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A hilariously sad tale of gender bias (medium.com)
91 points by juanplusjuan on Sept 9, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 125 comments

Ok, something about this story seems a bit amiss. Gayle Laakmann is complaining about people thinking she is a recruiter, supposedly because she's a woman.

Hmm, I'm curious - who is this person? How does she portray herself? Are there any other possible reasons people might view her as someone working in the general HR space?


I can't imagine why a consultant who helps with "Technical Interview/Recruiting Consulting" (as well as "Acquisition/Acqui-hire interview prep") would be perceived as a recruiter. Definitely due to gender.

If you read just that, okay fine. But if you're going to the front page of the website, you'd also see PROGRAMMER there. (Way to, by the way, cherry pick examples. Why not use this page? http://www.gayle.com/projects/ Oh, right, because it doesn't prove the straw man you'd built.)

But that wasn't the example referenced. The example referenced about doing a talk on coding topics (data structures, algorithms, code) for an hour and having some ask about my "prior" role as a recruiter.

Why not use that page? The link is buried in the "writing" dropdown. To even find the link I had to "view source", which I only did after you pointed it out.

I went to your homepage, and "programmer" is just a small piece of the subtitle. I look at your first 6 panels, 4 of which (the leftmost 4) are about recruiter/interview stuff, 1 is programming, and 1 is "other". I scroll down to your blog and books, and everything on the homepage is about recruiting or interviewing.

If the vast majority of your homepage is recruiting, it's hardly unreasonable to think you are a recruiter. That's true even if you slap the word "programmer" and "CS degree" in a couple of places.

If you believe your webpage portrays you as a programmer, I suggest you might want to work on your messaging. Consider the possibility that your in-person messaging is similarly off.

(Of course, you seem pretty successful as a recruiter/author/interview coach, so perhaps leave the messaging as is and just be more aware of it.)

... but that wasn't the situation described. This isn't about someone going to my webpage - or to a particular subpage - and concluding "recruiter".

This is about someone talking to me AFTER A TALK ABOUT CODING and starting a sentence with, "So when you were a recruiter at Google, ..."

On your site, you advertise that you give talks on HR and recruiting and every talk listed is on that topic. To be clear, "Cracking the coding interview" is a recruiting/HR talk even if coding is involved.

I wasn't there. I can't rule out the possibility that you a) didn't list this talk on your site, b) discussed a completely different topic than all your other listed talks and c) convey a completely different impression than your online persona.

But I hope you can understand why I, and many others, find this claim a bit implausible.

Your analogy is strange. You realize I have never worked as a recruiter, right? This is the second time you've referred to me as a recruiter. I do things in the intersection of interviewing and technology space, yes, but I've never worked as a recruiter. I know you know that I'm not a recruiter, so... whatcha up to over there? Whatcha trying to prove?

This talk discussed coding at far more depth than the vast majority of recruiters could do. How many recruiters could tell you about big O time? Binary trees? Breadth first search? Not many.

Also, are you actually trying to argue that gender isn't a factor in how people perceive someone?

Tell me how you would like to brush off these examples:

1. Someone asking me at a conference exclusively for programmers where you MUST be a programmer to attend [there are no company booths or anything like that] if I've ever considered learning to code.

2. Someone asking me in my first week at Google if I'm new to marketing. This was in an office that was exclusively engineering. There was no marketing team there. I was just walking down the hall and said someone came up to say this.

3. At a small event where at least 50% of the people worked for Microsoft or Amazon, someone starting off the conversation with "So I assume you don't work for Microsoft or Amazon."

4. At an event which was very, very programmer heavy, someone walking up and saying "hey it must be great for you to meet all these programmers. At least you've got someone to fix your computer."

5. Someone referring to me at CES, where I was staffing the Google booth, as a "booth babe." (Keep in mind that CES doesn't really have booth babes, nor was I dressed at all like a booth babe.

6. Someone actually specifically admitting that he was surprised that I was teaching technical interview topics. He specifically said that he assumed otherwise because I was female.

7. On a technical interview video on YouTube, 2/3rds of the comments are either overtly sexual or overtly sexist (e.g., "I would've hit on the interviewer. I wouldn't be able to focus on the problems!", "Good tits").

This stuff happens all the time. Note that #1 through #5 had nothing to do with my working in the interview space. #6 and #7 is pretty clearly gender related.

Sorry, I should have been precise about "recruitment consultant" rather than "recruiter". Gives you a tangential and irrelevant point to hit me with.

As a person outside HR, I mentally lump the entire field into the one corner I interact with. I know it's technically wrong - once when I worked at a big company I met a non-recruiter HR person. But it's fairly normal.

Similarly, to non-tech people, I'm a programmer rather than a data scientist, and I used to be a professor rather than postdoc ("wtf is a postdoc?" "it's like professor but I get paid less").

Also, are you actually trying to argue that gender isn't a factor in how people perceive someone

I'm arguing that when a person who advertises themselves online as being in HR and gives talks about HR, it's plausible that people might perceive them as being in HR for non-sexist reasons.

Making the leap from "HR as a whole" to "the only part of HR I ever interact with" is just human nature.

> I'm arguing that when a person who advertises themselves online as being in HR and gives talks about HR, it's plausible that people might perceive them as being in HR for non-sexist reasons.

But again, the situation isn't "someone looked at my website and thought I was a recruiter" or "someone saw that I was doing hiring consulting and thought I was a recruiter".

It's giving a talk which is talking in depth about technical topics, far more so than the vast majority of recruiters could do, and then having someone say, "So when you were a recruiter at Google..."

This is just one little example. Not a big deal. Except that things like this happen all the time. You can't just continue to brush them off as "oh, well, it was just because you do this other stuff that the person didn't even know about."

I don't think it's fruitful to engage yummyfajitas in conversation. In my opinion/limited and indirect experience, he cares a little about being right, a lot about being provocative, and not at all for understanding experiences other than his own.

I've got to say I'm impressed how persistent you are in explaining the same thing over and over again to someone who clearly doesn't want to get it.

I'm glad you challenge people's stupid assumptions.

Apart from #5 where they may have been hitting on you (insert mental clicking sound) and #7 where the comment level is renowned for .. well adjectives don't really describe it enough, I can feel your frustration from the other side of the world. I'm (not so) happy to admit I'm guilty of making assumptions of woman in the tech space, and I mentally slap myself when I do. It's a pain when people make assumptions of you, being young I get it occasionally but no where near the level woman and minorities do. Given my occasionally short fuse, I'd probably snap once or twice a week.

This is something which doesn't make sense to me. Why are they assuming that you WERE a recruiter, why aren't they assuming you ARE a recruiter if this is due to sexism? Clearly they are assuming that you ARE a programmer, but used to be a recruiter.

Assuming a person USED to adhere to a gender/race/group stereotype is a weird thing.

If it was a man who claimed to be a programmer and who wrote the book on passing technical interviews for programmers, would you doubt he was a programmer?

But because she's a woman who knows both programming and job interviews, you latch onto her recruiting aspect, and not her programming side. And note that people assumed she was a recruiter and not a programmer after she'd been talking code for an hour, not after she'd been talking job interviews for an hour.

It's not just about what she is, it's about how people choose to look at her, based on her gender.

There is a difference between saying that her audience didn't think she was currently a programmer and saying they didn't think she had ever worked as a programmer.

If you look at her blog, you will not assume she writes much code now days. If you look at the topics she speaks on, you will probably assume she doesn't write much code. If you look at what consulting services she provides, you'll assume that you can't hire her to write code for your company.

Perhaps this one talk was not listed on her site. Perhaps no one in the audience looked up her website to find out who she was while she was speaking. Perhaps, the speakers information was completely different than the way she presents what she does on her website.

Or maybe they didn't think she is currently working as a programmer because...well it doesn't currently look like she is primarily writing code for a living.

But, as I've said repeatedly, the comment wasn't about what I'm currently doing.

Oh, and by the way -- still write a ton of code.

Speaking for myself, if Gayle was a man, I would doubt he as a programmer as well. It's overall image, not gender. In fact, one of the posters highlighted in the blog post said just that, even though the author chose to take it as sexist anyway.

Um, actually, this is what the highlighted post said:

"when you 'talk about' code for an hour and still ppl think you're a recruiter, that's not about gender - that's about your tech skill: people don't think you are a good coder. You looked like a saleman in that case if you are a guy or a recruiter if you are a girl. The key thing here is not your gender. You were looked down upon not because you are a female engineer, it's solely because you are an incapable coder thus don't deserve the certain level of respect you expected."

So, first of all, the person is denying that it was about gender while basically saying that it is. If man -> sales If woman -> recruiter

That... sounds like gender to me.

Moreover, this person was suggesting that "incapable coder" -> not a coder. Which is sort of weird.

> So, first of all, the person is denying that it was about gender while basically saying that it is. If man -> sales If woman -> recruiter

Thus, the gender bias is as to which non-technical role the poster puts you in, not whether they think you are non-technical.

Yes, I was wrong to indicate there was nothing sexist at all about the post. I was thinking primarily of the non-technical part.

> Moreover, this person was suggesting that "incapable coder" -> not a coder. Which is sort of weird.

I see that sentiment expressed about programmers of all types. It's the idea that if you are not at a certain level you are a faker, and thus not really a "coder". I see such accusations leveled at people constantly, without regard to gender.

The core point I was making is that you are not being typecast as non-technical for being a woman. You are being typecast for the writings for which you are best known, not for being a woman.

EDIT: So, I posted this reply from my comments view four hours after my GP post. Then I went back and read your other comments. In that context, I change my opinion. The submitted blog post needs the details you posted in this thread, and on it's own does present a very strong argument.

No recruiter, out of every recruiter I have ever spoken with from Google down to smaller startups, has ever discussed code with me beyond what languages I know and if I have experience writing tests.

It is absurd to talk with someone about code for an hour and assume they are a recruiter.

that is absurd, completely and totally absurd. In fact I have trouble even imagining the most misogynistic of people sitting in on a talk about "coding" and coming to the conclusion that the person talking is a recruiter.

What was the talk on? Coding? Seems a bit broad, what was it actually on? Was it about passing technical questions in for programmer interviews? Details about some of the questions and ways methodologies to reach solutions?

If something seems utterly absurd to you, it might be because it is.

> This talk discussed coding at far more depth than the vast majority of recruiters could do. How many recruiters could tell you about big O time? Binary trees? Breadth first search? Not many.

Source https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8291665

Interesting you can't imagine this, because as a woman, similar situations as Gayle's have happened to me and to every female programmer I know. I have talked about code to people at language and framework-specific meetups only for them to later assume I'm not a programmer.

Perhaps she was somebody who figured out that writing books and consulting about interviews and recruiting was more lucrative? I'm not about to doubt somebody's credentials because she saw and opportunity and took it.

Also, who cares what field she says she's in? She's clearly making a lot of money on her books, why doesn't isn't she considered primarily an author? I don't think it's a problem that there aren't enough women who say that they are programmers. I think the issue is gender bias in the workplace seemingly causing a lack of women in technology rolls.

The example referenced is actually about someone asking "So when you were a recruiter at Google, ..." This is after a talk I gave on coding that covered data structures, algorithms, etc.

If someone refers to be as an author now, that's totally fine.

There are many stereotypes that go along with being a programmer that are negative. There are stereotypes that go along with being a recruiter that are positive. While gender may have something to do with people thinking she is a recruiter it may not be the main factor. If you meet someone who is well spoken, well dressed, writes books on how to interview, knows how to talk about code, etc. might there be a greater chance that their job is something other than writing code every day?

Sure. And then if someone's talking about binary trees, dynamic programming, depth first search, object oriented programming, don't you think you'd conclude "was or used to be a programmer"?

Again THIS was the example. Stop constructing straw mans.

The quote in the article simply said that you can talk about code for an hour and people still think you are a recruiter. Most people take that to mean that people don't think you currently work as a programmer or more specifically, don't think you currently write code as your primary job function. Yes I agree, if someone talks for an hour about those technical topics, I'd assume they have experience as a programmer. However, I may still assume you are not currently working as a programmer and things I would use to make that assumption have nothing to do with gender.

You appear to be upset when people point out that there may be some non-gender reasons for assuming you are working in a role other than writing code. Please keep in mind that from the article there is very little information about the particulars of the talk in question. However, anyone who tries to fill in the gaps by looking at your lists of topics for recent talks, your website, etc., is going to assume you don't current write much code and that most of your work is done in the technical aspects of the interview process.

If I talk to someone who used to be a programmer but not is obviously working in an HR recruiting role, I will probably consider them to be a recruiter. This isn't an insult...it is just the way we categorize people by what they do currently.

What's frustrating is the continuous straw mans. People are creating new situations, saying that those situations wouldn't be sexist, and therefore using that to prove that I'm inappropriately assuming sexism. Straw man.

There are situations where it's reasonable to assume that I'm a recruiter, even if that assumption happens to be wrong. But this situation wasn't one of them.

It would also be fine to say that I'm not a programmer, depending on what you mean by that. I am a programmer, just like I'm an author. If you define it though as someone who is currently employed exclusively as a software developer, then sure, I'm not a software developer presently. But again, this isn't the situation being described.

This is a specific situation in which someone was at a talk where I spent an hour talking about big O time, data structures, algorithms, modularizing code, and a bunch of other technical talks and then asked me about my time as a recruiter at Google. It wouldn't matter if my website now said in giant flashing letters "HELLO I AM A RECRUITER." The person wasn't looking at the website (which didn't even exist then, at least not in that form).

Serious question, what is this representative of?

Random internet comments? Unscientific internet polls?

I honestly can't figure out a reason why any of this is any more relevant or scientific than a youtube comments argument about why some band does or does not suck monkey chode.

Clearly, people are not allowed to question the coding ability of a female because it's sexism.

Obviously it is sexism if you doubt the coding ability of a female because she's female.

HN fucking sucks for these topics.

No one is doubting her ability because she's female. But you should be allowed to doubt their ability no matter their gender is.

How can you say nobody is doubting her ability because she is female? RTFA!

Yes, of course you can doubt people's ability regardless of their gender, but it doesn't happen regardless of gender, it happens because of gender. People start out thinking: "Woman. Probably not a good coder. Ah, see? She knows about job interviews! She's a recruiter! Not a programmer at all." Had it been a man, they'd be: "Hey, this programmer knows a lot about job interviews!"


> edit: downvoters can't handle the truth?

No, your logic is flawed. Let's say there is a population of 1,000 male programmers, with a normal distribution of IQ (mean 100, S.D. 15), and therefore 15.87% are at or above 1 sigma. That's 159 male programmers, more or less, regarded as exceptional.

Let's further say that we have a population of 100 female programmers with exactly the same statistical breakdown, with 15.87% above 1 sigma, reflecting the IQ stats for the population as a whole, male and female. This makes 16 female programmers, more or less, regarded as exceptional.

This means (a) there are more exceptional male programmers by count than female programmers, but it also means that (b) statistically, a selected male programmer is likely to be equal to a selected female programmer, and the more programmers you compare, the more equal the outcome becomes.


emp / tmp = efp / tfp = 15.87%


emp = exceptional male programmers

tmp = total male programmers

efp = exceptional female programmers

tfp = total female programmers

This means that your claim above:

> So the male candidate is probably better a coder most of the time.

Is perfect nonsense, and coincidentally calls into question the presumed intellectual superiority of males.

You have this a bit wrong.

If ability is normally distributed for a given sex (and the mean of the ability of the same), then it is true that there would be more above-average male programmers than female programmers - just as there are more male programmers than female programmers at any skill level. If you are provided a skilled programmer, they are most likely male. And if you are provided any programmer, they are most likely male. However, If you pick a random male programmer and a random female programmer, the woman is just as likely to be a good coder as the man.

This means that if you are talking to an anonymous person online and they are a good coder, you should assume they are male (if you're going to assume anything). This does not work backwards - if you are talking to a female programmer and you do not know their coding ability, it would not be particularly likely that they are a poor coder.

You should not assume anything. Given any random coder, yes, the chance that they're male is larger than the chance that they are female, but the chance that they are female is still present, and if you jump to the wrong assumption too early, you end up effectively denying their existence, which is a big part of the problem.

Consider it from the point of view of the female coder: in every discussion, people will always start out assuming either that she is male or that she can't code. And it's up to her to either correct that (with all the crap that often comes with it) or not, and let people believe there are no female coders. Constantly running into people assuming you don't exist, can be very demotivating, and may lead her to look for a more welcoming job. Let's not do that anymore, okay?


I don't know if you meant for your argument to be applicable to Gayle, but if so... well, it is not applicable. People only knew her gender and assumed she was not skilled because of it.

They knew her gender and that she'd been talking code for an hour, and still assumed she was not skilled because of it. Some people are unbelievably dense.

> This is what I meant. Given a skilled programmer, it's more likely to be a male.

That might have been what you meant, but it isn't what you said. You said:

> Then we can conclude that there are more male programmers that are above this mean.

Not as a percentage of their cohort, which is the only rational way of expressing this idea.

But you were responding to a quote ">Woman. Probably not a good coder"

Which would imply the probability of a woman being a good coder was lower from the probability of a man being a good coder.

This is quite different to the probability of a good programmer being a man being higher than the probability of a good programmer being a woman.

I mean, the probability of a good programmer being swedish isn't that high but it doesn't tell you much about the quality of programming in Sweden.

Sure, but that point is completely irrelevant to the discussion. Which is probably why you keep getting downvoted.

I'm not sure I understand your argument. Are you suggesting that because there are more male programmers in total and hence more male programmers that are 'above average', that a randomly selected male candidate is statistically more likely to be 'above average' than a randomly selected female candidate?

If so that would be incorrect.


> There are more males above average then females who are above average.

You have dropped the qualifier "programmers", also if you hadn't done that, you aren't adjusting for population sizes, therefore you have left the realm of rational discourse.

As to males versus females, adjusted for population size, they're equal (and this is a statistic, not a popular PC pronouncement). As to male programmers versus female programmers, without specific data but knowing that women are better at calculation, we can safely conclude that their population-adjusted abilities are either equal or contradict your implied thesis.

The supreme irony of this conversation is that, if you were any good at calculation, you would see the systematic error in your claims. There's a large element of self-reference here.

We need fewer assholes in every industry. It's not like tech is unique...

No, but we have an opportunity to be a leader and not a follower. To be on the right side of history, so to speak.

For that, the first step should probably be to have more women in STEM classes so they can get recruited in these industries to begin with.

I've no idea how it currently is, but back when I was studying the ratio was something like 90% male in some curriculums. (There were exceptions, e.g. chemistry or biology, but they were rather rare.) Has this changed since?

A large part of the reason we have so few women in STEM is because of the toxic work culture that surrounds it. We also lose graduates once people decide they have better things to do than deal with sexist assholes all day.

I'm all for encouraging more women getting into STEM, but this needs to be a two-pronged approach. Without dramatic improvements to tech culture encouraging more women to study tech is mostly pointless.

FWIW, my engineering class was ~85% male. My working environments have been consistently 95%+ male. The industry is doing considerably worse than academia.

I think it peaked at some point during the 80's and then declined. Ancedotally, I've certainly met more women who wrote cobol and the like back in the day than women working in my current career. And there are a lot more women in my CS graduate program than I've met working at web startups.

So her talk was on tech interviews and someone thought she was a recruiter? Doesn't seem that big a stretch...

The talk covered binary trees, breadth first search, dynamic programming, etc. It wasn't focused on fluffy topics.

It'd be pretty unlikely to hear a recruiter talk at such a technical level.

Gayle, there is also the question of whether you are a programmer in the sense that you "can program" or if you are a programmer in the sense that you "program for a living".

Different people will interpret the term differently. Based on your website and your book, you portray yourself as a Recruiting Consultant. So my assumption after seeing all the material you presented is that you are a programmer in the sense that you CAN program (and possibly well given the success of your book) but you are not necessarily a programmer in the sense that you don't do that for a living.

For me, I wouldn't call you a "programmer" unless you did "computer programming" for a living, but that's just how I use the term. I would call you a recruiting consultant, and for me that's no better or worse than "programmer".

Yes, that's fair. If you define "programmer" strictly as someone who currently holds a job title of "software developer", then sure, I'm not a programmer. Nor is, by that definition, a technical founder who's built their entire website. If that's the way you define the term "programmer", then sure, I'm not a programmer.

Of course, if you define it in the sense of what someone can do, has been employed specifically to do in the past, and continues to do as a core part of their job, then I am a programmer.

But, again, that's not relevant to the situation being described. The situation being described is not someone offhandedly saying that I'm not presently employed as a programmer, or asking about why I'm no longer a programmer [by some definitions]. You, and many other people, are creating new situations and saying "well if someone said X after you did Y, then it's totally reasonable." That's not the situation being described. It's the straw man fallacy.

I am describing a specific situation in which someone listened to a talk about data structures, algorithms, big O time, etc (yes, within the context of interviewing) and saying "So when you WERE a recruiter at Google, ...".

The information on my website is entirely irrelevant.

I didn't refer at all to the event, despite this thread being about the event. I was just making a point about the possibility of you not being seen as a "programmer".

Possibly I wouldn't characterize you as a recruiter or a programmer based on what you described.

I've been a development manager for many years and programming is an integral part of my role. But I'm a manager, not a "programmer", since I believe it's the dominant aspect of what I do.

So that choice of words could have been more influenced by a possible emphasis on the interview aspect of your role, rather than its programming aspect. I haven't seen the discussion so I can only speak from what I've read.

I've known many hiring managers who were not programmers and knew all of what you mentioned. Some of them were even program managers with a strong CS background - none of them programmers by any definition since they didn't program at all, ever.


Then focus on this situation. Don't create new ones.

Do you think it's reasonable to listen to a talk when someone is discusses, in technical details, big O, binary trees, graph algorithms, coding, system design, object oriented design, etc and walk away from that saying "recruiter"?

So you're imagining a totally different situation and then saying that, in that situation, it might be reasonable to call me "not a programmer." I really fail to see your point. It sounds like you're trying to do this to argue against gender bias being real. This is what's called "straw man fallacy."

If I were arguing that every single time that I'm called something other than programmer that there is gender bias, then your point would be valid. But I'm not arguing that.

I'm not trying to argue against gender bias. Gender bias is very real and I've seen it many times. As I've seen age bias, ethnic bias etc. These are real and I have been target of bias myself.

All I'm saying is that I haven't seen evidence in what I read that would strongly indicate gender bias in this instance. You are making the claim so you have the burden of proof. I'm just stating my skepticism regarding your presented evidence.

The best way for bias to be taken seriously by others is to only claim bias when the case for it is very clear. This helps combat people who say that "anything today is considered bias".

You are not the only recruiter with a CS degree.

I'm not even a recruiter.

I should have been more precise in saying "recruiting consultant".

People thought she was not a programmer even though she wrote a book about programming interviews.

William Poundstone, author of how would you move mt Fuji, is not a programmer, so that's not entirely surprising.

And his book isn't on programming interviews.

OK, fine. The next two Amazon books I get for "programming interview", "Elements of Programming Interviews" and "Programming Interviews Exposed", both have three authors each. In both cases, only one of the authors is actually employed as a programmer. The others include an EE professor, a radiologist and two executives. The field is rife with non programming authors.

"I wrote a book about programming interviews" does not signal to me that you are, in fact, a programmer.

I am happy to believe Gayle is a programmer, but I wouldn't use her book as a credential to support that claim.

(And I just realized that I'm replying to Gayle. I didn't read your username before posting. oops. The "you" above wasn't meant to be directed at you personally.)

It's hardly rife with non-programming authors.

Elements of Programming Interviews: authors include an algorithms professor, a software engineer, and an engineer/CTO.

Programming Interviews Exposed: authors include software engineer, a CEO & VP Technology, and a radiologist. (Note that this book was written a long time ago. The radiologist probably was a programmer at the time.)

Ace the Programming Interview: software developer

Data Structures and Algorithms Made Easy: software developer

Out of 9 authors (including myself), 8 are/were software developers or something else very, very deep in technology. Possibly all 9.

Notably, zero are/were recruiters.

What, she's worked a Google, Microsoft and Apple as an engineer. While she may not be currently employed as one, she certainly could be if she wanted.

It is more or less a collection of puzzles used in programming interviews (in that particular book, at Microsoft). He has another titled "Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?" Similar concept, both focused on programming interview puzzles.

No, they're actually not focused on programming interviews. Those sorts of puzzles aren't asked in programming interviews.

No. Based on the information presented, someone thought she had worked as a recruiter when she was at Google.

It's really easy to say "Based on the information, nothing to do with the fact that she's a woman, people assumed she was a recruiter".

That ignores all the times when people who are given the same information -but about a man- but who don't make the assumption that he was a recruiter.

>"woman who wrote the #2 Computer Science book on Amazon, about coding and technical interview skills"

Computer Science has absolutely nothing to do with either coding or interviews, it's a subfield of mathematics.

Coding is the main way that computer science is implemented. This is like complaining that doing titrimetry isn't part of Chemistry or drafting isn't a part of civil engineering. It's true that C.S. is a subset of math in a strict, theoretical definition, but the practical application of the science is highly important.

This might be true outside the US, but certainly not from what I've seen in the US.

In the US, a lot of curriculum in CS majors include coding, interview practices and moreā€”and that's a good thing because there doesn't seem to be a lot of dedicated "software development" majors in existence.

I can think of a computer engineering curriculum that actually requires a half-semester course in interview practicing and cover letter writing. Similarly I can think of a major state university whose CS includes a semester project for a company / organization outside the university in teams of four. That same university has a required CS course where you have to maintain the code of previous students in the course, to give you a taste of that real world aspect. And those courses are taken in between or while you take your standard courses on algorithms, discrete math, etc.

Though true I know a professor of CS who ONLY works on a chalkboard, the vast majority don't and the vast majority of CS grads don't either.

> and that's a good thing because there doesn't seem to be a lot of dedicated "software development" majors in existence.

Actually, I think it's a bad thing. The sooner Computer Science and Software Engineering become separate disciplines, the better.

SEs need to know results from CS. That might be seen as separate, but knowing results and when to apply which, I think requires one to be at least a bit CS-educated. So, no, they're not separate in the ideal case, but obviously, results in CS are arrived at through mathematics and rigorous proofs, whereas resutls in SE are usually produced via code.

Physics and electrical/mechanical engineering are separate disciplines, but electrical and mechanical engineers still require physics education.

Amazon doesn't agree:

> #1 in Books > Textbooks > Computer Science > Software Design & Engineering

I've addressed the whole "CS is math" thing so much, I wrote an essay on it: http://www.scott-a-s.com/cs-is-not-math/

Programming languages utilize computer science.

Reading anecdotes like this makes me so disappointed in my gender. Why do some people marginalize other groups so eagerly?

I see so much "bro culture" in our field, and it feels inescapable. Every time I experience it, I literally cringe. I'm not even a party to being singled out; I can't imagine what it must be like to have this garbage directed at you.

The sad thing is, I used to be picked on and ostracized by these types of people. This was one of those things I assumed I was going to be getting away from back in high school by choosing computing. I thought "nerds" didn't do shit like this.

Apparently not.

I just want to wake up in the decade this is no longer an issue. That must be nice.

I hate to break it to you, but it'll never not be an issue. Humans stereotype. It's a natural function for us. It may not be as much of an issue on a specific topic (race, gender, sexuality, etc.), but it will never not be an issue.

Also, you probably do it too. That's okay - we all do. The trick that people haven't learned is not letting their automatic beliefs have overt influence on their actions.

I'll second this. Bias and prejudice are an unavoidable part of human nature. I wish that wasn't the case, but it's the reality we live in. The most ANY of us can do is 1) Recognize our biases and work to look past them, and 2) Apologize when we get it wrong and try to improve

#2 is the difference between acting like an asshole and being an asshole.

Thanks for raising this point. It's absolutely correct, and I agree with both of you.

It still irks me when biases are so general and aimed at an entire set of people. I know I do the same internally for some populations or interest groups, but it still makes me mad when I see it done by others on the basis of race, gender, sexual preference, etc. I'm probably guilty at some level too sometimes... :/

It may be a natural function, but it can be amplified and distorted by institutions and media. Not all cultures are the same, and there are reasons for that.

you'll never get away from being picked on and ostracized (even in mild or veiled forms) either, which is a function of hierarchy. think lord of the flies--politics are inherent to systems with more than 1 person.

these kinds of responses comes from a sense of threat to the current order, an order that tells the threatened that they are better than the disenfranchised.

This probably should be a blog post with deeper research, but I swear it must be a human rite of passage to have the established groups treat some minority or "new" group poorly.

For example, it wasn't but 100 years ago in the USA that groups like Irish, Germans, Italians, Chinese, etc. were looked down on as poor immigrants who were taking "real" American jobs. They eventually were accepted only to turn around and put down people who were Black, Latino, Women, etc.

Acceptance of African Americans and Women has improved a lot, and in some places Mexicans are more easily accepted than other places. However, there are still plenty of people that treat those groups poorly.

Eventually, all the current minorities, including women, will be accepted only to turn around and treat some other group like crap. Why? I assume it's because it's human nature and it's the cycle that seems to happen for things that are different. At some point we all get bullied and we all take turns bullying someone else.

It'd be nice to just skip over the ugliness, but that's not really how it works with people.

Also, let us not forget that getting treated poorly is not always a minority issue. Some people are just plain jerks and they treat everybody like crap. That's not an excuse, but no amount of positive change will get rid of jerks. They are in every industry and almost every company.

> Why? I assume it's because it's human nature and it's the cycle that seems to happen for things that are different

When it comes to the in-groups, it's not really bullying. IMO, it's more like a fitness-test, i.e. subjecting the new person who wants to be a member of an established group to some difficulty, so that the person is tempted to give up, and only those that really want to become members are accepted.

For example, I'm less than thrilled by the current campaign of "more women/kids/blacks/lations/people" in tech, because I feel that all these people just want to be programmers because of the money. I didn't want to become a programmer (I actually wanted not to become one), I just spent so much time in front of a computer that I learned a lot about it. I will never be able to regard someone as an "equal" (true geek) that just got in for the money. If you compare the current craze with 5/10 years ago (before the big salaries started), there is a huge difference in attitude towards the geeks, which makes the general public's motivations painfully obvious.

Another example: I'm not sure if that's a true depiction of Jews, but when Charlotte (from Sex and the City) decides she wants to convert to Judaism (to marry a Jew), she is turned away 3 times by the rabbi, before they let her start with the process.

Eventually, all the current minorities, including women

Women are not a minority; not in the US nor in the vast majority of countries.

Obviously by number not a minority, but in the way they sometimes get treated or by perception or whatever, they seem to be considered a "protected class" or whatever the legal term is that you shouldn't discriminate against.

I think the point remains however that any group that faces a generation of discrimination/hazing/whatever you want to call it seems to find a way to revisit that same act on a later generation once they are in power.

FYI (not really relevant for your post, but useful for people to know) -

Gender is the protected class, not women. This means that it's illegal to use gender as a factor in employment, barring very strict standards of when something is a legitimate job qualification. (For example, if you hired someone to stand in a women's locker room and hand out towels, you'd probably be able to legitimately discriminate on gender. You could not however use gender to only hire women for a teaching position at a women's college.)

Now, in practice, the court might be more lenient on gender discrimination against one gender or another (and it might change based on job). Just like the courts are likely harsher in penalties towards black people.

They are not a minority of the population, but definitely a minority in the tech workplace.

Referenced article mentions a case where some random critic on the net criticizes a CEO who writes books touching on recruitment issues from the candidate perspective, claiming they are a recruiter. Random critic essentially argues that CEO is not a programmer since they don't have code.

I think it's a legitimate practice in the field to look at whether someone develops actual code and if their code works in order to evaluate whether or not they are actually a programmer. This is because there are a lot of posers and incompetents in the field. Seeing actual code and/or projects the person has built cuts through a lot of Big Talk and claims.

In this particular case, the CEO has listed on her site several projects she developed herself to solve real world problems. This is solid evidence that she is in fact a programmer. Therefore, the random critic's claims are without merit.

My subjective data point, as a male in tech: We don't just need more women in tech, we need fewer assholes.

The company I'm currently working at doesn't have any assholes in the dev team; and yet even after hiring every single woman who has ever even applied for a software development role, we have zero women in the team :/

What outreach have you tried to get more women to apply?

I'm going through the job hunt now, and so many places seem determined to be as difficult as possible to deal with. One (I may have found it on HN) had a picture of the office bullpen, and every single person in the picture was a twenty-something male, mostly all white with one or two Asians, more than half wearing hipster goatees.

I wondered "why in the world would you show this in your job posting section? What image do you think it projects?"

I'm not a SJW but the in-groupishness projected by that image was a huge turn off for me. And I'm someone who mostly fit the stereotype in that picture (even down to the hipster goatee).

> What outreach have you tried to get more women to apply?

We haven't done outreach to any specific group (I'd guess because we aren't "looking for women" per se, we "looking for good developers and gender doesn't factor into it"); looking at the currently active developer ad, it makes no explicit assumptions about gender of applicant and makes no reference to the gender of the current team...

(Though there was that thing saying that "we are a strong team" is subconsciously excluding of women, and we should say "we are a caring team" if we want more women to apply, so there may be things like that that I am too much of a white male to notice? :S)

Outreach doesn't have to mean "we posted the job description at SWE," but it can mean "we are going to post the job description in more places than just the forums where current employees hang out."

It's silly to say "but our ad doesn't say anything about gender" -- of course it doesn't.

And if no women are applying, there are probably other groups of developers whom you are totally missing out on as well.

Try the following thought experiment: imagine there is a qualified candidate that you want on your team, and they see your job posting for the first time. What are you putting in your posting make sure that this person applies, and what is in your interview process to make sure this person gets accepted and encouraged to come on board?

To be fair, I looked at her website and she does kind of look like a recruiter. This is likely because being an attractive blonde female opens a lot of doors, and recruiting is a job where you need a lot of doors to open for you. It doesn't mean she's not a rockstar programmer (because once you look at her resume, she obviously is) but she does have a certain "look" that doesn't jive with the stereotype of a software developer. Fortunately, most of us learn early in our careers not to judge a book by its cover.

That said, the "asshole" in the article is a troll.

Is this sexism or is it just generalization? The vast majority of (white) women I've spoken to from tech companies are recruiters. And generalizations are very useful, in general. I doubt everyone thinks about how much coding knowledge a recruiter would have. At what point is it "sexist" (and, presumably, bad) to assume something given past experiences?

Its only silicon valley that you will see "C Level" people ranting and dropping Fbombs on a blog. Time and place. Neither seems appropriate to me...

You've never been to NY or Chicago, I take it?


Or energy in Houston or the South?

Title should probably be changed from "We Don't Just Need More Women in Tech, We Need Fewer Assholes" to "A hilariously sad tale of gender bias."

(Not sure if I should put a spoiler alert or something.) The author of a popular series of books on preparing for technical interviews was upset that, after talking about code for an hour, people assume that she's a recruiter, rather than a programmer. I'll try not to make the mistake that the target of this post made by assuming too much about the content of that talk, but is it at all possible that the perspective of someone who writes books like that comes off as recruiterish?

>Is it at all possible that the perspective of someone who writes books like that comes off as recruiterish?

This was my first thought as well. As soon as she identified herself, I immediately understood how someone could write her off as a recruiter, based entirely on her body of public works. There are many people in the world that will judge someone by the books they wrote and immediately have an image in their mind about the author. It would be hard to overcome this inclination that certain people have within the space of an hour and it doesn't help when someone is especially suspicious because of your gender (Obviously this is the not-ok part). I'm more apt to believe that Gayle Laakmann McDowell has a slightly skewed viewpoint of being taken as a recruiter more often than the average female engineer.

This is not to say that female engineers do not have legitimate concerns. I think its helpful to look at the specific facts of this situation to understand the frustration Gayle Laakmann McDowell experiences.

I actually went to college with Gayle - she was a TA* in one of my harder, more rigorous classes. I never got to know her personally, but I find it hard to believe that you can talk to her for an entire hour and not figure out that her knowledge and understanding are way beyond those of a recruiter, even a smart one. Says more about the listener, IMO.

Personal anecdote, take it for what it's worth.

*TA = teaching assistant, older students hand-picked by professors to conduct help sessions for the current year's crop, as well as grade homeworks/exams. I.e. you need to do well in a class to qualify.

Oh, I'm sure I get mistake for a recruiter more than the average female engineer. That's not really the point.

The point is that gender adds difficulty in establishing technical credibility.

A different female programmer might have trouble with a different aspect of this. For example, Chloe Alpert said how investor have trouble believing that she's the dev (https://twitter.com/chloealpert/status/509071535098052609) and how some other people were confused that she was the dev (https://twitter.com/chloealpert/status/509069378575695872).

She might have more trouble than other female devs because she's cofounded a business with a man. Does that mean that the whole gender doesn't matter? No.

In other words, my experience might be that people lump me in as a recruiter specifically. Someone else might be assumed to be the non-technical cofounder. Someone else might get assumed to be a marketer. Or a designer. Or whatever.

Point is - gender bias is real.

It is entirely possible that she spent an hour talking about code from the perspective of programming interviews. Were I to have heard such a perspective I might have assumed the talker was an expert in tech recruitment rather than a programmer/coder by trade. It wouldn't be a sign of disrespect, an expert in recruitment and interview techniques is hardly less worthy than an expert programmer.

The real question is If a male and a female talked about coding interviews for an hour, would the audience ascribe to them the same title, I suspect the answer is probably "no".

> Title should probably be changed from "We Don't Just Need More Women in Tech, We Need Fewer Ass holes" to "A hilariously sad tale of gender bias."

Yes, please. While I agree with the sentiment of the editorialised title, I think the original title should be reflected here.

It's true, women can be a source of gender bias as well. Many girls are turned away from computing by women who think of it as a guys' field. And beyond that, just looking at a woman at a tech conference and thinking "oh I wonder who she's here with" can happen to anyone. I can't find the anecdote now but it happened to a woman who had just given a speech on women in tech! It's a really hard, pervasive bias.

if you think you can solve the problems of people being assholes, you haven't yet accepted that someone considers you an asshole too.

Agreed. This comes back to the need for a common understanding of what being an agreeable human being involves. "Common sense" etiquette doesn't work because, in my opinion, there is no such thing as common sense.

On the other hand, I'd probably think you were a bit of a dick if you tried to tell me what being an agreeable human being is.

Edit: This comment was...less than coherent. What I'm getting at is that I agree with you, and that I think the core of being "not an asshole" is understanding that other people are just like you in regard to their being far from perfect. The guy that just cut you off in traffic may have terrible hemorrhoids, be angry about something at work, or perhaps just heard that his daughter died. You never know what other people are going through.

I think more importantly, anytime you are on an online discussion board with anonymous members, you're always going to encounter assholes.

You find the same people everywhere, but they are only honest when they are allowed to be.

"I think anonymity is authenticity, it allows you to share in a completely unvarnished, unfiltered, raw way and I think that's something that's extremely valuable." -- moot

Are you sure that reverse mapping is universal?

I was going to go for a few anecdotal examples of people I would decidedly consider as counter-evidence to your claim: the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, ...

Then I realized that you're probably right. :(

The Dalai Lama, Gandhi and Mother Teresa you say? Penn and Teller would be the counter example to your potential counter-evidence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6voAW_Go5Y

I still occasionally run into people who refer to Dr. King as a Communist agitator (a sibling comment addressed the others).

The accusations of Communism are thin at best, but he was a plagarist and adulterer, which is especially egregious for a pastor. I'd say it's fair to say everyone has their selfish inclinations.

Not everyone is equally antisocial.

We need good engineers in tech. It shouldn't matter if they are male or female. This article is as gender biased as the people it is against.

It's ironic that a post about not being gender biased is down voted on an article about how we need to change gender bias.

It's the main reason why I can't really take it seriously.

I'm guessing his assertion that the person of interest is no programmer has more to do with Gayle's book being full of platitudes and errors than her sex.

He didn't seem to know who he was talking to when he made those criticisms.


You call women coders "girls" while calling men coders "male."

Yes, I see sexism.

Can't tell if you are serious.

100% serious. The definition of girl is "A female child".

To refer to females who code as children while at the exact same time NOT doing that for males who code is sexist.

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