tagged by: diversity
The stereotype of the socially-awkward, white, male programmer has been around for a long time. Although "diversity in tech" is a much discussed topic, the numbers have not been getting any better. On the contrary, a lot of people inside and outside of the IT industry still take it for granted that this stereotype is the natural norm, and this perception is one of the things that is standing in our way to make the profession more inclusive and inviting. So where does this image come from? Did the demographics of the world's programmer population really evolve naturally, because "boys just like computers more"? What shaped our perception of programmers? This text is about some possible explanations I found when reading about the history of computing.
I took part in a 20 minute long panel discussion on the declining participation of women in tech and what we should do about it.
This is the second part of my keynote at OOP 2014 in Munich and is a tricky talk to describe. Usually I like a title and abstract to describe what the talk is about - but this talk is a journey, and I don't want to tell you where I'm going, but instead to explore the ground with me. I will say that it starts with my biggest problem with most adoption of agile software development - the nature of the interaction between users, analysts, and programmers. It goes on to explore these roles, raising questions about the relationship of programmers to users, our responsibilities to them, and finally the Two Great Challenges that I think programmers need to face up to.
There are many factors that lead to the troubling DiversityImbalance that we find in the software community. Some of these, like the problems in teenage education that discourages girls from STEM subjects is a long term problem where our profession can't play a central role in fixing . But one factor that comes down directly to us is the alienating atmosphere that hangs over the tech community.
One of the big themes in ThoughtWorks is to encourage a diverse range of people in all parts of the company. (In this context we mean diversity in terms of such things as gender, race, sexual orientation, and the like.) We want to be a company where historically disadvantaged groups such as women and non-whites can feel comfortable and get just as many opportunities as the traditional WASPish leaders. Roy, being a notable mongrel, obviously cares about this diversity.
Although it's easy to become accustomed to it, it's pretty obvious the software development world has some serious issues in diversity. By this I mean that we have some notable differences in proportions of people compared to the general population. One of the most obvious differences is the low proportion of women, which is true all over the world (albeit noticeably less so in China). In the US, where I spend a good chunk of my time, the lack of African-Americans is also obvious. There's a lot been written on why such imbalances might exist, and what might be done about it. But here I want to concentrate on a more fundamental question - does it matter?
I've often been involved in discussions about deliberately increasing the diversity of a group of people. The most common case in software is increasing the proportion of women. Two examples are in hiring and conference speaker rosters where we discuss trying to get the proportion of women to some level that's higher than usual. A common argument against pushing for greater diversity is that it will lower standards, raising the spectre of a diverse but mediocre group.
From time to time, I've written on this site about the problematic DiversityImbalance in the software development profession, and how we need to take deliberate action to increase the proportion of underrepresented groups. This is all well and good, but naturally leads to the questions of what underrepresented groups we should be concerned about. In ThoughtWorks we've been using the term "historically-discriminated-against" to help focus our thinking for one of the main drivers for embracing diversity.
A couple of weeks ago there was a Ruby conference in San Francisco called GoGaRuCo (Golden Gate Ruby Conference). This conference has grabbed attention due to a talk at which the presenter illustrated a discussion of CouchDB by using sexually suggestive pictures of women. Unsurprisingly the result has been a fair bit of heated, and occasionally offensive, debate.