Work with a bunch of different enterprise L.O.B. developers to get a sense of what I'm saying here. The average age of a backoffice developer is higher, meaning they have more experience. Hiring in enterprises is regimented, meaning that they tend to come from CS backgrounds. Are they uniformly high quality developers? No. In fact: there's a stigma attached to coming from a long stint in enterprise development.
As a lever for getting more women engaged with startups, the idea that an early start is important makes even less sense. Much of the day-to-day work that happens even at companies with difficult problem domains is rote and uncomplicated. A few years experience is more than enough to lead a typical web project, and, more importantly, to have a sense for whether a dev team is firing on all cylinders and to authoritatively manage it.
Obvious subtext/bias here: I do not believe that starting women in software development earlier is going to resolve the gender gap. By all means, start early; there's nothing wrong with that. It's just probably not the root of the problem.
I'm male, 33, and I do systems software research and development. My family did not get a computer until I was a sophomore in high school. In high school, I played with technology (some webpages, lots of internet time), but I did not understand it. My senior year, I did some very basic programming in a course. But I did not start really programming until college, in a computer science curriculum. I was impressed how much more some students knew than me. But by the junior year, I don't think that edge made a difference.
So it's tempting to say that I am an example of the kind of person you and some others on the thread are talking about. But I don't think we can discount the "okayness" effect. While I did not start really programming until college, I liked technology before that, and that was not seen as unusual by anyone.
It's possible, then, that encouraging young girls to program early may help resolve the gender gap, but not because they then become young adult women who already know how to be good programmers by the time they arrive on college campuses. Rather, it could be a cultural ripple-effect where if enough young girls program, more people see it as gender-neutral, and when a young adult woman with no prior programming experience wants to take up computer science in college, no one says, "Really?"
Don't you think that a young adult deciding to take further study in a subject they have no experience in - which suggests they have no real desire towards - should at least be asked by educators/parents "Are you sure that's what you want? Really?". If I'd never baked a thing in my life and said "I want to go to catering college" I'd pretty much expect teachers to say "Really?"; why is this different?
I'm not at all suggesting you need experience in a domain to begin studying it at a higher education institute - but I'd want someone to double check that I'd at least considered [considering] the possible consequences of that route of study. I wouldn't want to stop someone following an impulse, just that I'd want to try and get them to do it with at least some thought.
How could someone have desire towards something they have never tried? I never realized programming was the most exciting thing a human can do before I had my programming 101 at university and 14 years later I'm happily employed as a software engineer and fairly competent at what I do.
" If I'd never baked a thing in my life and said "I want to go to catering college" I'd pretty much expect teachers to say "Really?"; why is this different?"
I would think the person would find out soon enough if it works for them or not. Most precious things in human life are often the result of serendipity.
What is a good occupation? I would say it is a one where the basic value adding functionality is enjoyable to a person and brings them energy. A bad occupation is one the person hates. If someone has never done something, but find out after trying that they really enjoy it, I would say the odds are that he or she might become pretty good at it since they enjoy it and they have extra mental energy to spend.
Decisions made based on intuition cannot be logically baked without lots of hard work. Sometimes it's impossible. However, evidence based, empirical proof is easy to gather. If someone does not know would they like something, they should try it.
It's far more efficient to try it first and if it does not stick, then try something new. I would claim it's quite impossible to figure out before hand if someone would like doing a thing just from applying basic logic.
I would say the agile ideas are pretty good for personal life as well. Try new things, see what happens, but do not become victim of the sunk cost fallacy - fail fast and all that.
Er, since when does lack of past experience indicate no present desire? Or even no past desire?
Edit. As I think of this more, I feel like we're having two different discussions in parallel. The first, how do we get more women in technology. The second, how do we get people involved in their passion. These are two distinct conversations, and the first shoe-horns a subset of the population into a career track for the sake of a misguided notion of gender equality.
There's no reason why anyone needs passion. They need technical ability and incentive. That's it. Just look at any other industry and you won't see a requirement to be passionate about the subject. You'll find thousands of quantity surveyors, radiologists, retail managers, cleaners, etc who are entirely dispassionate about what they do for a living yet they still do brilliant work because they do it for the money rather than the love. And that's perfectly alright.
We're not talking about taking a job here, we're talking about choosing a subject for further education, for an undergrad degree. I went to pains to say that passion wasn't a requirement, not even for taking a Uni course; but I'm going to assume passionate engagement with a subject is a top reason for taking a Uni course and that those who do a course not solely because of an anticipated job are more likely to complete. No stats for that sorry.
If you're just wanting a job in IT purely to have a job then why bother with university?
I know 2 cleaners - one does it for work, solely to get money to live; the other is passionate about it and chooses to do it in preference to other things (she's a qualified teacher!). Neither of them chose to spend 3 years of their life studying it though. Also if you're choosing a Uni course based on expected earnings levels of graduates of that course then you need to factor in the necessity of completion of the course, wouldn't it be far more sensible then to do something you have even a little experience in? If you've got the maths grades to get on a CompSci course then you're better surely with sticking with maths or economics and targeting the expected earnings of an accountant or actuary, ForEx trader or something?
>"entirely dispassionate about what they do for a living yet they still do brilliant work" //
Brilliant? Like they win awards for their work, they've been promoted to the tops of their fields? Brilliant. I can believe "good enough", even "better than average" quite easily.
[I'm not motivated by money, so I do find it hard to believe that people would devote their life to something _on_purpose_ that they have no passion towards.]
Is this advice you'd give to your kid?
In the IT industry (here in the UK, and particularly in smaller companies) everyone pretends to be wildly enthusiast about learning the latest tech, and as such companies have realised that while everyone says they live and breathe this stuff companies don't need to give much incentive to people. If everyone gives up their evenings and weekends to learn the latest things then companies profits increase because they don't spend anything on training. Add to that no one gets paid overtime. No one gets a decent payrise. No one gets promoted. The only way to advance is to leave your current job and move to a better job somewhere else. All this because companies know that their staff are 'passionate' and will learn this stuff in their own time.
You don't need to be passionate about what you do for a living. You should like it otherwise you'll not enjoy day-to-day life very much, but if you're spending your own time doing things you should be learning in work you're wasting your life. You can always be passionate about something that isn't your job.
I used to work in IP and was passionate about it, ultimately I realised that my moral objections meant I couldn't continue in it. However I never did unpaid overtime. When I got home I messed with computers, went biking, and other things because I was also [more] passionate about those things. I'd devour popular media mentions of IP related to my work, but that wasn't doing work.
>if you're spending your own time doing things you should be learning in work you're wasting your life //
Not if you'd do them anyway.
>You don't need to be passionate about what you do for a living. //
I agree completely. But if you're spending 40+ hours doing something every week isn't it better if it floats-your-boat just a little?
This strongly resonates with me, but I still fail to see how this becomes a gender issue. Intelligence is culturally depicted as nerdy for all genders. It's never been cool for anyone to be a software engineer. If anything I sympathize with black males the most because culturally they're seen as "not being real" or "acting white" for simply not dressing the part.
Catching footballs is cool. Singing is cool. Improving the world with technology is not. I think this problem has no gender preference.
It doesn't indicate it, which is why I didn't say that, but it suggests it.
Another analogy: if I always avoid eating chicken, I'm often offered it but refuse it - it suggests I'm not especially fond of chicken. It's possible I've just never tried it, that I've always liked the idea. It's possible it's my favourite food but I'm especially weird and so always refuse it. But it seems if I said "I'm going to eat nothing but chicken for the next 3 years of my life" you might say "Really?"; perhaps suggest I try chicken first?
This doesn't rule you out - as I already mentioned - it's fine to pursue a subject on a whim but, and this was the point I was responding to, if you're going to veer off in a new direction [or follow a whim] then it seems right that those looking out for you will question you on it, "really, are you sure you want to pursue a college course in this subject you've ignored all previous opportunities to learn?". There are plenty of good answers, but indeed one need not justify oneself to teachers and parents at 18yo or so - it's still right of them to raise the issue.
In my high school I did not have access to a computer on a regular basis. There were about 7 old computers in the library, which I couldn't go to during classes, for about 2400 students. There was also a computer lab in the basement which was used for classes that I never took because I was taking an IB/AP curriculum and didn't have room in my schedule. I was not from an extraordinarily poor school and I was accepted to MIT, as were peers -- the high school wasn't a place low in social or educational capital. Imagine all the schools that are.
Your analogy is fine for people who've been offered chicken consistently throughout their life -- all 5% of US students.
I see no reason why anyone should be questioned for wanting to try out a course of study.
Why would you expect that? Everyone has to have a career in something, and chances are, it's not going to be their childhood hobbies.
Is that the pattern we see?
[edit: based on all the downvotes I'm guessing the data doesn't fit the theory? Oops.]
In any case, feedback is not the only deterrent, nor is it the most powerful. A lifetime of insinuations and flat-out statements from the vocal majority of your peers and teachers that x is not your domain--before you've even had a chance to think that it might be--does much to shape a person.
But probably some of your downvotes are coming because you're discounting how much louder and more open sexism tends to be online than in the office.
Does this theory need the additional hypothesis that real life negative feedback is higher for women privately doing things with their computers?
What experiment/measurement (if any) could invalidate this theory?
But probably some of your downvotes are coming because you're discounting how much louder and more open sexism tends to be online than in the office.
This seems implausible. In most technical circles (see, e.g., HN) there is reflexive political correctness and mobbing against anyone who dares question the party line. Witness the comments on this article as a perfect example. We literally have the president of ycombinator making a personal attack against someone who dares to ask why a set of anecdotes is interesting.
(Note that I've never seen sama or anyone else attack someone for "why would I use your lib over sqlite?")
Reflexive political correctness on HN and other forums, meanwhile, is not preemptive. It is in response to the overwhelming amount of belligerence, innuendo, and offhand sexism that runs rampant when there is no such moderation. If you think it implausible that sexism is more noticeable and notable online than in schools or workplaces, I have to wonder how much time you've spent on BBS, IRC, etc., over the years. Or else whether you just don't notice it. This wouldn't be unusual; sexism is so embedded in most parts of the world that it takes either a great amount of reflection or a small amount of finding yourself on the wrong end of it to notice. (We are, after all, communicating in a language in which "gratify me, a man, sexually" is among the stronger insults.)
(Note that I've never seen sama or anyone else attack someone for "why would I use your lib over sqlite?")
I would not expect anyone to feel as strongly about libraries as they do about how other people are treated; in fact, I'd be glad not to know them if they did.
Because many people mean well and want to smooth our life paths, many people, male and female, will tell women, "You know, tech is a really rough industry. I'm sure you'd be good at it, but you might not want to deal with trying to make it in such a male-dominated field. Are you sure you don't want to try medicine or advertising instead? Or be a librarian? Then you could use your skills but not have to ..."
"You know, research math is really competitive and your likelihood of getting a good tenure-track job is not high. Are you sure you don't want to focus on teaching instead? High schools always need good teachers and they're everywhere, and you could be such a good role model..."
"You know, a startup is a really risky endeavor that takes up a lot of time and really pulls you away from your family. Maybe you should consider an entrepreneurial role in a big company instead so that you could have the security..."
People rarely say outright negative things. They just want the best for a woman -- something a little less risky, a little less hard, maybe a little more nurturing. And nothing I said above was false, and if you are a guy reading this I'm sure you'll say "Someone said that to me once!", but you're not doing the constant swim against the current that a woman is doing (or not).
You clearly didn't even read what I said (hint: what I said was entirely based on this phenomenon).
It also seems likely that you can't think of a measurement that would refute your theory. If that's the case, then it's not even wrong.
Reflexive political correctness on HN and other forums, meanwhile, is not preemptive. It is in response to the overwhelming amount of belligerence, innuendo, and offhand sexism that runs rampant...I would not expect anyone to feel as strongly about libraries as they do about how other people are treated;...
The only person on this thread who treated anyone badly was Sam Altman. The belligerence is almost entirely on the part of the PC crowd. If you want to see more examples, browse my history. See, e.g. DanBC's comment from last week calling me a misogynist for asking a simple philosophical question (admittedly, a question that confounded the PC crowd).
That's not belligerent or aggressive. It's like me saying "the fact that people like you choose unauthenticated Blowfish CBC mode for your cryptosystems is why we had to write the crypto challenges". Again not the most tactful way to say it, but it's not mean either.
Describing https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8653669 as a personal attack seems... excessive.
(Looks like he edited it though, were you talking about the original version?)
To push it over the line into "personal attack", maybe it would need to read something more like:
"You're the reason we had to waste time building this site."
Been spending all our lives
livin' in Paul Graham's Arc Paradise.
Then again, I might not have noticed that, since I keep being able to reply to the correct post, and most other people on the site appear to be able to as well (or, maybe the replies are all landing in the wrong place and the fact that the threads happen to generally be coherent comment-and-response chains is coincidence.)
If there was some general problem with the reply buttons, I'd expect there to be a lot more misplaced replies.
He didn't make that argument, nor did anyone else.
It's called a strawman argument for a reason. No one (or, at most, a negligibly small group) believes this stuff. You're laughing at an imaginary dunce.
> The counter movement against the ideologies you embrace is not going to be a mere swing of the pendulum, as I hoped a few years ago. It is not going to be a "backlash".
Notable feminists have been arguing that the counter movement to feminism is (not will at some unspecified time in the future be) a "backlash" for quite some time. 
 Most obvious example: http://susanfaludi.com/backlash.html (original edition was published in 1991)
No, I'm not tptacek. As the different username may have hinted.
What he meant (i think!) was that someone who's been doing something for ten years might not know any more than someone who's been doing it for a year - they've just been doing the same thing over and over again.
"Did this person graduate from high school, or did they take the first grade twelve times?"
Both students have 12 years' classroom experience, but one knows more than the other.
Reminds me totally of today's SMBC: http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=3553#comic
Luckily, this trend will hopefully be reversing now that all young people get laptops regardless of gender.
There are those who pick up amazing amounts, algorithms and all, on their own, but I think that has more to do with the person than with starting early.
That's a classic example for why functional programming can be a more intuitive paradigm than imperative programming.
Fast forward to modern times, people can be absolutely masters at using a computer without having the faintest exposure to programming concepts. The point-of-entry in modern times is likely going to be through gaming. Making/modifying start up scripts. Installing mods, configuring mods, making mods. Or just being so immersed in gaming that you imagine that building them is just as fun as making them (it isn't but of course they don't know that). The point-of-entry is still male-oriented.
I agree with this statement, but I disagree with the rest of your post. To me, it reads like saying that the point of entry for becoming an architect is learning to hammer nails. Actually programming a computer is really just the way we express ideas, it's not how we learn to form them. There are more abstract forms of play that build the base skill set needed to be an engineer. For instance, I've yet to meet a good developer who wasn't exposed to Legos or some similar construction toy as a child. Those toys form the basis for being able to break down the whole into its constituent parts. And that's the essence of what a good developer does...takes a complex system and breaks it into simple, manageable components.
This whole discussion over whether it matters whether you take up programming in your teens or twenties is, to me, missing the point. If you've got a foundation starting with building toys, moving to woodworking and learning to fix things, you'll pick up software development much more easily than you will if you've never been exposed to this kind of pre-programming.
So I guess what I'm getting at is that we waste way too much time worrying about how people get into programming and not nearly enough time worrying about how people get into problem solving. But that's the key skill that makes a developer good at his/her job. And, as you've rightly pointed out, the points-of-entry into problem solving are still very male-oriented.
Maybe it's just me, but I think the startup culture has an emphasis on youth that leads people to wish they "started younger", instead of "finishing older" -- not that you're ever really finished. Perhaps people feel like 35 or 40 is too old to start work at a startup. I wonder if this pressure is particularly noticeable for women, since it seems like most other pressures of aging are exacerbated for them.
Maybe the only difference between a 25 year old with 10 years coding experience and a 35 year old with the same, is that the former is more likely to be accepted into the startup community.
10 Solve problems with tools you know
20 Learn new tools
30 GOTO 10
I am glad I took some spare time to learn RoR coming from a .NET background. I had no problems to solve in RoR that I couldn't solve in .NET.
I just explored it and learned about different ways of doing things. I am sure it has made my .NET programming better too.
Also learning some RoR has got me also using Linux and Git. I learned a bit about Nginx etc. I went to some interesting RoR meetups. I gained a lot from it.
So I encourage programmers to learn other languages and techniques, for the sake of it!
10. Learn another programming language / framework tool
20. Have fun with it
30. Realize you can now solve problems you previously
I mean don't try solving novel problems in your day job with novel tools and techniques. Use known tools to solve problems. Lean new tools when not solving problems.
You must often hit the point where you think "surely there is a better way to do this, lets research it" - then find new tools, spike them and then use them? No?
However what I think you are getting at maybe is people who think stuff like "Node.js - that sounds funky, oh.. Hadoop - thats hip at the moment how can we use that?" perhaps for fun, or to enhance their CV. That is dangerous. You end up with completely the wrong tool for the job!
I mean like "I know, I'll do this client job in Lisp, I've never tried that" which is probably a bit of an extreme example but I have learned similar by experience :)
15 Find known tools to be insufficient
10 Solve problems with tools you know
20 Learn new tools
30 GOTO 10
10 Solve problems with tools you know
20 Solve problems with tools you don't yet know
30 GOTO 10
There are good reasons that the The Pragmatic Programmer includes the recommendation to learn a new language every year.
It's also great for bragging and building your technical credibility so your peers will respect you. I have had classmates say to my face, "maybe computer science isn't for you because you don't understand X" and the most satisfying response I've found to that is saying something among the lines of "my mom is a software engineer and I've been building websites since I was 9"
Any stats for these - it would be interesting to see the level of disparity.
TBH I'd expect that if members of a particular group drop out of CompSci in college at a higher rate that those left would be less likely to then "drop out" in any way later. Are those initially choosing practical computing degrees (IT, SoftwareEng) also deciding to change path at the same rate? Do people drop out from CompSci and then go more in to programming type careers (SofwareEng)?
> On women dropping out of CS at a higher rate
I can't seem to find any hard numbers on how women are more likely to drop out of CS in college, but I imagine it is because if a woman gets a lower grade (such as a B) in a class she is less likely to major in it than her male counterpart . While that study only refers to one professor's economics students, in my experience the effect holds very true. Women who receive C's (which are like harvard B's) are much less confident in their technical capabilities than their male classmates who receive C's.
> On women dropping out of tech after getting a technical degree
After 10 years of experience working in high tech, 17% of males will quit and 41% of females will quit. These women will either take on a non-technical job or take time off the workforce (presumably motherhood). But at some point after 10-20 years of experience, around 56% of women will drop out. [1, page 18] It's a pretty well-documented phenomenon that women are perceived as the primary caretaker, and are thus more likely to sacrifice their job to care for children but here's how that, in conjunction with the fact that technical women leave for non-technical jobs, plays out.
Thanks.  is very interpretative, for example:
>"[...] suggests that women might also value high grades more than men do and sort themselves into fields where grading curves are more lenient." //
It could equally be that women generally find those other subjects easier, or that the subjects they stay away from don't interest them. And, it could be that the grading curves follow the women, rather than the other way around. A corollary of what's being said here is that subjects men do are graded more harshly & that fewer men graduate ... and yet the system is said to be prejudiced against women?
It's interesting that the reasons given are all predicated on differences between the sexes but that the most obvious potential difference [to me] - that women simply don't enjoy the STEM subjects so much as men - isn't even suggested. Men not giving a damn about grades though, that's likely apparently whilst according to the narrative of the article it seems women are delicate little flowers who when they achieve even marginally less than perfection are too devastated to continue.
>"Women, admirably, want to excel — and usually do, academically. We earn, on average, higher grades than men in almost every subject." //
Interesting that from this is drawn the conclusion that women are being acted against with prejudice in the college system.
>"The majority of new college grads are female, yet women receive only 29 percent of bachelor’s degrees in economics each year." //
If it's not down to male vs. female subject preference then it seems most likely that the reason for this are closely related to the reason that men are - in these terms - under-represented in most non-STEM subjects, or in biology, say. What are the feminists that are supposedly sooo concerned about equalising graduation percentages across the sexes in all fields proposing to do about biology [as a subject for study in college]?
All I'll say on  for now, as I don't have time to study it, is that in your quote is the line:
>"It's a pretty well-documented phenomenon that women are perceived as the primary caretaker, and are thus more likely to sacrifice their job to care for children [...]" //
But women have a choice to carry a child or not, men don't have that choice. This is greater opportunity for women dressed up as male prejudice. If women choose to give birth, breastfeed, then the natural consequence of that are that they are not in the workforce for some period.
The NCWIT is very interesting, a good source for statistics. It just lacks comparative statistics. We learn that ~5% of women leave a "SET" job in the "workforce" in order to start their own companies. But we don't learn how many men do for some reason, nor indeed how this 5% compares to those who have history majors, say. That makes it very hard to draw conclusions for the data presented.
We do get badly used statistics like:
>"According to a study by the Center for Work-Life Policy, 74 percent of women in technology report “loving their work,” yet women leave technology careers at a staggering rate." (Women in IT: The Facts, p.15)
In other words 25% of women currently in "technology" don't "love" their work [I'm surprised that's so low, not like, not enjoy but love] yet only 41% have quit after 10 years. You see those 2 figures and think, well 41% is really high - but of course the 41% is compounded over time and with the other figures the 74% that say they love their work are predominantly going to be those that haven't been doing it very long. Because of the age profile (more old men than old women in tech positions) the comparative figures for men will have people who have been doing the job for far longer. This 74% statistic then is most likely perturbed strongly if there is a honeymoon effect [which I suspect there is in practically all fields of work]. A more careful approach should have been taken to account for these sorts of things and to make a true comparative study - why wouldn't you study the population you're seeking to emulate and only the one you are seeking to alter?
I've droned on too long:
>"History professor Cynthia Russett, who studies 20th century women’s history, said administrators should focus on ascertaining whether men and women have equal opportunities to enter different majors, but equalizing participation may be an impossible task." (Gender gap in majors persists, 2006 )
>"Similarly, in 2008 women held 57 percent of all professional occupations in the U.S. workforce but only 25 percent of all professional IT-related jobs — down from 36 percent in 1991." //
I am not sure whether a late start is an advantage or not, for I would I have preferred the opposite, however I am glad I started then.
Now I can spend my weekends working on things for myself instead of posting requirements on Odesk and such.
I am in marketing, and the ability to automate tasks has proved useful countless times.
My opinion now is that of a good friend "Coding is today's arithmetic. Everybody should learn it, without an exception." Nothing should be so special about it.
On the other hand, there is something to be said for fostering early passion in tech. A lot of times folks end up in tech because they rekindled or amplified some earlier passion or interest. Your story of coding at 13 is somewhat rare but it's even rarer to find someone who ended up in tech who had no prior interest in the field whatsoever. A young boy at 13 may not have an interest in programming or see software development as a likely career choice, but they will likely see it as a desirable choice. And they will see various techie activities as things their friends do, things they should be expected to do, things that are fun and doable, etc. That sort of thing makes it easier to get into tech early and makes it easier to get into tech later because it doesn't seem like such a crazy jump. Additionally, often times it's the folks who got into tech due to an early passion who end up being some of the most successful.
Anyway, I've left and come back to this a couple times so I'm probably rambling. My point is that each half of the equation (early vs late engagement) relies on the other to some degree, and though it's the late engagement which is more impactful, encouraging early interest is still important.
I had assumed that actual developers did things much different and it wasn't until college that I figured out the truth.
Needs to be repeated. This is also why getting a job with people who are working on interesting projects is such an important thing.
I got involved early back in the days of teletypes and then green Dec VT100's. The whole idea of sitting in front of a terminal and getting a response from it was immediately interesting. In the same way that I always wanted to be a pilot. One day I just programmed a loop "just because" that ran for a day. Got hauled into the computer center director's office he thought I was selling time on the equipment ( ESR was a TA at said computer center).
My point is it was interesting to me as I"m sure it was to you when you were 13. Like sex you didn't need to be told to take a liking to it. And as I said I wasn't particularly good at it so it wasn't because of some reinforcement that I got by being great.
This is similar to being in undergraduate business school vs. graduate business school. The UG where I went (Wharton) were always interested in business (typically). The MBA's had other undergraduate majors and became interested in it later.
That said both business and programming are things that you learn over time. So there is no doubt that starting early is an advantage but obviously not a non starter by any means.
I can't speak for Wharton, but the majority of undergraduate business majors I know were pursuing the major because they were pragmatic and knew that it was a good major to be in for a good career. Meanwhile, I know plenty of "other major" people (including myself) who pursued another major in order to gain more concrete skills and knowledge for the industry they were interested in (Electrical Engineering in my case).
I think I agree with you regarding a MBA. A MBA is the ultimate "pragmatic degree" in my eyes, where most people are making a calculated quid pro quo trade of $200,000 and opportunity cost in order to gain concrete things to advance or shift their careers.
I echo this. I have come across several top-notch people in my career who didn't code until college.
I started programming in elementary school and continued intensively in high school. I look at these people and think "how did you pick all of this up so fast?" But somehow they did.
The thread is so long now that I don't know if you'll see this comment. Anyway I'd like to ask you something. I also started late, around 20, and didn't go to CS college until 25.
The difference for me was that at first it was a game, I didn't own a computer but used a friend's Spectrum. On weekends we programmed simple games, a music program, just for fun.
Later, in college, I saw that it was possible to have a job doing that. A friend lend me a 80286 and I spent many hours at home (unfortunately neglecting classes).
The question is if you think that it's more the social aspects of the usefulness of coding more than just the age. In your experience, is it the same being a programmer's son as learning to code at high school in some toy experience?
Line of Business, the CRUD that runs very large corp. Boring, repetitive, the COBOL^H^H^H^H^HJAVA of industry.
An apology (in the original sense) of Jessica's work for those who think that the experiences of these individuals don't matter: What I think people don't get about Jessica's interviews is that they're part of a scientific process of understanding what makes great founders and great companies. Many discredit qualitative, observational scientific data. But for new, rare, or poorly understood phenomena, observation is the only way to make scientific progress. In engineering the phenomena are often well understood, common, and within the discipline, familiar. In this case deductive logic, reasoning from known principles, is quite fruitful; but its success biases engineers against inductive reasoning. But for other subjects, such as what makes a great startup founder, or what makes a great female startup founder, the inductive method is much more fruitful.
This is not some anomaly: all sciences started with observation and the inductive method. These are the beginnings of insight, generating hypotheses to be tested. We're still quite early in our understanding of startups, and even more so in our understanding of female-founded startups, that this approach is not just warranted, it's the only way to make true progress.
Jessica is like the Jane Goodall of startup science. Even though she's studying individual founders she's ultimately helping us understand more about ourselves.
It seems to me that the field (as it were) is simply in a pre-scientific phase of exploration and experimentation. Once we have a concrete basis for performing repeatable, independent experiments to (dis)prove concrete hypotheses, then the field will have entered a scientific stage.
Phenomenon > observation > Induced hypothesis > Method choice > Deduction via metrics > Phenomenon ...
Starting at "a concrete basis for performing repeatable, independent experiments" is a skyhook. Scientists have a hand in generating that "basis" and it's called inductive logic.
I think we agree on the fact that the production of knowledge involves the testing of hypotheses but not whether the generation of hypotheses via observation of phenomena is part of science. Semantic, I suppose, but I think it's crucial to take the rudder so to speak by developing hypotheses deliberately.
"Science" is already a very vague term, and I think it's important to keep it as concrete as possible in meaning. In my mind, science is associated with testable hypotheses. The generation of hypotheses could be considered part of science, but only if those hypotheses are testable, and in fact tested through experimentation. Otherwise you are simply making guesses. I think this article falls into the "guessing" category.
I don't want "prescientific" to be seen as derogatory, though, which I think may confuse people. It's an important stage in the development of a field of thought. As they say, a field of human endeavor progresses through three stages as our understanding grows: first it's a philosophy, then a science, then an art.
It's only once people start saying anything and everything that improves human knowledge is "science" that "unscientific" becomes insulting. I think, if we keep the meaning of "science" concrete and explicit, then we can acknowledge that there are unscientific ways of learning and advancing without sounding insulting.
I do think that much of what humans do is ascientific. But Jessica's examination of founders, esp via a structured interview, is not in this category.
Whether something is science or not doesn't affect whether it's good or worthwhile knowledge, though! You wouldn't stop running user studies just because you're not going to get to population-level significance using them. There are many paths.
Also, your wording might be a little alienating. Female founders aren't a rare, 'phenomena' like proton decay or black holes, they're people too. Also, saying Jessica is the Jane Goodall of startups implies female founders are monkeys. They're not a different species either.
So, while I agree that this sort of information-gathering is useful, I don't think your apology is helped by wrapping it so firmly in the mantle of science. Rather than lending an air of trust, you're tapping into a debate and controversy that goes far deeper than women in startups.
You're likely right that an apology with less commitment could have been effective as well.
Interesting to think of Mead as the analog, and perhaps a more apt one. Thanks. Personally I'm much more familiar with biology and with Goodall. But, from my perspective cultural anthropology is a science whether or not it wants to be. The AAAs rejection of 'science' may be more indicative of science's rejection of inductive logic than anything.
For example, I notice that there don't appear to be any second-or-later generation African-Americans or Latino-Americans represented in the 40 women shown.
Similarly, it takes a little digging through all of the interviews to suss out whether they're immigrants, visiting, what they studied, whether they've had previous business experience, etc.
I studied engineering in India from one of the premier university and 30 % of my class were girls. Toppers of the class for all 4 years were girls. I know at least 50-80 girls from India and China in my linkedin contacts who are actively engaged int tech.
Keeping aside social problems faced by women in India for a bit ( and excluding poor people) , still there is very high participation from girls / women in India.
Throughout my education of 1st to 12th grade there were more girls than more boys in my class.
So my question is ----
1. Why is US only facing this problem of women in ..... ?
2. Is this some political gimmick being played for 2016 preparation ( and I ask with all seriousness without affiliation to any party )
I have always considered people in US are more vocal about their rights, responsibilities and more aware of problems in general. Lately though, I see lots of thought policing happening, view manipulation going on at large.
My last and most important question is ,
3. Since you folks are now actively advertising and creating social conditions for women's participation in tech are you not depriving them of their freedom to choose whichever path women in US prefer ? In an ideal scenario, women would have tech as one of choice for career and not necessarily manipulative information representing tech is only best choice career.
One explanation is once you're free to do whatever you want and you don't have to worry about expectations or putting food on the table so much, the influence of subtle innate genetic preferences actually become much more apparent in some ways.
However, this explanation goes against the rules of the western view that predominates, that the gender ratio of fewer women in some area (but often not when there are fewer men in some area) mean is proof in point that women are being harmed and should be given assistance.
If discrimination causes the difference, why do countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia have around the highest ratios of female engineers and countries like the Netherlands or Norway around the lowest?
Technology and entrepreneurship are very attractive in terms of social prestige and salary, therefore if women weren't being harassed and discouraged by men from entering these fields, you would be seeing roughly 50% of female engineers and entrepreneurs.
Maybe even somewhat more, since women tend to be smarter than men on average (which is why girls tend to succeed better in school than boys).
Edit: here come the downvotes from males in denial. If you feel the need to downvote me because I am stating a simple fact, you are part of the problem.
Ok, we need to stop with sexist insults right now, and it's valid for men too. Define "smarter".
According to the 1994 report "Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns" by the American Psychological Association, "Most standard tests of intelligence have been constructed so that there are no overall score differences between females and males." Differences have been found, however, in specific areas such as mathematics and verbal measures.
When standardized IQ tests were first developed in the early 20th century, girls typically scored higher than boys until age 14, at which time the curve for girls dropped below that for boys. As testing methodology was revised, efforts were made to equalize gender performance.
The mean IQ scores between men and women vary little. The variability of male scores is greater than that of females, however, resulting in more males than females in the top and bottom of the IQ distribution.
Are they? That hasn't been my experience, in Norway. I'm not a woman though.
> Technology and entrepreneurship are very attractive in terms of social prestige and salary,
I don't know if they really are. Maybe entrepreneurship, but IT/programming seems pretty meh as far as prestige goes. And since wages are relatively similar across the board, someone with a Masters in computer science might not earn terribly much more than someone with qualifications in some craft, like plumbing or being a mechanic.
> , therefore if women weren't being harassed and discouraged by men from entering these fields, you would be seeing roughly 50% of female engineers and entrepreneurs.
Fallacious reasoning; you ignore all the myriads of variables that go into human motivation.
> Maybe even somewhat more, since women tend to be smarter than men on average (which is why girls tend to succeed better in school than boys).
If it were the other way around, you'd say that that was proof of heavy discrimination towards women. Come on now - tell me that I'm wrong.
Examples are abundant and easy to find. Here is an example of sexism and discrimination coming from Paul Graham. Highly relevant to this discussion about female founders at YC.
Women are getting harassed and discriminated against in Silicon Valley tech companies all the time. Take this example from Github: http://www.theverge.com/2014/3/19/5526574/github-sexism-scan...
This needs to stop. And comments like yours are just one more example of how deeply rooted sexism is on this site.
Do you even have any experience with living in Norway or the Netherlands?
> And comments like yours are just one more example of how deeply rooted sexism is on this site.
Well of course. Not admitting/believing, or just being sceptical, of whether sexism really is a problem in some areas is of course evidence of sexism (presumably that I am sexist). So let me get this straight; if I admit/claim that there is a sexism problem, then that is evidence of sexism (since I admitted it). On the other hand, if I don't admit/claim it, that is also evidence of sexism.
However! I know that they are, because they have told me. I haven't seen it happen, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Unless there are women from the two countries you mentioned reading this thread, I'm not sure you will get valuable answers about the state of things in those countries. I can certainly believe that the situation is better there than in the US and the UK, as Norway in particular has a much better record with social issues like these.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I think HN discussions often don't generate a huge amount of light on this topic, especially when it comes to questions which aren't about the situation in the US.
As to 'why in America and not India': It is pretty well known that these factors vary widely by country - you might be interested in looking at relative achievement in math by school students in various countries as a starting point for the idea that culture of a country influences achievement by each gender. I understand that you may not have come across this topic before but no, it is absolutely nothing to do with American elections and has been an issue for many, many, many years.
2. I wholly support helping underrepresented minorities in tech because I believe in fairness. But anytime gender or race is involved, then the topic is political by definition. I follow the White House on twitter and a ton of their tweets are about equal pay. Both Romney and McCain addressed this issue during their campaigns and were criticized for their responses.
Yes, it is a political tool. But just because politicians are involved does not make it a gimmick.
3. I agree that the ideal scenario is for tech to be one of the career choices. The problem is people are pushed away from certain fields. Coming to the US to work on a H1B is made easier because many Indians and Chinese have done it before us. Having people who look like me achieve something is a great self confidence boost and motivator. Unfortunately, other minorities groups do not have this benefit.
Perhaps Neil deGrasse Tyson can explain it better than me.
Computer science skills roughly follow a sigmoidal curve over time with long tails at the top and bottom. You really do not become useful as a programmer until you hit the hockey stick part of that curve. There is no substitute for time in the field to get to the hockey stick part. The primary advantage of learning programming when you are much younger is that you essentially burn down some of that initial time investment before you are really paying attention to how long it actually takes to be an effective programmer. You do not hit the hockey stick faster, it just seems like it to other people because you started down the path to get there earlier.
This is discouraging to people that start in college or later because there really is no shortcut to time spent doing it. The people that become good programmers faster usually just started earlier, it isn't necessarily that they are naturally more skilled. Nonetheless, the time required to become a good programmer is not that onerous in the big picture. The key is sticking with it even when the payoff seems distant.
As an added comment, people that do well at the top of the hockey stick, where there return on additional investment is diminished, do tend to be the people that started much earlier. Again, this is not due to talent per se but the same people sufficiently obsessed with computer science to teach themselves at a young age also have the obsession to learn and master the more esoteric parts after they've become excellent programmers even though the practical utility is much less in practice.
You don't factor in switching costs and opportunity costs.
Human professional development is path dependent. Starting to code earlier means you start to get monetary or psychological utility out of it before you learn other marketable or self-actualizing skills. That creates a positive feedback loop that is not available in most other disciplines for a young person.
As soon as one invests significant effort in becoming a marketer or a banker or a physicist, the opportunity cost of spending time on learning programming is so high, most opt out of it. While in the long term, skill combination might exponentially increase monetary utility, happiness utility growth doesn't have the exponential curve.
So yeah, it's really important to start as early as possible before one is invested in his or her primary field or picking up computer science could be an irrational choice.
While one could certainly learn CS in the later life stages the probability of doing that is quite lower.
If you agree, consider to tell this o parents of young kids you care about.
Agreed. I'd add this thought: code is a human language and like all languages fluency is most easily developed as a child but immersion and repetition can help adults develop it too.
Having said that, I do think that learning programming young is a good idea, but not because it's "easier" for children. Instead, they simply have a much longer time to get used to the "logical way of thinking" (I don't know of a more concrete term for this, but hopefully you know what I mean).
I would not expect someone who started at 10 and is now 20 (10 years experience) to be a better programmer than someone who started at 20 and is now 30, or even someone who started at 50 and is now 60.
Experience is a big factor, but I think there's a limit to the amount of language learning most 50 year olds can undergo, even in a decade. But luckily for us we agree young exposure to code is a good thing :)
I wonder why you think this is true? I have personally never been given any reason to believe that a 50 year old is any less able to learn a language than a 0 year old. In fact, if you took a 50 year old and dumped them alone in a foreign country and gave them one or two dedicated language teachers and left them there for many years (which is the environment in which most children learn a language), I expect they would learn the language just as well as the child, if not better.
It's well documented that the median language-learning speed/ability of younger people is greater than that of older people.
Wittgenstein's philosophy of mathematics might be interesting to you. His description of calculation as a linguistic process should settle the issue if you buy it.
Edit: just found this related item on HN, a math prof examining the nature of a proof: http://profkeithdevlin.org/2014/11/24/what-is-a-proof-really...
By the way, older people who share the characteristics of being only lightly acculturated (i.e. eccentric) share the relevant characteristics with children and may be able to learn things like languages with childlike speed. Hence, I believe, PG's observation that startup founders of any age tend to be weird, quirky, or poorly socialized in various ways.
all cultural, mutable, consensus based concepts are more easily learned as a child
There are many "hobbies" that have a cultural component. It helps to learn these earlier, because it removes cognitive overhead during later studies. But its simply not true that children are better at learning everything. They are hard-wired for language tho. Plenty of other things they are un/der developed for.
I have recently found tools that are mostly used for learning natural languages are also useful for learning programming languages. Computer flash card programs, like Anki, are effective at memorizing a vocabulary efficiently. Just like real flash cards, you put an English word or definition on one side, and the word or phrase on the other side.
So as I've been going through a Coursera on the R programming language, every time the instructor explains a new function or way of doing something, I put it in an Anki flash card. I haven't been doing it for long enough to be certain, but so far I think it's been pretty effective. Because 90% of the work of learning a programming language is just like a natural language; the vocabulary and grammar.
You could also use this to learn mathematical notation, but that's only a small part of it. I have yet to find any use for this system in my other Coursera course on logic.
I worked with my middle daughter to build a knitting pattern illustrator in Perl. She and her friends could talk for hours about knitting, which is essentially programming as Jacquard proved, because they all were interested in the ways to produce interesting weaves. My friends were interested in talking about computers when I was a teen because we were interested in machines that could 'compute'.
The question I wonder about is if the disparity goes away when women develop group activities around programming.
 I liked the pun of using Perl for a knitting application.
I wonder what some of the reasons would lead them to have this wish. Is it a matter of having a missing skillset that slowed down growth of their startups or they later found that the really liked to write software and regret not finding out until later in life. Or possibly other reasons?
I started programming at 14 and I think it had a huge influence on my approach to problem solving and learning in general, so maybe some people also see that and wish they could have experienced that influence from a young age, too.
Being able to do this yourself - a skill accessible to anyone who coded for a few years - seems like a better alternative than haggling over 120k/yr developers and dealing with the struggles of no product / no dev / no money. Either of those factors could lead to gaining the others. So instead of having none, you could be the dev!
That said, I'm not upset that I wasn't a CS major in college. While there are certain things that I'll probably never have the skills to build, at the same time I see so many CS majors making fundamental product and business errors that I'm able to recognize and at least hopefully avoid thanks to previous experience in other areas.
Knowing how to code is really important, but there are other skills and knowledge areas that are important also. We absolutely need people who are really good at coding and CS to the point where that's all they focus on. But for everyone else, what's important isn't so much when you learned to code but rather what you've spent your time learning and doing in general.
Keeping minimal viability isn't just about the software itself.
As a founder you have other problems than dealing with people that don't give you money or even cost you.
Every person who contributes to the product is a possible help and a possible problem.
Perhaps the very fact that they did other things, possibly more outward and social in nature, gave them the characteristics that led to them becoming founders.
I've found it's generally not a good idea to play these kinds of 'what if' games, because it's easy to pick the stuff you'd like to do different, but much harder to see the unintended, undesired consequences this different path might've had.
Furthermore, I believe that saying 'I wish I had done x' can also cause a passive attitude that keeps one from 'doing x now anyways'. But I must admit that I have little evidence to show for this belief...
Many people I meet who see how well-paid programmers are wish the same thing; founders probably doubly so (since programming is such a big part of most modern startups).
The use of proxies (instead of actual skill) should make any professional nervous. You might be perfectly suited for all the proxies now, but in 5 years maybe all the proxies will change. You'll go to interviews and find out that the metagame changed on you. That can be interesting in Pokémon, but it's a hell of a way to earn a living.
Learning to program is to thinking as learning to drive is to traveling.
That comparison proposes that people who can't program have a huge mental deficit compared to those who can. There are plenty of programmers out there who are not particularly proficient at thinking, and plenty of extremely intelligent people who aren't programmers. It's a needlessly breathless and self-congratulatory comparison, with limited perspective on the outside world.
I'm not too worried about it. Some people need to cling to that iota of power that an inverted triangle can offer.
There are application videos and have been for a while. And each founder has names listed on the application. With https://gender-api.com/ you could probably figure out gender without asking explicitly and could have done so acceptably well with previous classes. I would be curious what the stats look like back tested against each class over time.
Edit: whoa, downvoters! This comment was about getting more information to inform productive discussion. Not sure who would disagree with that?
The thing is, you don't know where your future interests will take you. Even if you are exposed to stuff when you are younger, you may hate it regardless of how great the presentation may be.
I personally think encouraging women, or anyone for that matter, to be programmers/scientists/mechanics is missing the point. You have to encourage people to find passions, be proactive, enjoy learning, and make these a habit. Life isn't static.
I also think the "gender gap" is a fallacy. It's true that all professions could be more welcoming to people of different persuasions, but it would be more interesting to know the gap between "people who want to do X but feel excluded" and the "people who are already doing X".
You believe the "gender gap" is a fallacy because you believe tech is a meritocracy but the fact is that there are less women in tech. That means that either tech is not a meritocracy because there are subtle biases that women have to work against, or that women are inherently uninterested in tech. If you refuse to be skeptical of the fact that maybe, just maybe, tech is not really a meritocracy, then you will never be able to acknowledge the fact that subtle sexist microaggressions exist and affect the numbers we see.
Maybe the underlying desires that were always there are being revealed, rather than "innate interests evolving".
But no, you'd rather dismiss that possibility out of hand and presume that "subtle sexist microaggressions" halved the number of women in tech.
Are you suggesting that women have it twice as bad in tech now as they had in the 80s?
Where do these underlying desires come from? Are they generated exclusively by biology, where not having a Y chromosome will make you more likely to pursue x, y, and z interests? Are these underlying desires not at all influenced by the environment kids grow up in--a world that depicts almost exclusively male programmers in the media, a world where the media glorifies young boy geniuses, a world where Lego's are marketed to boys and dolls are marketed to girls, a world where computer games are marketed almost exclusively to boys, a world where computer science role models are exclusively male? It's hard to call any of this "sexist" because it's so subtle and each individual thing isn't really a big deal, but it all contributes to an environment that makes tech less appealing to young girls.
I never said culture has zero effect. Obviously it does have some impact. But how big is that effect? If there are half as many women in tech today than 3 decades ago, and you argue that culture is the main driver of that effect, than you must also be arguing that sexism in tech has gotten dramatically worse since the 80s.
Somehow I think we have made progress since the 80s, so there must be something else at work in the decrease of women in tech.
Most of the developers I know play video games. This is relevant for a couple reasons. Gaming (especially PC gaming) means that you're more likely to be tech-savvy because you might wonder why a game is running so slowly on your family PC, and then read cool stuff about why your CPU sucks or something. Video games also can be a "gateway" into tinkering with programming by writing bots or writing your own games. Playing the same game as one of your peers means that you have a common interest, and are more likely to be friends. The more friends you have that are also developers, the more likely you are to feel like you "belong" and that you are in the right field.
Now, read this article on how the stereotype that video games are for boys was developed: http://www.polygon.com/features/2013/12/2/5143856/no-girls-a...
It's pretty long, but the tl;dr is: Once upon a time, video games (like pong) were designed for the whole family to play. The video game industry bubble popped because people have short attention spans. To try to figure out how to survive, companies like nintendo did a lot of market research and found that more boys were playing video games than girls. It is easier for the marketing team to direct their resources to a specific demographic of people. Since there are more boys than girls who play video games, nintendo starts running marketing campaigns to explicitly target boys in the early 90's. Nintendo starts launching products that are literally named the gameboy.
The article doesn't really go into this at all, but kids started experiencing heavily genderized video game marketing in the early 90's, and by the time they choose to major and graduate from college, that roughly maps to the sharp decrease in women in CS starting in the early 2000's. This obviously isn't the only factor, and also possibly doesn't even account for half of it, but I definitely think it's a significant factor that nobody really talks about.
If it is a factor, hopefully it's being evened out, what with female gamers nearing 50% of the market over the past decade or so.
I also wonder if the dot com bubble had anything to do with it. Recessions seem to hit women and men in different ways and influence different outcomes.
As for whether or not it'll rectify itself, I'm a little more skeptical. Girls are more likely to be casual gamers, and casual gamers are less likely to like games enough to want to build their own. Of course, this could easily be my projection bias showing, as I am a casual gamer who has never felt a strong passion to build my own game.
That's an interesting point on casual gaming. However, it's also balanced by the fact that casual games are the only games you can easily create as a one man band or hobbyist.
If you're into puzzle games, say, you can probably put together your own with a bit of HTML/JS. Or use one of the puzzle game builders.
If you're into Call of Duty, though, you've got no chance of writing your own version of that until you've graduated and gotten a job somewhere. Even the ubiquitous modding community that used to be a path into development has diminished as games are increasingly locked down.
So there are half as many. You think that that is because of bad or destructive cultural factors. But can it not be because of good cultural factors? What if there were better opportunities in other industries, and they went there instead and were more content with that? What if they felt pressured to study CS in the 80s for whatever reason, but now feel less pressure and then can study something that they want to study?
The job market is "zero sum", in the sense that if everyone has only one job then a decline in one industry leads to them moving to another industry (assuming same employment percentage). What if those women went to a profession that paid more, has more prestige etc. instead?
Of course, the cultural factors may be bad. But to assume that that is necessarily the case seems a bit self-centred given that we are on a forum that is largely about programming.
When my wife was first breastfeeding I timed how long she spent breastfeeding and changing nappies and bathing the young baby. It was LITERALLY over 9 hours per day (timed to the minute). To think that it's possible to ALSO run a startup at the same time is in my opinion crazy. With older children it's a lot easier but still difficult.
I have several female friends who are also successful entrepreneurs. Some seem to make it work with their family life, but my experience is with most that they have a very hard time and that it often devastates their family life and relationships.
So yes there examples of women who run a company and also have young children, but I think they are the exception rather than the rule.
For women who do not want to have children, or who are not going to have children for many years in the future, no issue.
Cultural norms is the only reason we single out women in this context. A lot of people don't appreciate the level of dysfunction that can occur in other areas of life simply from being ambitious and hard-working. I personally know many professionals that I greatly admire and respect (while acknowledging that I would never make the sacrifices they do to be where they are), but I'm sure as hell glad I'm not married to them.
YC's stories are awesome and these entrepreneurs will serve as important role models for young women. They unfortunately contain a "survivor bias" though, and there may be many other hidden factors preventing other potential female entrepreneurs from following in their footsteps.
I don't mean this as a criticism at all though. This effort by YC is a tremendous first step and for the sake of my daughter and young girls everywhere, I hope they continue.
EDIT: I'd love to hear the sentiment behind the downvotes. Hopefully I didn't come across critical of YC's effort here; that wasn't my intention at all. This is an important issue and I suspect the stories of those who were deterred are just as informative as those who have gotten this far.
> Interestingly, many said it got them attention for being unusual, and that they'd used this to their advantage.
This is what I have experienced as well. But do I want to be `unusual`?
Instead, let's strive for making it a norm that female developers are just as common and just as good as their male counterparts. Stop looking at me like I'm some freak for being a competent woman developer.
How much domain experience is necessary to solve the problems you have. isn't that something you learn/pick up once you start solving em?
If you are a domain expert when you start, then the problems you have are more likely to be real, significant problems in the domain, and your attempted solutions are more likely to be both novel and well-considered in terms of the problem than is the case for someone with less domain expertise at the outset.
you make fair points. However the most common advice you get is , "focus on user experience". Most domain experts focus more on the tech as opposed to users. Also some of the great/successful startups have been started and run buy people who've never done it before.
A domain expert scratching their own itch often is unwittingly focussing on UX of the target audience, which is one of the reasons that open source tools by and for developers that don't have a lot of deliberate focus on UX beyond what works for the people building it often are fairly good, while the same kind of things built by developers in more consumer-oriented markets often have very bad UX.
Ultimately, its the same principle as dogfooding -- the most effective way to really understand UX deeply is for the developer to be the target user.
If you are not a domain expert when you start this process, it is just one more, very big thing you will have to learn.
Well, really, the job of startup founders is to sell an entity that itself sells solution to domain problems, but there are three parts of that that the company needs to do:
1) being able to build a solution to a domain problem,
2) being able to build a company that can sell it,
3) being able to sell people on the ability of the company to sell the solution to the domain problem.
Ultimately, #3 is what startup founders are about, but the people they are selling to really want proof of #2, and the market that will determine whether #2 succeeds wants #1 to work. Sure, you can build either #2 or #3 (or both) on smoke and mirrors without having the basis that they ideally rest upon, but then you are hoping that no one catches on before you've cashed out. All other things (including sales skills) being equal, you'll sell better with a real product -- whether that product is the domain solution or the company that sells the solution.
And as YC has grown, so has the number of female
partners. Now there are four of us and we are not
tokens, or a female minority in a male-dominated
firm. At the risk of offending my male colleagues,
who will nevertheless understand what I mean, some
would claim it's closer to the truth to say that
that we run the place.
> working harder than the men, taking care of the details many men overlook for far longer, and too often earning far less money and respect
is a problem not just for women, but something I see constantly across our industry in general. Definitely something we should deal with better. Thankfully, the steps we should be taking to bring more women into this industry and deal with this problem are possibly interrelated, so it's one of the many cases where we can help everyone :)
It bothers me that I spent so many years learning latin/french/italian when their real world applications are very limited relative to say C/Java/Python which are much more important foreign languages to be learning in school.
I suggest reading some biographies of famous computer scientists to help understand how few of them had a specialized background, and how many of them had a rich, liberal arts education that may or may not have incorporated computer science.
“We want the Demon, you see, to extract from the dance of atoms only information that is genuine, like mathematical theorems, fashion magazines, blueprints, historical chronicles, or a recipe for ion crumpets, or how to clean and iron a suit of asbestos, and poetry too, and scientific advice, and almanacs, and calendars, and secret documents, and everything that ever appeared in any newspaper in the Universe, and telephone books of the future…”
— Stanisław Lem, The Cyberiad
“[…] to making many books there is no end, and too much studying afflicts the flesh.” – Ecclesiastes 12:12
For example, this week I've been hanging out on a couple of open-source project IRC channels. People aren't talking to each other in Python or Java on those channels.
Machine code of the lowest level that exist for a particular machine is for communicating with computers. All programming languages at higher levels than that exist to improve communication with humans (many of them of other purposes as well, but all of them, relative to machine code, include communicating with humans as one of their motivating purposes for existing.)
> For example, this week I've been hanging out on a couple of open-source project IRC channels. People aren't talking to each other in Python or Java on those channels.
That may be the case for those channels, but there's lots of places -- even outside of the programs designed to executed, where the source code is definitely used for communicating with humans, particularly future developers on the same code base -- where programming languages are used for human communication. I mean, that's the whole reason that HN has a code context in comments.
Programming language's main purpose is not.
This is a weird semantic argument, but I think you understand the parent's point.
> Programming language's main purpose is not.
For languages other than raw machine code, the main purpose that they exist is human-to-human communication. A constraint that they face is the need to be able to be reducable to machine code to also support human-machine communication, but other than human-to-human communication (including time-shifted one-way communication to the future of the same human that initially created a work), there is no reason for them to exist at all.
> I think you understand the parent's point.
Sure, I understand the point. I'm also explicitly disagreeing with it.
If this were the case, then write-once software would be done in machine code. Instead, the 'constraint' you mention is the main purpose of programming languages.
And if you notice, comments are written in a 'traditional' human language, usually English.
Also, could it be that you're not actually utilizing these languages you've learned properly and you're undervaluing their utility due to that? Imagine you learned C and never touched a computer afterwards. You'd conclude that C is the most useless waste of time to ever exist, and that computer science departments should be torn down and replaced with factories, which actually deliver tangible value.
Of course, that is a hopeless exaggeration, and you wouldn't do that. But there are people out there that will learn python because Codeacadamy is hip right now, and people that will study languages because they have a second language requirement in order to graduate from school.
Now regarding utility of languages in general, you might make the point that any language over 1st grade english doesn't deliver any tangible benefit and should therefore be discontinued...this is dumb, speak carry idea thing, have idea thing or no thing like up goer five or add box with living lights for look speak. (Translation: this is ill advised, since language carries concepts, without which building things such as the Saturn V Rocket or computers would be utterly impossible). As you can see, sometimes complicated language is neccesairy, and in some fields, lack of the right word actually restricts their accessibility.
But why utility at all? Or rather, is the utility provided by the beauty of some languages not enough to warrant their appreciation? Poetry and literature are arts build around the medium of language, and understanding these works outside of their original language is an exercise in loss of meaning.
I certainly understand you sentiment that putting more of our minds into cranking the wheels of industry at ever increasing power is a noble goal, but you also have to ask yourself why those wheels are rolling in the first place.
unobserved pool splashes
Next, I would love to see (for contrast) the stories of some women who did drop out or who considered STEM majors/careers but ultimately chose other directions. Any takers?
Most of this is just the broken nature of schooling.
What ultimately happened was that I gave up (temporarily, it turned out, but it took me 6 years to pick it up again), because I didn't understand myself. When the stress picks up and you're knee-deep in building a product, a lot of the decisions you make, of necessity, have to be on autopilot. And if you don't understand your emotions and the emotions and background of everyone else in the ecosystem, you'll be fighting that force instead of working with it.
Any chance this series could be made as videos? I would like my daughter to see them as she grows up.
only about 11% of the founders we fund (and our applicants) are women (and this is a fair amount higher than the percentage most other firms fund). it's a big untapped pool of potential founders, and we'd like to continue to get the message out that women can start startups and YC can help.
If YC wants to cater to women and see that percentage of their applicants grow, they need to analyze their current stock.
"Why should we be catering to women?" Why are we currently so heavily catering to men?
Could you copy a few links here on articles about YC founders that particularly focus on their being male, what it is about the masculinity that is relevant, etc., rather than just mentioning them as people? I'm not sure I've ever read such an article.
I'm fascinated to see what they discuss? The choice between fatherhood and career, the preconceptions to behave in a particular fashion, the unfair dresscodes and lack of paternity rights?
Because an article is about people, and those people happen to have a joint characteristic, that doesn't mean that the article is about that characteristic of those people. To recapitulate, if I right an article about people who inspired me growing up and it mentions Ronald Reagan and Michael Gorbachev that doesn't mean the article is about "light skinned males" any more than if it were about Margaret Thatcher and Germaine Greer it would be about "light skinned females".
FWIW the OP doesn't really touch on being about being a female founder except in one para:
>"We got an interesting variety of responses when we asked the women whether being a female was advantageous or disadvantageous in their roles as founders."
And in that the response appears to have been "it didn't make any difference".
Well if being a male and female founder is practically the same it does rather demand that we ask the question, so why are YC focussing on the sex of these particular founders then, what's it got to do with anything.
There is this bit of unexplained sexism:
>"And as YC has grown, so has the number of female partners. Now there are four of us and we are not tokens, or a female minority in a male-dominated firm. At the risk of offending my male colleagues, who will nevertheless understand what I mean, some would claim it's closer to the truth to say that that we run the place."
In what way is it fine to pick out that "we run the place" and specifically note that's related to being a particular sex? How is that cool. Maybe those people do run the place, but is that really because they're a particular sex rather than because that's the role they were hired for, or fell into, within the firm?
Why is YC so keen to maintain an actively demarcated line between males and females rather than just say Alex here is office manager, rather than noting first which sex Alex is. Baffles me how this is presented as progressively non-sexist.
> Well if being a male and female founder is practically the same it does rather demand that we ask the question, so why are YC focussing on the sex of these particular founders then, what's it got to do with anything.
I think the idea was that said females didn't find founding a company any more difficult, given they had already chosen the founder path. This is because once you go down that path, the most significant factor is drive. So Jessica "not really touching on being a female founder" may have been intended to convey a welcoming sense of gender-equality by not actually focusing about gender (like you say it shouldn't be). But on the other hand, we can't ignore the up-stream barrier-to-entry that must exist for the demographics to look so skewed.
> we run the place
Yeah, I agree. That particular line (in an otherwise fine article) may have been written with good intention. But it also felt pretty jarring. Reading "we (us women) run the place" gives me vibes that sexism is something to be inverted rather than neutralized. I think the article might have been better received had Jessica said "The 4 of us, who happen to be women, play key roles" or "It's nice to see a female majority at the top for a change".
For this reason, yes, it is important to mention that Alex is a woman, so as to make potential female women less scared of approaching YC. In a perfect world it wouldn't be necessary, but because the climate in the industry is one of harassment against every woman, it is necessary to point out successful examples of females in tech and in YC.
But the problem is there is far more encouragement towards men being entrepreneurs (especially in the technology space) while women typically get discouraged to do things outside of the stereotypical "female role". A mechanism to help correct this is to cater more content for women versus men. It won't correct it, it's not perfect and I think we'd all rather not care about gender, race, etc but the reality of today is if you're not a white male you're discouraged in many environments from attempting the same thing.
I believe the assumption is flawed. There is a perpendicular component to those vectors, such that any decision to discriminate, at any magnitude, can result in a decrease in fairness for everyone. Thus, the only way to ensure that you are not actually making things worse is to not discriminate based on irrelevant factors like founder gender at all.
If you want to show off the experiences of women founders in YC, make your random sample size large enough that several of them will be represented. Narrowing the pool by eliminating one gender or the other is cheating. So adding "here's 40 male founders" would actually just be making it worse.
The only way to make it better would be to include a representative sampling of founders, chosen without using gender as a consideration.
But the article was motivated by the same premise--that opposing biases can cancel, so that is why it was created with an obvious gender bias. I doubt the intent was malicious, but the results may not be as expected.
It might come as a surprise, but most of the top 10 most sought after professions (based on the applications for university level classes) are female dominated. Men get equally discouraged to do those things outside of the stereotypical "male professions", and there is no mechanism to help correct this. The idea to create male only conferences, universities or network groups for psychologists and veterinaries is seen as a bad joke that no one would ever take seriously, yet those professions has similar or significant worse gender ratios than that for entrepreneurs or technology professionals.
I suspect that we would see much less critique of gender equality mechanisms if those mechanisms were equally used in handling both male and female stereotypes. The result otherwise seems only to reinforce the gender stereotype of women as victims, and ignoring the underlying problem of gender stereotypes discouraged people from picking their own destiny.
That is absolutely false. Yes, there are a number of professions dominated by females (the ones you mention as well as school teachers and nursing) and there are numerous examples of support groups, outreach groups, and scholarship programs that are trying to attract males students and applicants. You are looking for a double standard where none exist.
Actually, for any of the top 10 most sought professions, I could not find any examples of support groups, outreach groups, and scholarship programs directed at males. school teachers and nursing has it, but those are not even close to the top 10 list.
But feel free to prove me wrong. please link one of those numerous examples.
Veterinary outreach to men (and other minorities): http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2014/04/041014-vetmed-dive...
There exist diversity programs in almost all professions. What does not exist is conferences, universities or network groups that only allow one group in the name of diversity. The linked example are what people that dislike affirmative action points at as good example of outreach in stark contrast to actions which only invite one group and exclude everyone else from participation.
But maybe if you had more time, you could locate all those numerous male-only conferences.
Specifically you mentioned "male only conferences, universities or network groups", and I mentioned "support groups, outreach groups, and scholarship programs." You're right, I haven't had a chance to find any male-only conferences for psychologists and veterinaries (but for that matter, I can't find any "female-only" conferences in other fields like tech), but I did find examples of outreach/network groups. And as I mentioned, the fact that they do exist for fields like nursing and teaching is evidence that if these outreach groups don't exist for veterinarians and psychologists, it's not because they're seen as a "joke."
in stark contrast to actions which only invite one group and exclude everyone else from participation.
https://women.com/ ? Describe by YC as the "the go-to place where women can speak honestly with each other online, deliberately away from the male gender".
There is a numerous number of exclusive hacker spaces which are women only. Men are not only excluded, they are explicitly not welcome and barred from entering. Geek Feminism Wiki has the list if interested.
For education, we got Ada Developers Academy as the google #1 hit. An exclusively "for women" education. There are others like Hackbright Academy, but the list would go long if I listed them all.
While its common for conferences to have women-only meet ups and exclusive areas, there are also a few that are also exclusive. Female founders conference comes to mind - an event just for women as per the description text.
What has every example above in common? They are welcoming one gender, and aggressively excluding the other gender. Compare that to the two links you gave, and I find the differences in tone as stark as light and day. There is no "male go-to place where men can speak honestly with each other deliberately away from the female gender". Saying that sentence out loud feels like a joke. I could be wrong and maybe some people feel that would be a valuable concept, but to me it sound like the old-style boys club that went away when gender equality became a concept.
Regardless I don't think this is something that is going to be resolved anytime soon.
We disadvantage women (and gender and racial minorities) without intending to and without being aware of it. When we just say "let's treat people equally and all will be solved" we ignore the fact that we don't know HOW to treat people equally. We have countless ingrained assumptions about men v. women that cause unconscious changes in how we treat them from birth.
"Let's just stop intentionally being sexist/racist/homophobic and everything will be hunky-dory" flies right in the face of all the science out there on human behavior, on every level, neurology up to sociology.
On the other hand, YCombinator is a private startup incubator and can do whatever the hell it wants. If they want to cater specifically to lesbian Alaskan Muslims, it is their prerogative to do so.
That said a lot of us has grown up in places were women were (and are) given advantages at every point from kindergarden until they finish school. When I was younger it used to annoy me. Not so much anymore but it might explain his views.
Edit: enlighten me, what did I do to deserve downvotes so I can avoid doing it again?
Studies have shown that, as a man, I'm less likely to be interrupted in meetings, more likely to have my opinion listened to, will likely have a higher salary, and will less likely be driven out by an oppressive environment.
White male Christians think they're the most oppressed group. Studies typically find otherwise, though. If you want to argue that women have the advantage, you're going to need to provide some good evidence. Extraordinary claims, y'know?
> Studies have shown that, as a man, I'm less likely to be interrupted in meetings, more likely to have my opinion listened to, will likely have a higher salary, ...
Yeah, I guess the fact that I very clearly stopped after school didn't sink in with a few people.
This is of course correct and I welcome research into this and other specific pain points. As others have pointed out it means we miss out on talented people and it means good female enginners never gets the job they could have excelled at.
> If you want to argue that women have the advantage, you're going to need to provide some good evidence. Extraordinary claims, y'know?
Fine : ) I grew up in one of the Nordic countries and many of my early teachers would, very clearly, push girls first, make fun of boys, tell us how boys always woild get this or that wrong. Maybe what I expirienced was unusual but my understanding is it was quite common in those times and those places. Later in school girls would get extra points when they applied to university.
And maybe it is right, but it sure is discrimination, - the only question is whether it is a good thing or a bad thing.
(And, while my original post didn't include it it happens after you leave school as well. Around here after you get listed on the stock exchange you need to include 40 % women on the board. Which might be fine, then at least some people in the board will be chosen because of their skills and not because they are members of the big boys club. Also last year we had our first case where a man sued the military for sexism after he lost a job which he was clearly more qualified for because they wanted a woman instead.)
> White male Christians think they're the most oppressed group. Studies typically find otherwise, though.
Hehe, if any of us think that let them watch the news. A whole lot of the black and Asian Christians are having difficult times though.
Men still run the narrative. Just some of us are realizing that the narrative should support equality.
You're asking it because you've heard other people ask similar questions in similar circumstances, not because you really want to know -- even if it wasn't pretty obvious, there are plenty of resources out there if you search for them.
1. Since most founders are male, if you compared what they want to what the typical founder wants, there wouldn't be anything interesting to talk about!
Childcare is vastly a burden born by women, thus considered a women's issue. That doesn't mean "there are no men who are burdened by childcare." It means that, in aggregate, the impact falls far more on the women.
It's so egalitarian of you to not want it to be so, but until women are paid the same and men are taking on equal responsibilities (in aggregate) with the child rearing, the feigned "equality uber alles" cry is the fight song of the MRA.
"I found an outlier, therefore WOE ARE THE MEN MEN MEN!!"
No institutional change is going to solve child care for company founders --- which is, after all, what we're talking about here. If your "investors" provide child care, double check to make sure their proper title isn't "employer".
Tech workers with young families should be especially careful about asking for child care benefits. They're a powerful form of lock-in for employees. Altering child-care arrangements is often traumatic for everyone involved, and is at the very least a logistical headache that most people who change jobs don't have to face.
Tech jobs are already very amenable to child-care arrangements. They almost always feature flexible hours and often support WFH arrangements. The problem with tech isn't that it fails to account for child care. The problem is that tech companies have a terrible habit of stigmatizing child care responsibilities†. That's what needs to change, not the child care itself.
Maybe you mean that men worry about it just as much, which is what other studies say.
I was also talking about more than just tech jobs and start-up culture. If that's all we worry about, there is no solution.
> Child care is not a "women's issue". That idea has the unique property of being insulting both to women and to men in equal measure.
You ignore the reality of very many women who cannot work because sexist society has decided that child care is something the woman needs to sort out.
It's changing, but not fast enough.
There are very many more women than men unable to get work because of a lack of child care.
And, if we broaden the discussion to women's participation in the tech industry as employees, there are good reasons to be cautious about company interventions in child care.
There is a child care issue in startuplandia: it's that child care is stigmatized. A more cynical commenter might say that an attempt to bring child care into the discussion at all is simply an effort to keep pushing back on founders with young families. Surely, I'm not that cynical.
Obviously, I don't think it's right that women should be forced to shoulder more of the child care burden than men. But we don't even have to reach that argument to dispose of the "child care" issue on this thread.
Thus, since YC expects their founders to spend most of their waking hours working on their start-up, they need to provide adequate child care support, if they want to have women with children among their founders (at least, those who are not already extremely rich and can afford the outrageous child care rates in SF).
This is a red herring.
In fact, it comes across a little like "well, thing will be better for women once society fixes their expectations about child care".
No. Women are perfectly capable of balancing their child care needs inside their families using their own support networks. Child care is a private issue. Founders are adults. Don't infantilize them. Don't try to run their families for them.
What needs to stop happening is people bringing up child care as an impediment to entrepreneurship. That's the child care problem we have in startupland.
Your comment is incredibly sexist.
It seems to me though that a much better way to convey the right message would be to compile a "what we learned from 100 VC founders" and ensure that diversity is absolutely all over the sample: females, muslims, african americans, non-US natives, gays and lesbians, whatever. Doing so would convey the implicit message that diversity is normal.