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My experiences at a woman's programming workshop (emacsen.net)
171 points by Swizec 1147 days ago | 161 comments



Dear HNers,

Gender bias is a touchy subject in these tech blogs and the responses to this (yet another) article are, predictably, dismissive. It was one person's fault, there's no widespread gender bias, the instructor should have things differently, someone has seen women be jerks too, etc.

So while there really does seem to be a measurable, observable difference in gender involvement in computing (e.g. in CS enrollments, in working in the industry, etc), these anecdotes always get tossed as not significant.

So what I'm wondering, and this is an open question to everyone here: would anything convince you, personally, that gender bias is real, or has a significant measurable effect, or is a problem? Would it take a certain kind of experiment? Some kind of data or analysis? (Or is the answer, "it's not a problem"?) Like, what sorts of articles would people _not_ jump on the bandwagon to tear to shreds?

best,

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Well; it would take more than anecdotal evidence for one thing. It's very easy for sensitive issues to be dominated by emotional anecdotes, to the point where only group think is tolerated and any sort of valid challenge is labeled. I often wish as a community we could use Crocker's rules ( http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Crocker%27s_rules ) for this kind of thing. It would make for more interesting discussions.

Anyway, I don't think people pick apart these blog posts because they're unwilling to accept there's a "gender bias" (whatever that actually means). Rather they pick these posts apart because there are very obvious holes in the original posts' reasoning. In this case, it's that because some guy was vaguely an overcompetitive jerk, somehow that means we need to isolate the sexes. Because apparently women are incapable of being overcompetitive jerks, and it (obviously) has to be a male/female dynamic.

That's kind of a leap!

Here's the other thing, and this is kind of a tangent, but a theme I see with a lot of these blog posts isn't that someone was actively hostile, but rather, that someone did something "offensive". With "offensive" ranging from things that are obviously very unprofessional to incredibly tame things that someone just didn't like. And to that I'd just say this: its your choice to be offended by things. And its your choice how you react to that. I've been "offended" by many things other programmers have said, but I don't go "well programming isn't for me!". I just think less of those people. I don't think female sensibilities are so frail that they aren't by and large the same way.

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That was hilarious, man. Thanks for that.

Oh, wait, it was serious?!

Well now, how are you going to map this issue to something which isn't, in the end, anecdotes, since it pertains to human emotional responses? Are you asking those ethereal (probably fake, as you said, who even knows what this gender bias thing means?) other people to come up with a scale where they have to put it in 1-to-ten how belittled they felt?

Have you stopped to think of why these kinds of posts are held up to such scrutiny in contrast to, say, posts about other, not-related to gender, and thus mostly affecting men (this last point shouldn't need explanation), matters? Like, bad experiences with VCs or age discrimination and some such?

I would hazard a guess that the distinction is not due to something very rational, unless you get very cynical and paranoid.

Anyway...

> Because apparently women are incapable of being overcompetitive jerks, and it (obviously) has to be a male/female dynamic.

It sort of is if its impact is mostly on women, and the behavior is mostly accused on men. Yes, this last point would require something more akin to actual statistics to be turned into the reason for some sort of castigation on men in general, but I haven't seen any of that as of now, really. Unless you count people feeling personally attacked by the existence of this discussion, of course.

> Here's the other thing, and this is kind of a tangent, but a theme I see with a lot of these blog posts isn't that someone was actively hostile, but rather, that someone did something "offensive". [...]

Well, we are quite glad that none of these problems affect you, but this conversation wasn't about you in particular, was it?

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> Gender bias is a touchy subject in these tech blogs and the responses to this (yet another) article are, predictably, dismissive. It was one person's fault, there's no widespread gender bias, the instructor should have things differently, someone has seen women be jerks too, etc.

It was one person's fault, the instructor should have done things differently, some women are jerks(just like some men). The way you are enumerating says you don't believe they are true, when they are. As for "widespread gender bias", I don't know. I haven't seen it in action myself(I have seen the reverse though - women getting preferential treatment). I am not denying it - I am just saying I am not in a position to confirm or deny.

> So while there really does seem to be a measurable, observable difference in gender involvement in computing (e.g. in CS enrollments, in working in the industry, etc), these anecdotes always get tossed as not significant.

High school kids get into CS enrollments. I would love to hear from them why they don't go for CS enrollments, rather than hearing speculations. I have heard students complaining about nerdy culture, more demanding courses, low grades, low female to male ratio(circular - if you don't come in, it's going to be always low), anti-social(non-party) students etc. Do you believe girls don't enroll in CS courses because they believe there male counterparts will discriminate against them? If so, can you please provide me some citations.

> Like, what sorts of articles would people _not_ jump on the bandwagon to tear to shreds?

The sort of articles where the conclusion follows from the antecedents.

1. I volunteered to teach a women's only class.

1.5 It was going well. Some young girl, who was doing well, just giggled and told me she has no idea what she is doing.

2. Some Dave walked in and derailed it.

3. I got angry, but the women just tuned out.

4. Hence, gender bias is real.

How does 4 follow from any of it?

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So what I'm wondering, and this is an open question to everyone here: would anything convince you, personally, that gender bias is real, or has a significant measurable effect, or is a problem? Would it take a certain kind of experiment? Some kind of data or analysis? (Or is the answer, "it's not a problem"?) Like, what sorts of articles would people _not_ jump on the bandwagon to tear to shreds?

Yeah, this is extremely simple, and I've asked for this probably a dozen times in various forums without receiving any answer whatsoever, let alone a satisfactory one: show me some indication that discrimination is worse in tech than any other field. Not just that the gender ratio is skewed, or evidence for that, but that the behavior you'd like to blame that on is actually worse enough here than in other fields to justify the massive gender gap here.

That should be easy, right? If the reason women don't go into tech at a 4:1 ratio is that all of us fucktard guys are assholes, it should be easy to pull numerical evidence of that fact, I'd think.

The wage gap should be more pronounced than in most fields, right?

Or the number of sexual assault/harassment incidents per woman should be higher than in other fields, surely?

Ok, or maybe more women leave the workforce in this field per year than in others, presumably because of the horrible atmosphere that us piggish guys create?

Don't just tell me that it's hard for women in tech, that could merely be because this is a hot button issue and there are few women in tech; show me that it's worse than it is elsewhere, in all of those other fields where women have their asses grabbed every day yet still keep on keeping on, without (for instance) blog posts blaming the lack of women in waitressing on the harassment that waitresses get from men in the field. Give me some explanation for the fact that the harassment my girlfriend receives every day in retail, including from her male boss (and this is not unusual, I know dozens of women in retail), beats out the worst of the women-in-tech harassment horror stories, yet her field is better than 50/50 women to men. I need something, because to me it seems like there's something a lot more important and powerful going on than mere sexism, which is everywhere and still doesn't keep women from taking jobs.

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The article has incorrect premises and arguments in it. It is easy to believe the CS community is more male-friendly and at the same time disagree with the author of this article. Your somewhat common assumption that the commenters here see women in CS without nuance actually slows down integration of women into CS and open source.

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I would guess a lot of developers are self taught. At least for me it is somewhat difficult to believe that there should be gender bias in sitting down alone with a book and a computer.

Perhaps a lot of people who are also self taught feel in a similar way, hence the typical reactions on HN.

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"Self taught" is a relative term. Very few people learn in pure isolation; most of the time it means "not in a classroom." Mailing lists, friends, and IRC are extremely helpful to learners, and thus social dynamics nearly always have a role to play.

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In the old days it used to be socially awkward kids who found solace in using the computer, because nobody would bother them there. Now it is being turned on it's head and the bullied kids are the bullies who mob against women? It doesn't make that much sense, imo.

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Interesting article, overall. Something occurred to me though:

> "Dave expressed his enthusiasm for the material by asking a lot of very technical questions to the instructor. Largely, these questions seemed designed to show off his own knowledge, or to challenge the instructor. In other words, Dave was the jerk at the conference."

This isn't a male-only phenomenon. Whether it's philosophy classes, psychology classes, or other courses with a significant female composition, this type of behavior is not entirely absent among females either (I have distinct memories of this in college). Granted it may be less common or less confrontational, but it exists, and let's also not forget most women will acknowledge that they can be quite vicious toward one another in office settings as well.

Think about the amount of women in law and medicine (I believe they are the majority at this point). Do you think hot-shot male lawyers or med students behave in significantly different ways than hot-shot male hackers? I doubt it. Men are men; I'm sure in the courtroom, at university, or at the medical conferences, or tech workshops, a minority of us men will exhibit this same "jerk" behavior (i.e., challenging the lecturer, asking questions to show off, etc...). In summary, jerk behavior does not sufficiently or completely explain the lack of women in tech. It exists in most if not all professional fields, even ones in which women are coming to dominate (which, hey, I think is great).

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> I saw Dave’s behavior as a challenge, a call to action. And it was at that moment that the gender difference became most apparent to me.

Oh, for fuck's sake, how is some Dave being jerk is making gender difference apparent? The guy was at the wrong place, and was being a show-off. But no, you must attribute it to his gender.

<edit> As pointed out by threads below, the author was talking about how the room tuned out when Dave started derailing conversation, and he saw it as call to arms. The author sees this as apparent gender difference - FWIW I don't agree with his assessment. As long as we are talking anecdotes, I couldn't see a clear patterns(based on gender or any other trait) in the reactions of the people I know to this scenario.

I am leaving my incorrect comment as there are replies, and the replies will become meaningless if I remove it. </edit>

> Looking at her screen, she’d made significant progress towards finishing the project, but when she asked me a question she giggled and told me she had no idea what the project was about, or what to do.

> Studies have shown that especially bright women have this reaction to difficult material and that women learning computer science do better in an single sex classroom (though those studies have critics).

I think you are better off not basing off your approach on some controversial study. If you are compartmentalizing, no two students are same. And if you are generalizing, I find it hard to believe that 3291805000 females of the world show the same behavioral and learning traits. Unless you have proved it otherwise, I would stick to a feedback based approach where I see how students are coping up, and then introduce variations.

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>Oh, for fuck's sake, how is some Dave being jerk is making gender difference apparent? >The guy was at the wrong place, and was being a show-off. >But no, you must attribute it to his gender.

If you read the article again, you may find that the gender difference which became apparent to the author has to do with the /response/ to Dave's behaviour, and not with his behaviour /per se/.

Also, here is a (perhaps interesting) thought experiment: Among the folks you know well enough, how many would care to respond to an opinion in a discussion forum which starts off with the words "Oh, for fuck's sake" ? How do the women fare in this count? Is there a gender difference?

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Yes, it has to do with the response, but I can't agree with the main point of it which is due to selection bias I think (not gender differences):

  To me, and I suspect most men, we’d see Dave’s behavior 
  as a call to arms. Dave was raising the stakes and even 
  though his behavior was clearly rude, it also demonstrated 
  that he had a mastery over the material.
If this is the core of the article's point, I don't agree with it. People such as "Dave" waste everyone's time, it doesn't really matter what gender Dave and his audience are. When I encounter a Dave, I don't see it as a pointless "call to arms", I tune out and ultimately leave. I'm not wasting my time fighting people like Dave. I don't like how the article implies this makes me less of a man. It's simply good sense in my opinion not to waste your energy on trolls.

If there are groups where everyone feels challenged and is in a fighting mood after seeing Dave in action, it's probably because everyone else already left the room or had the sense not to come to the event in the first place.

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I'm wondering if Dave was actually guilty of what he's been accused of, or if his behavior was misinterpreted.

In college and grad school I was usually the guy asking advanced questions, not because I was trying to show off or be a jerk, but because I was trying to gain a particular level of mastery of the material, and the way I gain that mastery is to ask questions during the process of absorbing the material. I gain understanding of, say, a particular algorithm by asking if a particular extension of that algorithm is appropriate.

This makes me wonder if others mistakenly viewed me as a troll, or felt like I was dragging the classroom down, due to my learning style being something of an outlier. (Being on the autism spectrum, if anyone tried to signal me about this without being explicit, I would have missed it.)

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Yeah if you ask questions that are way more advanced than the material being covered or the level of the other students, you probably were a net negative on the class. Class settings work only if everybody is at roughly the same level, so that you can all improve at the same rate. One person taking up a disproportional amount of time is being rather selfish, which is generally regarded as a negative thing in most circumstances.

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From what I understood, it seems like Dave wasn't asking questions to better understand the material. His intent was to stump the instructor of the class, validating his mastery of the material.

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Are you making an independent observation (ie, you were at the workshop and observed Dave) or repeating what was in the writeup?

Also, I'm genuinely curious: how do you tell the difference? What's the difference between Dave's (presumed) "stump the instructor to validate ego" questions and my "push the edges of my understanding, which may happen to stump the instructor if they haven't thought about it, and which may confirm to me that I've understood things correctly" questions?

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It sounds to me (someone with a fair amount of teaching experience) like Dave was an enthusiastic student. Without seeing a transcript or video, it seems more likely Dave had a lot of things he wasn't clear on regarding Python and was excited to have a chance to ask an expert (the teacher) a lot of questions to clarify his understanding.

In a basic intro class, this can be a problem because other students will start to think they are in the wrong class and don't understand the material and drop out! A common example is language classes. You have a college German 101 class and a bunch of people show up that are native German speakers looking to get an easy A. Or they had 3 years in high school, or lived there a while with their military parents on base, and are looking for a refresher and thought 101 was a good place.

If the teacher lets these students (who are not jerks, bullies or douches any more than I think this Dave was) proceed at their own pace, then the rest of the students will leave in frustration. That happens a lot and the teachers often like it because then they can teach at a more fun higher level with students who already know the material. But it's not fair to the actual intro students.

This also happens a lot in engineering classes where schools pretty much have to assume students have learned basic programming, soldering, and electricity on their own before enrolling in engineering school. In this case it is probably best to let the students who were never interested enough in the topic to study it previously, just drop out.

In this particular case I agree with the suggestion made here by another that students be put into basic/advanced tracks or Dave be encouraged to take another class. Another route to take, which is what I do, is to say "Dave, these are really excellent and interesting questions, but they are way above the introductory level of this class. I'd like to keep things for now on a more basic level since many people here are just getting into programming for the first time, but I'd definitely be more than happy to talk with you in detail about these issues during office hours. Is that OK?"

The solution of labeling him a "bully" and calls for "kicking him out" of the class are irresponsible, immature and signs of an unskilled unprofessional teacher. But it's what goes on at many American primary schools. If you have an excited, intellectually interested first grader who asks a lot of questions, most American teachers will personally diagnose the child with "ADHD" and demand the parents put him on amphetamines to zone him out so he won't keep asking questions and will sit and listen because that's what you do in school nowadays. Sit down, shut up, be quiet, and do as you are told. An approach that most of the posters in this thread seem to approve of given their hatred for poor curious Dave.

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Without seeing a transcript or video...

Or actually paying attention the article, apparently. "Poor Curious Dave" was a VOLUNTEER at the workshop. Just like the author of the article, Dave's purpose being there was to assist the students of the workshop with the projects (presumably, or to assist in some other capacity).

Maybe Dave thought his questions and comments would help clarify or improve the instructor's content...but on the other hand I really don't find the article author's evaluation of Dave as just a showoff/bully much of a stretch. I assumed that we've all seen this behavior tons of times and that it is pretty obvious when someone is being "That Guy" versus trying to clarify or expand on the material for themselves or others.

The fact that quite a few here are eager to challenge the author's evaluation of Dave and jump to Dave's defense is...funny, I guess.

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When I encounter a Dave, I don't see it as a pointless "call to arms", I tune out and ultimately leave. I'm not wasting my time fighting people like Dave.

Same here. I think this is mostly a matter of personality. I see no point for bothering with destructive personality types as long as I am not forced into some long-time work/social relationship setting. Life is to short too confront negativity if one can just go out of its way.

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I don't like how the article implies this makes me less of a man.

I don't think it does that, but nevertheless, this raises an interesting question that I've been having real trouble answering, so maybe you (or others) could help me out: why do you dislike it when people make such implications? Do you feel you're worth less if you're perceived to be less manly?

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> Do you feel you're worth less if you're perceived to be less manly?

No, I simply dislike it when other people tell me how I'm supposed to act based on their proprietary rules. I don't give a shit about my masculinity per se, but I do not like to be mashed in by association with stereotypes that feel alien and artificial to me.

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I'm sad that you feel that the post was dictating behavior based on gender.

I'm surprised and frustrated at how many people are reading things in the article that I never wrote, and never implied- like the sentiment you expressed, or the idea that I'm somehow an advocate for single sex education, or (as one poster on another forum put it, I come off like a "feminist bitch".

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or the idea that I'm somehow an advocate for single sex education

Hmm, that was the message I read. From the conclusions section, "Lessons Learned: I’d never really believed in single sex education... but my experience last weekend changed my view."

Perhaps it isn't clear which of your views have changed, if different people are associating that last part of the quote with different parts of the article.

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> I'm sad that you feel that the post was dictating behavior based on gender.

No, I think you're perceiving it more strongly than I meant it to be. Like I said, I don't actually think this is the most interesting point of the article - so my response here is more a testament to the general reception by our little group than anything else. Overall, I thought it was a good piece to read, actually.

> I'm somehow an advocate for single sex education

I didn't perceive it to be. I too think single sex education is a huge mistake, and one we should not be repeating again. In fact, I believe the more recent conflict of the sexes is largely based on baggage we're still carrying around from that era.

> I come off like a "feminist bitch"

If someone says something like that, just ignore it. It's really not worth responding to people who talk like that. Their phrasing already tells you everything there is to know about them. They're trolls.

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I would regard being referred to as a "feminist bitch" (or feminist anything, for that matter) as a point of pride.

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Less manly sounds stupid. Saying that other people are performing a status play intended to raise their status at your expense conveys the same information without making anyone sound like an idiot.

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> If you read the article again, you may find that the gender difference which became apparent to the author has to do with the /response/ to Dave's behaviour, and not with his behaviour /per se/.

This is correct.

I'm the author of the article, and the tough part about writing this was trying to balance my personal perspective with making a larger point.

What I may not have expressed well was that before last Saturday, I did not see any point in single sex workshops. I felt they were segregating the community, and that they perpetuated the idea that either women were meek, or that men were predatory.

What I came out of the experience with was an appreciation of the differences in interaction between men and women, how women were more comfortable in an environment full of other women, and how there was a difference in the way I reacted to a challenge in comparison to these students.

Of course individual differences will override any generalized statement, but my experiences led me to reconsider my position regarding women oriented groups and their role in the Free Software community.

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these questions seemed designed to show off his own knowledge, or to challenge the instructor.

Yes, Dave was showing off to an audience of women.

she asked me a question she giggled and told me she had no idea what the project was about, or what to do.

Yes, the woman was acting like a bimbo to elicit male help.

Congrats, you now have the grasp of female/male dynamics usually figured out by middle school.

I’d never really believed in single sex education

Wow, a thousand years of human culture tossed away in one generation by ideological fanatics pretending that women and men are "equal" and one guy finally figures out maybe tradition exists for a reason. Ask any woman who went to an all-girls school if she missed having to be in the same classroom as boys.

I saw that women only groups are not creating a more insular community of women, but rather offering these women a more comfortable entrance into our general community.

Amazing! How was this brilliant guy to know he could have asked his grandmother and saved himself all that trouble?

The jerk factor also reminded me of why we in the Free Software community need to be taking issues of civility seriously, and not letting the idea of “free speech” get in the way of maintaining a safe place for discussion.

You get your group to be 50/50 male/female and you are going to drive away lots of competent men because showing off their skills, bragging, and one-upping other men is one of the primary motivations to excel at your chosen field. A "safe space" for women is often a "boring space" for men.

But sure, go ahead, I'm sure this problem will be easy to solve with just the right technical fix. In fact, I can think of one technical fix the ancient Chinese used to make "safe men" for keeping their harems.

"There are no statutes capable of controlling the relations between men and women." -- Secretary

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> the woman was acting like a bimbo

Classy.

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Laughing is a sign of nervousness, not being a bimbo in order to look cute. She probably felt out of her league despite her ability to grasp the material.

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Do you actually compare a desire to get more women into tech with forced castration?!

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Do you actually compare a desire to get more women into tech with forced castration?!

Did you actually read that comment as comparing the "desire to get more women into tech" with castration?

You really didn't understand that the castration reference was to a "simple technical fix" for typical male behavior, and that the reference is what is often called "hyperbole?"

You really misunderstood not only what was being compared to castration, but also the tone in which the reference was made?

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Competent men do not 'show of their skills, brag and one-up other men'. Yes, they may be technically competent, but they are socially incompetent, because they never progressed beyond that juvenile behavior. I'd gladly drive them away.

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Competent men do not 'show of their skills, brag and one-up other men'.

Yes they most certainly do.

Yes, they may be technically competent, but they are socially incompetent, because they never progressed beyond that juvenile behavior.

Ok, now you have admitted that technically competent men may in fact exhibit those behaviors, so now you're saying they are "socially incompetent." You are wrong in both cases, highly competent men who show off their skills, brag, and dominate other men tend to be very socially competent. In fact, this sort of display is very much a demonstration of social competence.

Obviously, juveniles do this is a different way than adults, but the pattern of behavior is the same. It is also often the case that men who are being shown up will try to "tear down" the dominant male by labelling his behavior "juvenile" or trying to change the nature of the competition to something he's better at.

One might paraphrase: "sure, he's highly competent, adept at showing his skills, and is clearly superior to me at this particular activity. But he's such a show-off!"

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Wow, sorry, I didn't realize you were a brogrammer

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I looked up "brogrammer."

"A popular, cool, or otherwise normal person who has become intrigued by the fun of programming. Usually unliked by the nerdy programmers for getting all of the friends and the girls, while creating cool and useful applications."

Was that meant to be an insult?

One has to wonder if "male feminists" and "nice guys" share the same delusion that "white knighting" females will increase their sexual success, and advocating "more women in tech" is an excuse to have potential mates in closer proximity, and has nothing to do with any moral crusade or actual benefit for the tech industry itself?

One wonders if "male feminists" are simply trying to compensate for their personal deficiencies?

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The pejorative usage of "brogrammer" is more like "a programmer who displays all the worst characteristics normally associated with high school jocks" -- things like arrogance, misogyny, bullying, and unwarranted aggression.

(Not rendering any judgment on whether you do or don't fit this definition, just making sure everyone is clear on what was being implied above.)

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The pejorative usage of "brogrammer" is more like "a programmer who displays all the worst characteristics normally associated with high school jocks" -- things like arrogance, misogyny, bullying, and unwarranted aggression

Who associates these characteristics with "high school jocks" and who assumes these are negative characteristics?

Arrogance (i.e., a superior male) misogyny (i.e., a man who the woman I lust after has sex with) bullying (i.e., a man who is socially superior than me) and unwarranted aggression (i.e., a male who out-competes me).

Sound like "brogrammer" means "I really envy this superior man."

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You're trying too hard.

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That bully is a reason why on railsgirls events you have tables for differen skill levels. You could easily send that guy to another table with more advanced people without throwing him out.

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Someone I talked to who has TAed intro-level programming classes suggested doing something similar there: split it into a section for "beginners" and one for "experienced programmers". But the sections would teach exactly the same material.

His point was that in practice, students who actually already know basic programming test out of the intro class, but there always seems to be a contingent that _thinks_ that they are experts, and who ruin the class dynamics by acting superior, asking show-offy questions, etc. It would be better for everyone if they could self-select into a single section.

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What? Bully? That word is getting tossed around a lot these days, and it seems in danger of losing its meaning (or, like "fascist" meaning "someone who thinks or does something I don't like"). There was no "bully" in this story. There was just some guy who loved to hear himself talk, and wanted everyone to think he was smart.

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I agree with your solution. I don't agree with all the nomenclature of calling this guy, who is said to be enthusiastic and excited about the class, a "bully" because he is participating enthusiastically. I think that is actually a use of framing language and is an attack, and bullying, upon enthusiastic learners.

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This. This is a wonderful idea.

(In fact, in my evil little mind, I might be tempted to send a Dave to a table just a bit above him, to show him that he's only hot shit in his own mind.)

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That's not evil. That's exactly how I would want to be treated in a class. I don't want to learn from people who know less than me, I want to learn from people who know more than me!

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I think this is key to make progress in any learning environment, i.e. to find a group that one presumes as being slightly better than oneself. It seems to push at least myself to try harder and become better. But of cause the gap shouldn't be too large, otherwise it is annoying for the group and demotivational for the oneself.

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Dave would be wasting his time if he was in a table where he already knew everything. You'd be doing him a favor.

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Was it me or was that article written in a rather simplistic and childish way? 'All was good and well, something a bit odd but funny happened, but then this jerk came along and he started to ruin everything!'

Near the end he suddenly jumped really fast to his conclusion, namely that he supports women-only groups (or, as he likes to spell it, 'women only groups'), but he really doesn't explain why other than saying that it offers a more comfortable entrance to them. He doesn't link his conclusion to the rest of the article, and I don't see how this specific occurrence adds to the conclusion. Because the jerk happened to be male? I'd like to address him for overgeneralizing males, but he just straight out avoids being clear about it.

But even if it was safe to say that only males act like jerks, that still does not mean that every male is like that, and it certainly doesn't mean women should be kept separated from males in education. If a male is being a jerk, the problem is that he's being a jerk, not the fact that he's a male. I fail to see why to differ between male and female and the article does not make it clear in the slightest.

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I've been to the railsbridge woman's workshop, and while I was able to follow the instructions and build a blog in a day, I didn't understand Ruby on Rails and had no idea how I would do the same thing without following the instructions. Knowing how to follow instructions != understanding the material. Too bad the author saw the girl who was confused as a bimbo instead of taking the time to explain the high level stuff to her.

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We just have the author's word that the other volunteer was trying to show off and challenge the instructor. He was a volunteer expert, maybe he just thought he and the teacher were partners, and it was their job to discuss high level material for the class.

E.g. instructor illustrates no need for semi-colons, meaningful white space -> excited volunteer explains how much cleaner it looks than other programming languages and how great he finds it, maybe with a real world anecdote, or he compares how it is like working with other languages without that, hell maybe even says it isn't a feature he likes, etc..

I'd rather he be open and egregious about his knowledge like this, than just sitting there like a robot for whenever a classmate asks him to help with step 5 or something. It would be a much richer, varied, and more interesting class than some textbook recitation of a tutorial anyone can follow at home anyway.

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Unless I'm misreading this (and I have the mother of all migraines at present so it's possible) weren't both the author of the post and Dave volunteers helping out rather than students? In which case shouldn't whoever was running the session just shut them down since the whole point is to help the people attending to learn rather than intellectual willy waving?

I used to be Dave when I was younger (still am if I don't keep a lid on it; I'm sure empathy is a wonderful thing but I've just had to learn to fake it over the years). So my preferred solution would have been to ask "does anyone else have any questions or are the rest of you secure enough in your own ability to not feel the need to advertise?". But then I guess there'd have been two jerks in the room and only one of them being helpful.

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Even in the context of "helping", some people have to show they could teach the class. They do this by asking leading questions, pointing out any mistake, no matter how pedantic, and other obnoxious, interruptive actions.

Students quickly recognize the adversarial relationship and, depending on how the teacher responds, either lose confidence in the teacher or tube out the cock fight.

As the teacher, in a short-term environment (like a substitute or a half-day seminar), you have to shut that person down unequivocally. In a longer lasting environment, give that person a chance to teach.

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That's not a call for single-sex education. That's a call for good teachers who are willing to crack down on the class clown. There's always a class clown, and he always needs to be cracked down upon for the good of the class. This is teaching 101. Sorry you didn't have a good teacher.

>Dave was really excited by the class, and, like me and the other volunteers, had a lot of experience with Python.

Sounds like Dave was in the wrong class and should have been told so.

>I wondered afterwards why this extremely competent woman in her 20s would react this way after clearly mastering the material.

That's a learned technique for getting assistance. It worked on you, didn't it?

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"That's a call for good teachers who are willing to crack down on the class clown. There's always a class clown, and he always needs to be cracked down upon for the good of the class. This is teaching 101. Sorry you didn't have a good teacher."

Most of the people who lecture at these events are programmers, not folks who have a masters in teaching along with their state certification.

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I think teaching 101 covers widely discredited education theories (stuff like Myress-Briggs, visual auditory and kinesthetic learning styles, and the like) rather than practical teaching tips. There's a practicum to teach them how to teach.

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I mean if you actually get a masters in education, it's almost all practical stuff. You need to take entire classes on things like how to write on a chalkboard and how to spot kids who are being abused at home. Educational theory and research is only one or two classes out of the two years. And classroom management is one of the biggest topics, and it's the first thing you get evaluated on when you're doing your student teaching.

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Not the masters in education I have. I heard tales from very old timers about having to take "write on the chalkboard" classes, but that was never even brought up for us. Though frankly, that specifically should be. Maybe not a whole course, but a few days of it. There are a lot of ways to get that wrong.

But back to your point. My degree is from a university in Boston and helped me get my teaching license. Almost everything we covered was theoretical and, with a few important exceptions, utterly useless.

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Certification and ability are different things. Contrary to popular belief, certification does not magically endow somebody with abilities, it only (slightly) raises the chances that person possesses necessary abilities. However there are a lot of people perfectly capable of teaching without certificates, and, unfortunately, plenty of people with certificates totally incapable of doing so.

Looks like the author of the article was either incapable or unwilling or unprepared to perform one of the basic teaching functions - ensuring that jerks do not disrupt the process for the rest of the group. It may stem from inexperience - well, that's what experience is for. One doesn't need masters or certificates to learn such things though, it's perfectly available to any common person.

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"It may stem from inexperience - well, that's what experience is for"

Can't speak for US, but in UK a large part of PGCE courses is devoted to reflecting and acting on experience gained in a supervised teaching placement.

Sometimes you need to dig a bit deeper to process the experience, my favourite out of date theory is Schon's single and double loop learning.

http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-schon.htm

For coders: single loop learning is when you change the way you name variables or re-write your code to make the logic clearer. Double loop learning is the stuff Michael Lopp writes about.

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"Most of the people who lecture at these events are programmers, not folks who have a masters in teaching along with their state certification."

And its great that people within the business are prepared to help others out.

Perhaps there is a need for a 'facilitator's FAQ' that could provide quick strategies for situations like this?

Anyone any idea where to host such a publication?

PS: why was 'Dave' allowed to join the workshop half way through?

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> That's not a call for single-sex education.

The author was not calling for single-sex education, he was calling for us to find & support ways of giving new people "a more comfortable entrance into our general community".

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Similarly, there is nothing to prevent a 'female Dave' from joining the next single-sex educational group.

This is not to imply that there aren't good reasons for women-only education, but this isn't one of them.

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I'm curious about "female Dave".

Would a group or women react differently if the conference jerk was female? I'd guess the answer is "No", but then I've never experienced that situation.

I have experienced the male version of this, and unlike the author of the article I never see this kind of show-off behavior as a "call to arms", unless that means fighting the urge to wing something heavy at someone's head.

Perhaps there's a selection bias here, but when I see this happen the people around me tend to concur that "helpful jerk" is being an unhelpful douche.

It seems that when enough guys get together there often ends up being some amount of dick-size measuring; is there something similar when groups of women gather?

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What are the good reasons for gender-segregated education? (I hope it's not offtopic since the article itself discusses this)

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Women do better in single sex schools (in England); but men do worse.

There's a natural experiment in England where there are quite a lot of single sex schools. There are a bunch of confounding factors that are hard to kludge out - social-economic backgrounds, etc.

Some cultures and religions prefer the sexes to be separated. This may not be a good reason to many people.

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The claim is that there is a notable difference in group dynamics.

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As I mentioned elsewhere, I find it hard to believe that all females(or males) exhibit same behavioral and learning traits. And even if this happens to be true, then why stop at gender-segregation? How about divide on gender, then divide on introvert-extrovert, then divide on active-passive, then divide on "external validation seeker"-"doesn't give a shit about external validation", then divide on "interested in learning"-"interested in getting the fuck out of here"...I am pretty sure you will be left with a class of 1 in the end.

The only division I would be interested in is segregating the fast learners(whatever be the reason - is sharp, already knows stuff, studies outside class) from regular learners, so that fast learners don't get bored or try to derail the class, and slow learners don't feel left out.

PS - I am not implying that you are supporting gender-segregated education. I am making a general point.

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I find it hard to believe that all females(or males) exhibit same behavioral and learning traits.

I don't see anyone suggesting such a thing, but instead, that the majority of each gender may have certain behavior and learning styles in common.

And even if this happens to be true, then why stop at gender-segregation?

Why go any further? Just because one type of segregation may work, doesn't mean that all types of segregation would work.

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> I don't see anyone suggesting such a thing, but instead, that the majority of each gender may have certain behavior and learning styles in common.

Unless you can prove that certain behavior is common among majority of females, and that certain common behavior is more significant than bazillion traits which are not shared, and then that certain behavior is significant to learning, and is more important than traits which aren't shared - the segregation is meaningless.

> Why go any further? Just because one type of segregation may work, doesn't mean that all types of segregation would work.

The chances that a group of students is going to be consistent, coherent, and will respond to the teaching style in the same way is essentially zero(group size > 1). If gender segregation show a noticeable, significant improvement; by all means have it. But don't make claims in advance.

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You're demanding hard conclusions where there aren't any. However, they can be said to exhibit a tendency where the chances aren't exactly 100%. It's the difference between correlation and causation, and correlation is not "meaningless."

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> You're demanding hard conclusions where there aren't any.

I am demanding hard conclusions, failing which I am demanding you don't make any if you aren't sure(gender difference became apparent to me that day, gender segregation works etc).

> It's the difference between correlation and causation, and correlation is not "meaningless."

I didn't claim correlation is meaningless - I just claimed you are claiming correlation, and for fuck's sake, causation, when there isn't any.

Correlation is when 2 random variables aren't probabilisticaly independent. If you can cite me correlation between gender and behavioral traits when it comes to learning, and that study isn't some crackpot theory based on how I taught a ruby workshop, I am more than willing to be corrected.

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If you can cite me correlation between gender and behavioral traits when it comes to learning, and that study isn't some crackpot theory based on how I taught a ruby workshop,

This is where you're dishonest: You say you're looking for hard connections, yet any evidence is subject to a value judgement on your part. Tails I lose.

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> This is where you're dishonest: You say you're looking for hard connections, yet any evidence is subject to a value judgement on your part. Tails I lose.

I am looking for correlation, as in the sense correlation is defined, or causation. I don't think correlation or causation is open to value judgement.

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I'm referring to your hanging judgement whether or not any supplied information is derived from "some crackpot theory."

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I am not implying that you are supporting gender-segregated education. I am making a general point.

I was just trying to describe a point of view, not one I myself hold.

I think that division by sex is often used as a proxy for division based on learning styles. Not fast vs slow per se, but in how people respond to teaching styles and student interaction.

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> I think that division by sex is often used as a proxy for division based on learning styles. Not fast vs slow per se, but in how people respond to teaching styles and student interaction.

Which brings me back to my initial point. Is there data that suggests males and females respond significantly differently to teaching styles, and all member of a group(male or female) are consistent?

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  I am pretty sure you will be left with a class of 1 in the end.
You say that like it's a bad thing. In the ideal case, we would have completely personalized education for every student. Most of what prevents it is lack of resources (and then of course you would need teachers smart enough to make it work).

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I am not saying like it's a bad thing. I am pointing out a group of students isn't going to be consistent and coherent for a group size > 1. At a broader level, if you are claiming that a group of females is different from a group of males, that is true; but that is meaningless since a group of females is again different from a group of females.

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I'm sure there is, but you can segregate the students in many ways to change the dynamics - race, parental income level, personality type, eye color, etc. - but will this change be positive? See e.g. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/23/education/23single.html?_r...

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> That's a learned technique for getting assistance. It worked on you, didn't it?

I was going to point out the same thing. A women playing dumb to get help from a man, is not uncommon at all.

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I met my (now) wife at work, the first couple of months I worked there she'd call me at least once a week in the morning complaining that her mouse or keyboard didn't work, and if I'd please come over to have a look. Invariably I'd just crawl under the desk, plug in the mouse/keyboard, and things would work again; she'd go 'oh thanks, must've been the cleaning crew who hit it! I'll try to remember for next time!'. Anyway after a while we started dating and one night after a few beers she confessed that she used to just unplug the mouse or keyboard so that I would have to get on hands and knees to get under the desk, that way she could check out my butt to start her day.

Just thought I'd share my tales of sexual harassment in the workplace, seemed relevant ;)

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It could also just be an expression of generalized anxiety, or a disavowal of expertise to keep one's self from getting cocky. I'm a guy, I often make clear statements of my confusions to keep myself straight on what I do and don't understand.

And she may have felt, accurately, that she didn't understand the material as well as the OP thought. You can produce a lot of code in a tutorial without knowing enough to produce that architecture yourself.

Personally I think the people who have the clearest view of what they don't know are the ones prepared to learn the fastest. There's a huge difference between "programming is hard!" nonsense that stops people from starting in the first place and "I'm not getting this" consolidations that help a _started_ person figure out what they need to learn.

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I've heard it said that the smartest people are the ones who don't think they know what they are doing, because then they try to figure it out.

Anecdotally, a lot of PhDs have impostor syndrome.

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I think it goes further than that. I've seen smart women I know do the same thing with me (and I'm female and a coder) -- like suddenly acting as though they're idiots when they've already proved it isn't true. I think it speaks for a gutwrenching lack of confidence, some of these people are OK with learning skills but don't actually believe in their own ability to apply them.

What they need probably is a mix of more attention, a kick up the bum, and being encouraged to go and help other people who are less progressed (because that will actually build their confidence.)

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actually, anygender playing dumb to get help from the teacher/TA seems to be common. especially in a TA/student situation is where I see that a lot.

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Not from a teaching standpoint, but from within an IT department as a peer and later a manager I've seen plenty of both men and women 'play dumb' to get help, even to the point of trying to slide by without learning the material themselves and always expecting someone else who knows how it works to be around.

The most extreme examples did not last long. Less extreme cases were treated by starting off any request for help with a review of the process and available resources that led the colleague to ask for help from a co-worker. This was done to develop the ability to perform research and empower them to make decisions on their own as long as they had a good basis for it.

Obviously a short training seminar is different, and the expectation is not for the participant to have found the answer on their own, but I believe a short review of their thought process is in order so the instructor can catch any systemic faults in the student's development. That is, don't just tell them what to type, but figure out if they are missing a core competency and perhaps recommend an independent course of study to supplement the seminar.

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Yeah! Those sneaky women! All of em will con you and all us men into helping them. Sneaky deceitful women.</sarcasm>

And people wonder why women don't like male dominated tech events

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I downvoted you because I think that during a discussion about how people (in this case women) learn, figuring out common ways that people (in this case women) seek help is a pretty valid concern.

Maybe men do similar things when they are confused, or maybe not. I don't know enough about education to comment, but attempting to would be off topic anyways.

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It is fascinating how rapidly discussion descended from single anecdote into gender-wide generalizations (always negative, of course) and single possible reasons why everything is wrong with the world? Impossibility of maintaining reasonable discussion about this topic without such things invariably appearing almost immediately and descending the whole discussion into a blame-fest is depressing.

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The dynamic is an important consideration, like it or not. Do you think a woman would play dumb, bat her eyelashes and flip her hair (embellishing) while asking for help if her instructor was a woman?

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> [...] play dumb, bat her eyelashes and flip her hair [...]

The fact that you frame it in such a stereotypical way speaks volumes about the attitudes at work here.

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I am inferring based on past experiences. I don't know for sure what happened, I freely admit that.

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Great comment. Someone should've told Dave to leave. This is less of a matter of teaching than of administration.

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Agreed. All classes are derailed by jerks like this, not just women-only classes. Everyone rolls their eyes and tunes out, not just females.

And a simple "let's save the rest of these questions for after class" to the jerk is often effective.

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The part of the post that intrigued me was when she...

"[Looked] at her screen, she’d made significant progress towards finishing the project, but when she asked me a question she giggled and told me she had no idea what the project was about, or what to do.

Why?

I still don’t know the reason. Studies have shown that especially bright women have this reaction to difficult material and that women learning computer science do better in an single sex classroom (though those studies have critics)."

On a similar Hacker News post, "In Math You Have to Remember, In Other Subjects You Can Think About It" the author paraphrases from a book "What's Math Got To Do With It?", in which he states that a student

"... called Rebecca, was conscientious, motivated, and smart, and regularly attained A+ grades in mathematics. She was able to follow the methods her teacher demonstrated in class, and could reproduce them perfectly. But she did not understand what she was doing, and as a result she regarded herself as not good at math. When Boaler asked her why she thought that, she replied, "Because I can't remember things well and there is so much to remember." [p.164.]"

Coincidentally both subjects are female but I think it's part of an underlying theme on learning and developing critical thinking skills that is playing out across this country. And the consequences of this lack/challenge differs on how one is taught.

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Do they do better because of a lack or male interaction, or because they aren't going to be challenged as much? Because sooner or later, they have to leave academia and wake up to the realities of the real world, where Dave isn't only being a dick in meetings but is trying to take your next promotion to become your manager.

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I had a language class once with a student that was clearly not at our level constantly asking questions that the other students all already knew. As a mature adult, I attributed this lack of consideration for others to the individual, not the entire gender.

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You're missing the point. It's not that it was a male troublemaker, but that the largely female group reacted in a particular way to that person acting as he did.

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I think we simply need to start calling people out in person regardless of their gender. If I saw "Dave" acting like this I'd pull him aside and set him straight. And if he couldn't pull his shit together i'd ask him to leave. And if he couldn't manage to do that, I'd help him leave.

Not that your post is passive-aggressive, but we need to start being proactive about this. In all realms of life. Call people out on their shit or they're not going to change. Humans are weak to the pressures and influences of society. If we continue to stand there and allow certain behavior, they'll continue to do it. If you man up and call people on their crap, it might not work the first time but if enough people do, that person will eventually realize what they are doing is wrong.

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I think we also need to be willing to set people straight without ascribing bad motivations to them.

Maybe Dave isn't a jerk or a showoff. Maybe he is like me. I learn by asking questions during the learning process. I feel like I'm not really learning very well unless I can say "does this material imply this other conclusion?" or "if we extended this to more dimensions, would we just have to change these things, or am I missing something?" I learn by stretching the edges of what I think I'm learning.

I'm also on the autism spectrum, which means I'm unlikely to pick up on whatever social signals the rest of the class might be sending. I've tried to learn those things, but they're still pretty opaque to me.

So I would appreciate, if I'm in a circumstance where my question-asking is causing problems, if someone would pull me aside and say "can you save your questions for later? They're a bit distracting for the rest of us." I'm not doing it either to be a jerk or to show off, so I'll gladly stop if the problem is clearly communicated to me.

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I have learned (hopefully learned!) to only use this style of learning when I am one-on-one with an instructor, and never in a classroom full of peer students.

Even then, not every instructor (or a person who effectively serves as an instructor) can stand this. Here I have to trust my people's judgement and sometimes I do misjudge. I recall one of my colleagues and coworkers with whom I could not maintain a meaningful oral conversation because we would misunderstand each other's verbal styles, however we were able to efficiently converse over email. This is certainly impossible in a classroom.

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> "I ... only use this style of learning when I am one-on-one with an instructor"

I have had circumstances where other students have thanked me for being persistent with my questions, and for forcing the instructor to clarify. (This was more common in grad school than undergrad.) So I have a hard time accepting the "just don't use this in a classroom" solution.

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I see probing questions as the sole justification of the classroom format. If I'm to merely sit and listen, I'd much rather have either a good text or a recording of a professionally produced lecture to watch at my own pace.

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Yes, I was originally coming from the same place. However, not all instructors can handle this, and many peer students could not stand it either.

When I say "student", I mean anyone in the audience, and "instructor" is anyone at the podium, talking.

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When someone who has your same privilege (male privilege in this case) and they are using that, intentionally or otherwise, to derail a conversation or attack another person, you absolutely should call them out if you feel safe about doing so.

You certainly can call out oppressive behavior from others that don't share your privilege or background, but a lot of times that behavior isn't standing against oppressive BS, but rather reinforcing it. In this very discussion, there any several posters who are disregarding the OPs experience so that their opinions about sexism and male dominance in the classroom aren't challenged.

The fact of the matter is this classroom was an audience of (mostly) women who had selected an environment that would have almost none or no men attending. We can't simply blame that audience and teacher for not standing up to an aggressive male when the whole point of this kind of class to leave those people out in the first place. I also don't blame the OP for not speaking out, but it's important to note once you learn that this kind of behavior is wrong, you can call someone out on it if you feel you are safe to do so.

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At the risk of sounding petty let me say that, I am male and I can only speak about my part of the problem.

1. Do I feel bad about women achieving stuff in life ? Yes.

2. Am I ashamed of the above fact? Yes.

Lets face it, from what I have been able to figure out, this is the case with a lot of men in this world. Question we must be asking is : how do we go about solving this problem? This is not as simple as just developing empathy for the other sex, because according to current customs and expectations: men are expected to be taking care of women, women should be trading up etc.

Whenever the question of equality of sexes come in tech, the arguments are always split into two factions. One side argues that there is no such thing as discrimination of sex in tech. It is a meritocracy and that is the only way it can be, and women are not in tech because they do not want to be / are naturally less talented in programming. The other side argues this is not the case and that you feel so only because you have no daughter/are a virgin/you are a basement dwelling looser.This line of thinking is not productive. Painting men as super villains in some grand 'Dan Brown'ian plot of conspiracy against women will NOT work.Especially with nerds. I am not saying anything excuses sexist behaviour just that villifying them may satisfy your ego, but will not accomplish anything.

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>Painting men as super villains in some grand 'Dan Brown'ian plot of conspiracy against women will NOT work.

It works because it plays into traditional gender roles. You don't have to be a bleeding heart liberal to believe women are the "gentler" sex that needs the protection of society. Just good ol' fashioned chivalry.

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You are missing the point. Is this a solution? Does this not reinforce the gender stereotype? Are we not trained to compete or cooperate with our equals and take care of the weak an helpless?

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I mean it works rhetorically. I don't agree with the level of victimhood Women's Studies imparts. It's dis-empowering and leads to bitterness.

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"Do I feel bad about women achieving stuff in life ? Yes."

is there a typo there? at the moment it reads like other people's (women's) successes make you feel bad.

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After having re-read it a few times, I don't think there is a typo. That's why he feels "ashamed" about it. I think you've interpreted it correctly.

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It's not so weird, either. Ask any high-achieving woman whether she's run into guys who are resentful of her because she's better than them at what they think they do best.

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> Painting men as super villains in some grand 'Dan Brown'ian plot of conspiracy against women will NOT work.

Nobody believes this! There's no conspiracy at work. But there is is a long history of gender-based discrimination, and cultural practices that still reinforce suffocating gender roles today.

The ideas you complain about - "men are expected to be taking care of women, women should be trading up etc." - are part of that.

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This article begs the question: why do women respond disproportionately badly to the "helpful jerk"?

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The real question should be: why does a class respond proportionately badly to the 'helpful jerk'?

We can't reasonably say this is a female specific phenomenon when our only point of reference is a female-only class. Send the guy to a bunch of different classes (of mixed and single gender, and of mixed skill-level) and see how they all respond.

If one guy is monopolising the time and help available in the class, it stands to reason that everyone else will lose interest, because there is no longer time and attention available to them.

And if this guy is asking questions that far exceed the average skill level of the class, it also stands to reason that the class will lose interest because they can't understand any of it.

I'd like to know why the volunteers were accepting of this guy when at least one of them (the OP) was well aware of how detrimental his presence was to the class as a whole. And I'd like to know this guy's motivations for joining a class to wave his intellectual dick about.

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We can't reasonably say this is a female specific phenomenon when our only point of reference is a female-only class.

I assumed the point of the author was that this was a female-specific phenomenon, since the theme of his post was gender. Also, because the author said so:

"To me, and I suspect most men, we’d see Dave’s behavior as a call to arms."

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> We can't reasonably say this is a female specific phenomenon when our only point of reference is a female-only class.

Then why is the article about gender at all?

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I agree; why is gender even relevant to this?

The author volunteers for female-only class (which he makes sure to highlight), and thus assumes his whole experience is down to the fact the class is all female.

Remove all references to gender and there is no significant change to the story. I think that reveals the complete irrelevance of gender.

My original point, which I guess wasn't worded very well, was that we're told about one experience in one classroom, and that has been blown up to account for the entirety of female-kind.

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I wonder if they do.

I've seen a room full of men respond exactly the same way.

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But then the suggestion remains that only a man can be a "helpful jerk" (because the author comes out in favour of single sex education because of this incident).

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Here in Portland we have a group called Code'n'Splode that takes women who are already working as engineers and gives them an opportunity to sound off on [gender] issues they've had in the workplace as well as coach other women interested in learning programming every week. If and when I ever delve into that world, I would feel a lot more comfortable going to them than even my close male colleagues if only because I know I can go to them about issues men might not have or - as a lot of HN articles have shown me - just don't think exist.

I'm not trying to generalize, but in my years of working with male developers, they tend to have a much more hands-off and "just look at it and learn" approach. Whether this is because I am female (and therefore a 'lost cause') or because they are just not the teaching type, I'm not sure, but when I'm trying to learn something, I don't want to take the chance of dealing with Daves or people that think women giggling equates to their being a bimbo.

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I used to be like Dave. Then I turned 13. Empathy is a great thing.

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I have no idea to solve the helpful jerk problem but I can think of possible solutions. - If a "Helpful jerk" was at a class at a school they would be asked to leave by the teacher. This would be the final response. If they are being that disruptive then the time it takes for you to ask them to leave would salvage the course.

- Assign skill levels to tables. Possibly make a leader with the highest skills. (Bitboxer had this solution). If your skill level is too high then whats the point of going?

- Ask the "Helpful jerk" to lead the class. Allow them to aid you in the course.

We can't actually solve the jerk problem but there are contingency strategies to minimize this problem. Free software should mean we have standards of conduct.

[Edited due to comment below]

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Just ask the jerk to stop asking questions and making remarks. You're trying to teach a class and that involves input and interaction of all students, not just the one. As a teacher you are responsible for the learning climate in the room and you can act accordingly.

If the jerk doesn't like that, (s)he can leave.

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Bingo. This kind of thing should be addressed with a "ground rules" kind of discussions that we need to hear from everyone and people should self-monitor to not take all airtime. And if that doesn't work, it's fine to say "Thanks Dave, but I'd like to hear from someone else this time" or something similar.

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What part of the experience showed that single sex workshops might be better? Because there wouldn't be female knowledgeable jerks (either because women are never jerks, or because they are never knowledgeable, or why?)? Or smart women would not be self-deprecating among other women?

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Or maybe women would respond to knowledgeable female jerks differently and perhaps more effectively than to knowledgeable male jerks?

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The possibilities are endless.

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In one of the classic programming texts (I forget which one), the author says that very few people who learn to program should be programmers, but that he’d like to see more programming done by those of other professions. The workshop would have made him proud, as every student I talked to shared the sentiment with me that they hoped to learn Python in order to do their job more effectively, by learning to collect, sort or process data in new and more efficient ways.

To be fair, that's very nearly Python's optimal niche at the moment. Users can start seeing returns after a very modest investment of time and energy.

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As another anecdote I was at PyGotham yesterday. When I stopped by at the beginners track in the afternoon I counted 35 men and 4 women.

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I'm going to be the one who says, "Hey, Ive had classes where the 'Dave' jerk was a woman"...but that isn't necessarily a rebuttal to the OP's point about single sex classrooms. It's possible that the dynamic of the gender mix causes certain jerks to show off more, male or female.

But as soon as I say that, I can definitely think of plenty of oxygen-hogs in my all male engineering classes

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I've been around similar buzzkills in person (been one, perhaps?), and I wonder what precisely is going on.

What is the mechanism behind smarty-pants-Dave's suppression of others' enthusiasm?

Was it that he was raising issues that weren't relevant to others' learning?

Or did something in his mannerism suggest contempt for those who knew less Python than him?

Or, did people become suddenly skeptical of the authority or competence of the instructor Dave questioned?

I second the observation that in the right environment, attention and interest would increase, as people look for ways to give annoying-Dave his comeuppance.

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Using the Montessori method would have solved many of the issues presented by the OP.

Dave would have been in a group where he'd be able to show others directly, if Dave wasn't in a group, he'd be quickly identified by the teacher as someone who didn't need help and could possibly benefit the group.

  Dave: <obscure question about array semantics>
  Teacher: Dave, it looks like you know a lot about arrays, Laura is struggling a bit, can you help her out?
Dave was seeking attention and to be recognized as having advanced skill, the Montessori method would have allowed Dave to put his talents to good use while not being a disruption to the class.

Dave isn't a jerk, it's just that the instructor is using antiquated teaching methods from the 19th century, and under utilizing his teaching resources. Clearly this person is someone who's authority should indeed be challenged.

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Just make sure that Dave knows how to explain the concept before you sit him next to Laura!

I do stuff about peer feedback and explaining in words in my Maths classes, then the peer tutoring works a lot better.

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I think I met Dave online, posing as 'Diana'. He gave himself away obsessing about technicalities of Python :)

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A couple of random thoughts about Dave:

A) Having participated in plenty of female majority online groups, my experiance has been that, yes, a single guy can have inordinate power. He is often deferred to and supported by a bevel of cooing ladies who seem oblivious to the power dynamic underlying the whole thing.

B) It is possible that Dave was not trying to be a jerk at all. Maybe he was just nervous around the ladies and subconsciously going into braggart mode in hopes of impressing someone and getting a date.

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I don't like this conclusion. Anyone can be a jerk, including a woman.

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When I went to a Java programming class at a local hackerspace, it was something like 70/30 women/men. I didn't really see anything in the way they learned or progressed through the session that was in any way different than the men. What struck me was that holy crap, there's a lot of women here while everybody keeps saying there's no women in tech.

I think the author is dead right about the single-sex classes being a comfortable way to introduce women to technical topics. But having men there did not stop them from asking questions and following the material at the hackerspace. I think getting involvement from female-oriented communities will provide that comfort level to start with. Also, female teachers (my scientist female friends said they'd love to teach little girls to become science and math geeks if they had the time)

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There is a very strong selection bias here (both in your comment and the original article). The woman who signed up for something like your class may be very different (in personality, outgoing ness, comfort with men, etc) from the women who signed up for the original author's class.

The end result is that you both may be right: maybe women (and men, for that matter) should be fully integrated in learning environments and have segregated environments. No two people learn the same, why would we expect the same level of comfort in every classroom setting.

And if I look back to TFA, I think that is what the author meant by "more PyLadies". Listen to everybody and give them all comfortable places to learn.

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That's why we do not see more women involved with software, and I am not talking about Dave.

I am talking about both, the writer and Dave.

Why do you think most women stick to managing projects instead of being involved in Free Software?

Too much drama. Too much shit to cope with, that involves dicks and egos.

In the article we assume that Dave was a jerk (and it probably was). But, see, the author was in a comfortable position, when suddenly another man entered the room, and started to go alpha and everything turned into an ego battle.

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Wasn't the term "computer" at one time used to describe usually female mathematicians who worked in all female groups at DoD?

Perhaps the problem isn't women, and it isn't men, but instead the urge to force them together and then demand they suppress their natural gender differences?

Based on experience I would guess having gender segregated groups of technical workers could be quite productive. But anyone trying would immediately be hit by lawsuits from the discrimination lawyers.

Too much drama. Too much shit to cope with, that involves dicks and egos.

Absolutely, and from the other side, forcing a man into a mostly female group is going to drive him crazy with what he perceives to be the petty female group dynamics.

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Completely agreed.

People often forget that some gender differences are what make each gender powerful.

Gender equality should not be about expecting the same features in both genders, but about having the same rights.

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Right. They should be separate but equal.

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They should be separate but equal.

The horror - they even have segregated bathrooms!

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This is actually something I think will go away once we manage to overcome sexism in society. There is really no reason for it at all.

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This is actually something I think will go away once we manage to overcome sexism in society. There is really no reason for it at all.

My subjective impression of you and your "anti-sexism" is that you are an ideological fanatic. Fortunately, it's not likely that you and your kind will ever "overcome sexism in society" and it's likely that public restrooms will remain segregated by gender.

Your understanding of the differences between the sexes seems based more on ideological, abstract categories than practical, biologically based considerations, which is often the case with ideological and religious fanaticism.

In my opinion, your "anti-sexism" is just rehashed, 20th century cultural Marxism that is fortunately becoming less popular. I hope we can all progress beyond such failed, politically and religiously motivated trends.

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So, are you saying that women can't or aren't willing to deal with drama or cope with shit that involves dicks and egos?

Where there's muck, there's brass. Are you saying that women have no brass?

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I am saying that women are willing to deal with drama, ego and dicks when there's a motivation to cope with it.

As I see the current status of gender equality in tech, women working on a tech job are protected by their social status.

A female "junior" programmer could easily be harmed by "women do not know how to code", but with time and patience, they can go forward into the company hierarchy, and end in a position where their status protects such opinions.

In the free software world, it's more difficult to move forward in the hierarchy of a project, hence, time and patience gets consumed.

Now, take this with a grain of salt, because there's a big possibility I am wrong and just resorting to topics here.

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Stuff like this is required, not because there are problems with programmers, or even with education, or men, or women, stuff like this is required because of wider problems in our society as a whole.

When most people have some level of general respect beyond clannishness, is when things like this will no longer be required. Personally, I'm not holding my breath.

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Yeah, because shielding someone with relationship problems his/her entire life is the way to go!

random anecdote. in my college days, there was a woman who was doing a second run at undergrad, after having a phd in marketing, and she was pretty much the know it all jerk.

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Very interesting story. I wonder if it would have been as effective without the male villain. The trope reinforces the moral, but it kind of beats us over the head with it.

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I wonder if it would have been as effective without the male villain. The trope reinforces the moral, but it kind of beats us over the head with it.

The author clearly stated he felt challenged by the display of dominance by another male, and wrote this blog to heal his wounded ego and display his superior abilities at leading women.

So, no, it probably wouldn't have been effective without the male villain. The competing male was a "jerk" and the damsel in distress just needed to be protected from the "jerk" by the knight in shining armour.

All-female classes taught by a single male teacher have proven to be quite effective.

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Without the villain the fragile egos here at HN might have actually read & responded to the post, instead of using it as another opportunity to argue about gender politics.

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Given that IME most women's eyes immediately glaze over when the word "computer" is mentioned, I doubt that "our community isn’t great at encouraging women contributors" is the reason why few women are in computing.

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Given that all the women there had explicitly signed up to do programming, I doubt that any of them have eyes that glaze over at the mention of computers. Surprisingly for some people, there are variations among women just as there are variations among men. I'm pretty sure that most men also have no interest in computer programming. Finally: http://xkcd.com/385/

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Which is probably why pwpwp didn't specifically refer to the self-selected women in the class, but made a general point about the industry and the ridiculous attempts to impose a completely artificial 50/50 gender ratio.

The comic could have just as easily said "one girl is good at math therefore exactly as many girls as boys are good at math."

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While I agree a 50-50 gender ratio seems artificial at the moment, fact of the matter is the tech industry is becoming one of the great sources of power in society (think skynet). I think for the sake of civilization, we should try to involve women as much as we can and aim for the 50-50.

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Currently, there are substantially more females than males (60/40) among people receiving college degrees: http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2009/06/women-dominate-higher-ed...

Education is the widely recognized source of power. Should we strive for 50/50 and if so, how should we achieve it?

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Perhaps the kind of activities involved with programming will change as the devices we seek to program evolve?

Perhaps building applications and managing data will involve more visual tools that allow domain specific knowledge to be applied directly?

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"I think for the sake of civilization, we should try to involve women as much as we can and aim for the 50-50."

I think for the sake of civilization, we should not try to aim for a 50/50 ratio. Your utopia is another person's dystopia. Not all of us share your morality.

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