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How to Be a ‘Woman Programmer’ (nytimes.com)
50 points by hudibras 834 days ago | 53 comments



Wow, it seems most of the comment here, as of now, decided to overlook the parts of the article that explicitly state problems that are most suffered by women. For example, how this woman had a boss who stroke her hair, or how another boss hated to hire women. That kind of pressure does not exist for most men in the industry.

Yes, men suffer from high performance demands in business, but this is not oppression Olympics. Nobody is trying to figure out who has it 'worse'. All this article is saying, is that, as a woman, she has suffered a lot of pressure that is based on her gender, and she even presents examples of it. Men can suffer too because of their gender, but that doesn't mean there isn't a "women in tech" problem, it means we have a "women in tech" problem and a "men in tech" problem.

And it's also true that there is a small pool of women CS graduates. But that doesn't prove that discrimination isn't real. You can also say that the reason the US only has one black president has to do with a smaller pool of black men running for elections, but it'd be ludicrous to say that proves discrimination against black people isn't real.

Then there's one comment of someone implying that the "women in tech" problem is just men wanting to get more women around them, which is not only really men-centric, but also completely ignorant to the article where a WOMAN is explaining the topic and trying to find a solution.

It's incredible how Lewis's Law holds true even for HN.

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Wow, it seems most of the comment here, as of now, decided to overlook the parts of the article that explicitly state problems that are most suffered by women. For example, how this woman had a boss who stroke her hair, or how another boss hated to hire women. That kind of pressure does not exist for most men in the industry.

I think the problem really is that those examples happened to her nearly 30 years ago and then she goes on to say, "Women today face a new, more virile and virulent sexism" because supposedly VCs only fund male hackers.

This does not mesh up with many of the collective experiences of those who started working in the last decade or two. It seems impossible that sexism is worse now than it was in the 80s.

That isn't to say that sexism doesn't exist. I've run several startups and I'm constantly vigilant towards this stuff. I've had to occasionally call out male employees for making inappropriate comments. They tend towards being sexual rather than sexist, but it always shocks me when it happens. But compared to ongoing physical sexually harassment? I can't see how it could possibly be more poisonous now than thirty years ago.

Now it could be that sexism is worse today and the misunderstanding is around how men vs. women classify the severity of various sexist acts. If so, that is an article I'd like to read.

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> oppression Olympics.

Well said. I'm surprised at how reactionary these comments are. Most just sound really defensive.

Working hard for a startup, a large or small business doesn't erase sexism. You did good, but it doesn't change sociology.

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I've (male) been in an uncomfortable situation with a female project manager that would come up behind me in my cubicle and rub my shoulders now and then. It wasn't a come-on as far as I can tell. I think she was just doing a "motherly" thing in her mind but it really creeped me out. Actually had forgotten that until reading this...

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That argument was not an attempt in what you so non-chalantly call "oppression Olympics", but rather to illustrate what some people might ascribe to discrimination is really just common-place.

You are also misunderstanding the "small pool of women CS graduates". It's not to suggest that theres no discrimination, but that theres possibly not much you can do at the stage of post-graduation. That this is a result of discrimination that starts very early in childhood and teenage years.

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Think about all the kids who don't see women in the tech fields and thus don't see it as a viable career path.

The "small pool of women CS graduates" argument is bunkt because CS is a meritocracy - so many men prove themselves through code rather than having gone to a college, and the only reason women don't is because they're discouraged at every turn - upon being hired, in the work place, at social gatherings.

Why does the graduates argument pose a problem for women while its so often celebrated when men skipped college or dropped out of college and became successful within our field?

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Why does the graduates argument pose a problem for women while its so often celebrated when men skipped college or dropped out of college and became successful within our field?

Is there a large pool of women who download python, work "learn python the hard way", and put some repos on github?

If not, then just as there is a small pool of female CS graduates, there is also a small pool of female autodidacts.

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Good job! You've discovered that the problem isn't one of women not getting into colleges.

Edit: I'm not saying it's not part of the problem, but the problem is obviously not just that.

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Where do kids see people in tech fields, unless their parents work in them? Maybe you could count the math & science faculty of high school or college, maybe it's popular culture?

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I'm getting really tired of this ignorant "tech is sexist" garbage. women represent a minority of the already small pool of CS graduates. This is not due to discrimination but to individual choice of what a student wants to do with their life. Fewer women CS grads means a smaller ratio of women to men in the tech industry.

The author blindly says that VC's want "a couple of guys that can build an app in a weekend". VC's and tech companies in general want a couple of PEOPLE that can build an app in a weekend. I find it impossible to believe that a tech company would turn down a brilliant "woman programmer" just because she was a woman. It is already hard enough to find good developers, no reason to reduce the pool further with discrimination.

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And... you're satisfied with that explanation? "There are fewer women in technical careers, because fewer women choose to go into technical careers, QED"? You're not even a little bit curious about why that might be the case?

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Aren't you curious why the majority of programmers have dark hair or brown eyes? Sometimes it doesn't matter.

I do not necessarily agree with my grandparent comment, but are you advocating going out of your ways to find a problem out of statistics?

I'm also fed up with the whole "sexism in tech" bla bla. I don't want more women in tech. I want more talented, more dynamic, more interested or more passionate people in tech. More humble people. More beer lovers (there's no such thing as too many beer buddies). More video game players. More runners I can go jogging with. More team players. Less people only in it for the money. Less pointy haired bosses. Less consultants and less auditors.

These are my own personal preferences and guess what? In each single case I don't care about the sex of people in the industry.

By now, the "sexism in tech" has caused much more gender segregation than it did any good. Now we're afraid to talk at a conference or at the office. We never make any joke that might be remotely sexual around female coworkers (note that my female friends usually take it really well).

So to answer your question, we should be satisfied with that explanation. More women want to come, they're welcome to join. It's not going to be easy for them, but guess what, it's not easy for guys as well.

And to make one last thing really clear: I believe that there are a few problems women deal with in the industry, and we should be doing something about them. I'm thinking about uneven salaries or about the way they get treated if their nickname is ever slightly girlish.

So to make it clear, I care about women already in the industry. We should help them with these minor inconveniences. But I'm not going out of my ways to figure out why aren't women joining and what should I do to help them.

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>Now we're afraid to talk at a conference or at the office. We never make any joke that might be remotely sexual around female coworkers (note that my female friends usually take it really well).

Welcome to how it feels to be a woman, or a person of color, or gay, or any other person who his regularly discriminated against by society and a culture that elevates the white male simply for being white and male.

By ignoring the problem and not talking about it, you're perpetuating it. There is no societal problem that has been solved by not talking about it, and somehow, that is all I ever see people in the tech world suggest we do.

It's sad and narrow minded.

You say that you don't care about the sex about the person in the industry, but sexism isn't a superficial problem person to person - very little people are going to admit to being sexist or even think that they are - it's an institutional problem.

Every time that you don't say something, or you make an argument like this one, you are sending the message to people who are being discriminated against that the people who say something sexist are okay to do so.

So stop saying it's okay to not talk about. Please.

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"Welcome to how it feels to be a woman, or a person of color, or gay, or any other person who his regularly discriminated against by society and a culture that elevates the white male simply for being white and male." I'm not white. At all. I understand discrimination for having been at both ends on several occasions.

"By ignoring the problem and not talking about it, you're perpetuating it." Either I agree with you or I'm part of the problem? And you call me narrow minded!

"Every time that you don't say something, or you make an argument like this one, you are sending the message to people who are being discriminated against that the people who say something sexist are okay to do so." Did you even read my comment? I said I'm not spending time pondering why there aren't women in tech, because I don't necessarily want more women in tech. That's, by definition, the opposite of sexist.

Do I think women in tech face some challenges that men don't? yes. (Incidentally, I also think that men in tech face challenges that women don't. It goes both ways). What I'm fed up with is people instrumentalizing the sexism issue to create more drama, problems, and good ol' American hypocrisy (we prefer the term "political correctness").

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"Either I agree with you or I'm part of the problem? And you call me narrow minded!"

Yep. I'm pretty narrow minded when it comes to thinking everyone deserves the same chances as I got.

"Did you even read my comment? I said I'm not spending time pondering why there aren't women in tech, because I don't necessarily want more women in tech. That's, by definition, the opposite of sexist."

Is it? You're letting the status quo be because you don't think it's having an effect on the tech we produce? On the problems we're trying to solve? You think that people not mentioning repression, how they are being made to feel uncomfortable and not at ease, is a great way to produce the best products?

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> Aren't you curious why the majority of programmers have dark hair or brown eyes? Sometimes it doesn't matter.

Is that actually true? If there's a statistically significant difference compared to the population as a whole, then I am definitely interested in why.

I don't understand where you're coming from at all. You care about women in the tech industry, you want more good people in the industry, but you don't care at all about social forces that might be driving people away? Not even enough to wonder about what they are?

When there's obviously something driving people away from tech, then I'm sorry, but you can't say "I don't care let's stop talking about this" and pretend that that's a neutral position.

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It's cultural. Tech isn't necessarily sexist. It's just always portrayed as dominated by one gender. When a group, let alone a nation, holds the zeitgeist that "boys where blue, girls wear pink," it becomes a truism that is followed/acknowledged even if it makes little sense.

For example, is pink a masculine or feminine color? Depends on the culture. Same with tech. As long as our culture raises women with a, "leave the technical to guys," it's going to stay skewed.

In order for this unbalanced ratio to change, the culture needs to change - and it needs to start with kids. After all, who were you're heroes growing up? How do they differ from your sister/girlfriend/wife/mothers? How do our role-models/heroes impact our life orientations?

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I am very curious as to why fewer women elect to go into engineering fields. But the article does not address this, it blindly labels tech and men as simply being sexist.

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Where does the article says that men are simply being sexist?

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If the overall tone and examples given in the article were not screaming "men run tech and treat women as second class citizens" then I must be more hungover than I thought when I read it.

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I find it impossible to believe that a tech company would turn down a brilliant "woman programmer" just because she was a woman.

This is a failure of your imagination and experience. "Tech companies" don't turn down people. People turn down people. People sometimes turn down people because they're women.

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Yet another article that perpetuates the myth that ONLY women are faced with high performance demands in business:

"This strange illness meanwhile left the female survivors with an odd glow that made them too visible, scrutinized too closely, held to higher standards. It placed upon them the terrible burden of being not only good but the best."

This is a very common argument and it is false. Many corporate cultures are performance-based, and it is simply not true that ONLY women are expected to be the best. Many or even all men can feel this same expectation in performance-based professions, but they will not blame their sex.

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1. No one ever said that only women are faced with high performance demands, you're very obviously making a strawman and you should feel bad for it.

2. Arguments like "This is a very common argument and it is false" and "it is simply not true that..." are merely bald assertions of fact and would not be convincing even if you were arguing against an opinion that someone actually held

3. "Many or even all men can feel this same expectation in performance-based professions, but they will not blame their sex" is dog whistling for the idea that women are somehow conspiring to use anti-sexism to apologize for poor performance. Also, how you can claim to know the feelings of "many or even all men", and compare them to the feelings of women is beyond me.

4. I have never seen a man complain about sexism in tech, but many women have. There are only three explanations: a) women in tech are somehow unreasonably seeing sexism where there is none, which given that it happens to numerous women but no men requires an explanation that isn't cheap handwaving b) women in tech are trying to use complaints of sexism to get ahead unfairly, which I will happily dismiss as being needlessly cynical and misogynist c) there is sexism in tech, which given that sexism exists to some degree in most every place is not an unreasonable thing to think

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotype_threat might be a good read

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You do realize that the sentence you quoted (and the article itself) does not say that only women suffer from high performance demands? It's just saying that a lot of the high performance demands for women stem from the fact that being fewer means more scrutinization?

> Many or even all men can feel this same expectation in performance-based professions, but they will not blame their sex.

Maybe they should, maybe there is a problem affecting men right now because of their gender. Why are those men (and apparently you too) dismissing the concept entirely? There are science fields made to study this topic. Why don't men take advantage of them to figure out if the high performance demands come from masculinity or some other gender-related thing?

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So I have this female friend that interviewed a few days ago in a small embedded device workshop - so they ask her to implement bubble sort in C. She manages this and then they as k her can you work with oscilloscope and she answers "No but I can learn fast" then they dismiss her and unofficially tell her that they won't hire her because girls don't like working close to hardware.

So bias against women is alive and well. She was discarded for a non issue.

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Sounds like she really dodged a bullet!

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That would probably be more comforting if bullets weren't as prevalent in the field.

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Every place that thinks that bubble is sort is algorithm is not a good workplace anyway ...

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How to Be a ‘Woman Programmer’ in two easy steps - a short introductory guide

1) Be a Woman 2) Program

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3) ?

4) write your memoirs, two novels and an op-ed in NYT

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A few points:

1) It's 2013. If you work with men that don't know women are people, find a new job. If they did something excessively stupid or harmful, you should sue them to discourage them from harassing other women. Interviewing is a two way street, you should not only prove that you're able to do a job, but also find out if you want to work with these people.

2) Why learn from asshole managers? The internet exists. Learning a new framework is easier than ever with superb documentation and tutorials. For the fundamentals, some CS courses are fully available online. You can even go back to school.

3) Yes, it is a numbers game. There are a small number of women who major in CS/EE, and from that pool of people there are an even smaller percentage who stick with it and get jobs in tech. Now as to _why_ fewer women are majoring in CS than in the past is something we should be investigating.

4) Seeing that it's mostly men who have jobs in tech, it makes sense that you'll see a small representation of women in VC backed companies.

5) If VC's are unconsciously discriminating against people who don't look like Mark Zuckerberg, what's stopping you from bootstrapping? The costs of starting a software company are smaller than ever.

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On 3) why is it that in a field where people are lauded (especially here on HN) when they drop out of college or skip college all together and are successful, we continue to come back to the "there are less women graduates" argument?

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The lack of credentials are usually forgiven when he or she is a founder/entrepreneur or an early hire. If they happen to be successful (which is rare) why wouldn't we celebrate that? Everyone loves an underdog story.

Now with that in mind, would you hire someone that didn't have a degree?

A degree is a basic filter. How do you prove you have some knowledge about computers and programming? Traditionally it's a degree. If someone already has a bias that women can't program, the chances that she'll land an interview without a degree is slim to none.

In any case, a proper university will teach you the fundamentals. They will give you tools that will help you continue learning in the future, like how to recognize categories of problems, and a general sense of how things are abstracted from high level languages down to the bare metal. Learning "practical" knowledge of current languages/frameworks should be easy after that.

If I'm hiring for an open developer position and they have no degree (in CS/Math/Physics), it's usually a red flag for me.

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Why are there so many articles about women in tech? I think it's just a wish of some guys in tech to have more women around.

If it's just diversity we're after let's get some black and hispanic people among the ranks.

I've worked with a lot of women over the years but never a black or hispanic person. Ever. I'm sure they exist though the numbers have to be much lower than women and I don't see any articles about "let's get minorities into tech".

I really do believe the hype about pulling women into tech is some subconscious desire to be around more women.

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Yet another article on Gender politics. Where is the advocacy for black/hispanic/old programmers?

Having said that, I wish there were less politics on HN. I read "Hacker News" for technology and startups, not social engineering.

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You're right. The tech community is also incredibly racist. But I think we've had some articles about how startups only hire young people because they're willing to work days, nights and weekends.

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Considering sexism and racism in your own industry to be "special interest" topics of no interest is probably the surest sign of being a proud beneficiary of those dynamics. They're of paramount concern to anyone who doesn't benefit. I'm not at all disagreeing that more advocacy based on race would be useful too, but I do disagree vehemently with the idea that the solution is to cut off discussion.

If you're wondering why as a young or male or white person with no "political" concern for the rights of others would still consider this useful information, the answer is that bright women and minorities are underpriced and undervalued, and understanding how to create a workplace that respects them will allow you to attract the best talent.

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I'm an old person. It is quite impossible for me to get a job as a developer, or anything else really. And - I don't care. I focus on doing excellent work, not on grievances, whining, or complaining.

The world is enormous, and there is unstoppable demand for excellent work. So-called discrimination doesn't change that.

'Waa, people don't treat me nice!' That's loser talk.

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"that's loser talk" pretty much works out to victim-blaming. you're saying that it's the fault of the people being discriminated against for not being tough enough to be successful anyway.

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Imagine how many more problems would be solved or thought about if we were listening to the other 80% of the world's population - not just white men.

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Somewhat off-topic, but:

Her novel "The Bug" is good reading; it captures the frustration of trying to chase down an intermittent impossible-to-reproduce bug.

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And it's one of the few novels that realistically portrays the lives of software developers. The book is set in the mid-1980s, so it's also an interesting look back into programming in an earlier era (nostalgic for those of us who were there).

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Quote from original article

"We women found ourselves nearly alone, outsiders in a culture that was sometimes boyishly puerile, sometimes rigorously hierarchical, occasionally friendly and welcoming."

I'd like to know more about the companies that were friendly and welcoming. Can any general principles be found about how to make an organisation feel so? Could those principles be articulated as a guide to others?

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For what it's worth, I'm looking for a senior sysadmin in Cambridge, MA. I have not yet seen a single resume from an identifiable female, and would certainly welcome a good candidate. (Of any gender, or whatever: gender is not linked to Linux and networking skills in any manner I'm aware of.)

Could it be that my ad is putting women off? I don't know. I'll ask our existing female employees.

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It always surprises me that gender prejudice turned by 180 between 1970 and 1980. Programmer was a cheap woman job: Typist, data typist, COBOL programmer was a typical career. It was believed that men can not even type 40 years ago, when I started to become a coder. Suddenly programmer became a male job. And the code quality dropped drastically from 1 bug per 10000 lines to 1 bug per 1000 lines. hey Code had to be bug free !BEFORE! it was submitted to the compiler in a typical female team.

So the male programmer prejudice brought less quality for a higher price.

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This is sexism.

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Replace programmer with nearly any profession and replace women with any minority group in that profession during the 80s and the article will largely be the same. It's the same old story (which is disturbing on a few levels). Male programmers will be defensive because they are villains in this anecdote. The article polarized men as evil and women as good, their perspective of reality does not align with this post 2000 femininist narrative, which is why so many bristle at articles like this. However I'm sure male or female programmers can empathize with the misery of a belittle workplace environment. It's frustrating and definitely can urge you to lash out.

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The article polarized men as evil and women as good

Where?

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Of course venture capitalists are looking for "a couple of guys who can write an app over a weekend". That is just a succinct, snarky description of their business model: find competent people that are willing to risk everything for a very, very tiny chance of success and work tirelessly at it.

With how our society educates and segregates people by gender very early on, it turns out that the vast majority of the people venture capitalists are looking for are male. And then couple that with the ratio in a VCs favorite field, computing.

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While unrelated to the topic of discrimination, I just wanted to take this chance and say that Ellen Ullman writes beautifully -- I recognised her signature style before seeing the author's name at the bottom.

Here is another beautiful excerpt from a book of her's that I'm sure everyone can relate to http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/07/26/close-to-t...

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But no matter how strong the social structure, there is always that cheek-slapped moment when you are alone with the anti-woman prejudice: the joke, the leer, the disregard, the invisibility, the inescapable fact that the moment you walk through the door you are seen as lesser, no matter what your credentials.

Is this a "tech" thing, or our society in general? I've seen (many) stories of this kind of thing from women just walking down the street.

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Both. How work is structured and the kind of work available to you are very linked to society at large. The kind of interpersonal relationships you have at work may mirror those outside of work as well, with the caveat is that it is difficult for most people to switch jobs or kinds of work to avoid contact with people that are harmful to them physically/emotionally/mentally.

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*female programmer

fixed

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