Monday, March 12, 2012

Boys Are Better Programmers

As a female programmer, I've gotten a lot of funny reactions over the years. They've ranged from "I've never met a programmer who looks like you before" to "wow, you're a girl, so you must be pretty bad at math - how do you do it?" to "um, so, how did YOU become a programmer?" (to which my response, to a fellow (male) programmer, is: "I dunno, how did YOU become a programmer?"). Of course there are those who play it cool at first, but after a few minutes of conversation there's the inevitable "yeah, I was trying not to say anything, but you're a GIRL CODER??" (A for effort).

As much as I wish my gender didn't become the main talking point as soon as I state my profession (despite the amazing set of reactions it elicits), it isn't entirely unjustified. People talk a good game about gender equality and encouraging girls and women in math and sciences, etc, but despite all this there is a very distinct lack of women in the software engineering profession.

But, why?

I've had a lot of time to ruminate on this issue and I've considered every option I can think of (lack of role models, girls aren't treated equitably in the classroom, maybe boys are just genetically better at math and science).

A few months ago I was at a networking event and, perhaps feeling a little punchier than usual, decided to speculate out loud about the third possibility - that women are just genetically disadvantaged when it comes to programming. "Men are just smarter and better at math, science, and engineering" was my hypothesis. The person I was talking to (who happened to be a male programmer) took my comment in stride and offered an alternative hypothesis (much to his credit) that has stayed with me.

"It's not that men are smarter, it's just that due to ego/nature/whatever else, they are willing to suffer in silence for a long time while they're figuring out a problem. To many, it may appear that a certain field, skill, etc comes naturally to them, but behind that "inherent skill" are many long, hard hours of beating their heads against a wall. In short, men aren't better, they just suffer in silence so all you see are the fruits of their labor, not the labor itself."
(this is not a direct quote, but this is what was said as nearly as I can remember it)

Hmm, so you mean guys aren't just better? They log the countless hours of bug fixing, documentation reading, head/wall slamming, and wee-hour programming as well?

Whew!

And here I thought it was just me.



"It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer."
- Albert Einstein via this post