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What We Learned From 40 Female YC Founders (ycombinator.com)
412 points by katm on Nov 24, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 277 comments

I've been coding since I was ~13. I can understand why people who haven't might have valid reasons to wish they'd started earlier. I'd just say: beware self-fulfilling prophecies and selection bias. Lots of really excellent software people I've worked with got late starts. Lots of people who started early coasted or are still coasting. In the 25 years I've been coding, only a few years worth of that time really grew me as a developer, so what you work on has just as much impact as how long you've been working on it.

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.

It's possible that it's not the actual coding experience that matters, but the implicit message of "it's okay for you to do this."

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?"

>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.

"which suggests they have no real desire towards"

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.

> 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

Er, since when does lack of past experience indicate no present desire? Or even no past desire?

I think there should be evidence of passion, which typically manifests in a proactive approach to education and experience.

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.

Claiming someone needs to have 'passion' for a job is just a way of putting up a barrier to maintain the status quo.

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.

>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.]

> There's no reason why anyone needs passion.

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 think you're confusing being passionate about something with it being your favourite activity and being passionate about something with being a walkover for an exploitative firm/boss.

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?

No one is advocating for shoe-horning anyone into something they don't want to do. We are advocating for people who may have curiosity to pursue something, but do not for a variety of external, cultural pressures. We are talking about the best ways to remove those pressures - not pressure them into it.

> We are advocating for people who may have curiosity to pursue something, but do not for a variety of external, cultural pressures.

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.

Computers specifically, and technology in general, have been seen as for boys. Elsewhere in the thread, someone links to a great Planet Money episode which talks about how home computers were originally marketed to boys; its a fascinating listen, please seek it out.

cool and socially acceptable is not the same thing.

I think if you've gone through the whole of school with a desire to learn something in a subject area that the school likely teaches in, and the library certainly has information on, without having any experiences related to that subject area then you're not passionate about it.

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.

A lot of US schools don't offer any CS classes. For instance, 56% of high schools in California, a state notable for tech, do not offer CS or programming in high school [1]. In 2011, 2,100 schools were certified for AP CS out of about 42,000 high schools in the US [2]. That is five percent. Yes, some of those schools without a programming class have a book about visual basic in the library. Some of them might even have something about C or Java. But they don't necessarily have computers.

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.

[1] http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_26510658/computer-scie... [2] http://www.exploringcs.org/resources/cs-statistics

That every high school teaches computer science or even offers computing classes beyond "here's how to run spell check in MS Word" is a large and largely incorrect assumption.

Most people who want to do something want to do it because they played around with it and enjoyed doing so. When the parent says "no experience", I think they mean people who never even bothered to play around, not just people who never worked in the field.

Sometimes people want to do something, but they've never had the chance until they go to a place that offers a vast array of new learning opportunities. Say, at college.

I took my first programming class in college. I was originally going to be an english major, and then changed my mind. I went on to earn a major in computer science, have worked in the field for more than 6 years and was the CTO of a successful startup which I sold earlier this year.

I see no reason why anyone should be questioned for wanting to try out a course of study.

Sometimes, people have no experience in an area because they were never given an opportunity to learn it. Or not enough of one. So, no. Taking courses in college is a common way for people to learn what they want to learn. I see no reason that computer science should be different.

>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?

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.

We're often talking about taking CS 1 here, not deciding on a career path.

I think the key is that when you did get to college and started a CS program with little programming experience, no one questioned that you ought to try. Whereas many women in that situation would get more pushback from their peers and advisors.

Yes, that was my point.

If this was a major barrier then we'd expect the numbers to be closer in learning paths where feedback is negligible or where gender is mostly invisible. I.e., we'd see plenty of self taught women but few college educated ones, and more women in open source than in corporate environments.

Is that the pattern we see?

[edit: based on all the downvotes I'm guessing the data doesn't fit the theory? Oops.]

Feedback from peers within your (current or desired) field is not the only feedback of importance in most people's lives. Disbelief and discouragement are at least as likely to come from social acquaintances, friends, neighbors, and family, whose actions are typically more impactful on the young (not to say many of the old).

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.

If you have a fixed amount of negative feedback from friends and family and a lower level of negative feedback from codeacademy than from a teacher, negative feedback is lower for autodidacts. If negative feedback reduces involvement, then (male autodidacts)/(male programmers) should be lower than (female autodidacts)/(female programmers).

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?")

There isn't a "fixed amount of negative feedback"; most people, men and women, will do their utmost to minimize that feedback, particularly when it comes from people who are otherwise decent to us or play a large part in determining the smoothness or roughness of our lives. And particularly when that feedback comes preemptively from an early age.

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.

I have to disagree here a bit with your first sentence, or elaborate on it. I agree with the rest of your post.

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).

...most people, men and women, will do their utmost to minimize that feedback...

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).

Saying that someone was "the reason" YC had to build a page was a little tactless, but it wasn't belligerent. What you're doing here is projecting all of your own defensiveness/tribalism into Altman's words, and through that lens it's easy for you to see aggression. The charitable interpretation is "the fact that there are people like you with this misconception about gender parity in CS is why we wrote that page".

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.

That is a more charitable interpretation. Having been on the receiving end of far more obvious belligerence, it is possible I'm interpreting things less charitably than I should. Thanks for pointing it out.

> We literally have the president of ycombinator making a personal attack against someone who dares to ask why a set of anecdotes is interesting.

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?)

The original version said "you are the problem". It's hardly cursing someone out, but it is certainly more hostility than is normally desired here.

I agree, that version is absolutely a personal attack.

Like I said upthread: there is a difference between saying that someone with a particular misconception is a reason to build a website, and literally attacking them for holding that misconception. Altman's comment was a little personalized, but in context only a little bit: the only thing Altman could have known about the commenter was that they held the misconception.

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."


For full effect, read this comment in the voice of Phil Hartman's Simpsons character Troy McClure, performing in the Planet of the Apes musical.


    Been spending all our lives 
    livin' in Paul Graham's Arc Paradise.

> dragonwriter, you might have noticed that the "Reply" buttons are screwed up here in Mr. Graham's Arc paradise, which is why I replied to your post.

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.


>If half of all programming jobs are given on an affirmative action basis, to women, how will Mr tptacek be affected?

He didn't make that argument, nor did anyone else.

This is the funniest parody of a Mens' Rights Activist I've read in a long time. Thank you. Wow, isn't it remarkable that some people actually believe this stuff?

>Wow, isn't it remarkable that some people actually believe this stuff?

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.

Are you kidding? I've seen tons of examples of people who believe exactly this, or near enough as to not matter. They are more prevalent than you'd imagine.

To be fair, the world is huge. A "negligibly small group" could still produce "tons of examples". I don't have the data to say what the actual case is here - certainly, people like the above don't appear to be well represented in my social circles.

Which is fair. But I'm also not willing to categorize prose as a "strawman argument" when it is the argument of an actual man, right in front of us.

Agreed, in broad strokes, though we've some risk of running afoul of Poe's Law.

> So, listen up, feminists [...]

> 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. [1]

[1] Most obvious example: http://susanfaludi.com/backlash.html (original edition was published in 1991)


> Ah, your Royal Highness tptacek.

No, I'm not tptacek. As the different username may have hinted.

Prove it, other me.

As an old boss of mine said when hiring, "Does this person have ten years' experience? Or one year's experience, ten times?".

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.

To understand this phrase, think of grades 1-12.

"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.

Unless you want an expert in first grade I suppose!?

Which is how you end up with stack-specific experts. Which, hey, they know what they're doing, for sure.

He had actually a very good point (if he meant it that way). I never thought about it like that before.

Reminds me totally of today's SMBC: http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=3553#comic

I think your old boss's meaning was pretty much the opposite -- 10 years of deep experience in a field can be much better than 10 years spent hopping around from job to job across fields. Applied to programming, this would be something like "I want someone who has been doing ML for 10 years, not someone who has been hopping from hot trend to hot trend every year and just now happens to be doing ML".

In my experience the phrase has the meaning that twic described.

Specialization and diversification can both be good. I think it's spending 10 years making the same mistakes, not learning, that's being criticized here.

The best argument I've recently heard for "start younger" came from a Planet Money episode (http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/10/21/357629765/when-wom...). The computer in most homes was treated as a toy for the boy of the house. By the time you get to college, the guy breezes through the basics in CS 101 while girls are left thinking "Why is this so hard for me?" and drop out.

Luckily, this trend will hopefully be reversing now that all young people get laptops regardless of gender.

I started programming in grade school. I didn't learn anything about algorithms until college. I don't think starting early helps out that much for anything beyond pretty simple concepts.

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.

I have the distinct memory of being in a college class with someone who had never used a CLI (no understanding of how to navigate from /home/foo to a project directory, only most tenuous understanding of what a directory was), who didn't understand what a variable was, and who couldn't understand why x = 7 + 2 when x already was 10. I have a lot of sympathy for folks who feel like the geeks-doing-this-since-age-7 have a pretty commanding advantage coming into CS101. (I just don't think that advantage is morally problematic.)

and who couldn't understand why x = 7 + 2 when x already was 10

That's a classic example for why functional programming can be a more intuitive paradigm than imperative programming.

I don't think the trend will reverse at all. Think of point-of-entry into programming 20 years ago vs. today. Back then, to do anything with a computer one had some exposure to programming: you either created your own scripts, typed them in from somewhere, or at the very least had to learn to navigate the technical corners of the system to get it to do anything interesting.

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.

> 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.

The best example of this that I've ever seen is my parents. My dad was an artist by trade, which means he earned most of his money in construction and roofing. He never went to college and didn't do particularly well in school. My mom, on the other hand, has a PhD in psychology and a masters in social work. As a child, she played with dolls and was taught to cook and clean. Both spent the vast majority of their lives living without computers. When my mom first started using a computer, everything needed to be a set of steps that could be memorized. It became clear that her view of the world is one of rote memorization and pattern matching...build up a set of "recipes" and then look for situations to apply them in. But those recipes are not composable. To this day, she can manage her Word documents without any problem and has a highly organized directory structure but is completely unable to manage her digital photos. Both activities are simply files and folders, but there's no connection in her mind. Meanwhile, when he was alive, my dad was far more fearless in his exploration of using a computer and became very competent. He taught himself JavaScript in order to script Photoshop actions. For him, using a computer was a series of problems that needed to be solved and every solution could be unique.

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.

Amplified by the chaotic nature of computers (lots of cruft, legacy, ...) that will throw off anybody without deep desire to learn. I've seen uber brilliant students (acing hard Math and Physics cursus) failing at programming because they couldn't find the right switch for bash or gcc. Some teachers were even mocking them.

I think this is related to an implicit assumption that startups are for twentysomethings, where you have to have started early in order to have much experience at all.

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.

The "startup culture" also valorizes camping out in a rundown house with your cofounders/roommates and subsisting on ramen while pulling 100-hour work weeks. Young people with fewer obligations are obviously better suited to such a lifestyle.

I agree. I've been coding for decades,but it's a handful of years that made the vast majority of difference. That's not to say you don't learn some things every year, but the major progress is concentrated in a few years (and they aren't all at the start!)

As also someone who started coding at 13 and now mid-40s, mine too has been quantum evolution. Usually from needing a particular technology for a project and then learning it or just a didactic itch I scratched. Novel coding techniques distract you from solving the problem and exploring the novel for its own sake is a common pitfall in the programming world.

    10 Solve problems with tools you know
    20 Learn new tools
    30 GOTO 10

I disagree.

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 couldn't

40. Profit

There is some confusion, you are agreeing with me.

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.

OK i misunderstood you, but I don't see how you can avoid learning new tools when 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!

Yes, that's what I mean. Software is all about building tools.

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
That's always been a big driver for my learning. If I could do the job with the tools I already know, my drive to learn new tools is somewhat diminished.

its hard if you don't have the context to know this though. you may never think what you are using is insufficient if you don't get out of your comfort zone.

True, if I'm never challenged in my work then I never find reason to get new tools. Hopefully we're working on things that do challenge us and do expose us to the weaknesses in our tools - and force us to say "There's got to be a better way, how does everyone else do this?"

I think my little bit of pseudo basic was to extreme. I meant there is a temptation when faced with a problem you know already how to solve to do it with novel tools on the client's time. Like "I should do this in Forth, how hard could it be"

yes, and no. i still think that without exploring you are not going to find things way out of your comfort zone. sometimes its not "weakness" in your tools that should inspire you. you can write perfectly great stuff with imperative languages, but at some point you may want to try a pure functional language to get a perspective shift. its more so to see if there may be a better way, or a different way to do things. i am very glad i took two courses in haskell, despite the fact that i don't ever use it for work, just because it has changed the way i think about certain things and given names to concepts i only had a vague notion of before.

  10 Solve problems with tools you know
  20 Learn new tools
  30 GOTO 10
Sure, but since learning new tools more than superficially means solving problems with them, that is equivalent to:

  10 Solve problems with tools you know
  20 Solve problems with tools you don't yet know 
  30 GOTO 10
And learning new tools -- programming languages specifically here -- often involves learning new techniques, that while not necessarily as natural and popular with your current language, can be applied there, which its good to have in your pocket for when the techniques that are most popular/natural with your current languages aren't great for solving a problem you run into.

There are good reasons that the The Pragmatic Programmer includes the recommendation to learn a new language every year.

I agree, generally, but one of the advantages of starting women in software development earlier is that hacking culture changes. If women were a constant presence in software development from 12 years old onwards, it wouldn't be so odd to find women in your CS classes, or making up a plurality of your hackathons or conferences. It would be something that people had grown up with, on both sides.

Once you've gone through it all, it doesn't really matter too much whether you started at 12 or 18. But if you start programming when you're 18, and you get stuck, it's much easier to decide to drop out. And women drop out of tech at higher rates than men.. everywhere. Women are more likely to drop out of CS in college. Women are more likely to pursue a non-technical career even if they had spent four years working on a technical degree. Women are more likely to leave tech after they have been working in tech for an extended period of time.

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"

>Women are more likely to drop out of CS in college. Women are more likely to pursue a non-technical career even if they had spent four years working on a technical degree. //

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)?

Sure. I found some fun stats you can look through. With regards to women dropping out of a software development role, it looks like women are dropping out at higher rates than men because they either want to pursue a non-technical career or they drop out of the workforce entirely because women are expected to be the primary caregiver. And when kids come along and a couple has to choose between sacrificing a husband's career or a wife's career, usually the wife will choose to leave.

> 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 [0]. 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.

[0] http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/catherine-rampell-wom...

[1] http://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/resources/ncwit_the...

fun stats :0(

Thanks. [0] 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[3]. 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 [2] 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 [3])

[3] http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2006/04/27/gender-gap-in-major...

You're right. The focus should be on ensuring men and women have equal opportunities, but the only way to measure that is by measuring participation. And from the disparity in participation, this either means that women have less opportunities than men or that women don't like tech as much and thus are willing to drop out at higher rates. I personally think it's some combination of both.

I'm totally down with the goal of equality of opportunity - but as women in STEM at college in USA have been falling since the 70s do you think there has been a corresponding decline in opportunities for women to enter STEM courses? It seems that despite greater opportunities there is a decline and not because of it - I was really surprised by those figures in your NCWIT citations:

>"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 started learning how to code using PHP at 29, and 4 years later I am still an amateur. I can say with confidence that the day I started programming was the last day I got bored, and this no figure of speech.

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.

I agree for the most part. In terms of getting more women in tech the most important change isn't necessarily to encourage starting early but rather to encourage tech as a pragmatic career choice. To be honest that's why most men are in tech and in CS programs. And the more women are in CS and engineering programs, merely because it seems like a good way to make a living, the more accepted that will be and the easier it will be for other women to see that as a legitimate lifestyle choice and a career that won't just be a constant upstream fight against the current. That's the sort of thing that leads to a positive feedback loop of women going into tech until it's no longer seen as unusual.

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 think you're making a lot of sense. I would like to see statistics on this, but at least for me and many others who switched to software development after college, it's definitely the case that we had periods in our childhood where we were into programming, or at least tinkering on our computers. I never really realized that this might've made it much easier for me to make the switch after an entire college period of different things.

For myself, I never imagined I'd be a software developer when I grew up, I always figured I'd be a scientist or something else. In college I started studying math because that was what I was good at. I got into chemistry and physics too because I was was also good at those and interested in them, as I'd been for a long time. Computer Science as a thing to study didn't occur to me until a bit later, even though I'd been programming since grade school, and learning computer science since high school. First just classes off and on, then later delving into what my graphing calculator could do and then the family computer. Meanwhile, I was reading books like The New Turing Omnibus and learning how to program and CS fundamentals, just 'cause it was fun.

I had assumed that actual developers did things much different and it wasn't until college that I figured out the truth.

>In the 25 years I've been coding, only a few years worth of that time really grew me as a developer, so what you work on has just as much impact as how long you've been working on it.

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'm not a programmer but I can "do some stuff" and that "stuff" has made money for me.

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.

>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.

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.

Want to point out that this was Wharton a long time ago way before the Internet (we had the arpanet) and way before entrepreneurship became fashionable as it is today. I will further clarify what I said as well because it really relates to the entrepreneurship program "back then" as opposed to Wharton or even entrepreneurship at Wharton now. My point being that anyone who went for that type of business training in that time period was really into business at least that was my experience at the time at that school.

> Lots of really excellent software people I've worked with got late starts.

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.

Lots of really excellent software people I've worked with got late starts. Lots of people who started early coasted or are still coasting.

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?

It would be interesting to look at those nations, such as Israel, where more women become programmers, and look to see if an early start is a factor there. I would guess that institutional forces are at work at a later age, in particular the willingness of the schools and the military to push math/computers to anyone who seems to have ability. Which is to say, I doubt that starting early is a factor. What matters is what sort of environment the women face when they get done with school.

In Israel, I don't think there is as much of that "early start" mentality.

What is L.O.B?

Yes. Back-office support software.

i.e. More than 90% of all software in existence, by project count (and likely by line of code count or hours invested count).

Legacy Or Boring?

Line of Business, the CRUD that runs very large corp. Boring, repetitive, the COBOL^H^H^H^H^HJAVA of industry.

This is a great story and project.

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.

I agree that this is a great project. But, do you think it's right to call this a "scientific process of understanding"?

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.

No, though I don't think you're alone in drawing the line of science around deduction. I think of science as a cycle:

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.

Well, I was trying to start a discussion over semantics anyway.

"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.

Interesting take, and I think I see your point with that clarification of your view of stages of thought. I don't share that concept of the progression of ideas, nor do I feel the need to make the distinction between science and pre science.

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.

Einstein made "guesses", but I consider theoretical physics to be science, it's like preparation of food being part of digestion despite not being an internal biological process.

Speaking strictly to Einstein, he made testable predictions, and that's what made that work a part of the scientific process.

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.

I don't think anyone discredits qualitative data. All of PG's essays, the rest of the startup club's stuff about 'starting a great company', and all business books are qualitative data. HN/we eat that up.

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.

Startups, and startup founders as a whole are rare phenomena. Don't read anything more into the analogies than that. Thanks, though, for the word of caution.

Margaret Mead is probably a better analog than Jane Goodall, since it's humans studying humans, and the methodology most resembles cultural anthropology. Cultural anthropology has been around for well over 100 years. Yet even today, the extent to which it is a "science" is controversial, even among anthropologists. The AAA removed the word from their mission statement a few years ago, which led to a lot of public debate and coverage.

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.

I'm happy to wade into that debate, because I think it's relevant. When this article first came out there were comments near the top questioning the relevance of this type of inquiry as, roughly, unscientific. I wanted to show how it fits into a scientific framework just fine.

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.

I just finished my master's thesis on hardware founders and entrepreneurs in cleantech (http://amiculous.com/thesis.pdf). She is following something called the "case study research method." It is an accepted research method in social sciences, when there are too many variables to do a more classical scientific study. For more information, see: http://www.amazon.com/Case-Study-Research-Methods-Applied/dp...

Along the ways of furthering our understanding, it'd be really fascinating--if it hasn't been done already--to see a demographic breakdown of the YC founders.

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.

Agreed. A focus on gender is warranted, but not to the exclusion of other demographics. There are likely a great many large startups waiting to be built in each under-represented demographic. These startups aren't yet built because not enough domain experts have the technical ability and startup knowledge they need to build them. Which, I believe, is YC and 500's business rationale for encouraging diversity.

I am from India and on H1B visa in United States. I still don't understand why there is more hustling in recent years about women participation ? Be it playing games, developing games, women in tech or women in NFL or women in ______ ( fill in blank here).

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.

Countries with lower levels of economic development often have the highest ratios of female engineers and wealthier countries often have the lowest ratios.

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?

Are you denying that women are being heavily discriminated against in developed countries, like Norway or the Netherlands?

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.

> since women tend to be smarter than men on average

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.[9]

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.[8][10] As testing methodology was revised, efforts were made to equalize gender performance.[10][11][12]

The mean IQ scores between men and women vary little.[9][13][14][15][16] 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.[17]

It says differences in average IQ gender gap are either small or biased by the methodology, unless I'm mistaken.

> Are you denying that women are being heavily discriminated against in developed countries, like Norway or the Netherlands?

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.

> Are they? That hasn't been my experience

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.

It's funny you picked those two examples as the PG one isn't sexism at all, just quotes taken out of context. The second one, once the details came out showed was an unfortunate situation but also not really an example of sexism (IIRC). If those examples are the best you can come up with then that really undermines your premise.

I said that it hasn't been my experience IN NORWAY. And then you give as examples Paul Graham, Silicon Valley and the GitHub company. Are you even trying to be coherent?

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.

I think you're making some reasonable points. I don't have experience living in Norway or the Netherlands, but I can say this: it hasn't been my experience, living in the UK, that women engineers are victims of any kind of discrimination, unconscious or otherwise.

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.

It sounds like you think that that if nobody was talking about women in tech, then women would be able to freely choose between all available careers. Is that right? Because the basic premise of most discussion is that this is not the case, and that there are multiple factors that currently mean American women who may want to go into tech find it harder than men do (these factors ranging from cultural pressures starting at birth to intrinsic biases when hiring adults). So your question sounds like "wouldn't putting a ramp in place of some steps be depriving people in wheelchairs of their right to not be interested in going into the room?" Sure, there are people who disagree with that premise - but you should be clear that you are disagreeing with it, or your conversations in this area will likely be confusing.

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.

I have some thoughts on 2 and 3.

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.


I can't find the research study now but there was one done in Sweden which concluded that in countries with more economic freedom to choose careers women choose non-STEM careers unlike India and Pakistan where careers are still largely motivated by economic incentives.

The importance of learning to program at an earlier age conflates two patterns in my opinion. I benefitted immensely from teaching myself how to program at a young age but that is not why I have the computer science and software skills I do today per se. It is an artifact, not a requirement.

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.

I upvoted because you make a good point, but others are likely downvoting you because starting with "No." tends to shut down discussions instead of feeding them.

Point taken :)

> 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

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.

I disagree. A PL is not a "natural language" by definition (it's eminently artificial). Although PLs do evolve over time, they seem to be essentially different in structure from natural language, in that they have a precise syntax and well-defined semantics, unlike natural language. And, I disagree that fluency -- in a PL or a natural language -- is more easily developed as child than as an adult. Children just have a more powerful learning environment (total immersion).

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.

I'd say human language is the superset of artificial language and natural language. Though the artifical/natural labels are a poor fit.

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 :)

> [...] there's a limit to the amount of language learning most 50 year olds can undergo, even in a decade.

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.

Hmm... maybe this is just me not being familiar with the literature, but from that link, it looks like there are very mixed results (some studies report no difference based on age of acquisition, whereas others report that children learn more quickly/effectively). It does seem like the percentage weighs in your favor though, so I suppose I should adjust my beliefs on the matter.

I have some personal experience that suggests otherwise. A close relative of mine aspired to live in France for most of her life, and after a divorce she decided to pick up and move to Paris at the age of 48. When she first moved her French was quite bad, and Parisians would regularly switch to English when they heard her broken speech. Fast-forward to 8 years later and she is now fluent to the point that she's able to take on clients to her psychotherapy practice who speak only French. Her accent could use some work, and it took 7 or 8 years of complete immersion, but I don't know that there's any hard "limit" per se, to what someone can learn at 50 — it just takes longer.

Sounds like your relative had an above-median learning rate. But a median 10 year old could likely learn a new language to fluency in even less time.

Do you have any sources to argue that code is more similar to human language than it is to mathematics?

False dichotomy. Mathematics is also a human language. Code and mathematics are more similar in many respects than code and Spanish. but they all share common features of being cultural, mutable, consensus-based, imperfect, and historically embedded.

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...

ok, sure. So you are saying that the OPs statement "code is more easily learned as a child because language is more easily learned as a child" is a pointless narrowing of the idea that "code is more easily learned as a child because all cultural, mutable, consensus based concepts are more easily learned as a child"?

I believe they're roughly synonymous, yes. The processes of aging and aculturation both involve an ossification of our ideas and concepts that make learning new ones comparatively difficult. Vinod Khosla has talked extensively about how he has to fight these processes in himself to bring a 'beginners mind' to bear on new startup ideas. The median effort required to do this is lower in younger people.

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.

I don't think your last sentence is a at all true.

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.

Well mathematics is also a language in a sense. At least notation. But otherwise they are very very different things.

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.

Interesting that you've found language study techniques useful. I also believe we should teach code like we teach other languages: http://blog.trinket.io/code-and-language/

As I point out elsewhere in the thread, I did not really start programming until college. Freshmen year, there were a lot of kids in my program with prior programming experience. By senior year, I could not see any correlation with those who had experience before college, and those who were good programmers and CS students (two separate things).

Agreed. I would add that this applies to pretty much any skill, not just programming.

My experience raising three daughters is that they were always very aware of what others were doing. Their male peers were pretty uninformed (as I expect I was as a teen). I observed that the men were much more inclined to pursue an "unusual" activity (ie not what other people are doing)than the women were. It seemed motivated not by feeling "weird" rather it appeared to be motivated to not do something that their friends were not interested in participating with them. From a sense of inclusion they didn't spend group time on activities that other members of the group were not interested in.

I worked with my middle daughter to build a knitting pattern illustrator in Perl[1]. 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.

[1] I liked the pun of using Perl for a knitting application.

> One of the most consistent patterns is how many founders wished they'd learned to program when they were younger.

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?

Seems kind of like how many people wish they'd found their significant other, or their dream job, earlier in life. They would have found happiness and fulfillment sooner.

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.

Seems fairly obvious. A lot of web startups need little more than an MVP to be effective for proving the concept or even gaining users and revenue. Something that can probably be put together in 3 months.

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!

This is absolutely true, and teaching myself to code is one of the best decisions I've ever made for exactly these reasons (and more).

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.

See, what fascinates me is that it might be possible that many of these founders would not have become founders if they'd gotten 'hooked' on programming at a young age.

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...

I'd say it's two things: (1) programming is relatively useful compared to other skills you can learn by yourself in your childhood, and (2) it's relatively hard, in the sense that it requires a long time to learn.

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).

I suspect that the community values people more who started coding earlier, even if that isn't of actual value, and they want to clear that credential.

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.

Being able to interface with a computer on an instruction level basically allows you to circumvent the mathematical limitations of our biological pattern matching apparatuses.

Learning to program is to thinking as learning to drive is to traveling.

I don't see any obvious reason for you being downvoted but maybe you should elaborate on this: "mathematical limitations of our biological pattern matching apparatuses".

Probably because it's way over the top.

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 don't think the comparison means that programmers can think better than non-programmers, but that computers can (for certain problems) and that programmers can take advantage of that.

I'm getting downvoted because I made a comment below about how I was more interested in the statistics behind this phenomenon than the people, and apparently that's not okay. This post was at +4 before people started downvoting all of my comments on this discussion.

I'm not too worried about it. Some people need to cling to that iota of power that an inverted triangle can offer.

"In the most recent batch (W15), we asked about gender on the application form for the first time. The percentage of startups we accepted with female founders was identical to the percentage who applied."

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.

+1 to back-testing the stats.

Edit: whoa, downvoters! This comment was about getting more information to inform productive discussion. Not sure who would disagree with that?

I wish my parents had let me take more shop classes, because right now I'm interested in home renovation.

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".

The issue isn't just that the gender gap in tech exists and should be fixed. The bigger issue is that the gap exists, and is actually getting worse over time. There are half as many women studying CS today as there were in the 80's [0]. I think it's much more believable that cultural factors that have inadvertently hurt women have caused this than asserting that the innate interests of women have evolved in the past few decades.

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.

[0] http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/10/21/357629765/when-wom...

Or is it possible, just possible, that freedom has increased in the past few decades? Women can now choose whatever they want to do rather than being guided down the path of housewivery or a couple of other vocations?

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?

You are definitely right in that there are biological influences that have caused men and women to want to pursue different career paths. But you must be kidding if you don't believe this effect isn't exacerbated by cultural factors.

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.

If there are biological influences on choice of profession based on gender, than a diversity goal of a 50/50 split of genders in a profession is misguided and artificial at best, and harmful at worst.

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.

If you're curious, I can explain to you my personal theory for why there has been such a substantial 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.

That's an interesting theory. It's got to have some impact, but I'm not sure how much. That's how I started, though -- coding games with my dad, and just got the juices flowing there and kept doing little project after project.

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.

Well, that's the thing. You can't even prove that any factor has any effect at all. All I know is that from my anecdotal experience a lot of my male peers got into programming tangentially through gaming because they liked playing games and wanted to learn how to make games. And there's a fair amount of proof that young boys are more likely to play video games than young girls.

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.

Right, and again, my case shows a difference even there: I went into software. But my brother went into carpentry and animal husbandry. Same family, same environment -- gaming, coding with dad, etc. He's just as smart and could've done tech if he wanted, but he had different interests.

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.

> There are half as many women studying CS today as there were in the 80's [0]. I think it's much more believable that cultural factors that have inadvertently hurt women have caused this than asserting that the innate interests of women have evolved in the past few decades.

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.

Regarding the gap between "people who want to do X but feel excluded" and "people who are already doing X", there's a really tough-to-measure additional gap, between "people who want to do X", and "people who would want to do X, except they think it's not possible/allowed/acceptable for them". Those people may not even be consciously aware that they're omitting a field (such as CS) from consideration because "people like me don't do things like that". Even if there are a few "people like me" doing that thing, they may assume that only the most exceptional such people will be successful, so they don't even consider it as a possibility for themselves.

For women who also want to have children at the same time as co-founding a startup, I think it's important not to underestimate how difficult this is.

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.

No need to single out women in this context. If you want to be a father that's there for your children, both on the infant stage and later stages of their lives...being in a top-level leadership position is simply not possible. Ditto for most other career paths that require your undivided attention.

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.

This is probably impossible to do, but it would be very interesting to contrast these anecdotes with anecdotes from women who could have become technology startup founders, but didn't for some reason.

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.

I think this is a great project. But one quote stood out:

> 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.

"Not surprisingly, most of the women were domain experts solving a problem they themselves had. That's something that tends to be true of successful founders regardless of gender."

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?

> 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.

> However the most common advice you get is , "focus on user experience". Most domain experts fail to do that.

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.

are you talking out of experience of being in a founders shoes? asking just to get some context

I think that people assume the job of startup founders is solving domain problems, when in reality it is about selling solutions to domain problems (and the various infrastructure that goes around that and starting a business).

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.

> I think that people assume the job of startup founders is solving domain problems, when in reality it is about selling solutions to domain problems

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.

Interesting stuff. One detail I'd like to respond to. Jessica writes:

     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.
Many times women find themselves in the situation where they are the more responsible employees, 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. So I just hope that Jessica and the other female partners are being compensated consummate to their contribution to the success of YC.

While I'm not disagreeing with your point, I'd like to point out that

> 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 :)

Computer science is the language of the future.

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.

Liberal arts (classics/literature in foreign languages) and mathematics (the foundation of computer science) are complementary fields of study. People who understand both tend to have a significant advantage over their entire career. Right now, you wish you were more specialized, but if you someday want to broaden your technology career, combine disciplines into one career or lead people, you will probably be thankful for your background.

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.

It's never a waste of time to learn something new.

I have a demon of the second kind to sell you…

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

Also, this:

“[…] to making many books there is no end, and too much studying afflicts the flesh.” – Ecclesiastes 12:12

I generally understand the sentiment, but your are really comparing apples and trigonometry.

I'd disagree with that. I think coding languages are in a very real sense human languages. They have less history, less literature, less culture, and different uses but they have history, literature, culture, and uses just like any language.

Only if you consider computers to be people. Human languages are for communicating with humans. Programming languages are for communicating with computers.

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.

> Programming languages are for communicating with computers.

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.

Natural language's main purpose is human-to-human communication.

Programming language's main purpose is not.

This is a weird semantic argument, but I think you understand the parent's point.

> Natural language's main purpose is human-to-human communication.


> 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.

For languages other than raw machine code, the main purpose that they exist is human-to-human communication.

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.

Programming languages are absolutely for communicating with humans. Source comments are just one trivial proof of that.

Your trivial proof is "this thing that is explicitly not part of the language"? The whole point of comments is to say "these next characters are not part of language -foo-, so don't compile/interpret them".

And if you notice, comments are written in a 'traditional' human language, usually English.

if code wasn't a human language we'd write it in binary, straight to disk.

I can see my belt, but that doesn't mean the purpose of my belt is to be seen. You're twisting my original comment to say something it didn't say.

"Programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute." --SICP

One of the issues I'd see with that is the fact that computer languages have not been around for that long. Natural languages have been taught and used for centuries, Java might be just as lively as Assembly in 20-30 years (this is only an example and not a prediction). If you factor in the rough 10 year latency that curricula generally carry, your utility diminishes further.

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.

One sure thing is that having a child and a startup is a hell more difficult. I applaud founder moms/dads.

We had our first a year into the first startup I founded myself, and our second just before I left for a senior role at another startup. Balancing work and home responsibilities is always hard. Having a young family might not be an especially difficult burden for founders.

It might be an unrealistic ideal, but I hope that when I'll be a father, I'll be able to give it my 100%. I don't like the idea of always considering "Should I spend time with my kids" vs "Should I do my best to make the startup succeed". I think this is what scares me the most about having a startup and a young family at the same time.

What's unrealistic about this is the idea that you'd ever, under any circumstances, give 100% of yourself to your children. That's not a grown-up perspective on parenthood.

I think the point is that a healthy work/life balance would allow you to give 100% of yourself to the child at the particular moment you're with them. Not having to check an email when you're reading them a bedtime story. Being able to take a week off and not have an excess work-related ruminations badgering the gullet in the background of a family-holiday that detract from you're daughter saying "DAD! WATCH THIS!"

unobserved pool splashes

As a woman in software development (and a former founder) what I appreciate most about this collection of stories is that rather than men sitting around hypothesizing about why someone else whose experience probably doesn't match their own made different choices than they did, it tells actual women's stories. The ongoing discussion of gender in computing needs more of this.

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?

Generally, I think the value of programming at an early age is that you have the time and context to develop an earnest interest in programming. You're doing it for fun. And then when you proceed to take courses on it, you're genuinely excited to learn, and you're not just struggling for a passing grade.

Most of this is just the broken nature of schooling.

Not to be callous, but I'm not really interested in any of these founders as people. I would be much more interested in an aggregated feedback discussion about how (or if) startups with female founders are different, what YC did right for them, what it didn't, etc.

You can't actually understand startups without understanding the people behind them. This is a hard lesson born from experience: when I was younger I was just interested in the mechanics, and thought that if I learned enough about the technology, the business, the financing aspects, etc. I'd find success.

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.

I'm interested in reading more findings from the 40 stories in addition to the ones Jessica describes, but I'm too lazy to read all 40. If you've read them, what did you find interesting?

Even as a male entrepreneur, this collection is pure gold. So much to learn. Thank you for doing this.

Any chance this series could be made as videos? I would like my daughter to see them as she grows up.

Also the link to the female founders conference has last years dates.


It's updated now - just refresh!

great! thank you

What they should do is to marry men that want to stay at home taking care of the kids.

I'm in a graduate CS program. Half, maybe more, of my cohort is female.


this sentiment is the reason we need to publish things like this.

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.

"This sentiment is the reason we need to publish things like this."

thanks, fixed!

A piece titled "What We Learned From 40 YC Founders" would probably be equivalent to "What We Learned From 40 Male YC Founders."

If YC wants to cater to women and see that percentage of their applicants grow, they need to analyze their current stock.


For once??? Most of the articles written ARE about males. Unless it specifies, as this one does, the default is males.

"Why should we be catering to women?" Why are we currently so heavily catering to men?

>Most of the articles written ARE about males. //

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.

> 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.

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".

YC and PG have a history of sexism and actively discriminating against women (see http://www.thewire.com/technology/2013/12/paul-graham-revive...).

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.

Really, most articles are about people and we're catering to people.

You're right in a way in that it should be gender neutral.

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.

You are assuming that discrimination in favor of males and discrimination in favor of females are like vectors that are parallel and opposite in direction. Under that assumption, overall equality could be achieved by selecting and titrating an appropriate magnitude for your own bias, based on the observed bias in the system.

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.

The problem with that line of thinking is the singular focus on stereotypical male profession, while ignoring gender distribution in highly sought after female professions.

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.

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,

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.

Conferences are social events so linking to the numerous examples should be an easy task. I could not find male only conferences for psychologists or veterinaries using google.

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.

Here's two. Sorry I don't have time to find more right now. In any event, you admit that outreach exists for female-dominated fields, that would appear to go against the notion that [support] groups for other female dominated fields would be "seen as a bad joke that no one would ever take seriously."

Veterinary outreach to men (and other minorities): http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2014/04/041014-vetmed-dive...


We were talking about male-only conferences, and those links are about diversity outreach programs that focus on African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Latino, LGBT and males (listed in that order on both links). The very first successful example they bring up is an African-American woman.

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.

We were talking about 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.


You are asking for example of meeting places which are women only? That is not a hard thing to do but so its odd question to ask here on HN given the numerous articles and discussion on that particular subject.

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.

You're right and my comment was only directed to the topic at hand which is a stereotypical male profession. Naturally other professions may need a different solution to their problem.

Regardless I don't think this is something that is going to be resolved anytime soon.

Why do you care? Men don't need any champions in tech, we're doing quite well with the status-quo. Some organizations want to encourage a bit of diversity in their industry, why does that bother you?


Maybe if we pretend sexism doesn't exist it will go away?

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.

And to be truthful, we don't even Want to treat people equally. There's the biological part of it in there, like it or not. We're bred for the last million years with distinct behaviors toward one another that can't be trained out or argued away.

On the one hand, because women sort of run the narrative these days.

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.

There's an 8:2 gender gap in software development and it's women "running the narrative"?

No I think he means in the wider society. And I don't necessarily agree.

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?

I didn't downvote you, but you allude to vague advantages that women get over men, ignoring the fact that, well, all evidence is that we (men) are the privileged class.

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.

That's a bit of an oversimplification. You, as a man, are also more likely to be physically assaulted or even killed, you're more likely to die at your workplace, more likely to be homeless, more likely to commit suicide, and more likely to have people say "man up" or ignore your problems if you ask for help. Also, you're much more likely to be conscripted, though I believe that that's one discriminatory policy that actually makes sense from a societal point of view, and hopefully it won't be relevant in the developed world ever again.

And why was tomp downvoted?


I have no idea what that line means, but I am for some reason now thoroughly creeped out.

If you look at the decision-makers in media outlets--printed, TV, radio, or Internet--you'll find the majority are male.

Men still run the narrative. Just some of us are realizing that the narrative should support equality.

These types of questions seem disingenuous and defensive.

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[1], 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!

They're incredibly underrepresented relative to relative population of US, even relative population of eng. grads, etc.

If they wanted to back up this claim "...from the start I've made sure YC had an environment that is supportive of women," they would provide affordable childcare.

I don't think affordable childcare is a women's only issue. Men have children too.

Nobody says that it's only a women's issue. But, if that servers your rhetorical needs, you keep putting those words in peoples' mouths.

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!!"

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.

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.


We can play semantic games all day, but the work is something women still take on, even in "equal" households, in disproportionate amount.


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.

I feel like you and parent comment agree and are talking at crossed purposes.

> 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.

There is no child care fix to women's low participation in tech entrepreneurship. Founders need to provide their own services. That's the nature of starting a new firm.

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.

Child care is not a 'women's issue', but it is an issue that has a disproportionate impact on women and therefore one that should come up earlier in a discussion on "how can we better support women" than in the equivalent discussion of "how can we better support men".

The rest of my comment, after the first few words that prompted you to respond, addresses your sentiment. What did I miss?

I don't see where your comment addresses my sentiment that childcare is more of an issue for women than men? It seems to be talking about the risks of having childcare through an employer, which is valid (like healthcare) but a different aspect of the topic.

True, but, that is not the issue. While both men and women are indeed needed for baby-making, the burden of child care falls disproportionately on women in our society. So, male founders with young children can reasonably expect their child to be cared for by their partner while they dedicate all of their time to YC. But, the same cannot be said of potential female founders. It is not sexist to recognize this unfortunate state of affairs and suggest that child care support be considered an issue particularly important to women.

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).

It doesn't even make sense for an investor to provide office space, or even payroll services. How could it possibly make sense for them to provide child care?

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.

Because men aren't responsible for children in the same way women are?

Your comment is incredibly sexist.

When you have companies offering to freeze eggs it's a reasonable point to make about childcare -- society pretty much makes women responsible for children. The nice thing about making a workplace more suitable for women with children is that you're also making it more suitable for men with children.

It's a pretty accurate and factual observation that most of the burden of child-care falls on mothers, either time- or money-wise.

The first paragraph, and the implicit message that females were in unusual need of help and support, struck me as belittling and patronizing... which is probably not the desired PR outcome. :-|

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.

Not everyone goes through life seeking to be offended.

Nah. Better to address the issues explicitly.

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