations that Greenspun characterizes as attracting women - doctor, psychologist, lawyer, etc. - so well paid, but why STEM occupations are so poorly paid.
If we thought about it from the perspective of a Martian who has just landed, we might say, 'programming, especially in its niches like embedded or highly distributed scalable, is an intensely demanding task which can be profoundly alien to the human mind, and often requires years of training and experience starting as a child-user just to begin to grok things; therefore, I would expect it to be highly professionalized and to have salaries for its accomplished specialists quite commensurate with specialists in other fields like medicine.'
The Martian, of course, would be quite wrong.
In case you didn't bother to read my Greenspun links, he says that a motivated and very intelligent person - the sort of women whose absence is noted in STEM - could expect in their 40s to collect salaries in specialist medicine in the neighborhood of $300,000, or $500,000 as a law firm partner, or $90,000 as a tenured teacher; he didn't cover child psychologists, though I could swear he did somewhere, but those have similar or higher salaries. Assuming you're even able to get tenure in STEM, your salary will be nowhere near any of that...
It's not that they're not equally plausible; it's that they're not equally solvable. We can "fix" sexism (and thus cause the "right" number of women to go into STEM); we can't "fix" Autism-linked chromosomes in people who have already been born.
For one thing, achieving high status might not be so relevant for a woman. A womb is inherently valuable, whereas men have to prove by status that they can take care of a child. Or rather, in theory one high status male can make babies with a lot of low status women. It may not quite work that way anymore in todays society (? I am not high status enough to know), but it might still be genetically driving our behavior.
Whether meaning to or not, these posts always degenerate to a laundry list of why men are slobs | jerks | adolescents who are living in Mom's basement | a disgusting unwashed bachelor pad | a van down by the river.
Guess what - the reason that there are so few women in CS / programming, is because most women have decided to do something else with their lives (for whatever reason).
That kind of thing tends to happen in a free society.
Ive seen many articles talking about code cowboys, or the lone rockstar programmer. It might just be the places ive worked at but I have yet to see anyone who fits this description. An anti social arrogant person who makes a lot of mistakes would simply find it hard to stay hired in todays comp sci world.
That depends on whether they go on to become doctors, veterinarians and dentists instead of assistants to those. The fact that someone has a certain education does not preclude them from ending up in a more assistive job related to the education. In fact, if women are still underrepresented among new doctors, veterinarians and dentists, that would be a likely explanation.
I don't think somebody studying medicine ends up being a nurse. Not the women mentioned here either. I suspect Stubbornella simply didn't check many numbers.
For example, maybe because a lot of women are working in people facing jobs (secretaries, receptionists), it distorts impressions. Meanwhile, the men are shoveling shit in the backyard. At the same time lots of men and women have "better" jobs, but they are not as visible. So the impression is "women tend to become receptionists".
ugh. I really can't help but cringe whenever anyone tries to throw their hat into the ring and take on this problem, even if they have an inside take.
CS education also focuses a lot of effort on puzzles and very abstract concepts when practical applications where you can see the why and how might work better for women (and a hell of a lot of men). I like yummy algorithms, but we could make CS education more accessible by putting them in context.
I kind of wish this had happened when I was doing CS. What does that say about me? (I'm a guy)
I think these kind of over-generalizations about an entire gender do nothing but contribute to the PC echo chamber.
I don't know what contributes to the gender disparity, but I can say that I have plenty of male friends who also can't really contemplate being a programmer, and for many of the same reasons that are cited that women may not be attracted to the profession... I think it can be an intimidating profession no matter what your gender- anything like coding that has such an insular culture is the same.... Maybe it's just a chicken and egg problem.
I did, because in I feel like gender stereotyping in general is overstated. Are there differences between men and women? Of course there are, but blanket statements, like the one you made below I suspect women aren't attracted to computer science careers as often as men because they generally like more artistic and creative ventures ...I feel like it's statements like this that don't help things. Women are more artistic and creative? I'd like to think that gender is a more nuanced (and maybe fluid?) thing, that has more subtle qualities to it than reductive statements like that suggest it does.
i'm glad to read your comments, as i feel the same way. i get remarks based on my gender from both men and women. the fact of the matter is, i am female but i am also the type of person who likes to spend a lot of time alone thinking and controlling my immediate environment. thus computing appeals to me. i also was introduced to computing at the right age, before adolescence when being sociable wasn't so much of an urge so even though i didn't code much through my teenage years i was able to pick it up later very easily and with confidence. i think it's really this simple: a blend of personality type, circumstance and privilege.
It is much more subtle, but just as ugly. These days, bright, thoughtful, enlightened people assume that the absence of women in certain fields results from women being unable to compete on merit. The assumption that, if someone creates a scholarship for women, it is because otherwise, women can’t hack it.
I tend to think it is that women often don't have the type of personality that allows them to enjoy a highly technical field. I can't be the only one whose noticed that a lot of computer scientists have some mildly autistic qualities. I do okay in most social situations but I have gone weeks without talking to anyone (besides the cashier at the grocery store, etc.) and I have been the awkward guy in a number of situations. And I am much better socialized than a lot of my colleges at work and in college. The field appears to attract this type of personality, I don't know why. And women appear to have these problems less frequently and less seriously than men do. And this also jives with her "code cowboy" stereotype.
If there was ever a field where the current, male dominated, population wanted women in it, it's CS. I've never met a male CS person that wasn't genuinely happy to have a woman in the room doing CS as well.
I think the issues of men in CS relate more to it being a uniquely problem solving discipline, not prone to the kind of social interactions women want it to be. (I know I'm at risk of stereotyping here, but I think the concept is valid).
I've met some really fine women Computer Scientists, and I never saw or heard from them that they'd ever been materially discriminated against for being female. Anecdotal I'm sure, here's another. My group of college friends all formed out of people in the CS program at my school. We were pretty evenly split along male/female lines. Now, many years later, of our group, none of the women have stayed in pure CS (or some branch like InfoSec), opting to go work in different fields, like requirements management, or managing personnel doing CS type work. When asked why they left? All of them say that the relentless focus on pure problem solving eventually just wore them down and that they craved more human interaction. Sitting in cubes all day hacking out code just wasn't what they wanted to do with their life.
Now, this kind of experience may not be true everywhere, I'm sure there are places where there is rampant sexism. But if a woman wants to do CS, she's more than welcome to do it, and based on my experience, barriers to her presence in the field will not be because of sexism. Similarly, you see lots of thinking about "why so few women in CS?" but you don't see any for construction/garbage handling/music composition/long-haul truck driving/<insert list of traditionally male dominated fields>.
I think if you really want to understand the CS question, you have to understand the others. For some of the fields, it's pretty easy to chalk it up to the physical side of the job. But why so few women in music composition? There are absurdly few women in any kind of music composition. I don't mean "song writing" as in lyrics -- there's tons of women crooners. I mean putting notes on a page, or spinning and beat matching discs, or whatever. The demands of the profession are really no different than CS, yet I think representation is very similar.
I'm not a fan of the male-stereotyping in the article. At best, it's unproductive, at worst, it insults men and so they stop listening.
A lot of the responses here on HN though demonstrate exactly why many women leave software engineering. Read these responses and ask if you like your mother, wife, girlfriend, or daughter working with people who have these attitudes. In an all-male group, the level of misogyny is camouflaged because there are no women to talk about. When there's a woman around, it's exposed, because she is both a target of any misogyny PLUS all the discussion about the drama created by it. Most women cope by becoming "one of the guys" and laughing along when someone makes a sexist remark. The stereotype of the un-made-up geeky female hacker exists because a lot of women notice the difference in how they're treated when they wear a skirt, heels, nice hair, and make-up, as opposed to jeans, sneakers, ponytail. It's a lot easier to dress sloppy and not be made a target.
Another problem is that a significant amount of workplace happiness derives from having friends at work. It's a lot harder to make friends when you're the only woman and you occasionally wonder, "does he really view me as a friend? or is he flirting? that sounded like flirting." Or consider networking - the best way to advance your career. How do geek guys network? It's not usually golf. Networking with geeky guys usually involves late nights gaming, coding, drinking beer (in my experience). I'm not comfortable going to my single coworkers house to play video games and drink beer until midnight, or staying at work coding with a couple coworkers after everyone else has gone home and the secret mini-fridge in the server room has been opened. It could lead to a bad situation with lots of misunderstanding that could ruin a career. Best to just avoid it.
If it wasn't a wide-spread problem, then why does every single woman in the industry feel like it's something she has had to deal with personally? I've been in the industry 5 years and I'm considering leaving because I feel my gender is holding me back. I'm smart and hard working and I can do really well in a field where being a woman isn't going to hurt my career.
When we truly treat people as individuals, we'll accept whatever the situation exactly as it is.
The diversity we find in humanity is exactly what has been required for us to get as far as we have. Its an absolute necessity, yet many are troubled when we see different types of people pursue different things. And just as many are troubled when other individuals pursue things they're "not supposed to".
Some, but not all, of women are capable and some, but not all, of men are capable. Perhaps the numbers of capable men exceed the numbers of women. Even so that doesn't mean women as a whole are incapable of excelling with CS.
All professionals wants to be treated with respect and not be typecast, whether there is a population of 5 or 500,000 for their particular subgroup.
Community members going on about how women are less capable etc. makes for at least a partially self fulfilling prophesy. If a community member is badmouthing my particular subgroup, I am gong to assume they are prejudiced against me. Only the women who really, really love technology will go into a field in which they expect to be significantly discriminated against.
All the other professions are high-risk and require significant physical strength. Men are generally more comfortable with high-risk, high-reward jobs, and have a physical strength advantage over women.
Computer Science is not high-risk and does not require significant physical strength.
Women are more risk averse than men. It's a well-known evolutionary strategy for men to choose high-risk/high-reward pursuits.
Also, you completely ignored my point about these careers being suited to physically extremely strong people, which are disproportionately men (due to biological differences).
Women should be programmers because they are as mentally capable as men, and they can handle the minimal physical requirements. If a woman is just as strong as a male lumberjack/fisherman/etc, and perfectly fine with the risk, then she should be able to do that job as well.
(More than 500,000 people are treated in the US for ladder-related injuries.)
If you're willing to accept that men and women have different physical characteristics and different aversion to risk, why then must the brain have an exemption when it comes to ability? Why can't men be more comfortable programming a computer?
And the more important question, why should there be an effort to lure women into computing?
>And the more important question, why should there be an effort to lure women into computing?
well, that's a fair question but what about the opposite? "why should there not be an effort to lure anyone into computing?"
there are a lot of people who have a genuine interest in computing, but don't enter it because of either lack of role models or social pressure. so, they are really missing out on something that may make them happy as adults, and for reasons beyond their control. not beyond their ability.
another factor i've noticed a lot in my career, working as a programmer but interacting with a lot of creatives, is that a lot of people, perhaps young women, are not interested in spending a huge amount of time alone, which may be the only pre-requisite to learning computing - being interested in finding out how stuff works more than going out with your friends and/or succumbing to peer pressure to be sociable. computing isn't something you can do with a group of people. you can sit in the same room but ultimately you need to focus for long periods of time without distraction. i just haven't met a lot of people in my life who can/want to do that, and aren't already in a field that needs that focus.
The argument that I usually have, and constantly resist, is that a) generally women just aren't as interested in CS as men, and b) that's ok, so c) why give out scholarships to make CS artificially attractive, and d) if the industry isn't suffering for the lack (arguable) what's the big deal?
But I think that the people in CS are being degraded. The women have to deal with a constant stream of rubbish, and men are being conditioned to provide it. It appears that some people are not being given full credit for their skills and work, and in an industry powered by kudos as much as money that should offend everyone.
I must admit some parts of that annoy me. You can't argue with the sexist jokes and assumptions of being a secretary. But not wanting to be a Cowboy Coder? What does it mean, women coders always comment their source code? I don't think I have actually ever met a Cowboy Coder (I am 38 now, 10 years professional software developer, coding since I am 12), so I seriously doubt their mysthical existence is a significant deterrent for women in CS.
Also things like "computer games are for men" - well if you really want it, create games for women. Nobody is preventing people (men or women) from creating games for women, or in general, from creating the environment for learning and working they desire.
If it is true that it is harder for women to get CS jobs, it would be a serious concern. I'd like to see more hard data about it, though. The people I know all would love to hire more women.
At the company we currently work for, we also have one woman coder (this is 100000% more women coders than I usually see at companies). But thanks to Scrum, we have several female designers in the teams, so at least the overall atmosphere is not all masculine. That's one of the few things I consider good about Scrum. By overall atmosphere I just mean a lone woman does not have to feel weird. I don't in general encounter penis jokes or whatever in masculine environments either (also no Star Trek posters - most offices simply have blue carpet, some unhappy plants, desks, computers).
This might be a risky comment for me, but I'll bite the bullet.
Why I'd like to see more female developers?
* I wanted to have more women (girls) around at university. Yes, one reason is sexual attraction (I hope it's not a problem, that I mention this, but I am a human being after all), but I also found that girls are an essential part of how human groups are formed. You might become really good friends with another guy at uni, just because you like hanging around the same girl at the beginning; on the other hand, you might not chat up and start hanging out with that other guy initially.
* It would be far healthier for (young) people to socialize in a mixed environment.
* A lot of women that I know are more social and caring than me in day to day communication. I'd also love to have and learn more of that.
* Women tend to think differently. They have a different approach to problems, which is what teams are all about; having people with many different approaches, so that when a there is a problem, someone can think of the easiest possible solution.
What I'm not sure I like about this post, is that it seems defensive. Tries to prove that "there are female developers who are just as good as men" too hard, while it forgets to focus on what women are better at, and also what the tech community would win if we all _actively_ knew that the community needs more women.
I'd love to work in a mixed community of men and women.
I think a lot of men actually stay away from technology both for the same "cultural" reasons as women and because of the lack of women. I know you generally start college earlier in the US, but when you get older you start thinking about what friends you'll spend your life with etc. When you're 23-25 the prospect of spending 5+ year in a quite homogeneous environment can be unwanted.
This might be a complete misconception, but I've gotten the impression that American twenty-somethings are quite childish. And with people attributing Israels startup success partly to youths "growing up" during military service (which I don't recommend), mixing things up seems like a good idea.
This is not aimed towards your comment, but I've notices that a lot of the time when non-technology and especially social science topics comes up here at HN. Everyone seem to disregard research and suddenly becomes experts based on what they feel. It's quite obvious that most people here aren't going to be experts in sociology or women's studies.
Pro: I understand the reasoning behind affirmative action better after reading this quote:
"People mistakenly assume that affirmative action is about granting minorities undeserved privileges. In it’s purist form, affirmative action is about allowing minorities natural talents to flourish by removing artificial, unfair barriers and decoupling the true skills required to succeed in a profession from the cultural baggage that builds naturally within an insular community."
Con: The author seems to try to be fair, but quickly falls into the trap of characterizing men in the field as "socially-challenged-uber-nerd[s]". She says that "a lot of men would rather not live like code-cowboys", but goes on to recite a litany of bad traits that are "masculine qualities" and contrasts them with the traits of a "good developer". That's a good way to alienate male readers who would otherwise be sympathetic. Perhaps men do advocate for themselves more actively in the workplace, and that should be corrected for by affirmative action; saying that men "pester the boss until she finally relents to send them to a conference" doesn't accomplish anything.
Even if women (statistically) suck at programming (a common claim here), I'm pretty sure that even the good ones are turned off programming because of the lack of female co-workers, discrimination, and other factors.
I'd guess that the average women in technology is underrated (only the real enthusiasts get through), and talking them down is going to lead to further discrimination.
Would I suggest that CS departments aim for 50% female students? Not this decade, and maybe not ever. But should women be given more credit, more opportunities, and more encouragement to start their own projects (rather than just contributing)? Hell yeah.
The thing that bugs me most about articles about "women in CS" is that they seem to ALWAYS ignore the most important contributing factor to why there are fewer women in the field: interest. In my experience at my university, it isn't that women aren't smart enough or dedicated enough to do CS. Its just that they don't find it all that interesting to them.
If I found CS boring, I doubt I'd stick around either, regardless of what the opportunities looked like.
I believe it is these tangential code-cowboy qualities women are unable or unwilling to emulate, and not their skill or capacity for abstraction, problem solving, creative thinking, or communication — All of which actually make them better developers
Think about if a man dared to write the following:
I believe it is this inability to go straight to the point that men are unable or unwilling to emulate, and not their ability to understand other's needs and to understand how social situations work — All of which actually make them better marketers
"Since 1982-83, the total number of women entering U.S. medical schools has increased every year (in
fact, the annual increases reach back to 1969-1970). Women’s share of the matriculating class has
likewise increased. Women went from less than a third (31.4%) of all matriculants in 1982-83 to a high
of 49.6 percent in 2003-04. In 2007-08, women were 48.3 percent of all matriculants."
This data is a little old, I wouldn't be surprised if women surpass 50% soon.
I suspect women aren't attracted to computer science careers as often as men because they generally like more artistic and creative ventures. In other words, most women prefer careers and interests that allow them to be hand-on empathetic with the objects and people around them. In general, computer science is hardly portrayed as such a career. It may involve aspects of these things, but women generally aren't aware of it. The role models they see are all in the same sort of areas, and the majority of their female peers are all into the same sort of things.
It creates something of an echo chamber that simply multiplies a compounding effect with dominant culture that discourages women from even entering a computer lab filled with sweaty nerds, much less think about joining them.
"…dominant culture that discourages women from even entering a computer lab filled with sweaty nerds, much less think about joining them."
You have a good point here, but it's not just that they're sweaty, it's that all too often they're actively hostile to women – whether it's sexist jokes, an obsession with rape in DND games (all too frequent) or just the way they seem shocked that a woman could actually be good at coding. Makes things a bit unpleasant, yeah?
I am male and I would consider the people you describe to be unpleasant, too. Either I didn't encounter that many of them, or I did a better job ignoring them than the average woman. It's not as if you have to put up with that kind of behavior (when was the last time you were FORCED to join a D&D game??).
Most of the arguments made seem to suggest there is discrimination in CS education, and subsequently in the workspace.
Even if we assume this to be true, How does this explain the lack of women in open source projects?
Further, the author seems to reserve a special place for the Rockstar developer. Personally having been rescued a few times by such Rockstar coworker's all nighters, I have only respect and awe for such Rockstars.
The school I teach at has recently found that women are actually more valued than their male counterparts by employers at the time of graduation. They've been averaging 4% higher job placement and about $2k higher starting salary; 95% and 62k, respectively, for women.
no matter if you think this article is well written or not I'm kinda tired of people's answer to gender inequality. We are not in some golden age of equality. equality has changed for the past 500 years and will continue to change. If you know it's going to change how can you not try and learn why it's changing and how you can affect it?
There is discrimination not against women but certain traits that are abundant in females. And some of those traits are not suitable for computing profession. Like majority of guys will not be suitable for nursing. It is not about competition, guys can do better nursing if need be and women can do better programming when they do.
It is this simple, if women are REALLY capable and NATURAL candidate for Computing, why do we need to create artificial channels for them?
Ohh... I get it. This is like saying I have world class athlete but he needs a separate competition to prove it.
But still I think if there is (and there is some) discrimination against women, then generalizing men as selfish and evil, won't do any good.