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When did the brogrammer become the norm?

Today I ended up reading not one, but two articles that made me wonder, once again, about what is so wrong with the world. I’ll get to the first article I read in a moment, as that requires a bit more context; the second is about TechCrunch’s absolute mess up and I don’t think it needs much of a commentary, especially at this point.

But before getting into the details of the article I want to comment upon, I’d like to point out that if you try to categorize me as a prude, you’re probably out of your place anyway. Indeed, if you remember, I’ve had to fight to get ads back into this blog, after I commented on a porn site issue last year. I don’t think that denying the fact that people can be sexually attracted to each other, I just think that there is time, place, way and age to discuss or joke about these things. And for sure it’s not something you’d do with strangers or in a work environment.

And yes, I do not have a zero-tolerance approach when talking among a group of friends as long as nobody’s feeling are getting hurt. Things like the infamous dongle joke is something that, with my previous group of friends, was pretty much a daily routine, and I don’t see a problem with that. Repeating the joke in public, now that’s a different story.

Anyway, let’s get back to the article I wanted to comment, which is this blog post by Rikki Endsley. Go read it, then come back to mine if you’re interested.

This article hurt me in particular because if you remember (I discussed this before), I studied programming in high school – in Italy we have technical high school, like the one I attended, and you have various “addresses”, in this case it was “experimental computer science” and was basically your average tech school with programming, networking and basic electrical engineering as main subjects – and my class was one of the few in which girls were to be found… of course in a minority of 18 to 5, when we started.

So why does the article surprise me? It should not be news that girls are not a common sighting in CS environment, between my high school and the university I frequented (for two weeks before deciding it was not what I cared about). But that’s not my point over here. My point is wondering when did nerds turn into brogrammers?

Let’s get back to my high school days: I was a nerd. Yes I was terrible in math – but mostly because I hated my teacher, and decided not to study math for the full three years he taught me, and while I miss knowing more calculus it’s a decision I would probably repeat – but I was the guy who learnt programming in “C++” (quotes needed) two years before the rest of the class, and who by the end of the school was already working in the field. I was not the only one in the school, but I was the only one in the class at least (another guy who was through the same is now working in the same company as me, just in a different area). I was also overweight, which is something that most people who met me in the recent years could have trouble guessing.

All in all, I was not among the cool kids. Although I still wonder what most of the “cool kids” were doing in my school, as almost all of them, with very few exceptions, either dropped out or did not pursue a career in computers — for which I guess I should be glad, given that the definition of “cool kids” in my high school is exactly the kind of people who I wouldn’t want to share an office with.

But what about the five girls? Well, they weren’t mistreated as badly as the article’s author’s daughter, although I won’t deny that I’ve been somewhat cruel with some of them. Of them, one dropped out before the end of the year — she was going to fail for the third time since joining high school, I was actually pretty sad about that as I had a crush on her. Another was good in school in general, but not very good at programming — I once helped her pass a programming recover, and I ended up explaining pointers by the use of post-it, I knew then that I was not teacher material. The remaining three, well, were mostly playing the cards of being girls, and were not really interested in programming by themselves, at least by the time I met them. By the last year one even called me over because her computer was not working (I was helping out as a tech since I would get bored to follow the standard program), and it was just the PSU being turned off, like every Saturday morning, her deskmate was not there that day to turn it on.

Bottom line, though, nobody ever told our girl classmates to “go in the kitchen” — nobody ever seemed to suggest that computers were not for girls. If anything, computers were a club for nerds, of all genders, and the kind of sexism you were expected to see in that school was more of the opposite type: if a girl who was actually interested in programming, even slightly, was to be found, you’d be seeing a bunch of boys actually lurking around — me included, I guess.

I know that’s not a very good behaviour either. On the other hand, at that age you do expect at least partially this behaviour from boys, no matter the context. And in my case, still nowadays, I’d rather be single than spending time with the school’s Cordelia.

So when did the brogrammer culture come up? I would like to say that it came up after me, even with a very “get off my lawn” attitude, but I’m afraid that most of the brogrammers are actually either my age or even a tad older than me (for the record I’m almost 28 at the time of writing). I’m disappointed in those of my peers, and I’m so happy that at least in my office that kind of culture is nowhere to be found. It still is pretty bad in the industry, and the fact that it drives women away from it is something that I consider a nasty loss.

Comments 5
  1. I actually experienced kind-of the same as you did. In my years trying to get a Bachelor degree, some of the classes did have some girls in it. Most of them were quite smart and a joy to work with (the one I had to work with didn’t do much in general, and ended up pregnant so I had to do all the assignments on my own). Occasionally, girls paid a visit to some guy in class they knew, intentionally wearing shorts and putting their legs up high on a table for all to see, which mostly silenced all the guys in class.It was all fine, and I have never ever seen something like this happen. I’m not sure it’s happening here, now, but that could as well be a cultural difference (Netherlands versus U.S. etc).As for the industry, it again seems to be a cultural difference, as I have worked at many companies in which women were involved in IT, and none of this is to be found, as they’re all treated with similar respect – we’re here to get things done, everything else is irrelevant.I’m forgetting to name the exception of girls being hired for management positions that don’t matter much, because of the requirement of companies have by law these days to be forced to hire women even if there are none interested in the position or up to the task. So they hire really good looking ones. But again, none of us are complaining and neither are they as they earn really well.I’m starting to think this is something mostly to be found in the U.S. unfortunately. I don’t see it in the Netherlands, don’t see it in the companies in Slovakia or India that I’ve worked with. Most of the women here and in Slovakia had management positions (process management, teamlead, etc), getting the true respect their position requires, and cooperation from guys as if they were guys themselves.I used to get annoyed by posts and references like these, as I still am in the cases where the woman in question is doing it for the attention her ego craves for or if it’s just about causing fuss.

  2. I’m afraid I have seen, in recent years, a cultural shift in Italy as well, so it’s definitely not only the US, which is why it hurts me to read articles like the one I linked.I also did not comment on one thing: while working in the US, one of my two bosses was a woman, a programmer, and nobody was disrespecting her because of being a woman. So at least even on the other side of the Pond it used **not** to be commonplace.

  3. Still not commonplace in the US. You see headline-grabbing exceptions, but they’re just that, exceptions.

  4. It’s very nice of you to post about the three girls who just weren’t interested (out of 5). It was my observation too: women in general are just not interested. The hardcore, ideological brainwashed products of our school system insist on having women “equally represented” in everything, and they won’t quit until we have as many women programmers as men. Alas, the nature isn’t working in their favour. Their answer, of course, is to become more shrill, with more vicious attempts to create a moral panic.As for the “brogrammer”, as much as such a thing exists and not just artificially created for the purposes of moral panic, it is a natural product of male-dominated field.

  5. Part of the problem, though, is that humans adapt to the social roles that are expected of them. While “get in the kitchen!” is one signal of an expected role, so is the “let me help you” that nice male nerds use with girls – there’s a subtext that “you need help, you’re not as smart …” It’s *hard* to overcome those habits and patterns, on all sides. Arguments that they’re “the natural order” though are just dumb, and kind of horrid.

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