The Clever Monkey

Born for it

Over on Martin Fowler’s site, Birgitta Böckeler provides a nice introduction into the gendered nature of early computing, and the historical fall-out we live with today, that is a very compelling read.

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.

This is a very interesting synopsis and overview of scholarly looks at the history of computer programming from a gender perspective.

I’ve only skimmed this overview, but I really want to take the time to read at least one of the titles discussed. I particularly like the notion that “coder” was once a derogatory term, mostly reserved for the women initially hired to make early computers run.

I also love the sweet irony that the rather academic fathers of general purpose computers didn’t realize that the single most important aspect of computing wasn’t going to be the hardware, but the software. I think this is something anyone can appreciate, even without considering the gendered aspect of the history.

The common refrain of some young women leaving computer science education early rang very true for me, as well. I’ve written elsewhere about a disasterous high school Career Day where the one and only Software Engineer basically convinced me that software wasn’t for me. (Cue several years of wandering in the desert.) Even as a young man, there was a certain class and gender mechanism that did not include me, either. (I don’t raise this to provide some contrary evidence for any arguments, but rather to indicate I’ve had the opportunity to grok the mechanisms at play here.)