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What happened to all the female developers? (fogcreek.com)
279 points by buzzcut on July 26, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 272 comments

And she said that one of the things that happens is that women don’t even think they’re qualified for something because it’s advertised in competitive language. The language of competition not only doesn’t appeal to many women, it actually puts them off.

This doesn't make sense to me because easily the most competitive path I've ever seen is premed. Almost all of the premeds I know are competing for the best grades, the best resumes, and the best internships. Organic chem is like a giant free-for-all where everyone tries to beat the curve. And yet, at least 50% of biology and medical students are women. Why are women turned off by competitiveness in CS (which I think is less common in my engineering classes where people often try to help other people and don't compete for the best grade), but not in medicine?

Aren't we just applying cultural influences to both genders in either case?

She didn't say she was put off by competition, she said she was put off by competitive language in the job listing. She recommended more focus on the collaborative side of the internship - mentorship, line by line code review, and being part of decisionmaking. "Things that have to do with collaboration and learning appeal a lot more to female candidates."

Couching something in mainly competitive terms does not just advertise that it's competitive, it also hints that there's a sort of pissing contest atmosphere at work. In the case of Fog Creek, it was an inadvertent, false signal, but what this woman is saying is that it's a negative indicator many women watch out for.

You can be at once highly qualified for a competitive field and drawn to that field for reasons having nothing to do with competition. Those female premeds are almost certainly more interested in working with patients than in beating their chest and bragging about how they got into a good med school. (And I'd venture the same holds true for the males.)

hate to do this, but... "this".

CS is one of the very few industries i've ever been been around which engages in the "i'm better than you" pissing contest, EVERY SINGLE DAY, and yet asks itself why everyone looks the same.

I really do hope that at some point, we lose our sneer and arrogance and stop thinking that we're better than everyone just because we have some kind of exclusive skill that's alien to most.

What are the other few industries which engage in the "i'm better than you" pissing contest, EVERY SINGLE DAY?



I'm struggling to think of other things. Maybe a News Anchor and other media jobs?


Other Creative Industries (i.e. Art, Design)

I would add that in my experience, men who routinely engage in this kind of pissing contest are more likely to come across as "sexist pigs" in some sense. I've been in social situations where the signal was "you can't run with the big dogs, you are just a girl". Having good computer skills does not guarantee that one has the social savvy necessary to find the right way to deal with that kind of message.

In fact, if "typical" girl programmers are anything like your stereotypical boy programmers, it may be that they are highly likely to lack such skills. There have been a number of articles posted to HN where women in the industry complain about these sorts of issues (while I read between the lines and wonder how she could have done something so dumb given the context) and I do kind of get the impression that most women really don't know how to effectively deal with stuff that may not really be intended as sexist but is frequently just kind of juvenile (for lack of a better word).

Perhaps someone would like to paste some job listings from other fields, like realestate or nursing, so everyone can see how they compare with CS?

http://redfin.com/jobs has programming, real estate, and real estate programming.

Indeed, I never after for a job which is worded competitively.

I done a lot of contracting over the years. Usually 3-6 month placements and I've learnt to spot a company culture from the ad. Sort of like after you've been looking at house ads for a while you start to understand the lies that are going on.

Disclaimer: before reading on I'm jaded and bitter from years of dealign with a/holes, liars, and bad contracts. So its best to make up your mind as whats suits you. But my learnt experiences:

Worded competitively usually means you are working for a money first workplace, and the boss will usually be sleazy sales men.

with it you get extremely short times lines, under cutting competition, lots of pressure to finish perfectly first iteration (i.e. no time to refactor code which organic grew as you worked), and any bugs in the first and only iteration are a big deal... many projects I've worked on just don't have a testing cycle or bug fix cycle. They chew developers up and make them bitter and cynical.

The other ones to watch out for are ego stroking, the old "rock star developer". Thats usually a sign when over times come they will to pay you with ego rewards instead of money. The play will use every manipulative trick they can think of get you to work for free, and make you think you are doing it because you love it. Don't fall for that, working is a partnership and they need to offer you the respect and payment you deserve, even for work you like doing.

Buzz words are a keen sign you are going to be working with a bunch of sales men. It can also mean its a design agency who don't under stand what they are saying.

For example I've been to some great interviews listing HTML 5 as a pre-req ... where 10 minutes in I've been trying to end the interview and escape. When they tll you they are building every website in AJAX, MVC, REST, and HTML 5 head for the door.

IMO that is showing a lack of understanding of technologies and a failure to do proper analytical process into work. Firstly HTML 5 doesn't have great legacy support, its pre-mature in my mind to be using it for a lot of work especially considering most of these people are build simple ecommerce and brochure sites... often meaning yoga re dealing with small businesses who can't afford to retro fit when they discover 20% of the user base can't complete purchasing because of IE 6. Mobile is a different story its ready, but thats the analytical process, choose the right tool, and if you see people nailing in nails with nails walk away.

Another two which go instantly on my nervous list are gloating about team culture or how great the office is. I don't let these stop me chasing a job, but I do get extra cautious when going threw the interview process that those items are intact true.

Because in 15 years of programming I've never really had a bad team. A few toxic characters for sure, but most teams are great. Often it can actually be a good sign, they are after team fit, and that can be the best thing ever.

Most developers are just normal average people, usually with one freakishly intelligent person, and a few play doh eaters. "Amazing" teams often have several gifted people, and I don't like working in those teams to much, conflict always arises because people have cleverly thought of a solution, and instead of implementing they fight. I prefer normal teams with mixed backgrounds and age spread, so water cooler talk in the office is at least interested and I find I bond better with genuine people, and that makes them easier to deal with because I can approach them problems and negative issues.

I won't take a position with a crap office full stop, I'm actually effected by environment. So before accepting a job I ask to see the offices. Its extremely important to me.

In saying that I'm not sure what it has to the work advertisement, it usually sets off my paranoia that either the job is boring as hell and they couldn't think of anything else for the ad. Or the complete opposite they have built an nice office to stroke your ego, or compensate for work overload.

Buzz words are a keen sign you are going to be working with a bunch of sales men.

The prejudicial reaction to buzz words is one of the things that I've found really weird in the programming fields. Often, a buzz word was a legitimate technical term just a few years, or a couple of decades ago. It's not the word, it's how it's used. Rejecting someone because they use a given buzz word is just prejudice. It just means you're selecting those people who are so aware of the march of buzzwords, they don't use the stale ones. In some cases, these will be savvy programmers. In other cases, this will be skilled users of word salad.

Buzz words shouldn't trigger a decision. They should trigger questions.

I know where you're coming from, and you are right. Its context. I find buzz words tend to upcoming marketing terms, perhaps we are discussing slightly different things.. not sure. Older buzz terms aren't a problem as they have either been stabilized or rejected.

But where you see "savvy" I generally see naive.

I find people that get hooked up on buzzwords are younger people trying to make a mark and people trying to cash in. Been that demographic myself, been burned, and I watch others burn to this day.

I'm seen so many millions go down the drain to buzz terms and over sold open source initiatives. But then again thats why I put a disclaimer saying I was bitter and jaded LOL

But where you see "savvy" I generally see naive.

Yes, but that's a level of complication that wasn't relevant to the point I was making.

> The prejudicial reaction to buzz words is one of the things that I've found really weird in the programming fields.

At one level, like Google aggregating signals, responding to an abundance of buzz words is one of several ways to classify a given posting as promising or not. A few buzz words could be fine, but a company actually saying they "are building every website in AJAX, MVC, REST, and HTML 5" all in the same sentence is definitely problematic.

Separately, I think there are people who use buzz words to earn points among their non-technical colleagues, which seems to be cultural appropriation from programmers. You can also see this with words that have been redefined in pop culture, like 'hacker'. This naturally breeds resent and wariness of buzz words in general.

To me, undiscerning resentment of buzz words is a sign of one level "Cargo Cult" mentality looking down upon another level of "Cargo Cult" mentality.

I thought when you said you find it really weird, that you didn't really understand it, or the reasons behind it. Now, it seems you do, and you simply think it's irrational? Irrationality in humans and their dealings is not something I find particularly weird anymore, in myself or in others.

So nothing is "weirdly irrational?" (As opposed to understandably irrational.)

This is wrong.

What you call "Buzzwords" many would call technical jargon.

Jargon is a shorthand way of communicating quickly with others who understand it.

You see "Buzzwords" in are building every website in AJAX, MVC, REST, and HTML 5, where as I think "I wonder if the MVC is a front end Javascript MVC framework operating against the REST backend, or if the model & controller parts are shared by the REST and AJAX front ends, but have different views?"

I know you meant it as an example, but to me it was a perfectly legitimate description of a development stack.

Theres a definite difference between a framework description and a buzzword over loaded blurb, placement in the ad for example can change the tone of the whole message.

So starting with "we are an HTML 5 AJAX shop..." I would roll my eyes, where as compared to "Our stack makes heavy use of REST methodologies..." I would mull the description.

I guess its a level of understanding that goes into the use of the terms.

My post was not about the specific buzz words, which is why I borrowed the example from the grandparent.

If I were describing a technology stack, it would include the actual development language and further specific, relevant details. That might include the exact example as given, but the example standing on its own still ranks low on the desirability scale.

Also, my description would exclude "building every website in".

you just possibly described 99.9% of the jobs ads i've seen, the 0.1% being "X is looking for a Y developer in Z" :)

Yeah I find getting work hard now, not because I can't get the jobs, but because I don't want to work in a lot of places. Getting old I suppose, lost the drive.

You have to take those jobs to find your niche sometimes. Thats why I put the disclaimer at the top, its my point of view, everyone has to find there own, find what makes them happy. Some people need there egos stroked, some people love high pressure, everyones different.

Having the courage to quit is a big thing, I remember the first time I quit I almost vomited, my last job I was yelling at a director of the company. I had the courage to stand up for myself and faith, but you have to earn that, most people aren't born with it.

Networking has always been the best for me, every big break I've had has been over a drink at the pub. Which is easy for me as I'm an extrovert and have a good sense of humor, so people take a liking to me.

But theres way to network if you're not extroverted, I attended programming groups and go to presentations, heaps of my friends don't leave the house except for those meetings.

Theres heaps of tips about helping in community projects (even just testing), twitter, a blog.

Infact friend of mine got head hunted for £300,000 because he ran a blog and had become a subject matter expert on security and identity, so ads aren't the only way.

For the love of good don't let me put you off applying just because Im bitter and jaded ;)

A very good point, I'd agree with this.

You misunderstand the quote. It's not saying that CS positions are too competitive. It's saying they're described as being about competition. Medical degrees are competitive, but they're not about the competition, they're about helping people. Meanwhile, CS is promoted by hosting coding challenges and competitions, and the top-tier jobs advertise how their teams are so much smarter and more accomplished than everyone, and so forth. This creates the perception that not only is the field competitive, but that the competition is practically an end in itself, where in medicine it's an obstacle to the actual goal of helping people (or getting a gigantic salary).

This whole endless search for the reason why "women aren't in computing" is just a modern day version of epicycle theory. In ancient times, they couldn't admit that the earth went around the sun, so they came up with the increasingly baroque epicycle theory, where planets were postulated to do loop-de-loops just so that no one would have to concede heliocentrism.

Today we face a similar taboo, held for similar quasi-religious reasons. Our latest epicycle is competitive job postings. This at least is laudably specific; most of these kinds of explanations aren't testable at all.

The obvious but taboo answer is that women will generally gravitate to fields which are more social/people focused and less technical/mathematical. That spectrum runs from teaching through medicine in the middle through CS.

These trends are due in nontrivial part to genetics. Women are just more social and men more systematizing, on average.

As programming went from rote punch card/data entry to something more like physics or math, the percentage of women dropped.

All this breast beating is about a refusal to accept that basic biological differences could possibly affect behavior. Indeed, not even the tenured President of Harvard can broach the topic, even if he only moots the possibility of differences in variance rather than mean!

It's not much of a debate when those who voice the "partially genetic" position are at risk of losing their jobs.

Just pointing this out as a woman who is in CS. There is rampant sexism within the field on the lower tier levels.(Still in school so I have yet to deal with higher level positions) Your grunt programmers, techs, and general support staff are down right scary. I have been hopping around company to company for a bit now and some of the places are just down right creepy. I worked one job where open sexism was encouraged and there was a massive boys club mentality. There was one guy who kept joking about how sexy I was and pulled pulled on my hair whenever he walked by.

Also as a whole I have found that even if I am more knowledgeable than everyone around me, I still have people come up and in some of the most condescending ways possible. Many times I am talked down to like I am some sort of child. (I once had someone try to explain how multicast and ssl works to me. They are studying for their A+, I am about to get my CCNP and also churning out all sorts of neat code for our department to help automate a lot of the boring tasks.)

I would say its not so much a genetic issue, but more the field itself has many cultural issues it needs to get past.

Last note: Filing complaints about a lot of these problems would most likely hurt me in the long run. I figured out after my first couple jobs it is easier to ignore them than try to find a new job.

Edit: Regarding skills themselves. It is a much simpler answer to claim that society 'encourages' woman into positions. Even if there was such a gap (Not saying it may not exist mind you) their would still be tremendous overlap and there would be some males within female bounds and females within the male bounds. The odds of that gap being massive enough to overshadow cultural issues is highly unlikely.

Also these stories are not representative of my whole experience in the field. They have been cherry picked to help illustrate a point.

The condescending thing happens to people in tech all the time regardless of their sex. I have done the same thing to men because I think i'm smarter then everyone and have a big ego. I'm sure there are a few really dumb people who condescend to women particularly, but trust me that it's a bigger problem that everyone does in our industry if they have an ego.

As far as the blatant sexism in every job you work at, that does sound pretty bad. Level 1 techs are (imho) ridiculously crass and politically incorrect, imo because they get paid crap and have a stressful job and you're not going to find pillars of polite society in that kind of environment. In higher level positions I don't think i've ever personally seen an example of sexism directed at female co-workers, though i'm sure it must happen somewhere.

In fact, heh, i've often seen politically-incorrect jokes and sexism amongst guys (because let's face it that's what guys do when they're together in a group) but they explicitly stop as soon as a female is around to prevent her from being made uncomfortable. Granted, it's bad that they're making those jokes whether or not a woman is around, but I think them choosing to censor themselves is a positive thing (because let's face it, there's no way to change the thought process of a sexist, but you can at least prevent them from speaking or acting out based on their thoughts).

Your argument falls apart when you posit "worse at math" as an essentialist trait caused by genetics, without so much as a link to a single study showing this. Saying "Women are just more social on average" does not prove that it is genetic.

You can probably name at least one woman amazing at math, or one woman amazing at programming. The fact that you can name even one counterexample refutes the proposition that all women are predisposed against mathematical thinking genetically.

For references on the biology, read Simon Baron-Cohen or Louann Brizendine.

Regarding your statistical "argument", obviously the example of Lisa Leslie does not mean the median height of women is greater than or equal to the median height of men. Overlap does not imply equality.

I often wonder why people who can understand fine statistical distinctions in other contexts, and are capable of calculating over/under representations down to three decimal points, lose about 50 IQ points on this topic.

It is similar to the selective and highly asymmetric demands for evidence. I assure you, there are reams of papers on Pubmed concerning the effect of fetal testosterone levels on spatial reasoning. Indeed, there are many more such technical papers than there are well-controlled studies on the disparate impact effects of "competitive job postings".

This hard evidence differential obtains in spite of the fact that researchers must conduct their studies under dark of night, lest they meet the fate of Larry Summers.

Interesting. I wonder what percentage of Fields medals have been earned by women mathematicians?

None, I think.

The Wikipedia category for Women mathematicians [1] has 125 pages, many of which are to women who were not professional mathematicians.

If in response to the challenge "name at least one woman amazing at math" you don't think of Emmy Noether, then you are not all that interested in maths.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Women_mathematicians

I've studied math. The most recent mathematician I can recall by name (due to a few important theorems) has been doing his great work in the 1930s. Most of the stuff is older. I don't care squat about the gender, but they're likely all male.

Looking at gender ratios in students it's about 50-50 now (ETH Zürich, Switzerland), massively thinning out towards the top (professors are just a few out of 50). It'll take time and untill female mathematicians have an about equal importance in the curriculum students learn, likely a few hundres years. Maths really ages slowly (often because theories get update/extended, but the name sticks).

So being able to name female mathematicians imo doesn't have much relevance to the gender discussion. Luckily society changes faster than math ages ;-)

That is a false claim. Your logic is faulty.

Why are women turned off by competitiveness in CS ... but not in medicine?

Maybe they are just more practical. The worst physician's salary averages about $50K more than the best programmer's salary. Nurses get paid as much as programmers. If you do pre-med but can't get into med school, you can still get into public health, physical therapy, dentistry, optometry, pharmacy, etc... If you do CS but can't get a job at Google, you can get into TPS reports or be unemployed. That last part is grossly simplifying, but compare getting a programming job someplace like Wyoming or North Dakota vs. getting a medical job in the same place.

More than that, medicine is more portable.

At a typical large company, the ingress point into the company is at an entry-level position. Many women want to interrupt employment when they have children, which isn't practical for a IT person or programmer at a bank or government agency.

My mother, to use a fairly typical example, is a nurse. She took 5-6 years off at various times when my siblings were born or when daycare costs became prohibitive. Impact on her career? Not too bad -- hospitals need nurses, especially nurses with the specialist certifications she had.

More to the point, medicine is portable because people need doctors everywhere. You can practice medicine in New York just as well as you can practice medicine in Ouray. Further, barring highly specialized fields (e.g. pediatric oncology, transplantation surgery), the work you'll be doing will be more or less similar and available wherever you go. Software just doesn't offer that.

Most of the places I've seen that advertise telecommuting are really only paying lip service to the idea that where you develop software simply doesn't matter all that much. You see places that say you can work from home one day a week, and call that "remote work." There are some companies that acknowledge this fact, and are structured for true remote work, but software engineers as a class are far more tied to location than doctors are.

Software does offer exactly that. Last I checked, a hash table works the same in New York and Ouray. And you can remotely contribute to a project from pretty much anywhere you get Internet. Sure, that excludes e.g. large parts of Africa, but let's be honest: People don't get into medicine because they could always get a job in Africa. Yes, there are some who have that calling, but most like the developed world just fine.

So the issue is not with the profession per se - that leaves the employers. And there, you have a point for large swaths of the industry. But it seems the world of web/backend development is a bit more flexible there, no?

Your perception is wrong. Medicine (and, especially the implementation of it) is (in many areas) changing as much as software engineering.

There is, however, stronger certification around medicine: once you have a medical license, it's pretty hard to lose it - especially through inactivity.

Why should it be a big deal if you interrupt your career for a few years (whether to have a family or to travel the world...somehow I bet the second would be seen as ok in tech circles)? A good programmer can pick up a new technology in a couple of months.

If you are hiring based on candidates winning resume buzzword bingo, you are going to get crappy candidates anyway. Hire for intelligence and capability and five years off to have a couple of kids is meaningless.

You take a break for some years come back and see who was your peer sometime back is now your boss. How would you feel? The feeling of underachievement especially when you know you were helpless to prevent that, hurts!

It would hurt me atleast. If I knew I would face a such situation I will rather take up some other profession.

This is exactly the senseless obsession with competition that the article is complaining about.

My boss is a woman who was my peer in school and has children now. She is one of the best techies I have ever worked with and I love having her aboard.

It shouldn't be, but most large organizations (corporate and public sector) have setup systems designed to avoid the appearance of discrimination or subjectivity in hiring decisions. The irony is that these systems make it difficult for people who don't have a "perfect" (from the perspective of the system) record to get in.

The problem with such systems is that it is difficult to assess someone's ability to perform a job objectively. So the systems are design around measurable facts (ie. years of experience, education), biased towards promoting from withing, with the final selection being made by rolling the dice using tools like job interviews that are at best randomizers.

Humans aren't "resources" -- they are people. But we try to treat them like commodity goods, and in the process create some crappy situations for many people.

> A good programmer can pick up a new technology in a couple of months.

I would love it if things worked this way. But I told someone I could get coding in C# in a week, and probably be quite comfortable in a few months, and they sent me a polite rejection letter saying they were "impressed with my confidence" but there were many highly qualified candidates, etc. But then, that's probably the only advertised tech job I pursued that I didn't land an offer for.

I agree.

I think paid sabbaticals have positive ROI too. Number crunchers don't think in those terms though.

Good comment. Great point about sabbaticals.

It's a pity that when I read your good comments and the one above it, both had been downvoted into the grey. Many newcomers here at HN don't seem to understand that downvoting here is not meant to indicate that one doesn't like an opinion, it's supposed to be for comments that are abusive, obviously trolling, or that contribute nothing.

I propose an improvement to the downvoting API: One can downvote all they want, but each downvote will cost 1 karma/reputation point. That way, people with much good reputation can as needed mark abusive posts. But the newcomers will think more carefully about marking down posts they simply don't agree with since it can plunge them into negative.

I'm fairly certain new users can't downvote.

Or perhaps there's more prestige in a medical degree than a CS degree.

Or perhaps there is a perception that doctors are really helping people, as opposed to CS professionals. Didn't we just have a spate of articles that complained that startups weren't doing enough to "help the world".

I don't think it's just perception. Doctors really do deal with other people -- both patients and coworkers -- more than software engineers do.

Yes, but that does not mean that software engineers are not helping people (indirectly).

In my experience, maybe 2% of software engineers are incentivized more strongly by positive social change than by money or fame. These are the idealists, like Richard Stallman and former members of OLPC, who are often ridiculed by the rest of the community. Until the academic and governmental infrastructure is able to put anywhere near as much money into CS research as private industry, the majority of technologists will (have to) be driven by the desire to make money.

For all the talk of how doctors make a lot of money, the reason they do is that so few are both qualified and willing to take the long, grinding road through 8 years of medical school and residency, $200k in debt, and 80 hour work weeks, with fierce competition at every step of the way. According to the med students I know, if you aren't inspired by some higher calling it's almost not worth it because you won't make it through.

In my experience, at least in US, less than 1% of medical students go into the field "to help people." In fact, nowadays saying you want to become a doctor "because you want to help people" sounds almost cliché. Most of them do it either for money, social status or because that's what their mom wants them to do. And while it's true that very few programmers are "incentivized by positive social change", many of them do it because they find it interesting and fun in some way.

And medical education doesn't have to be structured that way at all. Medicine could be like engineering, where you start on day one of your undergrad and take 5-6 years in an average university setting, and 80 hour residency programs are just counter productive.

That is how medical school works in most countries.

Indeed! Warehouse automation software prevents scores of back injuries in the first place, ergo women are shallow.

That's tongue-in-cheek, but I'll bet there is a study out there to support the idea that humans do not value indirect effects as much as direct effects.


He just said that doctors deal with people more the software engineers, which is pretty much universally true. The only specialty where you don't deal directly with people is radiology.

Nope, there are many. Pathology, for one.

There may or may not be more prestige. There are countless "I hate my jerk doctor" stories. There is definitely more money.

If you go by that logic, nobody would study finance (or any financial business career). But they're hugely popular.

> The worst physician's salary averages about $50K more than the best programmer's salary

And they have to spend ten extra years in school, none of which is guaranteed to do anything but leave them poorer.

Very true. While unlikely, it is certainly possible to rise to the top of the industry in CS without even graduating high school. Medical field? No way.

That is actually the only plausible explanation at this point in history. The average woman looks at the long hours and job insecurity in high tech and thinks "this is just not worth it". Men, historically, have always done these kinds of jobs and still do. We don't see feminists agitating for more woman refuse collectors do we?

Sure you do. See attached link - I'm guessing women becoming trash collectors in the first place wasn't achieved without a struggle. http://www.wnyc.org/articles/wnyc-news/2008/mar/29/city-hono...

That's sort of different.

As they fought for the right to simply become refuse collectors. Now that they have equal rights, no one is stomping about saying "but wait... why isn't it a 50/50 split?".

Similarly, no one wishes for their child to grow up and join the wild world of hands-on sanitation engineering. They may not look down on those with such jobs, but it can hardly be argued that it is a prestigious job.

2.8%, yep, looks like equality to me!

So women somehow magically ship from the factory with a natural instinct to avoid IT jobs?

In my city, they gave a civil service exam for a garbage collector -- 2,000 people took the test.

So women somehow magically ship from the factory with a natural instinct to avoid IT jobs?

The fact that a large number of the original "computers" were actually women would seem to indicate not.

I might be completely misinterpreting sarcasm on the first points. Job insecurity in high tech? Absolutely not - the high tech industry is desperately trying to hire good people. Also, long hours are not a requirement. Lots of developers in startups or the game industry work long hours, but there are plenty of other positions (e.g. DoD sort of work) that is low stress 9-5. Medical work is decidedly not 9-5.

I urge you not to plan on such a hot market for software developers forever. Anyone who was around when the first wave of dot-coms laid everyone off around 2001 knows how quickly and severely the well can run dry.

Well, yes and no. I've been laid off twice from high tech firms. Both times I found a (better!) job within a couple of weeks, but if you want a stable career, this is not the industry for you.

if you want a stable career, this is not the industry for you.

Well, yes and no :). Depends on where you work. If you work at a tech company then yeah, that's probably not the most secure workplace, but I work at a bank, and the only way you're ever going to get fired from there is if you're a really, really crappy worker, or if you screw up big time.

I met a bank programmer a couple of years ago. He was driving a taxi. Apparently when his bank got bought by another bank, they laid off the whole IT department.

Plus you have the added security that if the brass really fucks things up the government is there to pick up the slack (at least in the U.S.).

If you work at a bank there's a good chance you'll next laid off en masse as soon when there's a really bad year.

Well, as far as my bank is concerned, nobody got laid off during the recent recession (I don't work in the US, mind you). There was just a hiring freeze and smaller bonuses at the end of the year. We really weren't hit that hard.

As opposed to the low-stress 9-5 world of medicine?

Medicine is not really like the TV show ER, unless you work in the ER. Much of it is 9-5 and the stress comes from dealing with administrators and paperwork, the same as any office job.

My dad has been a doctor for over thirty years and the most stress he's had to deal with on a weekly basis is filling out paperwork.

My girlfriend is a doctor. She mainly works in the ER, but sometimes fills in at doctor's offices and the out of hours clinic. She finds them horribly dull, and basically hates them. Except they pay $100-$125 per hour. She likes that part.

Doesn't an M.D. imply more job security and a higher starting wage than any C.S. credential?

It also implies a significantly higher starting debt than C.S. graduates. Medical students take out huge student loans for undergrad and med school, and probably during residency as well because those salaries are really low (around $40K/yr).

Quite. Can't outsource a surgeon, can you? Not to mention the social prestige.

At the risk of getting quite off-topic, in my opinion most physicians will eventually be replaced by a combination of Bayesian diagnostic software and surgical robotics. There will be an intermediate period where physicians will control and oversee the software and robots, but this too will pass.

Those tasks which cannot be easily roboticized (for example, all the soft skills) will be shifted over to nurses.

It's a lot more complicated than that. Bayesian analysis alone is insufficient to produce accurate diagnoses, and even with more advanced clinical decision support tools you still need a human to carry out the observations. Physicians won't be generally replaced until we have strong AI (at which point everyone gets replaced).

It's sor tof happening (not the tech part). I dated a nurse practitioner for a while, and the medical industry is putting more and more responsibility into their hands to save money.

Good luck in getting the vague descriptions of symptoms that patients give into your diagnostic software. When you say this, do you think it will happen in our lifetimes?

Two words: medical tourism.

Which is due to too much domestic demand, raising prices too high. Medical tourism isn't costing surgical positions.

Perhaps it's because medicine is way more academic then programming. I think programming has more in relation with a skilled trade then with an academic based career, and the skilleds trades are notoriously male dominated.

> The worst physician's salary averages about $50K more than the best programmer's salary. Nurses get paid as much as programmers

I was all primed with a fiery response about how good programmers in hot markets should be pulling more than 200k, lousy markets at least 100k, and anyone who wasn't is either a lousy negotiator or not good, but then I remembered where I was. The crème de la crème. Yeah, "staff programmers" (as I call them) might well earn less, on average, than nurses. And it's a guaranteed, standardised wage, none of this grasping meritocracy competitive nonsense.

The thing about programming is that it gives you a chance to shine. I mean really shine. God bless the nurses, etc, but realistically speaking any one nurse is not going to change the world just by being a bloody good nurse. I think the attraction to the high-stakes sink-or-swim pure meritocracy game is a very male thing.

Whoa, where are good programmers in hot markets making more than $200k? Is that counting stock compensation, or actual salary? I'm seeing sub-200k salaries for Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.

http://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Google-Software-Engineer-San... http://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Facebook-Software-Engineer-P... http://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Microsoft-Software-Developme...

Seconded. $200k _is_ possible if you factor in all bonuses, but even then it's not an easy gig to land. Not even for brilliant programmers right in Silly Valley. I'd like to see a pointer to those opportunities...

I doubt the best salaries are in the valley. Too many people still trying to get rich off of stock options. If I were going to try to maximize my base salary I'd move to NYC and work for a hedge fund.

Outside the US you can easily make 200k USD.

160k CHF in 2000 = 88 USD

160k CHF today = 200k USD

160k CHF after US defaults = ???


Demand that you get paid in bullion today!!

Even if you shine you don't make as much as a general physician, and you'll never make as much as a dermatologist. If you want to get rich as a programmer you have to attach yourself to a liquidity event or run your own business.

Isn't it the case that if you want to get rich as a GP or specialist you have to start your own business, too? Also known as a practise? It is known that you'll never get rich working for someone else, but that applies to all trades and I don't see any reason why starting one as a programmer is dramatically different from starting one as a GP, or a plumber, or any other kind of highly skilled and valuable trade.

It depends on what you mean by rich. If you want beaucoup dollars (millions) it does help to own the cardiology clinic.

However, my dad hires physicians for a rural health care system. A cardiologist in this area can get paid a salary of $350,000 per year, guaranteed three year contract. This is in the middle of nowhere, where a nice house can cost $100K and a king's mansion costs about $400K. That is "rich" by most of the world's standards. The option to throw a dart at a map, move there, and make a $300K+ a year without running a business is simply not available to programmers (or any other profession.)

Cardiologists are in the upper salary echelons of physicians. If you're a family physician or a pediatrician you probably won't make more than $200,000 per year, which isn't too far out of line with what some programmers make.

Right, but to make $200K a year as a programmer you have to work at Goldman Sachs or have spent the last 8 years moving up the ranks at VM Ware or be Mark Zuckerburg's college friend. To make $200K a year as a GP you can live anywhere in the USA you want and work part time (which is what my father does).

To make that $200,000 you also have to pour an ungodly amount of time, effort and money into the education system, etc. Once you factor in all the relevant differences the gap is a lot smaller than it appears at first. There are many programmers who earn that kind of salary and don't fit your description of being in finance or climbing the managerial ladder for years on end.

There are many programmers who earn that kind of salary and don't fit your description of being in finance or climbing the managerial ladder for years on end.

Who are they and where do they work? I am looking for a job.

Find product companies where top-percentile individual contributors can make a huge difference to the company's bottom line and are renumerated accordingly.

Was hoping for specific examples, but thanks anyway.

Sorry to be unhelpful. The specific examples I could have given you wouldn't have been useful in your personal job search and giving them would have meant betraying the confidence of close friends and acquaintances. My post's somewhat abstract answer was a common denominator.

How many of these can there be if giving any hint to the observable characteristics of any of them will compromise an individual's privacy?

You were hoping for a list of companies where psykotic has friends who have shared their confidential salaries with him/her, usually small web businesses with a max of 5 or so programmers, so you can ring up and demand your $200k job?

That's not how the real world works.

Not only that, but you're gonna be crushed by debt and won't be starting making money until you're in your mid 30s. Programmers come out way, way ahead once you consider the lost opportunity and cost of all those extra years doctors spend in school.

People who say this haven't done the math or looked at real salary numbers.

The average salary for a cardiologist is $308,000/yr. The average salary for a software engineer is $58,000/yr.

The cardiologist makes six times as much money. Even with a 12 year head start the programmer comes out behind. Medical school debt can be paid off in 2-5 years. In addition, the cardiologist can keep practicing into her 60s whereas a programmer should plan on changing careers in his 40s.

>The average salary for a software engineer is $58,000/yr.

That seems awfully low. I would never have stayed in this business if I was making anything close to that.

Comparing the average software engineer to a cardiologist is just silly. If you're going to select a small, highly skilled portion of the medical field to analyze, you should compare it to a skilled portion of the software engineering field.

Let's draw a more valid comparison: that between cardiologists and graduates of good engineering programs. Graduates from top CS programs are making significantly more than 58K fresh out of college. The standard offer from Microsoft for a good UIUC CS student is 80K + starting bonus. Conservatively assuming an average salary of 100K over 15 years for the programmer, he is 1.5 million ahead once the cardiologist is finally debt free (12 years of school + 3 years to pay back debt). The cardiologist will then take 7.5 years to catch up, by which time the cardiologist will be in his 50s. I don't know about you, but I'd rather be debt free and making 100K in my 20s, 30s, and 40s, then being the guy on top when I'm 50.

22.5 years after high school is age 40, not age 50. Doctors start pulling (small) salary 8 years after high school.

I'm pretty sure it's 12 years of schooling after college. 4 years of medical school plus 6-8 years of fellowship. Thus 12 after college + 3 years to pay back debt + 7.5 years to get even is age 22 + 22.5 years = 45. Of course the reality is that someone who has worked at Microsoft for as long as the guy in the comparison is going to average more than 100K a year in compensation over 22.5 years. So my figure of the salaries evening out at 50 is pretty reasonable I think.

Medical school is 4 years after college. Average cost is $100k-$200k.

After medical school comes residency, which lasts from 3-6 years depending on speciality. Compensation during residency is $40k-$60k.

After residency, you can get a job. At that level of training, the salary will be $150k-$250k.

Optionally, you can get a fellowship after residency. This will be another 3-6 years of training, with compensation around $50k-$70k.

After fellowship, jobs pay in the $250k-$500k range.

Averages here are worthless. Is that $300k with or without insurance factored in? (In Florida "General surgeons paid in between $90,000 per year and $175,000 per year or more. OB/GYNs once again could expect the highest rates, with liability coverage ranging from $100,000 to $200,000 per year." Other states are less.) I'm told those in the medical profession have high salaries and correspondingly high insurance rates, which makes their salary much less than what it appears. There's also the cost of equipment if they need that. Similarly I'd like to control for location (which goes along with insurance costs anyway): a $60k job in the slums may be worth $100k in the Valley due to living costs alone.

"In addition, the cardiologist can keep practicing into her 60s whereas a programmer should plan to retire or change careers in his 40s."

And from where do you find this Bullshit?

From news articles and personal experience. There have been dozens, if not hundreds of articles about age discrimination in high tech. The people in my extended family who are doctors are all still practicing in their 60s, whereas the two who were programmers were laid off at age 48 and 52, never to work as programmers again. I worked in Silicon Valley, Boston and NYC for 12 years and I can count the number of programmers I worked with over the age of 45 on one hand! (Maybe even on 1 finger, technically the other guy was no longer working as a programmer...)

The downside of course is that by the time your able to throw the dart at the map you're going on 40. Still, it sounds quite appealing.

Bloody hell. I guess I didn't realise they could make quite that much. Yep, that outpays all but the most exceptional programmers all right, I stand corrected.

"or specialist you have to start your own business, too? Also known as a practise?"

The number of practicing dermatologiests strictly limited to an amount determined by a council of dermatologists via the AMA. Programmers have nothing remotely similar.

This applies to all doctors, when you can artificially limit your supply, of course salaries are high, you make sure of it. If everyone who was qualified to be a doctor -- i.e. residents who should already be but don't have that magic piece of paper --, was made a doctor automatically after X years of residency, wages would be no higher than programmers.

Registered nurses at Ontario's public hospitals can make $100k+. http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/publications/salarydisclosure/20....

Paramedics can make $125k+. http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/publications/salarydisclosure/20...

Doctors can make $200k+. See both of previously mentioned lists.

" Honestly, when you hear the phrase 'the world’s best developers,' you see a guy. "

Thats the key right there - women are comfortable competing, they just have a hard time picturing themselves as the alpha geek hacker that this competitive language brings to mind for many people. At least thats how I interpreted it.

Also there are studies that women tend to underestimate their skills while men tend to overestimate them which might also be relevant, see Sheryl Sandberg's commencement address:


"Also there are studies that women tend to underestimate their skills while men tend to overestimate them which might also be relevant."

In general, men have far more pressure to be confident than women do.

This is actually a very important point, I work so hard currently because I know I will have to secure my family's financial future after I get married.

On the other hand, If I were to be a girl I would be a lot more relaxed in may approach because I know my earnings are not the primary source of income to my family. And husband is going to take care of it anyways.

Meh, I think most of the 'pressure to act confident' has little to do with wages and a lot to do with social mores. I have worked with many people over the years with much less confidence than I have who managed to out-earn me.

I've met more women who would prefer a relationship with a confident man who earned less than they do than I've met women who would prefer a relationship with a less-confident man who did earn more. I mean, that's all anecdotal, but I've been both (comparatively) wealthy and unconfident, poor and confident, and wealthy and confident, and as far as I can tell, the comparative level of wealth involved has little to do with dating outcomes.

On the subject of being out-earned, with traditionally male jobs falling out of favor and traditionally female jobs rising in importance and pay, it seems that us men may not end up being the primary provider for our families[1]

this is consistent with my observation both of the lower class and the upper middle class people I know.


Premed and organic chem aren't advertised in "competitive language", though. How often do you see schools write course descriptions like "we're seeking the world's best chemistry ninjas to help us take our chemistry educating to the next level?"

Just as often as course descriptions say "we're seeking the world's best javascript ninjas".

We were comparing things like the Google Summer of Code description (referenced in the article) to premed (referenced in the parent of my comment). I'm sure programming courses don't have the competitive language, but I suspect premed courses correlate more strongly to the types of people who'd want to be doctors than programming courses correlate to the types of people who'd want to work at Fog Creek.

This doesn't make any sense to me (not you, the statement). Some of the most competitive people I know are women. And if you've been on a university campus it's stacked top to bottom with women competing for highly selective majors. CS and Sft.Eng. seems to be an outlier in this, but chem, bio, business, and econ are populated with really smart graduate women.

Even when I was in highschool 10 years ago the top 10 students, 6 of them were girls. The salutatorian was a girl and she let everyone know how displeased she was for not getting valedictorian (beaten by 1/100 of a point).

Women are turned off of CS and I can assure it's not the competitive language.

so what is it, then?

The computers.

Yeah, it's not a necessarily female response. I'm sure lots of male devs would be more attracted by constructive rather than competitive language.

But actually, I love that. They asked her for advice on marketing their program to women, and she gave them advice on marketing their program in general. Good show.

> I'm sure lots of male devs would be more attracted by constructive rather than competitive language.

I usually look for some measure of professionalism. There is nothing wrong with being passionate about your work but talk of ninjas and rockstars stinks of arrogance and is always offputting. Things like this are much more attractive, personally:

Rethinkdb: "While everyone at RethinkDB has the determination to move heaven and earth to succeed, we prefer to get stuff done quickly and go home to our families, instead of living our lives in the office."

Jane St: "We put aside ego, politics, and appearance to focus on truth. We try to admit when we are wrong, talk about our mistakes, and challenge our previous conclusions."

Basho: "If you are smarter than everyone else, the absolute smartest person you know -- as in you win every argument because you are so smart and no problem cannot be solved by a quick application of your smarts -- please do not apply. We are human and will disappoint you."

> Why are women turned off by competitiveness in CS, but not in medicine?

From my experience, the primary thing driving those who aspire to work in the medical field is not so much salary as employment security. They compete early on (in college and in medical school) so they wouldn't have to compete later when they enter the workspace. I think that the promise of job security (guaranteed employment) has a particular appeal to women. I suspect that their thinking is that once they graduate, they can relax at the high-paying secure job and invest their time and resources into growing children. On the other hand, to me, as a young man looking to enter the startup field, ventures with ongoing high risk and high payoff appeal more than employment guarantees.

I dropped out of premed and started programming and studying art sometime in college partly because I was turned off by people whose primary career motivation was job security and who did not have any serious creative pursuits besides their career goals.

That is a very interesting point you make about assumptions being applied to "both" genders. In particular, that advertising competition is considered to be a way to attract manly men to a tech startup. Is this really the best approach? Sure, the high school football player is interested in bashing in the head of his competition and causing them pain. Advertising for those competitive traits are undoubtedly an excellent approach to attracting the most sociopathic used car salesmen and wall street traders for who the customer is an enemy to be bilked.

But is that criteria what best motivates inventors and designers as well?

Myself, I design things because I like to make cool stuff for people to use and I am really good at it. I spend a lot of time thinking about and experimenting with usability. I have found that an interest in making cool useful things is something that brilliant talented designers share with me. I have yet to meet any brilliant designers who are motivated primarily by wanting to destroy their rivals.

Aren't we missing something here? Med schools try to have 50/50 gender split in their incoming classes. Heck, patients certainly 50/50. Med schools don't even want gender diversity, they want gender parity. CS departments can't fathom such a thing. And while employers like diversity, they don't need parity. Startups need skills, not stats, so it's not a priority for them either. I'm not saying females are not on par with their male counterparts in s/w and medicine by any means. But at least their are role models and courtship in medicine.

I think a lot of CS departments would be happy to aim at 50/50 gender parity, if their application pipeline were anywhere near close enough to support it. When applicant ratios are in the range of 90% male, it's very hard to get more than 20-30% women in the incoming class, even if you really go out of your way to aim at gender balance.

It took med schools a few decades too, over which they first removed overt barriers (like "medicine isn't for women" attitudes among faculty), then successfully convinced more women to apply, and then finally accepted many of those applying women. CS's troubles are complex, but I think one of the stickiest ones is that interest/disinterest in studying CS seems to develop around high-school (same as studying math), so the imbalance somehow has to be addressed at the pre-university level. Med-school doesn't seem to have the same differentiate-by-age-15 aspect.

Gender parity is more significant for medicine as there are a great many patients who have trouble working with a doctor of a particular gender. It's not always same-gender pref either - I know of two women who prefer male gynaecologists because they're less rough when examining.

Given the importance of medicine to leading a happy life, it's important to get as much information out of patients as possible - so it's in the interest of the industry to make sure that the client-facing staff have plenty of both genders.

It's much less important in programming as users and programmers rarely interact. Was Firefox written mostly by men or by women? It doesn't matter to me as I don't interact with them in order to use the service Firefox offers.

There's a core issue here I point out to my male colleagues, which I find to be true of myself as a female developer: as a stereotypical trait (I am generalising here, beware!) girls don't find sitting in front of a computer alone all that interesting. I personally value my personal time alone and am fairly unique in this respect (my boyfriend would love it if I wanted to hang out and work with him! But I focus best alone). So I would simply posit that changing the language to focus on the collaboration aspects appeals to more females.

I'd love to work on a team of mixed genders (that includes all known genders) - I have yet to have the pleasure. I find working in a team of hetero males can be exclusionary and exhausting, and prefer to work remotely much of the time rather than be in a room of constant male posturing (which many of you do unawares and outside of the work office I'm quite happy to enjoy watching the escapades).

"girls don't find sitting in front of a computer alone all that interesting"

To be honest, the nature of the work is that most time working is spent in solitude. It's the same if you write novels or compose operas. Do we also say that writing novels is unfriendly to girls because sitting in front of the typewriter alone is not all that interesting? It is interesting if you are a writer or developer or opera composer because that is the nature of the work.

However, it should be noted that all these fields also have times when you are not deeply immersed in a project during which you socialize, travel, or even party. Many IT shops are run like slave ships with 16 hr days 7 days a week, that is not possible and yes such shops are deeply dysfunctional, and a turn off for psychologically healthy women and men.

However, if one doesn't like being alone and primarily loves to socialize with people, developing software and writing novels are the wrong careers. Not because of a conspiracy. Because of the way the work is. I would also likewise not recommend high pressure sales jobs to introverts.

>Because of the way the work is

Well, to write a novel you have to have spent some time learning to write, and hopefully have either lived a little or have an imagination. To learn to program you have to spend a LOT of time focused on a computer taking in technical information. After you have acquired a certain amount of technical knowledge you can then program a utility. I wouldn't put this in the same boat as an artistic pursuit as the mode of acquiring information is different.

Once you have learnt sufficient computer knowledge then yes, you can work in a team, but the learning process requires a lot of time alone, while also having a technical aptitude. From my experience, from my friends, the girls who like to spend time alone are artists (painters/writers whatever) and the girls who have technical aptitude are scientists or in the medical profession. It really is my belief that if we want more women in computing it has to become less of an isolated pursuit - I'd like to see other suggestions but I've yet to find any other solution.

If you're a woman and reading this I'd really love to have some feedback from how you've found computing as a profession. Personally I find its isolation the core challenge.

Can you explain what you mean by male posturing?

I don't mean it in anyway as insulting: when a group of guys are together there are in-jokes, playful physical competitiveness (especially when they all know each other well) and talk of girls. All fine things, but spending a year with a bunch of guys in the same room during the workday can get a little draining. If I'm having a bad day it gets difficult when there isn't another female around for support.

To clarify: I love working in any environment where I get on with everyone, regardless of gender/choice of music/language. But it's harder if it's a guy I don't get on with, or there is tension of any kind. Having another girl around to offset that makes a huge difference. Wouldn't it be the same if you're a guy and your workplace is all women?

All fine things, but spending a year with a bunch of guys in the same room during the workday can get a little draining. If I'm having a bad day it gets difficult when there isn't another female around for support.

For what it's worth, it's the same deal if you're the only guy on an almost exclusively female team.

Wouldn't it be the same if you're a guy and your workplace is all women?

Yep. Been there, done that. I think it pretty much always sucks to be "the only one of X" where X is any significant characteristic, such as gender.

When I was one of only two guys in a 14 person IT department a few years ago (and the other guy was the IT director and he was never around on a day to day basis, so basically my work environment was me and 12 girls) there was definitely a sense of exclusion... I was obviously an outsider and nothing was going to change that. Now I don't think it was intentional on their part, any more than it's intention on the part of the men when the situation is reversed. It's just that groups of similar people tend to fall into certain patterns of behavior and a small minority group is always going to feel excluded to some degree.

I have had a similar experience. I don't mind at all if they talk about the best way to catch a girl at the next party or how cool it would be to hide the word penis in the final version of their thesis. But I can't participate in that talk, though I started to appreciate sexy women now. I just can't help being aware that I'm the only girl an an all male group and feel out of place. I feel more comfortable if I imagine that I'm a guy too, I've even thought if it wouldn't be nice to have a gender change to better fit in.

I don't know where you are finding yourself totally surrounded by hetero males in software these days.

Med school appeals to the motherly side of chicks..in fact all of healthcare appeals to our motherly side

It's my understanding that in the early days working with computers was considered manually labor, something akin to data-entry of today. The "real" scientists and business people would instruct their CS conterparts to do a task, and how that task was accomplished was neither interesting nor remarked upon.

As computation became cheaper, CS still retained many qualities of data entry especially in the business sector.

As such, the whole profession was looked down upon. Men didn't want to enter it since after all they could simply be scientists and businessmen instead. So those who took it up were first women, then social outcasts (I'm exaggerating a bit here).


Around the 90s, everything started changing.

CS was still looked down on, but computing was so cheap and easy that you didn't need to trust it to someone with a specific degree to do so.

As such, the scientists and business people I remarked upon earlier began using their own computers. And where they didn't, they didn't hire someone with a CS degree to do it.

Also, the programming aspects of CS were better separated from data entry. Programmers which once were reviled, now could command healthy incomes and thus it became an attractive job for men.

Women on the other hand could get any job they preferred, and did prefer to get jobs in their own interest instead of CS which they might have only taken before because it was one of the few 'low class' labors that still made use of the mind and education.

Somewhere buried at home I have an old Cobol programming book, talking about how, as a programmer, typing was beneith you. Instead you were instructed to write neatly on cards and supply these to the typist for her to type in.

Ouch, that hurts to read quite apart from the offensive stereotype. Barring the pervasive use of shorthand, I don't think someone writing by hand has any hope of keeping up with even a moderately skilled typist, even when writing English rather than code.

I'd like to think we've grown a lot as a culture since then. I mean, seriously, do we really want to return to a time when the ALTER verb existed? :3

Unfortunately, we're still in that time. I don't see "ALTER TABLE" go away any time soon :)

Yup. SQL is from the dark ages. No wonder people are trying to abstract it away all the time.

Just to clarify, I was kidding. I'm fairly certain the GP was referring to COBOL's "ALTER x TO PROCEED TO Y" statement.

All of you who didn't get the reference, you don't even know how lucky you are :)

That was my first thought, that these "computer analysts" of the 70s were glorified secretaries running punch cards through a system. It seems like I would have remembered or known a few more older female computer scientists if they were really 40%+ of the work force.

I've certainly known some. Anecdotally the ones that I knew tended to start in the mainframe world. Not so many in the Unix world. Which is kind of surprising given that I don't have many connections to people in the mainframe world.

If my small dataset isn't a coincidence, then someone who lived in the Unix world could easily be blissfully unaware of how different other environments were.

I don't know about the 70s, but one of my (female) professors worked on the code that took Apollo into space in the 60s.

You might be right, but the female fraction of CS/math PhD's also dropped by a factor of 4 between 1920 and 1960 (see my other post). So the effect extends beyond "unskilled" computer jobs.

I worked many years ago as a substitute teacher in Oakland, CA. During that time, there was interesting pattern. The vast majority of the older teachers were black and the vast majority of younger teacher were white. At a glance, this would seem strange given that discrimination was being actively attacked. But what was happening was more socially prestiges opportunities were opening for black college graduates and so few of them wanted to go into teaching, a field with less prestige than, say, law or business.

I suspect something different but with related qualities is going on with women and programming.

* Women now have more and more opportunities in a number of fields (I recall a statistic claiming the average income of a young woman college graduate in New York was higher than that of the average male college graduate).

* Programming has become a less desirable, less socially prestiges occupation.

* Programming became a more hobby-based occupation - the expectation is more that a programmer have been tinkering with computers forever and thus (as per the article).

* Programming became a more male-identified occupation through the media and through the hobby aspect.

* Age discrimination pushes the previous women programmers out of the field (and contributes to the field losing social prestige).

I believe this is the major force. The reason why medicine equalized first was that it is the highest status profession. Law, business and accounting are similarly equalizing faster.

Low status professions are losing women. Usually low status non-labour professions like teachers, librarians and nurses were done by women primarily but computer science started off early equal so now it is skewed male.

It sucks to be in a low status profession but that's the way it is.

I wonder what the percentage of high school graduates who can program is, broken down by gender. My guess is there's close to an order of magnitude more 18 year-old males who can program than there are 18 year-old females, at least in the U.S., anyway. Furthermore, I'd guess that many if not most 18 year-olds who can program (male or female) are largely self-taught.

My thesis here is that teenage boys are much more likely to learn to program on their own than teenage girls are, regardless of raw aptitude. This might be true of technical skills in general, but programming (I would contend) is unusual in how easy it is to learn on your own.

This is just a hypothesis on my part, and I don't have hard numbers to back it up. It's a question I'd like to see asked, though.

To extend the argument, incoming freshmen who have an aptitude for chemical engineering are likely to start on a level playing field, regardless of gender.

If you consider the CS track, though, the same is not true. Regardless of base aptitude, many more male freshmen will know how to program than will female freshmen. Females (on average) start out behind, and never catch up.

that;s just so wrong. speaking from my experience, I was one of the 10 girls in a freshmen class at uni (100 of us) and yes, i was the only one that knew how to program (taught myself) but then, maybe only 10 out of all the other boys knew how to program.

Which is simultaneously anecdotal and proving the point. A statistic like 1/10 can so easily be an outlier - those aren't numbers you can use to prove a point. And 1/10 is somewhat (although not statistically significantly, given your sample size) smaller than 10/90.

Except you don't have to be able to program to be accepted to a CS program, so that shouldn't have a dramatic effect on why there are so few female students interested in CS.

This is true, but I'd contend that people who already know how to program are a lot more likely to enter a CS program, so you still get an imbalance.

The situation I'm describing is based on my experience in the U.S. In other countries it might well be the case that hardly anybody male or female, learns to program before college. If my theory is correct, then there should be less of a gender imbalance in CS programs in those countries.

Data point for one non-U.S. country: in India, computer programming (in BASIC/Pascal/C/etc.) (and also a bit of elementary computer architecture and elementary computer science) has been part of the schools' curriculum for some years now, AFAIK. High schools, that is, not colleges. (The use of the term "school" to mean college (as well as high school or lower) is an Americanism, I believe.) Also, even in schools that don't have computer subjects as standard, many students join private computer classes. I'm not commenting on the quality of those classes, which can vary widely - from hole-in-the-wall fly-by-night operators (cashing in on the software "boom") to quite good ones, that's another story entirely ...

Also, I don't have specific numbers, but going by observation and reports, there are a good number of girls/women who go into the software field. It's seen as a good option for women workers here because it is a white-collar job, seen as prestigious - good office environments, at least in the mid- to high-end companies, air-conditioning, good pay compared to many other types of jobs, etc.)

But you have to know about what programming and computer science is about before WANTING to apply to a CS college. Or you can just rely on the media or your parents to tell you that CS pays good money - but that's just disastrous.

I think that CS does not appeal to females simply because females are more social than males; spending endless hours in front of a computer is not really that attractive.

True, but it's intimidating when a large part of the class has already had years of experience.

Why did I (a boy) get into computers? I was a nerd and I had one friend and no social skills. I played no sports and did nothing but play with action figures and watch TV - until I found the computer. I never gave it up until I grew up, and now it's a job and sometimes a hobby (when i'm home long enough to play with it). Would you say it's more likely or less likely that an equal percentage of girls to boys would have similar experiences? Or would you say that girls might just have an easier time socializing and might be less prompted to lose themselves on the computer?

Why do we even care about which sex works more in that field? If we had the answer to this question, and somebody decided to increase the population of women in the field... Is it going to produce better code or something? What's the point other than just playing with social structures for fun, or exercising some strange need to reach some kind of artificial equilibrium anywhere we see what we perceive as an imbalance?

tl;dr there's not as many friendless geek women and who cares who's coding anyway

I'm so glad to see this message out there; a frustratingly small number of people are aware of the 1984(ish) peak in females in the field. My mom taught computer programming (Fortran) in a Chicago high school from 1967 until 1984, and was actually kind of surprised when I first asked her about gender balance issues in the field—they just weren't an issue then, and her classes were always more or less balanced.

But what they also were was everyone's very first exposure to a computer. Without exception, her students had never written any sort of program before, and they were recruited from good students in the math and physics classes, coming to programming with an open mind and no preconceptions. (A lot of them, girls and boys both, went into technical computer-related fields.)

The change, as has been noted elsewhere on this page, surely has to do with the introduction of computers, but my hypothesis is that it wasn't just home PCs (not in the 80s) but classroom PCs that were the problem: in a lot of places, computers in the classroom were a fad and showed up with no training of the teachers, so they sat in the back or the side, mostly unused... unless one or two of the students pestered the teacher to play with the computer, and then used the manual and/or trial and error to figure it out. Guess which students were doing that more?

But that, I think, wouldn't be enough. The knowledge should equalise after one or maybe two terms of college CS, right? But I'm pretty sure the real problem was that professors inadvertently reinforced and magnified the difference between students who'd had previous computer experience (primarily boys) and students who hadn't (of both genders). It turns out that as a teacher, it's very, very easy to look around the classroom, see that X% of the students seem to be getting something, and decide to move on. (You can't wait for 100%, usually, so it's always a judgement call.) That's fine if it's something you've taught well and only the weak students are struggling, but what if it's something you absentmindedly glossed over? Half the class understands it, so you must have covered it, right? This is very insidious, and even being aware of it is not always enough to combat it; and if the divide of "has experience" vs "no experience" partially reflects a gender divide, that divide will only get reinforced.

Have you seen this article? http://geekfeminism.org/2010/08/10/restore-meritocracy-in-cs...

One way teachers can even the CS 101 playing field is by doing something totally different than what the kids taught themselves or learned in high school (which is probably object oriented programming, these days).

The tone of that article seems to be "some college students are trying to game our grading system by learning programming in advance. Let's crush them by making them program in an obscure language!"

To me that sounds like "some elementary school students are trying to game our grading system by learning reading in advance. Let's crush them by making them read in an obscure language!"

I agree it's tricky to do anything about it without seeming absurd, but I can also see the motivation. One semester isn't very long, so it's easy for incoming knowledge to completely swamp whatever a course could teach in 14 weeks. But if the goal of CS101 is to put people on track to a CS degree, and the purpose of grading is to give some indication of performance, having CS101 grades completely dominated by incoming knowledge rather than some sort of signal of ability-to-learn seems unfortunate.

On the other hand, this is true to some extent in other fields. For example, hobbyist writers, which these days includes kids who write long-form blog pieces, will tend to breeze through introductory portions of humanities curricula, since grades are often dominated by simple writing ability. If you can already throw together a coherent 5-page essay without having to learn how as a freshman, you're way ahead of the average 1st-year.

By the same token, a hobbyist robotocist would breeze through engineering courses. I'm sure there are good ways to deal with unequal skills - why not let the skilled people test out of the class and save time getting to a more advanced class?

But the way the article frowns on prior preparation as "gaming the grading system" hints at a desire to trample down the tall poppies rather than to improve everyone's experience.

I'd say it's true in almost every field. Usually the person with previous programming experience because they were interested to self guide themselves through it will be the better programmer and may stay that way all throughout college. They may get higher marks but it certainly isn't hard enough that those just coming in can't pass also.

I agree. Very interesting that when you summarized it as "some students are trying to game the system by learning the subject in advance" I thought it was hyperbole. But reading the article, that is actually what they say. "Game the system." Your analogy about reading is perfect. "It is so unfair that Harrison Bergeron came to school knowing how to read!"

"In the past year, the number of women majoring in Computer Science has nearly doubled at Harvard, rising from 13% to 25% (still nowhere near the 37% of 1984). [...] In the past three years, the number of female Computer Science majors at MIT has risen by 28%. And, at Carnegie Mellon, the portion of Computer Science majors who are women has moved from 1 in 5 in 2007 to 1 in 4 last year."

Focusing on the elite computer science schools obscures the overall statistic (which I don't see mentioned in the article). These schools specifically recruit and admit as many qualified females as they can into their program. At CS4HS, a CMU/Google conference for high school CS teachers, we were told as much, and tasked to do our own part to diversify our CS classes.

This post is presumably part of the patio11 campaign to boost Fog Creek's SEO and conversion rates by publishing "content you can't get anywhere else". Looking good!


That's what I thought, but FogCreek and Joel Spolsky probably has billions of in bound links from Joel's writing. Surely they wouldn't need to attract in links?

1. The fact that Joel's blog is on a separate domain means that Fog Creek doesn't reap all the SEO benefits that it could have from links to his writing.

2. Having people visiting the same website where the software is actually sold gets them one step closer to purchasing.

3. There's the "top of mind" marketing effect of constantly having Fog Creek's blog posts on the front page of HN and other tech news aggregators.

If it's on a separate domain, it's probably because they want to do some SEO testing without losing any rankings for the origianl fogcreek site.

The wildly influential Joel on Software blog has been on joelonsoftware.com for ten years. FogCreek.com is where they sell their products.

You should really read the thread and post I linked above, Patrick goes over exactly what they're getting out of the new arrangement.

Also, Joel's stopped blogging for the most part so Joel on Software links might not maintain their current worth forever.

I'm not sure it's possible to have "enough" inbound links, assuming you are able to make a profit on each new customer. Given a certain level of profitable business and submaximal SEO, effort aimed at improving SEO and conversions will be the highest bang for your buck.

This question makes no sense unless it is also asked in conjuction with "what happened to all the male primary school teachers"?

I don't see any reason they need to be asked in the same article actually. Was there ever a time when 40% of primary school teachers were male? It's not clear to me that there's any strong parallel between the two professions at all.

It is a good question to ask though, as there are societal pressures against men going into any profession related to children (e.g. the pedophile scare). But asking it _here_ is just cheap whataboutery to silence the discussion.

The reasoning for the decline in male primary school teachers (and daycare workers) has very little to do with women in CS. Guys have much more danger points in the legal system when accused of something. The risk / reward ratio is too far gone. This does not happen to women in CS.

The point isn't so much a direct comparison but more pointing out that their are different societal pressures on all of us that influence what we do. A male is less likely to be a primary school teacher because there are many factors that make it difficult for them. The same is true of women and CS. There are various forms of societal pressure that are most likely making CS a harder field to enter.

I think the rise of males in CS was due to the rise of the personal computer. As someone noted earlier, as computers become more common in the home and males started using them, they picked up a stigma associated with the type of males that used them.

Why does that have anything to do with primary school teachers? I'm fairly certain very little.

Because it's only a "problem" when an industry is male-dominated it seems. Question is do we want equality, or not?

Actually, it's only a problem because males dominate high paying industries.

There's a lot of talk about gender transitions on jobs. One common argument is if men leave jobs as they begin to pay less or is it that as more women take to a job, we value the job less.

Outside of a few niche industries (modeling, porn, etc...), men generally are in higher paying industries. And gender transitions within industries tend to favor men (for whatever reason).

I don't expect men and women to participate equally in every field of employment. But it would be interesting to understand why women aren't represented as highly in some of the higher paying fields, especially since the opposite is almost never the case (women are over-represented in a high paying field).

males dominate high paying industries

And low paying, dirty, dangerous industries too - and no industries at all, the majority of the homeless and the prison population are men!

This is the nasty little secret at the heart of feminism - they only want advantages, not equality. Another thing feminists are very quiet about is the earlier retirement age...

And low paying, dirty, dangerous industries too

Thia is not strictly true. For a couple of reasons:

1) Men have systematically blocked women from being a part of some dirty dangerous industries. For example combat soldiers, firefighters, even fishermen. It's possible women may not be particularly good at these jobs, artificial boundaries certainly don't help your case.

2) There are other low paying industries dominated by women. For example pimped out prostitutes are predominately women. So again, there are basically no high paying professions dominated by women. And low paying professions are shared by men and women.

Homelessness and prisoner isn't a profession. It's a state of life. But a more fair comparison there is to something like domestic abuse leading to death at the hands of the opposite sex. Or rape at the hands of the opposite sex. Or even just murder at the hands of the opposite sex.

Women tend to be blocked from firefighting by the fitness test. Requirements like carrying a 80kg 100 yards, extending a ladder and running quickly were too hard for many women.

Fortunately, this problem is being solved in progressive countries - they are making the test easier.


This isn't great for me - I weigh more than 80kg, so I run the risk of getting stuck with a firefighter who can't carry me out of a burning building. But hey, gender equality is great, right?

This isn't great for me - I weigh more than 80kg, so I run the risk of getting stuck with a firefighter who can't carry me out of a burning building. But hey, gender equality is great, right?

Fewer fajitas maybe?

But seriously:


Women were kept out period until relatively recently. I don't agree with reducing the physical exam if it puts lives in danger. I don't think we should block women from being able to even apply simply because we think the mass majority couldn't pass the test. At the same time we shouldn't create physical exams that have nothing to do with the job, knowing it excludes most women.

I guess it depends on what you mean by "recently" - in this case, it means 12-16 years before any current firefighter trainee was even born. (Assuming cadets are age 18-22.)

I agree with you that we should allow women to take the test, but we shouldn't lower standards to allow them to pass.


This isn't about high positions. This is about choice of profession. I can buy your argument for why men become CxOs (although based on people I've worked with in the past who have said they'd never report to a woman, I think sexism plays a large role in our industry), it doesn't explain why women as a whole go into poorer paying fields.

Psychology is the classic example. Few women in the field in the 60s, and pay was relatively good. By the late 90s it became dominated by women and the pay dropped signficantly. Did women go into because the pay was low, or did the pay drop when women went into it? You can find people who argue either side.

But the point is, there's never been an industry that women have gone into that has become a high paying field.

The best way for your son to be a financial success is to not go into whatever his sister is going into. :-)

More likely the pay for psychologists dropped because the total supply of psychologists (both genders) increased faster than the population. Also the psychopharmacology industry has provided an alternative to psychologists.

This is really the answer for all the fields. When women enter a field, men don't really leave. So the total number of practitioners goes up.

This book helps explain it a lot: http://www.amazon.com/Why-Men-Earn-More-Startling/dp/0814472...

The pay difference is a matter of a multitude of life choices made slightly differently between men and women.

When I was an education major, other people in the field told me that it was great that I, as a man, was going into education, because I would be serving as a male role model.

Pedophile mania.

Forgot where I read it but like true_religion said, some female programmers came into the field by way of secretary. As they kept typing instructions, they eventually figured out how computers work.

This photo set from Bell Labs taken in the 1960s is pretty interesting:


One thing to note is that despite computers being a novelty back then is that primary education was in a much better state and students had a stronger foundation in science and math regardless of sex. Many long-time teachers would say (with some nostalgia premium) that high school graduates of the 1960s are equivalent to college graduates of today.

Another thing that isn't touched on is that computer programming as it stands right now is not a very female friendly profession. Women will usually factor in the possibility that their careers may get derailed at some point by having a child. Careers where time away from the field doesn't obsolete your skills is a big plus for women. Medicine and law are excellent fields in that regard.

"Partly because it is so tricky to juggle kids and a career, many highly able women opt for jobs with predictable hours, such as human resources or accounting. They also gravitate towards fields where their skills are less likely to become obsolete if they take a career break, which is perhaps one reason why nearly two-thirds of new American law graduates are female but only 18% of engineers.

A study by the Centre for Work-Life Policy, a think-tank based in New York, found that, in 2009, 31% of American women had taken a career break (for an average of 2.7 years) and 66% had switched to working part-time or flexible-time in order to balance work and family. Having left the fast track, many women find it hard to get back on. "


Based on the handful of women I know who can program, there seems to be a few reasons why not many go into CS: 1) It seems they aren't exposed to it as much. They're less likely to read about it on the internet. Or learn about it from relatives. Or take classes in it. 2) The handful that I know who took programming in high school never (or barely) turned it into a hobby, even if they later declared CS as their major.

Meanwhile, I know tons of guys who got into programming by themselves, or because their parents did it. Also, all of the CS guys I know who took programming classes in high school did some outside of class for fun.

So, when some women become CS majors, they get intimidated. They see "everyone" outperforming them, since everyone is mostly guys with a pre-built set of skills. Even guys who are so-so at something quite frequently talk like they know stuff; that's just the way guys behave. This worsens the above impression. There's an actual culture difference. Can't stress the importance of this enough.

As a result, instead of thinking "These guys have years on me and I need to catch up and put lots of work in," many women think "I suck at this," and quit. Then next set has the same problem.

EDIT: removed a bit of unintentional italicizing

I'm a female developer. I'm not going for CS, but a Systems Engineering degree. I share classes with lots of women (well, in the best of situations, we're 1/3 of the total population of a classroom). Even knowing lots of women going for a SE degree, I can count with one hand the female developers I know. Most of them aren't interested in developing, but in functional analysis and leading teams.

> Most of them aren't interested in developing, but in functional analysis and leading teams.

But why is that so? Is it because we as a culture have decided that "men are focussed on building things" and "women are focussed on social interaction"? I'm interested in the thought process that actually motivates people to decide what they prefer to be working on.

When I look back on how I got started with programming, the overwhelming aspect for me was the incredible coolness of being able to make anything I could dream of. It's this feeling of creative empowerment that really drives me to this day. And somehow I never thought of this as being a gender-specific motivation, but I would like to hear more opinions on whether I'm mistaken or not...

Is it because we as a culture have decided that "men are focussed on building things" and "women are focussed on social interaction"?

I think that that is the root of the problem, that collective decision, that outsourcing of our moral responsibility to our bodies.

Is it because we as a culture have decided that "men are focussed on building things" and "women are focussed on social interaction"?

"Decided" or "observed"?

That's the same thing. When a culture "decides" something like that it becomes a behavioral reality. The human mind is incredibly plastic. Cultural expectations and preconceptions shape us tremendously, they play a big role in all issues where identity or life goals are concerned.

No, you're presupposing that it's some sort of cultural influence that came out of nowhere rather than (one of many) quite natural, pre-existing behavioral differences between men and women.

You're absolutely correct, I'm am. And you're presupposing that those differences are biologically hardcoded, I get that. I just don't agree with you.

I'm suggesting a possibility; you're presupposing a dogma.

Traditionally, dominant groups have often invoked (fake) claims of a naturally fixed order to protect, justify and market the status quo. For example, this line of reasoning has historically been used to assert that black people are a subhuman race incapable of higher intellectual thought and that women shouldn't be allowed to vote on the grounds that they are immature and hysterical by nature.

Another reason why I believe most of the omnipresent assumptions about a natural order are essentially bullshit is that I know quite a few men and women who violate these supposedly biological gender roles. They are not sick, they are not mutants, they are not troubled individuals with identity problems and they're not trying to be rebels. It's just that they don't care about their socially prescribed attributes.

Lastly, there have been quite a lot of experiments in psychology to successfully illustrate that expectations actually shape your capabilities. Not just the conscious idea of identity itself but indeed capabilities that were always thought to be innate are now found to be subject to variations stemming from motivation and expectation.

Recently I read about a study where participants were asked to do cognitive tasks that traditionally have a strong gender bias, for example spatial orientation. The results were as expected. However, the researchers then did a second run with a second group, explaining beforehand which tasks usually favor women and which tasks were better performed by men. The catch was: the experimenters lied, they actually switched the descriptions around. When this second group then took the tests, they performed according to the (now inverted) "expectations".

So I do have a few pointers that helped me arrive at this "dogmatic" position. So what's your position? What's the actual background of your suggested possibility?

For one, there are observed gender disparities in certain things (you mentioned spacial reasoning) which there is no apparent or plausible political agenda in artificially creating. In fact, the predominant political agenda is largely the idea that there are no differences between men and women. For another, disparities are often observed in infants. What mechanism do you propose communicates subtle social norms to infants? You also have proposed no plausible explanation as to where these expectations came from in the first place.

Further, you are misunderstanding the idea I'm proposing. I'm sure there are individual men who have, for instance, very poor spacial reasoning and individual women who have very good spacial reasoning. One does not reason about individuals the same way they reason about populations. As a population, men, on average, might be better at spacial reasoning. As an individual man or woman, a test of spacial reasoning will yield orders of magnitude more data about their spacial reasoning abilities than simply observing their sex. I have many personality traits that are more common in the opposite sex--I'm sure most people do. It's a fundamental misunderstanding of averages that leads one to take this as evidence for your viewpoint, however.

Ultimately, measures of a population only explain populations. They may explain why, as a population, most programmers are men. They do not explain why your sister is or isn't a programmer.

I understand your belief, I just don't share it. But coming back to the issue that started this discussion: is it your contention that there are very few female developers because of biological reasons? If so (all pop evolutionary psychology and sociopolitical agendas aside) that's a depressing thought, because that would mean there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it. Without even trying, we already give up. It actually makes me uncomfortable that women are so extremely underrepresented in a field that I care about.

But coming back to the issue that started this discussion: is it your contention that there are very few female developers because of biological reasons?

Again, I'm not making a contention, just suggesting a possibility.

Furthermore, I admit that some factors are social--for instance, if software development weren't a low-status profession in the US, there would probably be more women developers. I'm just not convinced that it all comes down to social factors.

If so (all pop evolutionary psychology and sociopolitical agendas aside) that's a depressing thought, because that would mean there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it.

It's not a depressing thought unless you have a sociopolitical agenda of having every single profession evenly split between men and women.

> It's not a depressing thought unless you have a sociopolitical agenda of having every single profession evenly split between men and women.

I like to think that I don't. I am however uncomfortable with the makeup of this specific field because I believe it is missing out on a huge potential source of creative and intellectual influence. In other sciences, this is not even a problem: there is no shortage of women hacking DNA, for example. So this makes me vaguely optimistic that CS could in theory be enriched by better recruitment.

Decades ago, there were no women surgeons because it was perceived as not being "in their nature". Look at hospital staff today, the situation is changing profoundly. I hope some day we can do the same for software development.

I agree on the point that on average there may be some differences between genders when it comes to mental capabilities. That said the range that it varies from may be quite large for both genders and there is plenty of overlap to it might be quite small and their is little overlap. Even when phrasing this as a question when it comes to populations there is lots of wiggle-room depending on how the data plays out.

Oh, yeah. Even differences in standard deviation, for instance, might be more important than differences in average. And it's not just a matter of mental capabilities, but also in interests and desires.

I know quite a few men and women who violate these supposedly biological gender roles.

So do I, and that's irrelevant. There are lots of women who can bench press more than I can; that doesn't change the fact that men are on average physically stronger.

What's the actual background of your suggested possibility?

Biology. Specifically:

1. Hormones like estrogen and testosterone have known effects on psychology. In your gender neutral utopia, do you really expect women to commit 50% of assaults and murders?

2. Genes for red-green color reception are on the X chromosome. Women have two chances for a good copy and men only have one, which is why men are much more likely to be color blind. Is there any reason to expect that no genes that affect personality or mental capabilities work in a similar way?

3. Different selection pressures due to the mechanics of reproduction. Males can potentially have many more offspring than women, and each child costs them much less in time and resources. In terms of propagating their genes, males get a bigger payoff for taking gambles than women, so it would make sense that evolution would select for risk-taking males and risk-averse females. (And also explains why women are more selective when choosing mates). More detail in "Is There Anything Good About Men", http://www.psy.fsu.edu/~baumeistertice/goodaboutmen.htm.

Of course, none of this is to say that society doesn't have large effects, or that anyone should be discouraged from any field because of their gender. It just means that if less than half of preschool teachers are men and less than half of Linux kernel developers are women, it might not be because we're a bunch of sexist Neanderthals.

"Most of them aren't interested in developing, but in functional analysis and leading teams."

That was the impression I had of SEs in general during my undergrad. The CS kids wanted to be developers. The SE kids wanted to be managers.

I can barely put up with all of the jerks in our industry as a man, I don't want to think about what it would be like as a woman.

The pictures in the article show an old IBM-style computing facility, the domain of the sages in white robes who tend the machine. This raises two questions in my mind:

1. Have hackers and the hacker culture risen in importance and influence in the broader tech ecosystem since, say, 1985?

2. Has this resulted in a change of computing culture contributing to the decreasing numbers of women entering the field?

One of the things present in Levy's Hackers was that the vast majority of the movers-and-shakers in the hacker community were men. Roberta Williams was, I believe, the only woman mentioned in the book with any direct involvement in computing. Has that culture risen in influence, and is it (partly) to blame? The IBM terminal & mainframe rooms with their hospital-clean appearance don't make press much any more.

"But that means that I can’t really talk to my friends about the stuff I do for my classes, which is frustrating. Sometimes, there’s a really cool idea presented in class, but it’s only cool if you already know the background information to understand it – to grasp how and why it’s cool. Trying to present enough background to explain why this concept is awesome during the course of a conversation really just doesn’t work, as they don’t get a deep enough understanding of the background to see why it’s cool and spending several minutes attempting to explain frustrates me and bores them."

As a male software developer, this frustrates me too. You just get eye-rolls and snarky replies of 'flux capacitor?'

I hear you on this one. I think it's fashionable to not have to know anything. Look at our role models, for example - celebrities. Not so many scientists or mathematicians, mostly glitterati or athletes. It's a bit worrying.

It could also be about riskiness. Computing moved from stable and secure to very risky and with nightmare hours, though I'm not sure when.

For better or worse, the thing that jumps out at me from that graph is that the numbers all look similar until you get to the code review, where half as many women made the cut as men.

If this is a statistically significant difference, it speaks volumes.

"What happened to all the talented female teachers?"

In the 1960s teaching was one of the few professional occupations considered "suitable" for women, and as a result many of the best and brightest women went into education. As other occupations opened up to women this resulted in a huge brain drain, with the average ability of teacher to drop dramatically.

I imagine the same happened in programming as well, as women has more choices open up to them they naturally moved on to other fields.


Irrespective of context, I second the recommendation for Red Queen.

As to the question, since my college years are in the "drought" years described in the OP: there is no way I would have done a CompSci degree in those days. The CompSci programme was in the mathematics department, and was primarily a pen-and-paper discipline (very algorithmic). In the meanwhile, the physics department had Vaxes! And Internet (well, DECnet at least). Nobody in their right mind who loved computers would have chosen CompSci over Physics.

Obviously things have changed now.

While we analyze why there isn't much gender diversity as it is before. We must also understand how much the industry has changed over years. The volume of work that existed back in the pre - 80's era and now isn't even comparable. And with volume the culture of our profession has changed drastically.

If its your usual 9-5 job, where you have to apply routine steps everyday then it would have been OK. But being progressive in programming requires you not just to work hard(And in most cases working under difficult deadlines and overnight) you also have continuously keep learning and update yourself with things that come along everyday. This is pretty demanding if you have a family, kids and especially when you are pregnant etc. There are physical limitations in those issues. If I look at the way my career has been, I sort of had to stay and overnights and work on difficult deadlines many times over long periods. It becomes very difficult for a mother with kids to accommodate work and family in that kind of schedule. So she has to often opt to be one side. A general counter point presented to this argument is to ask the Project manager to be more come with a more accommodating plan.This is often not possible due to economic reasons, given the time, money and resource something needs to be delivered. This has nothing to do with male domination in the society, these are just unavoidable situations.

This is typical of many other professions. Why don't we find as many female cab drivers as male ones? Why don't we have as many frontline female soldiers/nurses?

Let alone all that, if the current biological situation was reversed. And men could stay at home(Do the house choses, kids, food etc) and women had to take all responsibilities of house, family, money and security for their whole life. How many women in mass(not individual cases) would be happy with such a tiring and demanding life?

Well I guess everything in the nature and the way things go have a purpose.

But the most common explanation is that the rise of personal computers led computing culture to be associated with the stereotype of the eccentric, antisocial, male “hacker.”

I think that's right, but the question is why girls did not use the opportunity that presented itself and put their own cultural stamp on it.

Do the influxes of women correlate with industry stability?

Women tend to not like to waste their time, but men will take high risks for high returns (according to http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2767867). So, men will explore, discover, invent. Some get rich; most get nothing. Women prefer reliable reward for effort e.g. law and medicine.

But the computer industry has been characterized by periodic disruptions of new hardware (mainframe, minicomputer, desktop), and while those revolutions were opportunities to make a fortune, they were not stable. Currently, the early land-grab of the web seems to have subsided and its future looks secure (e.g. smartphones aren't dethroning it). If we have entered a period of stability, it may be more attractive to women.

If you plot women's share of doctorates in different fields, it's pretty telling that CS is the only field in which the fraction of women dropped significantly between 1920 - 1960. In 1920, 20% of mathematics and CS PhD degrees went to women, by 1960 it was down to 5%. It took until around the turn of the century for it to get back up to 20%. (See http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf06319/)

Asking why there aren't more female developers is like asking why there aren't more guys who go into nursing or more guys who wanna be fashion designers or a chef.

Perhaps its personal interest, societal view that industries like games and computers are more masculine...

Honestly, who cares if the developer is a chick or a guy as long as the application or site being built is useful

"In 1987, 42% of the software developers in America were women. And 34% of the systems analysts in America were women. ... the percentages of women who earned Computer Science degrees rose steadily, peaking at 37% in 1984."

While that's definitely higher, still seems like the field was male dominated (the majority were male).

That 37% dropped to 20% by 2006— nearly halved. It might not seem like a large percentage difference, but consider that that's the difference between the field being under 2:1 male and 4:1 male. That's the observation of interest here.

Definitely true, I was actually surprised the field wasn't originally the majority female since I remember reading that the original programmers were nearly all women.

The title "Systems Analyst" sometimes has absolutely nothing to do with software development. I know a couple of female Systems Analysts that know nothing about software development. I'm not even exaggerating.. they use a computer, sure, but they do not write or develop any software.


I personally feel that women get turned off to CS and in general tech courses because they're male-dominated and usually somewhat misogynistic, which makes being in CS classes and interacting with CS majors sometimes unpleasant and encourages them to do something else.

In general, women are perfectly intelligent and capable of studying (see: women in premed, women in law, etc, etc).

CS isn't some mystical major that's harder than every other major ever (me, I'm scared of business majors; those guys are cutthroat), and I don't think "women can't commit themselves and women can't study the same way and women don't do research" is really a good explanation for why there are fewer women in CS than there are in premed.


The sample size is small enough that I don't think there's any reason to believe that it means anything.

That's our hunch, at least for now. I doubt that the code screen is somehow gender-biased, but I'm certainly not going to reach that conclusion with a sample size of 21.

I don't think it means much in the big picture but it does seem to be a reasonable example of a company where the hiring process is fair, gender-wise, from start to finish. The only problem is that a mere fraction of the applicants are women.

And it makes it easier to believe that, at companies unable to attract and screen that many candidates, they may get no qualified female applicants, period. It lends plausibility, even if it's not actually proving anything.

My bad, glossed over the table giving frequency counts just above it. Comment deleted.

It's a question that others will probably ask themselves as they read the article. Some maybe don't understand significance and others, like you, will just miss the frequency counts. So I think your comment still had value, maybe with an EDIT added if you want to make it clear that you see the error now. It's your call of course, but I tend to think that comment deletion is something that should be avoided when possible.

my experience: Where I work, on my floor we are either a proportion of 50% - 50% or 40%-60% (in favor for the Girls). Hey, but this is Romania, we don't have feminist movements and so on. Different society. Even in college we are something like 40%-60% (males win here) but we don't take it as a big deal... Btw found CS girls in college that were smarter than me on some fields of this domain :), and I know where to ask if I have a question about those fields.

other answer: Depends on the "society" although while I was in the USA everybody was blaming it... and believe me is not because of it, is because of those who like to blame it ;).

Last but not least... my girlfriend is a developer.

Here you go: It seems like sometimes the family computer is bought mainly for the boy to use and then he’s kind of forced to share it with his sister.

That pretty much explains it, doesn't it? Girls are discouraged from using computers because they learn from a young age that computers are the "domain" (property / territory) of boys.

Happily not the case in my family. The Apple II Plus was my Christmas present in 1980. My younger brother (now an MBA) was content playing video games when I wasn't hunched over the keyboard writing BASIC programs with alarming numbers of GOTO statements.

Do you really think that girls are discouraged from using computers in this day and age? I'm always excited to meet women who can code or who show even the slightest interest in learning how to actually program a computer because there don't seem to be very many of us (even in a place like Boston). That being said, most women that I know who are approximately my age or younger are at least reasonably adept at using software that other people wrote.

No, I just meant that if the present is given to the brother, then girls learn that computers are for boys. Especially if he defends it from her :)

Totally off topic, but, is that Font intended?

A cursory look at the graph indicates that the only place women suffered was on their own code. Resume, phone skills, interpersonal skills, all great.

You're getting downvoted, no doubt because the thing you remarked is a thing-you-can't-say. I completely missed it myself, but it's very telling: code screen eliminates women in a 28:5 (5.6) ratio, compared to men's 26:10 (2.6). A classic rebuttal is that the test could be biased.

Reducing complex phenomena to one factor so that they can be digested on a 30-second news segment or put into soundbites by any politician is an unwelcome consequence of modern media. I have no doubt many factors cause demographic changes such as the one discussed. Testing for the weight of each factor needs scientific work and controlled experiments which are pretty much impossible to carry out, unfortunately. Until then, things will be talked and written about, but remember, it's all fluff. Someday, some historian will even write the definitive history of women in early computer science, and I have no doubt his conclusions will be as disputed as the fall of the Roman empire is today.

But these discussions will still serve as vehicles for political agendas, most of which will be of the variety "more people should be like me".

Tiny sample size aside, a given woman is nearly four times as likely as a given man to receive an internship offer from Fog Creek provided both have reached the phone interview stage. From there, women are twice as likely to decline Fog Creek's offer, presumably due to having more & better internship options.

Survival rate by stage:

  Submitted resume gets reviewed:
      1.05 : 1 in favor of women.

  Reviewed resume gets a code review:
      1.02 : 1 in favor of women.

  Reviewed code gets a phone interview:
         1 : 1.96 in favor of men.

  Completed phone interview leads to an in-person interview:
      1.31 : 1 in favor of women.

  Completed interview leads to an offer:
      2.92 : 1 in favor of women.

  Candidate declines offer:
         2 : 1 in favor of women.

How on Earth can you gender-bias a coding test!? The compiler doesn't know if you're a boy or a girl!

Easy - choose a domain where pre-knowledge is gender-biased: "Design a web application to manage a fantasy football league", "Implement a D&D character generator", "Implement an optimal queueing strategy to solve the urinal-allocation problem (http://blog.xkcd.com/2009/09/02/urinal-protocol-vulnerabilit... ).

Not suggesting that's what fogcreek do, of course, but just to demonstrate that a coding test could easily have a gender bias - or a cultural one, for that matter.

If a person of any gender can't turn urinal allocation into selecting a subset of range(0,N) of maximal cardinality subject to the constraint that neighboring integers are excluded (assuming my quick skim of the problem didn't gloss anything over), they are a bad developer.

Lots of times you need to develop stuff without domain knowledge. My startup targets women's fashion, which I know very little about. If I were to give up or fail because the problem involves plackets and silhouettes, I'd have already quit and gone back to NJ.

Xkcd is wrong about that as it depends whether the man is a huncher or an arcer. I suppose you're right, only a man would know that. But Joel is well known for Fizzbuzz.

I doubt the compiler is responsible for assessing the test. I also doubt that gender-bias on the part of the assessor is the reason for the disparity though (assuming the disparity in this small sample is representative anyway).

diolpah is referring to this graph, btw: http://blog.fogcreek.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Gender-N...

@diolpah it is a very small sample, it probably carries no scientific relevance. It is, however, the author's fault for using it, not yours. Your analysis looks correct as far as the tiny dataset presented is concerned.

EDIT: "Because we can’t ask applicants their gender, we guessed based on first names." Nevermind. The author is a jackass for even including these data in the first place, it's as good as meaningless, even within that small cohort. Alex, Ashley, Sam, Pat, Lindsey, Jessie, any hippy name (see: my name), Quinn, Casey, Rowan... crap pseudoscience is crap.

Anyone would be down-voted for saying this. Thank you for doing us the service of saying it.

The downvotes are appreciated. Where am I wrong?

You're not wrong, but it's a touchy subject. Gender issues are always tinged with "discrimination" overtones.

And, just to be clear, there is _plenty_ of discrimination and bias against women. But that shouldn't detract from the fact that you're pointing out a major outlier in their data.

Unfortunately, without knowing the test, it's hard to even guess what happened there. Is it focusing on syntactic vs. semantical correctness? Does it require deep specialist knowledge, or broad generalist knowledge? How is it graded?

Or is it simply a function of the tiny sample size?

Without pointing out what you conclude from that data, people will infer what you concluded. And since it's a loaded subject, they will often arrive at "what a misogynist jerk" without ever knowing what you were trying to say.

Corollary: When pointing out data on a loaded subject, it might be beneficial to point out what you conclude, and why. At least that way, only one of the two factions can flame you ;)

(Disclaimer: I am a woman, so I obviously disagree with the "women can't code theory". I'd still love to find out _why_ women are filtered out by that test so disproportionately, simply because it might hold clues as to why women are not interested in CS)

"If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you." --Oscar Wilde

I think more than anything you point out that the sample size is to small to really take anything meaningful from it.

Why didn't you just say "women can't code?"

Also, the sample size is crap and the deviation is crap relative to the sample size, so you can't make very many truly meaningful observations from it.

That's what you wanted him to say so you could attack him. He was merely stating an observation of the given data in an unbiased manner.

diolpah, my grandparent here is why you were downvoted. Nowadays, the atmosphere around anything related to gender is super-charged, and people are hyper-super-extra-sensitive to anything that could even slightly be construed as debasing towards women, so even something as simple as observing measured data sounds to them like overt sexism.

Of all of the female computer programmers I've gotten to know well and worked with (maybe 4 or 5), none of them were half as good as the average male programmer I've gotten to know.

Programming is, and always will be a male profession. The only thing that will change this is if we force women to learn programming, but even then you can't make them like it. I think the solution here is to realize that there is a physical pre-programmed revulsion to everything that Higher math, Physics and Programming have to offer.

I've had the opportunity to work with several women programmers. I don't think they were worse than average but none of them live to write software and use technology as a lifestyle. I have never met a female programmer that was self-taught.

I think the answer to the original question (in the title here, not the Fog Creek post) is that the rise of personal computers, and parental influence on girls at the time drove them away from it. Prior to the personal computer, most programmers were being introduced to the field in college. At the dawn of personal computing, parents viewed it as a male activity, like radio or electronics. Once this generation reached college, the males had many years of experience exploring their curiosity at home that the females did not have. College course work had to adapt to this with increased expectations of incoming freshman into Computer Science programs, which left those without computer experience intimidated and struggling.

> I have never met a female programmer that was self-taught.

Hi, how you doin' :)

Of all of the male programmers I've worked with, none of them were half as good as they thought they were.

"there is a physical pre-programmed revulsion to everything that Higher math, Physics and Programming have to offer."

This is not consistent with my understanding of myself or all the other women I've known, and it does not seem to make sense based on the women that you've known either - maybe the female programmers you've met weren't awesome at what they did, but why would they have chosen this profession if they felt a deep revulsion every day when they were learning how to program?

I am sorry that you imagine that all the many women who enjoy making contributions to these fields are fighting against some inherent evolved dislike for them, instead of reaching deep into their personal enthusiasm for these fields and fighting against the sexist attitudes and cultures they often run into.

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