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No Longer an Inspiration (gina.codes)
362 points by e_d_g_a_r on April 15, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 203 comments

As a woman engineer I understand what the OP is trying to say, but it sounds callous and (surprisingly) oblivious to the realities of this field.

As someone else pointed out: "1) What is the nature of hackathons? Many are pitchathons."

I have also lost "hackathons" to projects that were objectively NOT technical (mocked-up images of an app, without a single line of code). It happens often, and it's always a bummer to lose, but often they might actually be solving a bigger issue than me or my team.

For the group of women (girls?) that won - as you pointed out - maybe they will continue doing hackathons (and maybe - despite your doubt - they even eventually progressing beyond the Wix stage) because they won an encouragement award at their first hackathon. It's like a consolation prize for mustering up the courage to present their product that was obviously not as technically advanced as some other products. That takes guts, a lot of people (men/women/other...) might just slink out the back door after the first few presentations.

So good for them, in that sense - they indeed are an inspiration for people just starting out.

Yeah, one of the huge problems our field has is that it doesn't give people a solid sense of how you upgrade your skills and what kind of waypoint you're at relative to others (and that that's okay!).

It is magnificent to encourage newcomers to the field. We should also have level playing fields for folks to participate with everyone (and not stratify further than we already do). But it sucks when these sorts of objectives collide and end up alienating people. (and heck sports have awards for rookies for example!)

The other thing that's really gear-grinding about OP is that... we're judging our worth based on what happens in hackathons? I hope to $deity most people aren't doing that, because hackathons are super slanted POVs on the world.

(and heck sports have awards for rookies for example!)

Well, for rookies who outperform what's expected of rookies... rookies who perform at the same level as their more experienced peers.

Actually no, in most professional leagues the rookie of the year/season award is handed out to the best rookie whether that rookie performed below, above, or at the same level as their more experienced peers. They are graded only against other rookies.

absolutely. The rookie of the year award is still amongst professional athletes. It isn't a consolation prize.

Agreed. The tech community is rabidly hypercritical and even those considered part of the "typical" programmer demographic are often met with biting vitriol when publishing code or projects that the community views as bad, poor form, too ambitious or reinventing the wheel. That type of hostility will really intimidate novices, especially if they already feel like an outsider. I think it's a positive step to encourage the less represented demographics because it says "we see you, and there is a place for you, even if you're just taking baby steps"

We've modeled our critical stances after the social justice community.

Woman software engineer here. This article, although maybe not totally on point for why the female team won an award, does hit home on gender issues in the tech.

As has been said in this thread multiple times, less women are in the field probably (and partially) because there is less interest. I believe a large part of that is how male-centric tech is portrayed while growing up. But once I displayed an interest in high school opportunities were thrown at me from left and right, to the point that I felt bad for guys who didn't get similar opportunities.

As expected, as a techie in college I was surrounded by mostly guys, which was fine 99% percent of the time. There were those special few who saw themselves superior and made sexist remarks. Guys who wanted to help with homework because they didn't think the female brain could figure it out. You just prove them wrong and move on.

There is a gender issue, but it is not all one sided. Talking to the ladies who let the gentlemen do their hw for them (and the swath of everything else)

The author writes: "After deliberating, the judges announced a new “Most Inspirational” category" but this category is not new. The author seems to have misinterpreted the course of events. Based on clicking the blog's twitter link, this is the hackathon attended by the author:




And the project in question that didn't deserve the award, in the author's opinion: http://aekblaw.wix.com/asteroidascent

they also have a sample curricula http://media.wix.com/ugd/57f674_99d136685bfe400f80022bc3652e...

and a code repo https://github.com/spaceappsnyc/asteroidascent

Going to the about page: https://2015.spaceappschallenge.org/about/ the word "hackathon" is not mentioned once. Instead it introduces itself as:

"an international mass collaboration focused on space exploration that takes place over 48-hours in cities around the world"

a Wix site and a sample curriculum certainly doesn't sound like an unfair entry here.

Are you sure that's the right team? Pretty much every commit in the repo is by a man, and I thought the author mentioned an all-woman team.

Their entry page lists three women and one man (same one as the Git repo commits): https://2015.spaceappschallenge.org/project/asteroidascent/

i can confirm this, i was there at the hackathon

EDIT - I didn't realize those links where for 3 years of the same event...

The hackathon you link to is from 2013, the article is from 2 days ago and that repo you link had its first commit 4 days ago.

Perhaps her experience is based off what was presented 2 years ago at the actual hackathon and not what they've produced in the subsequent time?

I think the timeline is correct and the article is about 2015. The Most Inspirational of the 2015 event, which was held April 11, 4 days ago, involved a Wix website. Neither of the other years appear to.

Yeah, I realized that... decided to edit the comment with that info (rather than delete) in case someone else was gonna make the same wrong assumption as me.

Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing we can expect a lot more of in the coming months and perhaps years as the "tech media" continue to attack it from the fringes.

You are damned if you do and damned if you don't. There is no satiating the thirst from the "tech media" for faux outrage driven clicks.

This is a woman in tech, but more specifically she is a techie in tech. She has been assimilated into the normality of the modern tech industry and is participating in a highly competitive, skill driven arena.

Make no mistake, any company that does not behave as the organisers of this hackathon here - not actively displaying an organised, certainly biased, effort to promote the "Women in Tech" narrative - are open to being squatted on from above from the "moral highground" occupied by the tech media.

This is what happens when you attack meritocracy in the name of making people feel good. It is what happens when you create an unrelenting narrative that continually assaults an industry over how many or few people with a penis or vagina they have in it. It is what happens when you've an industry surrounded by "journalists" who've never spent an actual day in it, ready to fire out articles shaming you for your lack of, or apparent abundance of, penises or vaginas in your company.

The author here is simply another bystander to the continued assault on the technology industry.

So where does the obvious gender bias in the industry come from? It's actually gotten worse since the 1980s, not better. There are only two explanations for the obvious reality. One is that women simply aren't as good at programming as men are. The other is that there is a persistent and difficult cultural bias against women in this industry.

Most of us would agree that it's the latter. So the question is, what do we do about it? Whinging about how terrible it is that we are even talking about this isn't it - that's just wrapping bias in silence. Any good engineer can tell you that a problem doesn't go away just because you stop acknowledging it.

The author makes an excellent point... that "Thanks for showing up" awards aren't a solution, either. We love our craft because it's hard, because it measures us against hard reality rather than the soft vagaries of social politics. We cannot bring gender equality into software engineering by trying to turn it into social rather than technical victories.

But complaining about the "assault on the technology industry" in the form of pointing out that we have a sexism problem? That's not good engineering, bro.

>One is that women simply aren't as good at programming as men are. The other is that there is a persistent and difficult cultural bias against women in this industry.

What about option three: They've less of an interest in the area.

When these topics come up there seems to be this weird suspension of the fact that men and women, or girls and boys, are different in many ways. They've different interests, they're driven differently, they've different skills, etc.

They're not perfectly aligned bell curves across the board. We also don't need them to be. We don't need men and women to be identical save for what is between their legs in terms of their interests, or how they perform, or their desires, or whatever else.

We simply need to make the same opportunities available to everyone regardless of what is between their legs. If a man wants to become a nurse, he should have the opportunity to and he does. If a woman wants to become a programmer, she should have the same opportunity and graduate employment rates would show that they do.

Women dominate many professions. Men dominate many professions. As a society we don't need to have an equal number of penises and vaginas present in all professions.

Leave the opportunities open and let people develop their own interests.

I know you probably think you're being a skeptical and intelligent speaker of uncomfortable truths. But you're a lot more like a climate change denier. You're going with your gut and not the facts.

This graph says it all, I think. Is it really conceivable that women were more interested in computing when it was all about hand-coding assembly for a modest amount of money, and less interested now that you can make >$100K/year doing Rails from home?


There's tons of evidence that women are excluded from our industry, at every level -- high school, university, and even the ones that graduate and go on to work in the industry drop out at a very high rate. Other scientific or mathematical fields do not have the same problem.

You will probably now try to bury me with various quibbles, because you can argue against any statistic. but maybe you could try ASKING A WOMAN.

Anecdotally, I know many women who have since found coding later in life. I've heard several times that they wandered into some science or computer club early on and had horrible experiences and left. They're coming into it now, mostly due to the high demand for engineers such that the industry is (reluctantly) hiring people who don't have the ideal background, and actually training them. So these women are finding out, for the first time, that they aren't bad at technical things. It was just that the field was so gendered, and they came from environments that were strongly biased.

It's a very complicated issue. You've provided a graph which describes a trend, a Gladwell-esque 'just so' story (yes that's a pejorative) and an anecdote by way of explanation. Actually interpreting the data and understanding why people do what they do on a large scale isn't a solved problem. We aren't Hari Seldon. Social science is called soft science for a reason. People are much, much more complicated than climate. And climate is still pretty complicated. I believe there's a huge gender problem in tech but if you want specifics? If you want to know why women aren't in this field, well you'd have to ask every woman. If you want to generalize all women and ask why most of them don't, the answer, if it even exists, is unbelievably complex with undoubtedly many factors. I don't think there's much evidence that discrimination and a gendered culture is the only reason or even the primary reason for the discrepancy, though I personally believe it plays a very significant role. But I'm open to having my mind changed. What would actual evidence even be?

What I'm convinced of is that a) more women and minorities in the industry would improve it a great deal in a variety of important ways b) Making the culture of the industry more open and welcoming to these groups is an important step we need to take in order to effect (a).

Finally, it really isn't appropriate or helpful to smear anyone who disagrees with you or even suggests an alternate explanation as a 'denier' and spew hate. This isn't climate change; nobody is disagreeing about the facts and trends. If you're so certain you're correct and uninterested in hearing disagreements, why even post? And it's very condescending to presuppose and pre-dismiss what someone you're having a discussion with will say in response to you. You're arguing in bad faith. If you want people to listen to you, you should tone down the vitriol and try to write with respect.

> There's tons of evidence that women are excluded from our industry, at every level -- high school, university, and even the ones that graduate and go on to work in the industry drop out at a very high rate.

Can you point these out? Last study I saw, women entering industry tracks very closely with women graduating with CS degrees, which strongly implies that if there's a problem it's in women entering CS programs, not with industry.

Can we have an environment more welcoming to girls/women and still keep it meritocratic? I think we can. This is what many companies do.

The hackathon described in the post was not like that. It bent the meritocratic part, which breaks the right incentive to participate.

What we need more is removing prejudices and careless practices that push away females. This has everything to do with culture, speech, general environment, and nothing to do with preferring a PDF to code on a hackaton. As the poster say, don't lie. Not only to women; to anyone.

>I know you probably think you're being a skeptical and intelligent speaker of uncomfortable truths. But you're a lot more like a climate change denier. You're going with your gut and not the facts.

>You will probably now try to bury me with various quibbles, because you can argue against any statistic. but maybe you could try ASKING A WOMAN.

That's a heck of a lot of assumptions you're making about me, Neil. I can't understand how you came to the belief that this kind of gruff contributes to the conversation let alone to your point.

>Is it really conceivable that women were more interested in computing when it was all about hand-coding assembly for a modest amount of money, and less interested now that you can make >$100K/year doing Rails from home?

Is it really conceivable that women are abandoning well paid careers in business and other areas to become yoga instructors? Or life coaches? Or re-training in psychology? Or starting their own home businesses on etsy or similar?

There's seemingly more ways to make money than ever before. Just because sitting at home grinding out a rails app is an appealing way to make money to you, doesn't necessarily mean it is to others.

>There's tons of evidence that women are excluded from our industry, at every level -- high school, university, and even the ones that graduate and go on to work in the industry drop out at a very high rate. Other scientific or mathematical fields do not have the same problem.

How many of their male counterparts drop out of the tech industry? Or move into non-tech roles within it?

On a second point, how much more socially acceptable is it for a woman to change careers or to become stay-at-home mothers than it is for men?

I've read studies about self-actualization that have concluded that more than twice as many women achieve self-actualization than their male counterparts, so maybe it's a case of more women realising how lacking in substance tech work really is and getting out of it, than their male counterparts who simply struggle on with it?

And by the way, Neil, I have talked to women about this. My own partner is a very successful female in a competitive, scientific area. I've worked with many female engineers over the years also.

I've also seen first hand, and have actively supported, many female engineers leaving the industry to do something they find more fulfilling.

This is a complex topic and we're not going to agree on everything. Building me up, even internally, as some demonic misogynist who has no contact with women isn't going to do or contribute much though.

> Is it really conceivable that women are abandoning well paid careers in business and other areas to become yoga instructors? Or life coaches? Or re-training in psychology? Or starting their own home businesses on etsy or similar?

Yes. I know a number of people (some women, some not) who were excellent software engineers, sharp minds, good at teasing a part a puzzle who have left the field.

People balance quality of life together with compensation (and whether the opportunity is interesting), or everyone would be trying to become an investment banker.

It is certainly the case that if being a woman software engineer sucks more than being a man software engineer that calculus may result in clearly delineated differentials like the ones we see today.

While we're continuing with the superfluous anecdotal evidence, I also know of software engineers, some of them women, who are totally happy with their jobs/workplace, work their asses off, and see real tangible results of that hard work, whether it be from happy users of a shipped product or salary increases.

Quantifying what "sucks" about being a woman software engineer is borderline impossible due to the level of subjectivity involved. Even when one does, I'd posit that there is a sizable overlap between what sucks according to women and sucks according to men. At some point in the discussion though, other potential causes have to be at least considered when talking about why there's so few women engineers. Unfortunately getting to that point of is much less attractive and doesn't drive page clicks.

Of course that isn't true, being able to quantify people's experiences. Sociologists do this sort of thing all the time; there's a pretty well-established body of literature and practice and describes how you can go into the field, ask people questions (with interviews, focus groups, surveys, etc), and develop a general understanding of the field.

I'm not familiar with workplace/STEM literature around gendered experiences, but people may already be doing the research. (Makes note to self to look into this, to see if anyone is...)

That NPR story has been discussed previously on HN. A comment there led me to look into the study used for that chart, and it turned out that "data processing" and "data processing technician" were counted as computer science fields back in that peak era for women. As those fields faded, so did the number of women.

Now, that's not iron-clad explanation for the chart, but it's very much worthy of consideration as an explanation.

It's entirely possible that women were never that high a percentage of what we now classify as computer science.

In other words, maybe it's more a change in classification than anything else.

The flip side to that is that "Computer Science" traditionally wasn't about programming either, but closer to applied mathematics. It wouldn't surprise me in the least bit if a data processing technician's role back then was a lot closer to what a modern web developer does.

Figuring out the best heuristic function for A* to do path finding through your dataset? Probably computer science. Writing SQL queries and presenting the results as HTML or JSON? Probably a lot closer to "data processing technician".

Edit: looks like people are downvoting you because they disagree with you. I disagree too, but I think it's a valuable avenue to discuss.

Data Processing Technician at the time was more along the lines of things like running batch jobs, loading punch cards, loading tapes, and so on. And straight-up data entry work as well.

And some of it was like IT people now, but generally less technical. It was more mechanical, not a coding type job.

It's pretty different from what we classify as computer science degrees now.

People are downvoting us because they can't come up with a good counter-argument and won't admit it. Their loss.

Whenever someone says something like this, I immediately assume that they're a closed-minded individual who's ready to quibble with or dismiss anything that runs counter to their closed-off view of the world.

I've simply never seen a comment like this alongside another from the same writer that goes something like "Oh, I was wrong about that. Now I know."

So I wonder...is there anything that could be said to you that would make you say, "oh, I was wrong, now I know better"?

Normally I would say a published study but I have seen so many studies that had a horrible methodology, where the data was twisted to show something that it didn't (like this NPR study or the famous 1/4 of every women is raped at university) or where the authors plain went ahead and lied.

At a minimum for anything to be convincing it would have to show why there were less women who start studying computer science than men and that same thing can't be why there are more women who chooses to become nurses than there are men who choose to become nurses (since that something would then be either biological or societal in either case it wouldn't be an issue with our field). Depending on the specifics, I reserve the right to raise further objections.

What kind of training do you have in sociological research? I mean, you obviously consider yourself qualified to assess study methodology. I'm curious about why.

Hey, downvoters, what exactly is contentious about asking this guy--and I have no idea who he is except that he's widely dismissive of published science--about his background or training?

If we weren't talking about something as hot-button a topic as sexism in tech, but someone was all "tiny invisible biting demons? I just don't know about this so-called germ theory...", wouldn't it be fair to ask, what's their background in medical research?

>If we weren't talking about something as hot-button a topic as sexism in tech, but someone was all "tiny invisible biting demons? I just don't know about this so-called germ theory...", wouldn't it be fair to ask, what's their background in medical research?

Medicine makes concrete, testable predictions that are used every day. Sociology isn't there yet. Sociology, to me, lies somewhere between theology and medicine on the credibility scale. I wouldn't expect an atheist to educate herself on the finer points of of the Trinity and the Holy Ghost before taking her opinion on modern American Christianity seriously, for example.

I never knew that, my mom did "data processing" for years! She knew Excel, really knew the formulas and everything.

> Is it really conceivable that women were more interested in computing when it was all about hand-coding assembly for a modest amount of money, and less interested now that you can make >$100K/year doing Rails from home?

Yes. I don't know if it's the case, but it's really easy for me to conceive.

Me too. I'd take a job doing assembler over one doing Ruby any day of the week. I'm sure lots of people would.

Could we please stop the adhominom attacks before this gender thread derails into rape/genocide threats (like all those that come before)?

You cite one study on NPR that another commentor has already pointed out used a flawed methodology. ONE STUDY - and you tar your opponents as science deniers.

Congratulations on providing exactly the derailing you were warning about?

Agh, you beat me to it with that link. Also, nice analogy with climate change.

"Less interest" along gender lines sounds like a good explanation... until you toss in racial lines as well. Black and Latino representation in IT is even worse than female representation. This strongly suggests that the problem is a matter of culture, not gender.

>"Less interest" along gender lines sounds like a good explanation

And then you have to ask, what makes the gender less interested in the topic?

A lot of the time people think this is just throwing gifts to people from certain demographic to compensate for their disadvantages, but it is a tactic to attract more people.

Some girls participate at certain event and get recognition and then you get other girls to say "oh! I could do that too!"

Word get out that a bunch of women/black/latin@ got into Recurse center after being granted sponsorships and you get more women/black/latin@ applying to more places like it around the world.

> And then you have to ask, what makes the gender less interested in the topic?

There is an implied assumption that there is a moral duty to help get more women in to CS. I have yet to hear a reason for this that does not reduce to "Just because". (e.g. the notion that in ideal, fair world, programming jobs would be split 50/50, which is basically an article of faith, opinion.)

I don't think there's a moral duty to do so, but neither do I see how doing so hurts/is wrong. You're only opening tech space to people that might be as or more talented that people already in the pool, but that might be lost because they were never told "you can actually do this".

Well, and you've got to remember that people are social animals.

Is there less interest because a woman or a person of color looks at the field and sees that no one else there looks like them?

Or, more to the point, the people in the field all look like the one group that has historically dominated everyone else?

Maybe that's discouraging. I'm guessing it is. I don't have the lived-in experience of it because I'm a white male, but I do like to keep my "I'm right and I know everything" attitudes in check when I talk to women and people of color, and ask them about their experiences. One minute of listening to people is worth a million speculative web forum comments.

That's part of it, sort of. I think a lot of it boils down to kids building their expectations based on the adults they know. It's certainly my own observation from childhood. Growing up poor, I rarely interacted with adults who were educated, successful, and wealthy (except the men my father worked for, whom he despised). I don't think I knew a single engineer when I was a child. This is a huge problem for the black/latino communities, who don't have adult role models in these professions.

This is a near-daily discussion topic for me. One of my best friends is a very successful doctor and financial expert who happens to be black. He has something of a personal mission to teach financial literacy to black teenagers, because they see so little of it growing up (and I grew up without it, too). He firmly believes that software and engineering are the best path to middle class success for smart kids of color, but he's always struggling on ways to encourage it.

Black and Latino representation could simply be due to the fact that the cost of entry into tech related fields is pretty high and a lot of minorities live in poverty.

Gina mentions how she started with a $300 Lenovo laptop.

Yes. We could perhaps rescue that argument by making it more subtle: not about money, but about uninterrupted, long stretches of time to think and learn?

(How would we falsify this?)

Blacks are also horribly overrepresented in prison - likely because they grow up in poverty. This also makes it more difficult to study and that is the prize of admission to the coding group (you can learn to program for no more than the cost of a computer, an internet connection and electricity).

Yes: it's not just about money, but also about being able to take the time to study and practice.

This affects the really poor: for example, if you're working three retail jobs just to stay afloat, you're not going to have any time to hone your skills or hobbies.

But people in prison have all day to learn new skills!

And internet and computers whenever they want! (I'm being sarcastic here; not sure 'bout parent err4nt)

> you can learn to program for no more than the cost of a computer, an internet connection and electricity

which by no means will ever get you a job in the tech industry. Nice hobby, though.

This is simply not true, Gina's blog post itself talks about how she started with a $300 Lenovo; you are pontificating.

By the early '80s, around 35% of all comp sci degrees went to women[1] and roughly the same percentage worked as programmers. The old "they're just different!" argument doesn't cut it when viewed historically.

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

I heard an intresting argument once, I think it was on Planet Money or Freakanomics, that argued that early personal computer advertising had a major role. Early on it was a career or maybe a video game. In the early 80s when home systems like the C64 and TRS-80 were hitting the market they were marketed, essentially, as toys for boys.

So people bought them for their kids.

Their male kids.

Fast forward 10 years and the comp sci demographics shift.

In the early 80s when home systems like the C64 and TRS-80 were hitting the market they were marketed, essentially, as toys for boys.

I've seen a lot of advertisements for the Commodore 64 and don't recall any gender bias. Here is an example of the ads I remember:


After begging my parents for months, I was given a Commodore 64 for Christmas in 1982 when I was 10 years old. My two sisters never had any interest in it despite my constant attempts to get them to use it with me.

Okay, but you're one person offering an anecdote. We are going to need better than that for a discussion about a cultural movement.

That also applies to the GP's assertion that the computers were gender biased in their marketing.

Somehow I doubt anyone here is going to do a quantitative analysis of 80's advertising...

There's also the aspect, that I seldom see mentioned, that being a "nerd" was considered unattractive/uncool in the 80s (in part because of movies like "Revenge of the Nerds").

I would see the mid 80s as the point where wider society became aware that computer programming existed as a job, your link does suggest this but also puts some blame on parents. Before this point there was no negative pressure on women to avoid it as a career, they just drifted into it same as the men.

I work with a lot of Indian and Chinese programmers and plenty of them are women. I've asked them about the whole "why are there so few women in programming?" thing and they look at me like I have three heads. To them, it's like saying "have you notice that accountants often have red hair?"

It's just a normal job that you get, no real stigma attached.

That's because of "extreme" societal pressures to get a "good" job though engineering is often seen as third best behind Medical and Lawyers.

> Women dominate many professions. Men dominate many professions. As a society we don't need to have an equal number of penises and vaginas present in all professions.

If you did just a bit of critical thinking about which genders dominate which professions and why, including historical trends, you'd arrive to either two conclusions.

1) One gender is naturally predisposed to being nurturing and subjugated and taken care of and caring, or 2) there have been cultural protectionist barriers set up to protect the most bountiful activities.

What did people say before women reached parity or near-parity in Law and Medicine? Were they biologically disinclined then too?

>there have been cultural protectionist barriers set up to protect the most bountiful activities.

How is tech bountiful for men and why would men keep anyone out of it? My female friends all went to medical or law school or got a fancy post-graduate degree and used their prestigious bonafides to go straight into a high paying career. They make more money than me and anyone I know in tech.

The realty is that tech kinda sucks for everyone but a handful of personality types. If you're overly social, outgoing, not detail obsessed, not interested in puzzles, etc then you wont like it.

I think the gender argument is bunk. There's more division intra-gender than inter-gender. Instead we should focus on personality types, but frankly, I don't think society is mature enough for a rational discussion of this topic. Outrage and gender politics rules the social media roost and in the future people will look back at this time and think us all morons; and rightfully so.

"How is tech bountiful for men"

I'm a mid-career SE, with lots of people on this forum making a lot more than I do, and I appear to be at the 97% percentile for annual income.

Stack that paper, dollar dollar bill y'all.

One of the lawyers I know clears $450k. How close are you to that?

That's also 4 times the median lawyer salary.

A developmental psychologist I have known for many years opines that there is roughly as much variance between genders as there is within genders.

Or 3) the previous binary is overly simplistic.

Bear in mind that there are studies in apes demonstrating preferences in toys that mirror what is widely assumed to be purely cultural influences in humans.

(Offtopic:) Why do you think apes lack some kind of culture? I wonder how was the studies controlled for that.

I don't think apes culture-free. I suspect ape culture is highly unlikely to have gendering of wheeled toys. Mostly because that requires the discovery/invention of wheels and so on, which ape cultures outside our own have largely not managed.

It's reliable across different populations and has been demonstrated in monkeys (non-apes), for which the existence of culture may be more more doubtful.

It's pretty easy to replicate, here's an example:


Interestingly enough, gender differences in the Big-5 personality traits have been shown and replicated across over 50 countries, and in fact MORE developed and MORE gender-egalitarian cultures widen that gap, rather than close it. [1]

I bring this up because I also find it intriguing that, in the most recent Stack Overflow developer survey (2015), India indicates more female programmers, and Sweden less (in relation to the United States).

I say this not to show that a more feminist country makes gender differences in personality stronger, or is causally linked to less female programmers, but rather to bunk the strength of gender-biased cultural narrative.

I will leave these last comments, taken from a commenter on Slate Star Codex from a different essay:


I grew up in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, at the time of “peak communism”, before leaving for greener (literally) pastures (figuratively) much later. There was plenty of casual sexism, and women (and men) were expected to marry in their early 20s, if not before, then have children right away. Women had to be as cautious as in the West when walking alone at night, and cat calls, ass grabs and unwanted sexual advances were not uncommon. Girls played with dolls and boys played with Lego (an awful Russian version of it, not snapping together well, and pieces often breaking apart), as well as soldiers and trucks.

But one thing virtually did not exist, to the best of my recollection, though have no stats handy. No one thought that women are less capable at STEM. Ever since Lenin declared gender equality, among other equalities, back in 1917, women had just as much acceptance in engineering and academia as men. My middle school math teacher was a female (she was very good) so was my physics teacher (she sucked beyond belief, but then I often had lousy male teachers, as well). Our math club had roughly equal numbers of boys and girls. Yeah, I was a nerdy kid. Never got any grief because of that, though plenty because of my poor social skills. My less awkward math-loving friends had few issues. There were no “jocks” that I recall, though plenty of assholes and bullies, but the latter could be just as good at math and science as the bullied. Doing well in school was never a negative. Science was not considered the domain of eggheads, it was just one of the things people did for a living.

Women were as expected to go into Medicine, Engineering and Science as into any other occupations. A few examples. My mother designed ship engines for a living. My grandmother was responsible for air and water quality in an area with probably half a million population. My wife’s cousin got her PhD in under Kolmogorov himself, wrote several influential papers and taught math for decades, first in the Soviet Union, then in the US. My aunt was a computer programmer and is doing very well off, having retired by now. Yet she was considered the “stupid” sister by her parents, compared to my mom who was the “smart” one. In my very STEMish university department there were as many female students as male.

The child benefits were such that American women can only dream of. You get paid maternity leave a month or so before your due date, with your job held for you for six months or so, and held for you for up to three years, if I recall correctly. You automatically get a bit more money when you have children. Daycare/kindergarten was free, or almost free. There was no tenure. That is, you don’t get fired once you are hired, unless you do something criminal. What with being employed by the government and all. There were plenty of downsides to that, but competing for a permanent position was not one. Of course, there was as much politics as in any research institution or a university department. Promotions were few and far between, since almost no one ever left, except to retire, or feet first. Well, I’m stretching it a bit, there were occasional layoffs, just like everywhere else. But rarely any individual firings.

So, the social experiment a feminist can only dream of undertaking had been run for 70 years, with a break to fight a war or two. Or three, but who’s counting. Similar social “experiments” had run in most other countries of the former Eastern Bloc. A nearly perfect control. Of course, then it all came crashing down. But not quite all. The egalitarian attitudes toward STEM and women in STEM did not change, only the economic conditions.

So, given all this, what do you think the result of this experiment was? Feel free to guess or look it up, or just recall what you know. I’ll reply with what I remember, once/if you comment.

[after a reply]

In my university, despite there being about 50% or so female students, and overall more of them completing their computer degree than male, there were none in the top 5 of my graduating stream of 100 or so. Most of my classmates of both genders (there were not any other genders back then) in our high school for nerds, the same one that one Grigori Perelman went to, majored in Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology or Comp Sci from the top Russian schools. About half of the guys went on to get a postgraduate degree, and only one or two women.

Sure looks to me like they got shortchanged by an unfairly narrow Bell curve, though maybe there are more politically correct explanations. Maybe they cared more about their family than their career, or something.

When the times turned sour in the 1990s, nearly all of the girls left academia and did what they had to to get by, mostly marketing, accounting, real estate or web design. Some managed to leave the country before Yeltsin hit the fan. They did pretty well in engineering and programming, and I know exactly one who went on to do a postdoc, vs maybe a dozen or so guys, who ended up having a secure research position on Russia, or a tenured position in the US.

None of my classmates of any gender got anywhere close to the Nobel-level, or even became somewhat famous. Well, except for Perelman, who got as famous as a mathematician can get, but we did not intersect in either high-school or university, due to the difference first in age and later in talent.

In any case, my point is that there was a nearly perfect experiment performed, and most Western sociologists just ignore it.


I do believe there is a gender bias, but I don't at all believe it is even close to being the driving factor behind women's apparent lack of interest in CS/programming or in entering/remaining in the industry.

[1] http://www.psych.ut.ee/~jyri/en/Schmitt-Realo-Voracek-Allik_... [2] http://stackoverflow.com/research/developer-survey-2015#prof...

This doesn't explain the significant changes in gender ratios since the 1980s.

Relevant excerpt, courtesy of Scott Alexander and his essay, "Untitled" (via Slate Star Codex); this particular excerpt is about blaming "nerds" and for a supposed anti-women culture in tech, but addresses some gender issues relevant to the parent/grandparent and the discussion generated:


By late high school, the gap between men and women in math and programming is already as large as it will ever be. Yes, it’s true that only 20 – 23% of tech workers are women. But less than twenty percent of high school students who choose to the AP Computer Science test are women.

Nothing that happens between twelfth grade and death decreases the percent of women interested in computer science one whit.

I have no hard numbers on anything before high school, but from anecdotal evidence I know very very many young men who were programming BASIC on their dad’s old computer in elementary school, and only a tiny handful of young women who were doing the same.

I don’t want to get into a drawn out inborn-ability versus acculutration fight here. I want to say that I want to say that whether we attribute this to inborn ability or to acculturation, the entire gender gap has been determined in high school if not before. If anything, women actually gain a few percentage points as they enter Silicon Valley.

What the heck do high schoolers know about whether Silicon Valley culture is sexist or not? Even if you admit that all the online articles talking about this are being read by fourteen year olds in between Harry Potter and Twilight, these articles are a very new phenomenon and my stats are older than they are. Are you saying the is because of a high level of penetration of rumors about “toxic brogrammers” into the world of the average 11th grader?

The entire case for Silicon Valley misogyny driving women out of tech is a giant post hoc ergo propter hoc.

What’s worse, I have never heard any feminist give this case in anything like a principled way. The explanation is usually just something like of course men would use their privilege to guard a well-paying and socially prestigious field like programming from women, men have always guarded their privileges, they’ve never given anything up to women without a fight, etc.

My own field is medicine. More than half of medical students are female. In two years, more than half of doctors in the UK will be female, and the US is close behind.

Medicine is better-paying and more prestigious than programming. It’s also terrible. Medicine is full of extremely abrasive personalities. Medicine has long work hours. Medicine will laugh at you hysterically if you say you want to balance work and family life.

But women can’t get into medicine fast enough. Every so often medical journals and the popular news run scare stories about how there are so many women in medicine now that if they take off time to raise kids at their accustomed rates we’re suddenly going to find ourselves pretty much doctorless.

So any explanation of the low number of women in Silicon Valley has to equally well explain their comparatively high numbers in medicine.

Given all this, it’s really easy for me to see why it’s tempting to blame nerds. Look at these low-status people. It’s their fault. We already dislike them, now we have an even better reason to dislike them that nicely wraps up an otherwise embarassing mystery. They’re clearly repelling women with their rapey creepishness. It doesn’t hurt that occasional high profile stories of sexual harassment come out of Silicon Valley aren’t hard to find and bring viral.

(no one ever asks whether there are an equally high number of stories of sexual harassment in medicine – or law, or any other field – that no one had a reason to publicize. When I was in medical school, there was an extremely creepy incident of sexual harassment/borderline attempted rape involving a female medical student and male doctor at an outlying hospital where I worked. Nobody put it on the front page of Gawker, because the doctor involved wasn’t a nerd and no one feels any particular need to tar all doctors as sexist.)

But again, you really can’t blame this one on Silicon Valley nerds, unless they are breaking into high schools and harassing the women there. And possibly breaking into grade schools, demanding the young boys start tinkering with BASIC. Time for a better theory.

A look at percent female physicians by subspecialty is instructive. The specialty with the most women is pediatrics, followed by child psychiatry, followed by obstetrics, followed by – you get the picture. The specialties with the least women are the various surgeries – the ones where your patient is immobilized, anaesthetized, opened up, and turned into a not-quite-color-coded collection of tubes and wires to poke and prod at – the ones that bear more than a passing resemblance to engineering.

(surgeons are the jockiest jocks ever to jock, so you can’t blame us for this one)

It seems really obvious to me that women – in high schools and everywhere else – have a statistical predilection to like working with people (especially children) and to dislike working with abstract technical poking and prodding. This is a bias clearly inculcated well before SATs and AP exams, one that affects medics and programmers alike.

It’s a bias that probably has both cultural and biological origins. The cultural origins are far too varied to enumerate. Many people very justly bring up the issue of how our society genders toys, with parents getting very angry when girls play with stereotypically male toys and vice versa. The classic example is of course the talking Barbie who would famously say “Math is hard! Let’s go shopping!”

On the other hand, I also think people who neglect biological causes are doing the issue a disservice. Did you know that young monkeys express pretty much exactly the same gendered toy preferences as human children? Rhesus monkeys, vervet monkeys, pretty much whatever species of monkeys you try it on, the male monkeys enjoy wheeled toys more and the female monkeys plush toys more. The word reviewers use to describe the magnitude of the result is “overwhelming”. When intersex children are raised as other than their biological gender, their toy preference and behavior are consistently that associated with their biological gender and not the gender they are being raised as, even when they themselves are unaware their biological gender is different. This occurs even when parents reinforce them more for playing with their gender-being-raised-as toys. You can even successfully correlate the degree of this with the precise amount of androgen they get in the womb, and if you experimentally manipulate the amount of hormones monkeys receive in the womb, their gendered play will change accordingly. 2D:4D ratio, a level of how much testosterone is released during a crucial developmental period, accurately predicts scores both on a UK test of mathematical ability at age seven and the SATs in high school.

The end result of all this is probably our old friend gene-culture interaction, where certain small innate differences become ossified into social roles that then magnify the differences immensely. As a result, high school girls are only a fifth as likely to be interested in computer science as high school boys, and sure enough women are only a fifth as well represented in Silicon Valley as men.

All of this information is accessible for free to anyone who spends ten minutes doing a basic Google search. But instead we have to keep hearing how nerds are gross and disgusting and entitled and should feel constant shame for how they bully and harass the poor female programmers out of every industry they participate in. Penny blames nerds for not “holding men to account for the lack of representation of women in STEM areas” but SERIOUSLY WE DIDN’T DO IT.

(except insofar as we helped acculturate kids. But that’s hardly a uniquely male pasttime.)

(before you bring up that one paper that showed research leaders advantaged male over female researchers, keep in mind that first of all it explains only a small portion of the discrepancy, and second of all the female research leaders showed the bias even worse than the male ones. Yet Penny frames her question as “holding men to account”. This is that motte-and-bailey thing with patriarchy again.)


What about the explanation I usually advance on HN (openly, this is a hypothesis, but one I haven't heard strong cogent arguments against) that this is a reflection of these facts:

1. Tech is lowest on the totem pole in middle and high school. Nerds are bullied, ostracized, and generally considered uncool.

2. Girls in school are more susceptible to social pressure than boys.

I think 1) and 2) together reliably explain why there aren't many women in the tech industry. It's not the industry's bias, it's society's bias. So the correct steps (in my opinion) would be

1. Stop glorifying sports and start glorifying tech more. The math olympiad team at high schools should be lionized more than the football team.

2. There is no step 2)

This. So much this.

This comic should be required reading: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1883#comic

The presence of trans people backs this up: MtFs are overrepresented in tech, and the ratio of MtFs to FtMs in tech is about the same as the ratio of cis men to cis women in tech (I am MtF myself, and it's a running "joke" in the trans community that trans girls are all programmers). If you have the tech skills and the drive to work in the industry, you'll do fine here regardless of whether you're male or female. It's just that if you spent your childhood and teenage years being perceived as a girl, then you're supremely unlikely to even be an applicant to a tech position. At that point, there's nothing the tech industry can do to change anything.

Also, one thing I've observed is that if you're a nerd, non-nerdy boys are more likely to say "whatever floats your boat", and non-nerdy girls are more likely to say "eww, gross!". Peer pressure is the worst kind of pressure.

It's weird that what you're pointing out doesn't get mentioned more as it seems (to me) a likely factor. The stigma of tech has definitely lessened over time (as the economy has less room for the non-technical), but valuing physical/social prowess is deeply rooted in biology so being intellectual/less social may always have some kind of stigma.

So where does the obvious gender bias in the industry come from

It's not at all obvious that it exists: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/04/14....

More men may work in tech because on average men are more interested in the subject.

The key word in the preceding sentence is "may." "Bias" is complex and hard to prove and in the case of the tech industry there may be bias or there may not be. Even the phrase "tech industry" is odd. Does that include academic scientists? Where does tech end and other industries start? See also e.g. http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science.

The WP article dances around a problem... that the reason there are fewer women in STEM is because they avoid it from childhood. Which begs the genetics vs socialization question. Are women not as good, or are they discouraged at an early age?

A lack of good candidates is a serious problem (this even more obvious racially than by gender - where are the black and latino engineers?). But the way women are treated relative to their male peers is a massive problem within software, as opposed to the broader STEM fields. Don't believe me? Sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with experienced female software engineers about it sometime. Ask them what sexism they've experienced at work, how it's hampered their careers and their job satisfaction.

Here is how to test if women are discouraged: compare the fraction of autodidactes between men and women.

Being an autodidact is a way to satisfy an interest quietly and to avoid pressure, in contrast to classes. So if outside pressure hinders participation, it should hinder it less among autodidacts than it does among others. Thus, (# female autodidact coders) / (# female coders) should be higher than (# of male autodidact coders) / (# male coders).

As an example, to learn more than broken Hindi I'll take a class because there is no social pressure against it. But if I want to learn about pickup artistry (which social pressure opposes), I'm going to do it on the internet. (Both examples chosen to be subjects best learned in person.)

Anyone have data on this?

But the way women are treated relative to their male peers is a massive problem within software, as opposed to the broader STEM fields.

This is weak evidence against female treatment being the cause of underrepresentation. Math-heavy STEM fields (physics, math, electrical engineering) also have very few women.

> that the reason there are fewer women in STEM is because they avoid it from childhood

This would seem to be a third explanation for something you said had only two explanations.

It just means one of my explanations is far deeper than it looks on the surface - that the discrimination and discouragement against women in engineering starts at childhood.

Remark: There are two possible interpretations of "a persistent and difficult cultural bias against women in this industry". One is that this industry is culturally biased against women. The other is that there exists a cultural bias, possibly outside this industry, against women-in-this-industry.

I don't think you'd say that the first one doesn't exist, and when you say discrimination starts at childhood, that sounds a lot like the second.

One needs to be careful not to equivocate between the two, because they're different problems that have different causes and different solutions that need to be implemented by different people.

When you describe the two of them together, as a single possible cause, you seem to be making this mistake.

Yes, my initial phrasing was problematic. But the intent of the initial phrasing wasn't to blame IT culture for the problem, but rather to get people to consciously reject female inferiority as the cause of the problem.

When most of the industry hires based on the social proof of the candidate having been being hired by other companies, and doesn't have any interest whatsoever in investing in training, you have a feedback system which would amplify even small biases - if the biases were small, which they're not. If you start out any kind of poor, you are statistically fucked. You have a brutally vicious survival function which shuts people out starting before their first possible job, and then continues to shut them out - it's only so many applications you can file before you have to fall back to landscaping or catering or spring for a degree in accounting or some other industry that is not buried so far up its own ass (does every employer who needs an accountant demand a top 1% A player 10x accountant, or do they just hire a fucking licensed accountant sometimes?)

Where are the _____ engineers? As a rule, they're in the huge fucking pile of resumes in the garbage. But that answer is too simple and obvious, it makes the situation too clear. Instead, it has to be a big mystery about how it just magically happens that there isn't a black face in the office even though we are all, of course, very enlightened and not racist here on HN, and all of us are doing our very best, so sorry if you don't have enough experience for any job or are not a cultural fit anywhere.

I've often thought the same thing.

On the other side of this, according to the NMC[0] only 10.69% of Nurses in 2008 were men (UK). I've personally never seen anyone highlight this as a diversity issue. This is just a guess but I'd say men in general aren't as interested in nursing as women, or just don't consider it when deciding what to do with their careers.

I think specific instances of sexism or discrimination should be stamped out, but I don't think we should be "helping" anyone to a specific career - I'd rather credit everyone with a little intelligence and assume if they want to be a nurse or work in tech, then they will strive to do so without the artificial leg-up.

[0] http://www.nmc.org.uk/globalassets/siteDocuments/Statistical...

> On the other side of this, according to the NMC[0] only 10.69% of Nurses in 2008 were men (UK). I've personally never seen anyone highlight this as a diversity issue

Yes, this always comes up in these discussions, and as is always pointed out, you haven't heard of it because you aren't in that industry and you haven't done even a cursory google search of the topic.

Seriously, there are a ton of efforts to bring better diversity to the nursing field.

Well, when one considers that programming was once seen as secretarial, "womens' work", and over time morphed into something of an "engineering" discipline, you could posit that societal pressures would have some role. I would reckon more than anything, that it's cultural bias more than an industry bias

You claim a cultural bias in this industry, yet how true is that? Maybe Charleston, SC is just too small, but I've yet to see any real exclusionary practices in the area, nor have I heard any. I hear the brogrammer tropes, I hear the stories, and I see the numbers, so sure, there is some issue among the industry, but how much of this shift has come from everyday expectations. As a male, I certainly have preconceived notions of male nurses, not to say that I have a problem with male nurses personally, but that I realize society at large has its perception and so that is not a career I would readily have considered. The source of the problem is more than the binary you present, and almost certainly has larger factors at play than "brogrammer exclusionary practices" - no matter how comfortable it is to point at that one boogeyman, things in life are rarely so black and white. There are myriad causes and thus there will always be many changes to fix the problem.

"There are only two explanations for the obvious reality. One is that women simply aren't as good at programming as men are. The other is that there is a persistent and difficult cultural bias against women in this industry."

Another is that society has a persistent and difficult cultural bias against women being technical. It seems that women are choosing not to go into this industry before they even have any contact with the industry.

Though the industry can have a role in improving the situation.

Absolutely agree. Your phrasing is much better.

There are only two explanations for the obvious reality.

Only if you make the assumption that people make career choices that organically fit into equilibrium and as rational actors. Drawing a dichotomy seems naive.

I find that people are rational actors. If you observe social behavior at scale that doesn't suit your theory, then the theory is wrong, not the facts.

Irrational behavior should show up as noise in the system, not the order-of-magnitude bias we're observing. That strongly suggests that the bias is the result of rational actors, not the irrationality of their behavior.

Was considering black-skinned people inferior to white-skinned people purely rational? It was well above the noise level for centuries. I don't even touch religious practices here. Find out why Daniel Kaneman received his Nobel prize.

OTOH preferring a job that pays $100k to a job that pays $50k would take a lot of irrationality. I suspect that most women are not that irrational at all, so there must be something very unpleasant that prevents them from landing these jobs in a reasonably equal proportion with men.

This is a broader question... is racism and other discrimination a rational act, or not? We need to be sure to not conflate individual behavior and group behavior here.

Now, as a group behavior, discrimination is rational. If my side is strong, oppressing the other side keeps my side strong and makes it stronger, and then weakens the other side. The moral dilemmas can then be rationalized away with fancy words.

As an individual member of a group that practices discrimination, it's also rational. I can go along with my peers, accept the fancy words even though I realize they're probably nonsense, and benefit from the superior strength of my side. Or, I can call out the immorality and nonsense, and get shunned and locked out of the benefits of my position.

Once you take morality out of it, discrimination is rational behavior. Making up ridiculous lies to justify discrimination is rational behavior. It's one thing to not believe it, another thing to act against it.

> There are only two explanations for the obvious reality.

Whoah, that's definitely not true. What you mean is "I can only think of two explanations"

Counterpoint: women may not be as interested in technology as men are. This would explain quite a few other things as well (such as more women becomes nurses than men).

Either way the gender bias shows up way earlier than CS starts, let alone the industry. So don't blame the industry, blame HS.

Beats me what causes it. Whatever it is, perhaps it's similar to what causes "impostor syndrome" and various self-referential crises we see people having.

I got in before this really started. Sure, the PC was changing the world, but people tended to be a lot humbler about things. It was the domain of autodiadicts, not prizewinning blue-ribbon specialists.

Perhaps the sheer amount of money going into tech ( and leaving other fields of endeavor ) both raised the stakes and "attracted the wrong element."

I saw an interview - onstage - with the playwright Arthur Miller, and he thought the sheer quantity of money has destroyed the ecosystem around Broadway. It's become risk averse. I suspect the same applies to movies, music, maybe even books.

I won't ever argue that women aren't as good at programming as men (and it doesn't make any sense to suppose they've gotten worse since the 1980s...)

If it's gotten worse since the 1980s solely due to cultural bias, you can't explain that by a cultural bias remaining the same throughout that period, you have to assume that the cultural bias changed. Out of curiosity, what's the accepted explanation for that?

"So where does the obvious gender bias in the industry come from? It's actually gotten worse since the 1980s, not better."

In terms of what? I have worked at many different small and mid-sized companies and they all had women employed as developers, designers, and other positions. I know this is just my own personal experience, but if this were really as big of an issue, I would think I would see much less women in these positions.

"One is that women simply aren't as good at programming as men are. The other is that there is a persistent and difficult cultural bias against women in this industry."

So there are only two explanations? In what world are there only two explanations? Especially with something as complicated as human interactions and culture.

"But complaining about the "assault on the technology industry" in the form of pointing out that we have a sexism problem? That's not good engineering, bro."

If the 'stats' and 'information' against the tech. industry are intentionally biased and used to mislead a reader into believing a specific viewpoint, then yes, it's an assault.

I think one of the reasons that there are less women in silicon valley is because the 70 hour+ per week lifestyle doesn't work very well when you want to have a family/children. It's the same for men with children. You will not get as many promotions (or raises) in a company if you have to leave early often for appointments or just want to spend time with your children. I've seen it too often in practice to not believe it.

It's also something that isn't even talked about in all of those studies about women and men salary comparisons. When you account for the women that leave to raise kids (which interrupts many careers during a time when you gain the most experience), salaries are almost the same for both men and women.

> So where does the obvious gender bias in the industry come from? It's actually gotten worse since the 1980s, not better. There are only two explanations for the obvious reality. One is that women simply aren't as good at programming as men are. The other is that there is a persistent and difficult cultural bias against women in this industry.

Option 3: Women see tech as a "risky" field compared to their other options, and choose not to go into it.

See: http://blessingofkings.blogspot.com/2014/10/women-in-compute...

Option 4: A whole generation of women openly mocked those who chose to spend time on computers or in the lab.

The media loves gender-related news because they are so divisive. They provoke our emotions and pull us into wasteful and hateful arguments. Such news are almost always the most read ones - the most profitable ones.

The article was an individual's blog post, not the mainstream media.

The article is critical of the pandering he's talking about above.

Replace money with attention and their point stands.

>Make no mistake, any company that does not behave as the organisers of this hackathon here - not actively displaying an organised, certainly biased, effort to promote the "Women in Tech" narrative - are open to being squatted on from above from the "moral highground" occupied by the tech media.

It's important to keep in mind that tech journalism, and journalism in general, has roughly the same level of diversity as tech. One wonders why they never seem to report on their own organizations.

edit: A few downvotes, but no responses. Probably my fault for forgetting to cite my claim: http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2011/mar/04/wome...


You are coming at this from the perspective that anything in the tech world is a true meritocracy, which I don't believe for a moment. Not in corporations, not in open source, probably not even hackathons that people do just for fun. I just don't see it.

It has natural tendencies that asymptotically pushes it towards being a meritocracy, in the same way that markets have natural tendencies towards being rational and efficient. However the key to understanding them is understanding the ways in which they can never get to 100%.

I would love to see the correlation between people who state that the tech world is meritocracy and people who feel like they have gotten where they are purely on their own merit (the truth of it doesn't matter, just what they think). I would imagine that correlation is very, very high.

"This is what happens when you attack meritocracy in the name of making people feel good."

Calling the tech industry a meritocracy is an assumption.

There are plenty of well thought out viewpoints that disagree, its probably worth reading some.



>This is what happens when you attack meritocracy in the name of making people feel good. It is what happens when you create an unrelenting narrative that continually assaults an industry over how many or few people with a penis or vagina they have in it. It is what happens when you've an industry surrounded by "journalists" who've never spent an actual day in it, ready to fire out articles shaming you for your lack of, or apparent abundance of, penises or vaginas in your company.

Almost. This is what happens when things are as you say and you care what the newspapers say.

HN doesn't allow you to write that in bended blinking neon so I will have to settle for repeating it:

You can only be shamed by those you care about.

As it happens I spend some part of my thursdays teaching school kids to code - boys, girls and those in between. I haven't seen any press attack us for not doing enough to bring more girls in yet, but assuming it comes I don't intend to change anything.

Do you say "unfortunately" because you cannot envision a tech culture that is meritocratic and actively working towards diversity and inclusivity at the same time? Or maybe because you think that the trends of decreasing diversity and persistent sexism in the tech world are acceptable; that they're not worth lifting a finger or pen to fight. I couldn't disagree with you more in either case.

I also think you're jumping to a vastly premature conclusion if you think fear of "tech media" is what inspired this award. I don't even buy Gina's implied assertion that it was solely because of the team's demographics. (She doesn't offer enough evidence to agree or disagree with her.)

The scare quotes around "tech media" just remind me of people who rant about the "mainstream media".

The tech press is pretty much the most sycophantic press sector out there, in its relationship to the industry it is supposed to critically cover.

I used to read Ars Technica. A few years ago, it was sold to a new owner. Then, slowly, a creeping change slunk into the content like a snake. Try a game of social justice bingo: check Ars every morning and count the number of days in the month there ISN'T an article on the front page about misogyny or kiddie porn. It used to be a website about tech. A damn good one, too.

Dear tech media: I'm a programmer. I work in a small shop that serves a niche market. We employ more females than males. When I go to work, it's to do my job; to count references and check my pointer math, not to check what genitalia my coworkers, who half the time aren't even in the same office as me, are equipped with. STOP BEATING ME OVER THE HEAD WITH THIS SHIT.

Ask my former manager, who is a woman, whether she preferred to work with the male employees or the female ones. She'll tell you the office women were a constant headache and had to be constantly babied and supplicated to.

There was a time you could go on to tech websites and just read about tech. Who is profiting from the incessant beating of the misogyny drum? Not women techies who show up to work and do their damn jobs like the rest of us.

I don't even know of any tech websites that haven't succumbed to this. The Verge, Ars Technica, they all beat the social justice drum constantly.

Do you know of any good tech news websites that actually cover tech?

There's this one. Anandtech is still pretty good. Umm...

I don't know anything about the hackathon Gina is referring to. But I think we've all seen the same thing - a faux commitment to diversity by just giving the most brown, female, or otherwise disadvantaged person in the room an award for trying.

But let's not take the GamerGate approach that diversity is therefore just a conspiracy of political correctness.

It doesn't mean that diversity is a bad idea, it's just that it's harder than giving people BS awards.

If you're committed to diversity, it means you are committing to undoing disadvantages that other people have been enduring their whole life. In other words: training, in a respectful and supportive environment.

The good news for techies is that it takes relatively little time to train a talented and intelligent person from zero to productive. We're used to smart 16-year-olds sometimes coding circles around industry veterans. Surely we can do the same for other kinds of people in their 20s and 30s.

There are two issues: 1) What is the nature of hackathons? Many are pitchathons. 2) Think about people's incentives. There's a tech climate, constantly perpetuated in media and many people's conversations, where women are under attack in technology. If you you don't show you care as a man, if you don't bend over backwards to make sure everyone feels extra welcome, you might be branded sexist. I think people are tired or being attacked, and wanted to encourage some people new to programming.

> 1) What is the nature of hackathons? Many are pitchathons.

It's even more basic than that - What is hacking? Take a look at the MIT Gallery of Hacks for one perspective: http://hacks.mit.edu/

To me it means building something awesome, and it sounds entirely possible this team did that without writing a line of code.

Do you have evidence for someone being branded sexist for merely not bending over backwards to prove that they aren't?

Serious question. I have never seen it.

>Do you have evidence for someone being branded sexist for merely not bending over backwards to prove that they aren't?

Maybe not a specific person or event, but would the constant demand for "diversity reports" from tech companies from the "tech media" not be an example of this? And the subsequent shaming by the same media of these same companies for having too many penises in the office, or too few vaginas?

I apologise for the vulgarity of the above, but that's what it is when it comes down to it.

And people say that women are too sensitive and just need to grow a thicker skin. You realize that there is a difference between saying there is a sexism problem and saying that everyone is a sexist, right?

I've seen conferences called out for having too few female speakers. They made talk choices based only on abstracts, not on speakers, and ended up with a higher percentage of female speakers than had submitted. When they informed the person who called them out, they were then effectively told they weren't doing enough, and directed to a web page that told them they need to do more to encourage female submitters, such as doing the things they were already doing. This occurred over Twitter, and I'm not going to dig up looking for it (it happened about a year ago).

I realize it's not exactly what you asked for, but it was a clear case of "guilty until proven innocent."

Does Dr. Matt Taylor count? Or Brad Wardell? Or maybe that PyCon guy with the big dongle?

I'm with you on Dr.Taylor and the PyCon guy, but IMO, Brad Wardell is clearly an example of someone who created a hostile work environment for women, even if he doesn't fit the dictionary definition of sexist. The sexual harassment lawsuit and his counter-suit were both settled out of court, but reading the e-mail exchanges between himself and his employee shows that Wardell was nothing short of a creep.

They usually don't call you out on it, but they respond as if they're defending the position of women should be in tech, which is not the issue.

I've experienced this personally.

Sort of related, reminded me of this: a friend of mine who is a very skilled lady, attended some "programming for women only" type events, her intention was to meet people and pitch in to lend a hand.

She told me that 4 out of 5 that she went to were charging exorbitant amounts and teaching things like how to configure a pre-hosted Wordpress install and maybe basic HTML+CSS, and calling it programming.

She was pretty pissed about the whole ordeal, I remember her saying something like: When you compare the content of some 'women only' events in tech to the non-specific counterparts, it's condescending and borderline exploitative (ie, charging for pretty limited services)

Kind of a raw deal, especially for a beginner, I imagine.

I'm a woman who runs these kind of events. We did one on Saturday night, and I was criticized(by other mentors even) for "making things too hard" and "scaring women away". We were using node and the command line. Damned if we do, damned if we don't.

Hey. I'm interested in the logistics behind hosting such events. How many people were present? Was this just a one-off event or is this a part of a longer workshop? Did everyone bring their own computers or did you provide them for the participants? If people brought their own, how did you deal with the fact that node.js is not pre-installed - was there any introductory period where you gave instructions how to install/configure the environment? If so, did you account for different operating systems?

If, on the other hand, you provided the computers, who supplied them? A local library, a school, a private company, yourself? I don't need a specific name, just a rough category.

I'm asking, because I'm interested in hosting a similar event, but for a younger crowd. I figured pure JavaScript would be the best choice because you don't need a fancy setup - it works straight in your web browser, no matter the platform. Using something like Python or Ruby (not to mention C++ or Java) would be more difficult to coordinate.

Credibility is important. We all want to be credible and have or accomplishments actually mean something. We do, as a society, give special prizes to folks who are doing there best but have some disability (in the broad sense of the word) that makes their best spectacular only in the light of the realization of their disability. We cheer their accomplishment because it is amazing, and we wonder what might have been if fate hadn't dealt them a bad hand. Their best might not even make it to normal and certainly not world-class. But, it inspires and we acknowledge that as a society.

This isn't one of those situations. This is giving the same credibility to people who are not encumbered as people who put the time in and understood the rules of the situation. This is giving a "Most Effort" prize to someone entering a vegetarian salad at a BBQ competition. It diminishes the credibility of the hackathon, cheapens the sense of accomplishment for participants when they finally win, and diminishes the value of experience in our industry which is a huge problem.

This article really hit home.

Especially her line about "Now I’m part of the irrelevant, established order of brogrammers."

I worked my ass off. Instead of going out to party, I studied. Even after graduating and beginning a job, I still studied every night. Because tech is hard and I wanted to be more than just a programmer,I want to be a competent professional Software Engineer. I still study a few hours a day. I watch new lectures on youtube, I occasionally follow people like John Carmack on twitter, and I experiment with new coding techniques or styles.

I do not understand why working hard to gain skills is not "inspirational", or makes me a "brogrammer". And I too have been told I'm not "inspirational" before. It makes me wonder if its some kind of code word.

I honestly am beginning to resent the politics involved.

I really enjoyed the beginning of the piece. We're all losers. Recently someone asked me how I did math and I replied that I failed repeatedly until a few times I didn't. Still true. Also true of coding, although google is much more helpful.

The second half of the piece just didn't seem that compelling, though. What if the pdfs were inspirational? Maybe they were about saving baby seals or something. And novice guys get passes on all sorts of stuff too. So once some girls got a prize that seems fake to someone who worked hard. Also, coding schools promise to make people ninja rockstars in six weeks, because they want to sell spots and people want to believe it.

Maybe the piece is upvoted because people resonate with that feeling of being mad that someone "undeserving" got a prize. I don't see that as a useful feeling to cultivate.


Different people may have different reasons for going to hackathons. For some, it may be to practise their skills at solving more technical problems and for others it may be simply to validate an idea, for which a wix side and a PDF are perfectly reasonable MVPs.

It's a great thing idea to set aside categories to encourage participation for novice / beginners to hackathons. We all have to start somewhere, perhaps the author forgot that she herself was in a similar situation just a few months ago.

Awesome article. This is something much of the HN crowd will have trouble coming to terms with I'm sure. An actual woman programmer (that is, not a tech journalist/some other peripheral body commenting on an industry they are not intimate with) who (apparently) sees behind the veil of getting as many on-the-fence women kinda-sorta interested in programming into the field in an effort for an employer/organization to say "Look, we're diverse! Look at how many women we employ!" while being 100% disingenuous in the same breath.

Are you sure you didn't just write: "An 'actual women programmer' said something from which I can extrapolate into my own agenda?"

Also: if what they wrote was right, what does it matter what their gender is? Right is right, wrong is wrong.

> Also: if what they wrote was right, what does it matter what their gender is? Right is right, wrong is wrong.

This depends greatly on who the commentator is. Meredith's recent piece touched on this - https://medium.com/@maradydd/when-nerds-collide-31895b01e68c

To some, you do not get to have a voice unless you comply with certain identity requirements. How right or wrong you are is irrelevant unless you have the identity that says you get to speak.

To others, such as us, this is madness and truth is no respecter of identities.

That idea keeps creeping up, but it isn't just in our group it won't fly. Reality doesn't care what you are or what your feelings are - in a vaccum a feather and a steel ball fall at the same speed, regardless of your opinions, feelings or suggestions on the matter.

So in this case our POV is absolutely right. (Feelings do matter when you deal with humans, but that is also the only area in which they do).

Our POV is right to us because we accept the concept of objectivity. To those who believe identity is the primary determinant of truth, it doesn't matter what we believe. And so we're going to keep arguing with them right up to the point where we collectively decide to ignore them.

Which isn't likely to happen any time soon, given how many of them work in the tech press.

> if what they wrote was right, what does it matter what their gender is?

There seems to be a strand of thought which claims that men have nothing to say on these issues. Pointing out that the author is a woman may be an attempt to head off such objections.

Keep an eye on such people. If they are white, do they feel entitled to voice their opinions on race issues? If they are middle class, or went to a $40,000/year college, do they expect to be heard when they speak about poverty? That will be enlightening.


I think the first part of your essay is inspirational. I liked and related to your experience learning to code. I'm sure many others on HackerNews would agree.

The second part was the opposite though. I had to read it a few times to fully grok what you were actually mad about:

  1) the "inspiration award" winning team's built something without writing code.
  2) the judges "lied" to these women that they were/could-be coders.
To the first point, I would say, expand your definition of hacking. This team defined a problem, worked on a solution, pitched it to a jury, and got awarded for it. Isn't that what a hack-a-thon is all about?

And it really seemed contradictory for you to say, "a real hacker is someone who tries to code all night, and regardless of how shitty it looks, stands up there and says proudly, “Yeah, I made this. It didn’t work out very well, but I learned a lot." Then to turn around and bash their submission for not meeting your own standard of hacking.

Why? Because they aren't "real" programmers? Because you doubt they will ever be "real" programmers? Because the judges awarded them for being women who tried? Because you felt slighted?

You come off as self-interested, snobby, elitist, and bitter. As a woman and engineer, what kind of role-model are you projecting for your community?

I hope the promise of more women in engineering is to change the dominant "brogramming culture" to be less homogenous and more inclusive of alternative people, ideas, and processes.

Don't you?

Most people at hackatons expect they'll need to build something in order to win. So they constrain their ideas around that - and then do the hard work of building that.

It's about fairness towards the other participants of the hackatons.

Otherwise ,if hackatons were about ideas, most people wouldn't bother coding.

I'd argue they did build a technology solution, they did constrain their ideas to achieve it during the hack-a-thon, and their "inspiration" award is just that. They were awarded for their ideas and efforts, despite their lack of skills. It's a message of encouragement to others who are just starting out.

This article is like a high schooler getting jealous of a kindergardener for getting a gold star on their homework.

I don't see what the problem is. They didn't get the gold medal, they got an encouragement prize.

When I was in high school, I was on the soccer team. We went to a tournament where we were by far the smallest school. We had our asses handed to us.

At the ending ceremony, for the first time ever, they handed out a fair play award. To us. Did we think we'd won? No, of course not. It's just a token of appreciation, a thanks for attending.

I don't see why this kind of thing is so bad. You want to encourage people to show up to your event, so you make up a reason to thank them.

I really don't understand this at all. Yes, there are fewer women in tech than men. But where I come from they are not rare. At one workplace we had at least one woman in almost every role. Nobody ever made mention of the fact that they are women. Nobody ever treated them differently, and AFAICT none of them ever had a complaint about gender issues.

Is this a coastal thing?

Anyone else in the Detroit area agree or disagree with my assessment?

Not in Detroit but at another large company in Michigan with a mostly male engineering and IT staff. I witnessed* one situation where a woman was treated inappropriately (*I was told about it the day after it when she was trying to figure out if it was worth reporting to HR. Short story: it was, she did, no idea what happened to the guy because he doesn't normally work with engineers). Other than that situation, my female peers are always treated with respect, people have a high opinion of them, and they don't seem to have trouble getting promotions.

This Gina woman, I like her. Maybe I'm sympathetic because I agree with her point and enjoy a good rant post, but my own acknowledged biases aside, I think she really does make a great point here.

There are two sides to this. For one, I agree with her that people who actually want to be a part of this world (not just observing with interest) and contribute, either to the field or just on a team, do not need to be held up as 'inspirational.' I hope that team knew that, yes, they didn't do a good job but at least you're doing something. I know I hated in college when I saw it happen to men and women equally.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for those people actually hacking. They have experience and knowledge they don't need to gain all at once right there to make something cool. I went in to that college I mentioned with like 6-7 years of programming under my belt. Projects and clients and etc. These people barely knew that there was a command line in Windows, let alone how pointers or c strings worked. That happened to everyone, but there were a few 'hackers' like me who knew a lot coming in. All of us were guys. There were no girl 'hackers' and I don't presume to know exact reasons why but their actions basically had to do with what those women who could have been one of the 'hackers'. The judges were trying to combat, or at least show they combat that horrible situation. I hated it when girls would say they couldn't do CS/IT stuff because it was too hard for them or something. Like if it was magic or whatever. Since, I've realized its not true

"Building static HTML pages" is not always inappropriate for a hackathon. For most college-level demos, a mostly-static demo with just enough javascript to pull data to make it feel fresh is a "hack" that will get you further than your peers. Depending on your level of ethics, some companies will actually do demos that are this level of wire-and-duct-tape to sell the product, and then build it afterwards. The one big catch with this approach is that you can't pitch something that's non-trivial technically -- if you do, and can't demonstrate you figured out the secret sauce, then your pitch becomes worthless.

Many first-timers will walk into a hackathon with just their laptop, and get stuck in the trap of setting up their environment over the whole weekend. They'll spend hours trying to download an IDE and interpreter/compiler and libraries over a poor or nonexistent internet connection. For these people, "build some static web pages" is one of the easiest ways to get them to the point where they have something they can comfortably demo in front of their peers -- and so what if it doesn't really work; they had fun and can come back next time.

If you build a thing that really works, fine. But a lot of people also walk into hackathons with pre-formed teams and 80% completed projects (idea, mocks and artwork already done; IDEs already set up; maybe even hardware already wired up) and having an emphasis on "real working code" for a time-constrained event only encourages this sort of "cheating".

Looks like the winning team hacked the hackathon by finding a solution to the problem of "how to win a hackathon" in a clever way. I say well played. If the judges accepted this PDF entry, and it was within the rules, then it's very bad sportsmanship for the other contestants to say they didn't deserve a prize. The fact they didn't write any code makes absolutely no difference at all. Hackathons are about finding solutions to problems, not writing code.

It doesn't look like they found or exploited any solution but rather the judges were determined to let them win regardless of the quality of their entry.

I thought it was kind of bullshit when Aaron Swartz was like 10 that he won an Ars Digita prize for a static-HTML site, because the contest was for database-backed web sites. (I hadn’t entered, I think I wasn’t even eligible, I didn’t have any skin in the game.) About two or three years later, at my first startup, he was telling us for free all the things we would later learn through hard experience we were doing wrong because we didn’t listen. Later he became one of the best programmers I ever had a chance to work with.

In short, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with distinguishing between levels of technical mastery, and honoring more highly the higher levels of technical mastery. We’ll never get anywhere as a civilization if we let the mundanes think that your cousin Brian, who knows how to install antivirus software, is equivalent to Vint Cerf and Don Knuth. But that doesn’t mean we can’t honestly recognize and encourage people’s progress, even before they reach world-class status.

And, as kaylarose points out, it’s totally legit to reward people for making progress on important problems, even if they aren’t hard problems.

Am I the only here thinking that it's not a big deal if some guys at a hackthon erroneously promoted a shitty application (Essentially a non-application) just because the team was composed of women?

I mean this is how life works. Women in this context are seen as newcomers and by nature, they are more fragile. It's only natural that men try to promote women in the tech industry, since they are a scarcity.

It would be the same thing if the team at the hackathon was composed by 5 13-year olds building a simple 3D-printer. They are 13-year-olds, they are out-of-context and require special attention.

That's something that is bound to change, especially given the publicity women-related posts seem to get. More and more women are going to start programming. Then, this is probably going to change.

Generally speaking, I work (and communicate) better with women than men. Women seem to be much more flexible, easier to communicate.

I understand the point the author is making, but again, I think it's not a big deal. It's not like Google hired 4 women instead of 4 men as a developers because they were females.

I rather consider this part of a feedback loop. There's such a thing as "going to far." When that happens people naturally react and provide a valuable perspective, which will help guide future "affirmative action."

Gina's concerns are extremely valid. Perhaps we've reached a point where gender shouldn't entirely trump merit. Perhaps a mixed-gender team (like the one she was on) with a more technical project should have been considered. Perhaps we're starting to piss off our hard-working women by promoting superficial yet PR-worthy success stories like the winners of that hackathon.

We just need to find a balance. I'm confident that for as long as we stay open to having these discussions, listen to the people we intend to effect, and make future decisions accordingly, we'll reach true gender equality sooner.

You might want to clarify what you mean by "fragile" because some people are going to interpret you as saying that women are emotional/physically fragile by virtue of being women.

I assume more fragile by virtue of being newcomers.

Yeah hackathon feels like mostly free code for you.

There's competition for that like Kaggle which doesn't dress it as hackathon imo. It's hey it's a competition, here's the usually term and conditions and you might win some money and it'll be good for resume. Hackathon seems like a nicer word for something else, like death tax or climate change (instead of global warming).

With hackathon I'm not sure about that, it have become some sleezy thing, there are a few exception like projects that help a certain causes or open source. OpenBSD had a hackaton and replaces Nginx with the hackton server. It was a funny article where they were drunk and committed to the tree without testing it throughly. Unfortunately in her case the causes was just political bs.

I do agree we shouldn't lie to people how easy it is. But we should mention that it's a skill and like all skill it takes time and deliberate exercise to be good.

I love the post. It seems like a dairy of growth as a person and gaining humility. I think she's a bit harsh on the women in term of not being programmer and then define hacker. I'm guessing her definition of hacker and programmer are the same? In general, being positive would be better but it does highlight and emphasize on not lying about how easy it is to code.

In my limited experience with hackathons it's usually the most polished looking entry that wins - technical merit has little to do with it. If they built a cool site without a line of code then who the hell cares! Were there rules or a theme for this hackathon that were overlooked for this specific entry? Article seems overly critical to me.

One of the main problems on tech is the "middle ground", covering that special place after rookie and before being an expert... It's incredibly difficult to effectively communicate about this, and I think is why people get frustrated or think they are not good. Because they are not on the "expert level" on something (knowing every single detail), but the simple hello world small apps are too easy and doesn't feel awesome any more... The area in between is not visible, so it feels a little like not making progress sometimes... Though is arguably the most interesting/common one.

Related joke: http://9gag.com/gag/4614736/if-an-author-of-a-computer-book-...

If hackathons are stupid and unfair, then stop going to them.

Pick a project that takes longer than a weekend and do it.

If you want to know why there are so few women in tech, I suggest reading this comic: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1883#comic

The pressure doesn't come from within the industry, nor is it aimed at adults who have already expressed an interest. It comes from society as a whole, and it's aimed at children.

At first, it comes from parents and teachers. Later on, it comes from their peers. By the time a girl graduates high school and starts figuring out what she wants in life, she's already biased against tech. Attempts at recruitment aren't going to significantly affect the gender ratio if they're aimed at college students or college graduates. It's already too late. Politically-biased hackathons and hiring policies will never have any real effect, except maybe to breed resentment on every side of the issue.

Hey, I'm going to share some personal experience. I'm MtF transgender, and I began my transition at 28. It's pretty well known, at least in the trans community, that MtFs are overrepresented in tech, and that overrepresentation increases proportionally with the age of transition (though the age thing is becoming less relevant as the average age of transitioning is dropping, and the sharp contrast between "older transitioners" and "younger transitioners" is starting to blur). On the other hand, the ratio of MtFs to FtMs in the tech industry is about the same as the ratio of cis men to cis women (and possibly even more dramatic).

The only possible answer is that people are encouraged/discouraged from tech during childhood, well before transition. It's also accelerated by how the tech community tends to be open and accepting of people who don't fit in socially. Most trans people -- MtF and FtM -- tend to associate with groups of misfits and outcasts even well before transition. For MtFs, that includes tech geeks, and for FtMs, that includes various fandoms. Compare the MtF dominance on reddit vs. the FtM dominance on tumblr: reddit was aimed at techies, and tumblr was aimed at fandoms.

Honest question to those defending the status quo with the word "meritocracy": How would a functional meritocracy produce the absolute sausage-fest that is the GCC maintainers list[1]? If that seems like an unfair reference, then what makes the GCC maintainers list either so especially non-functional or not meritocratic at selecting people based purely upon skill instead of their genitals?

[1] https://github.com/gcc-mirror/gcc/blob/master/MAINTAINERS

Maybe because the contributors are mostly men?

I don't see anything wrong with this. No one complains when programmer only teams turn in something ridiculously ugly and complex that could never achieve consumer adoption. So why should we complain when design/ux/business/beginners turn in the other side of a project? Just laying things out and producing content and thinking about the user experience. Both sides of talent are needed to make quality entries anyway, so railing against this is just going to drive off the designer, artist, and other fields that are needed to produce good work.

If you really care about programming and not having someone else tell you you're good, then do it because you want to.

I have been programming for over 25 years. I have never and would never go to a hackathon. I program because I want to. I program because I'm paid to. I don't program because I want a room full of strangers to stare at me.

Turning programming into the type of popularity contest they had at the high school prom I never went to sounds like a nightmare.

Isn't the OP a beginner in tech herself (bootcamp graduate, seemingly of recent)? She's not in a position to judge others as not being 'true coders' or as being 'too much of beginners.'

It's also a rather quirky dramatization of what it means to be a programmer, but amusing to read either way.

She didn't go to any bootcamp.

>I was a female who went to the bootcamp of LMGTFY

A lot of us went there.

I agree that rewarding people for not doing anything other than showing up is antithetical to a hackathon, or the software engineering community in general.

However, I really liked your line "Pass the mountain dew, brah. Git push -f, brah.", I might steal that.

I thought a hackathon was for people to do projects, and not always or necessarily to "beat" other people.

Categories that specifically reward participation by newbies aren't new nor unique to hackathons. The only chess trophy I ever won was for "Top Unrated", which, obviously, you are only eligible for in your first rated tournament.

I'm an (older) woman attempting a career change into programming. (But not new to tech or being the only/few woman in a given environment.) It's disappointing that every time this conversation comes up, it devolves into mean-spirited pseudo-'objective' statements about how 'maybe women just aren't as interested'/'not as good'/'PC/SJW-bullshit'/etc.

Look, I'm basically a reasonable person. I'm not looking to be offended at every turn or by every possible 'microaggression' (a concept I personally dislike, btw). I personally haven't experienced many of the issues that other women have. That doesn't mean those issues don't exist in the macro, simply because I haven't experienced them in the micro. Nor does it mean that despite one's 'objective/rational' view, that there aren't underlying subconscious assumptions/biases at work in some situations.

Small example. I'll be attending a new coding school in June, developed by the Nerdery in Minneapolis, called Prime Digital Academy. The guys (and they're all guys) running/developing curriculum/teaching seem like genuinely nice people who are putting a particular emphasis on diversity (women, older career changers, etc.) In fact, the oldest person accepted so far is 60!

Now, take a look a some of the recent images posted on their @goprimeacademy twitter account. Notice the seating. You're wanting to be accommodating to, among others, older people (not to mention potential disabled people), so you put them in beanbags and on hard (or maybe foam) cubes? Perhaps, despite good intentions, they're making unconscious assumptions about the people that have to sit on them.

I don't speak for all women, nor do I think that all women have some universally shared experience. However, I do think that it's very possible (if not extremely likely) that despite one's best intentions, preconceived notions/biases (including the idea that you're an 'objective' person) can preclude you from seeing other people have had different experiences than you, or came to different conclusions.

Those notions/biases don't make you a bad person (we all have them, of course), but if you're unwilling to examine them honestly at some point, then it seems reasonable to conclude that you're probably speaking/acting in bad faith. If a lot of (women, POC, or yes, even men, in the case of nursing[1]) are telling an existing environment that they're unwelcoming/unfriendly in some way, then perhaps the most 'reasonable' or 'objective' conclusion is that there's a problem.


Discounting the politics and focusing strictly on mechanics for a moment--the purpose of a participating in a hackathon should be to compete in a hackathon. I know a lot of people who have gone to them because they want to start a startup. What an absurd idea. If your purpose is to start a project, you should be able to start projects on your own. If your purpose is to meet people, there are far more frequent and better places to meet people than hackathons. If you want to be a programmer, you should be programmering.

I trained in martial arts for years and competed in tournaments. After a while, I got bored of tournaments. I kept training, because I liked martial arts. I wasn't in it for the tournaments, and not going to the tournaments didn't make me any less of a martial artist.

I always found it strange that there were always a few students who mostly only showed up for the tournaments. They would come to maybe one class every other week, but if there was a tournament, they were there. Mostly, they didn't do well (of course, because they didn't train in even the things that were important to tournaments), but if all they wanted was to be there in the tournament atmosphere and be able to say they competed, then that would have been fine. But that was not the case. They also complained that they didn't win.

If their goal was to win martial arts tournaments, then they were doing it wrong. They should have been practicing forms routines in front of mirrors, to the detriment of learning wrist-locking and take-down techniques.

Much, much more common were the students who did show up to class every day (even though they only had two classes a week) but only ever phoned it in. They were certainly punching the card, but they weren't particularly talented. Yes, most of the time they'd win because they were the best of the worst, they were in a division of other card-punchers. But sometimes they'd win against much more dedicated students, people who put serious training in, people who exerted a lot of effort.

And before I understood what tournaments were about, it upset me. Tournaments are just a reinforcement structure for an industry of selling tournaments. The market for tournaments is mediocre students. Hell, the market for martial arts schools is mediocre students. It's all a self-feeding system. It makes money for the ring masters by providing a fantasy of achievement to the customer. If it were about skill, they'd lose their monetization base.

My point is, understand what your goals are, and do those things that further your goals. You want to be a martial artist, you get in the dojo and you train harder than everyone else. You want to compete in tournaments, just show up to the tournaments. You want to win tournaments, get in the dojo and you skip the pushups and skip the self-defense techniques and focus only on flexibility and forms.

If all you want is to be a programmer, then just program. If you want to win hackathons, then focus on learning the latest and greatest JS frameworks for rapid app development. Not for building big, scalable applications. Not for robust security. Not for elegant code. Just for meeting the goals.

The problem is that these things--hackathons, martial arts tournaments, Olympic gymnastics, junior-varsity-anything--they're all just different types of beauty pageants. They're inconsequential to anything that is not in their immediate sphere of influence, and that sphere is tiny. Gina's complaint is not caused by the realization that hackathons are bullshit, it's caused by her being exposed to the hackathon. It's caused by her conflating being a programmer with competing in hackathons.

Which I ultimately think is a pretty rosy picture. It means that, by avoiding the hackathon, not only will she not know about the bullshit that goes on there, but she will also have more time to do the thing that really makes her happy: programming.

Well how about that, a realistic look at what pandering mess subsets of our industry and programming culture have become. My least favorite part was the little bit at the end, apologizing to the organizers of the hackathon. Don't apologize, they're just some pandering asshats being superficially progressive, because hey, someone without a dick and pale skin participated!

And thank fuck someone touched on those "Pay us $30,000 and become a 1337 h4x0r camps. I don't know if we're in a bubble, but if it were to burst, there's gonna be some surprised folks getting culled. If you attended one of camps, you better not stop clawing your way to the top. You better keep clawing util your fingers are bloody, nail-less nubs. You attended a Ruby camp? That's sweet, but you're applying to a Java shop, and you cannot "fake it till you make it" with your cargo-cult practices. You can't even begin to describe what an interface is, but hey, that $70k/year job is calling your name, isn't it?

Hell, maybe I'm just bitter and jaded at the ripe old age of 21 after doing this professionally for 4 years, or that I've been attending the prestigious LMGTFY University since I was about 9. Or maybe I'm a little brain damaged after my copy of Sedgewick dropped of the bookshelf and onto my head. Maybe those early, informative years spent cutting my teeth on assembly have done some irreparable damaged to my psyche. Stop pandering, lend a hand, lend encouragement to the folks who need it. Everyone had helped along but way, and I spend way too much time tutoring folks, but stop pushing folks into the industry who are chasing the almighty dollar or just aren't interested. Help them get their feet wet, but if they don't like it, don't force them off the diving board. I'm gonna be maintaining their cruft long after they're gone.

I don't get it. They put together documentation. If that doesn't count for the Hackathon, why does building 3D models count?


You'd like to toss out all of the women-focused (and I'd guess minority-focused in general) programs, but I'd be curious how much the people for whom those events/groups are intended generally feel.

I think it's safe to say they sprung up in response to a market need--they didn't just come out of nowhere, for no point, and suddenly gain a lot of traction (because nothing does)--so how well do they work overall?

I, unlike you, am not interested in dismissing them all, because I have seen lots of times how young white dudes get to run the show, and end up dismissing everyone who doesn't look like them, regardless of so-called merit.

So I wonder...how much was this one an isolated "done wrong" event?

>I think it's safe to say they sprung up in response to a market need

The politics of shaming and diversity guidelines are not market factors. This is like saying that the market wants us to have brainless middle managers. These things are all market inefficiencies that we should strive to eliminate or minimize.

I can't imagine tech pioneers from the 80s and 90s being under scrutiny like groups today are. Would we have Linux if Linus worried that his largely white male contributors weren't diverse enough? Would we have Apple is Jobs felt like he needed to "white knight" the women at his company?

Probably not.

> The politics of shaming and diversity guidelines are not market factors.

Of course they are! Just like the politics of discrimination and dehumanization were market factors in previous eras. To pretend otherwise is to take a very narrow view of the market that ignores the full range of human interactions. Indeed, trends in industries such as fashion, music, film, and gaming are almost entirely driven by what ideas are popular at a given time and not by some objective utility function of the product.

Whoa! I didn't realize that market forces now excluded stuff that you obviously don't like.

If the market didn't want us to have "brainless middle managers," as you'd apparently characterize a wide swath of our colleagues, then those people would already have been efficiency'd out.

Just like, if people who don't look like you weren't lining up to be involved in hackathons and groups that consist of people who don't look like you, those events wouldn't exist.

People pay for it, whether you like it or approve of it or not. Behold, the market works!

then those people would already have been efficiency'd out

If free market theory claimed that bad employees can't exist, that would be a pretty strong blow against free market theory ;-)

> I'd be curious how much the people for whom those events/groups are intended generally feel.

I don't know about you, but I'm not at all interested in how the intended audience feels. I'm strongly interested in how their behaviors change with these programs.

Programs that make people feel good but don't change behavior (i.e., don't get more women into tech) are not of value.

This article is problematic. It's common knowledge that women need special handholding and encouragement to succeed at software development as well as a shield wall of allies to fend off constant microaggressions, so we have to ask, in the most nonjudgmental way possible, why the author is so obviously acting against her own interests.

[Edit: /s]

Apparently, people who voted on this comment have lost the ability to understand sarcasm.

I'm pretty sure people are voting on this BECAUSE it is sarcastic

are you using Poe's law?

Apparently unintentionally :)

Put an /s at the end. Usually hints.

Your assertion that women "need special handholding and encouragement to succeed at software development" is insulting and distasteful.

My mother and grandmother were both software engineers at IBM, at a time where the male dominated tech culture was MUCH worse than it is today, and they both did really well. My boss, a woman, is arguably the best software engineer at our company.

Women don't need handholding. They need incentive. They need to be exposed to tech culture. Lowering the bar for women and putting them on a pedestal for showing up does a great injustice to women like my mother and grandmother who, despite working in a culture which heavily discriminated against women, became kick-ass engineers.

Carefully re-read the parent comment and ask yourself if he was being truly serious.

It's not obvious, I've heard similar remarks from people who genuinely believe it.

I think your sarcasm chip must have burned out.

::Claps slowly::

This is positively the way to go.

OP is being sarcastic.

> Your assertion that women "need special handholding and encouragement to succeed at software development" is insulting and distasteful.

Please, please for the love of root do not use rhetoric like this. It's hollow posturing that offers nothing beyond scolding someone for the sin of not agreeing with you.

Being insulting is not the same as being wrong. Being distasteful is not the same as being wrong. Only one thing is the same as being wrong, and that's being wrong. I know this is an insulting, disrespectful, and distasteful thing to say... but being offended does not make you right.

So I have a question for you: why did you write the first line of your comment?

Not really a big fan of the conflation of womanhood with a vagina.

Given the heavy prevalence of BIOTRUTHS and gender normativity on this forum, I'm not at all surprised by the trans-erasure.

Disappointed, yeah, surprised, no.

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