Thursday, September 12, 2013

Yo, bro

Once again the "brogrammer" issue comes to the fore: The Brogrammer Effect: Women Are a Small (And Shrinking) Share of Computer Workers.

According to a Census report out this week, women today still make up a frustratingly small 26 percent of workers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs. But whereas their presence has at least grown or held steady in most of these fields, it's been on a 20-plus-year decline in computer workers, such as developers, programmers, and security analysts.

I've been in the computing industry for 30 years, so I guess I'm at least somewhat willing to comment.

It's not as though there are no women in the industry at all. When I first started out, one of the first programmers who I found truly inspirational and motivational was a woman. And at my first job after college, my boss, my boss's boss, and my boss's boss's boss were all female.

During the years, the pattern has continued. I've met some superb programmers, both male and female. And I've had some great bosses (and some awful ones), both male and female.

At my current day job, we have multiple female executives, as well as a number of female managers and engineers. We've also sponsored events, such as the Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners. My officemate is headed to Minneapolis next week for this year's Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

But if I'm honest, my experiences over those 30 years pretty much mirror the statistics from the Census report.

Which is not a good thing.

I guess I'm not really sure if it's the "brogrammer" thing or not. The engineers I've had the pleasure of working with are a long ways from these stereotyped clods, though certainly from time to time I've seen the occasional clunker. Of course, I've never been close to an experience like this: To my daughter's high school programming teacher.

Sadly, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you, sir, created a horrible one for girls in computer programming.

Did you not see her enthusiasm turn into a dark cloud during the semester? Did you not notice when she quit laughing with and helping her classmates, and instead quickly finished her assignments and buried her nose in a book? What exactly were you doing when you were supposed to be supervising the class and teaching our future programmers?

I worry about the lack of women in computing, but, then again, I worry about the lack of people in computing, in general.

And more than either of those issues, I worry about the problems of unemployment and underemployment of our youth.

  • The Idled Young Americans
    Over the last 12 years, the United States has gone from having the highest share of employed 25- to 34-year-olds among large, wealthy economies to having among the lowest.
  • Young Adults Make Up Nearly Half Of America’s Unemployed Workforce
    College graduates, as recent Labor Department data showed, are increasingly working in low-wage jobs, largely because they have made up a majority of jobs added since the recession ended. One of every four Americans is projected to be working in a low-wage job in a decade.
  • Better jobs reports don't help this lost generation of unemployed young adults
    these young people who can't find jobs now are likely to be scarred by the experience for their entire careers. They will have lower wages for life, according to several economic studies. That will cause social problems in addition to economic ones as these young people delay "life steps" such as purchasing a house, or even retiring, since they have not been able to build up as much in savings.

So, yes, save us from the Brogrammers.

And yes, let's try to figure out ways to address the skewed gender makeup in the computing industry.

But most of all, let's figure out a way to get the next generation involved, so that our children, and our children's children, can enjoy the wonderful world we've lived in.

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