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July 11, 2009

Permission to suck
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:07 PM * 231 comments

Reading the recent discussion (hic et seq) in the Open Thread about some of the challenges facing women in the open source software community, I’m brought back to an issue that I’ve been wrestling with for just about exactly two years now. It’s not the whole problem, but it’s a piece of it.

I’m a member of my company’s development team, and I’m unique there in three ways:

  1. I’m the only tester.
  2. I’m the only one on the team who doesn’t code (or didn’t; I’m learning).
  3. I’m the only woman.

Now, the first element is, of course, my job. Being the lone tester, though, means that I don’t have a professional peer group to validate my skills, appreciate my subtleties and triumphs, or compare notes with. Although my colleagues often value what I do, they do so as customers and outsiders. Any more knowledgeable validation has to be internal.

But it’s the last two that are the problem for me.

When I took the job, I hadn’t coded much (apart from a little REXX) since my postgraduate computing course a decade earlier. So I’ve had to learn to code.

Now, as Scalzi so bluntly points out in another context, when you start doing something difficult and complicated, you will most likely suck at it. This is of course a necessary step in the learning process; we learn best from failure, not success. I know this. I have the products of the first three years of bookbinding online, with my various screwups photographed in intimate detail and dissected without mercy. It’s one of the most popular parts of that site.

But at the moment, I’m the only one in the team who really sucks at coding. And I’m the only woman. It’s a situation where generalizing is all too easy.

Now, my colleagues are really good guys. They don’t treat me as though my suckitude at coding (and managing version control software1, and wrestling with our IDE2) is the product of my gender. But I feel it. I feel like the fact that I’m not a ninja coder, the Kung Fu Panda of C#, reflects badly on my half of humanity. I’m letting the side down3.

(Ironically, this makes me suck more, because I find it difficult to ask questions or admit when I’m stuck.)

Frankly, if I were doing this for anything other than pay, I’d have long since buggered off with a good book. I certainly wouldn’t do it for the love of the work, because at this point, I don’t just suck, I feel guilty for sucking. There is no love there; every achievement is just a mitigation of the disservice I’m doing womankind. Stopping would be a net improvement. (I’m overstating the matter, but not by all that much. It’s pretty joyless. UPDATE: On reading this, I see it looks like my whole job is joyless. That’s not the case; it’s just the learning to develop that grinds me down and makes me feel small.)

So one thing women in Open Source—or anyone who is a minority in a skills-based group—need is Permission to Suck4. They need the understanding, from themselves and others, that any and all suckitude is to their account alone, just like it is for the majority.

Because everybody sucks sometimes. The trick is moving beyond it.


  1. So very necessary, but also stupid, vicious and nasty.
  2. Interactive Integrated Development Environment: a special program that checks your code, compiles it for you, autocompletes half your typing half right, shouts at you when you have bugs it can detect, facilitates certain kids of testing, and opens more subwindows and toolbars than Adobe Photoshop in visual glossalia mode.
  3. This is not unique to IT. The other American woman in the village and I often feel that our failures in Dutch language and manners reflect badly on every one of the 307 million people in the United States. Individually. Sorry about that.
  4. I trust no one in this community will take this the wrong way.
Comments on Permission to suck:
#1 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 05:45 PM:

Randall Munroe, as he frequently does, nailed it.

I do research on the engineering student experience, and I've heard similar things from students (for example, women 'go underground' when they need help, finding resources other than the instructor or their male peers).

The other thing that I want to point out, though, is that female engineering students have lower self-confidence in their technical skills than their male counterparts, even when they have equal ability (and, in aggregate, they usually get higher grades etc.)

Along the lines with your 'permission to suck,' I've often joked that I'm working to make engineering education safe for mediocre women.

#2 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 05:47 PM:

...aaaaand I totally just realized you already linked to the xkcd cartoon. Apologies.

#3 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 05:53 PM:

Now I feel a little guilty, because it wasn't my intention to make anyone feel bad, least of all you.

For what it's worth, testing is an important part of software development that's rarely ever given the respect it's deserved. A good tester is worth their weight in gold, and rightly so. Programmers sometimes can't test software because they're busy thinking like programmers, and not users or testers.

Human languages come to me with difficulty. Every time I go abroad or deal with some of my expat colleagues, I feel guilty for not being able to speak a foreign language. I feel that it reflects badly on me and Americans in general. This isn't, of course, on the same level as how you feel, as I'm male and you're female, but still, perhaps it will help you to know that that feeling about language isn't unique to you and your friend.

So I guess I don't really have anything to add to what you have say. Accepting permission to suck, and internalizing that it's not about anything broader than working toward improvement, is hard.

#4 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 05:54 PM:

debcha @2:
That's quite all right; that cartoon deserves to be linked to at least twice. Three times.

He really does nail it.

#5 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 06:00 PM:

KeithS @3:
The only person making me feel bad is me. I'm very lucky in comparison to many women in IT, and I've certainly been in worse positions in the past.

As I said, this is something I've been wrestling with for a couple of years. The subthread in the Open Thread (before it got into equally interesting Aspie discussions) merely allowed me to crystallize the problem into coherent, postable form.

#6 ::: Jennie ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 06:29 PM:

As a woman programmer, I wish there were more of us -- regardless of level of suck. And I don't know why there aren't. At my first post-college job in the late 80's pretty close to 50% of the programmers were women. At my next employer, the percentage had dropped to around 40%. Although at a much smaller employer where minor numerical differences can cause large percentage swings, for the last dozen years I have often been the only woman (with never more than two of us).

I've been part of the hiring process for new programmers several times over those dozen years and women candidates are few & far between and I just don't get it. I've gone to tech conferences where the percentage of women participants hovers near 10%. Meanwhile, many of the (lower paying but just as technical) programming adjacent jobs, like testing, are held by women.

Over the 20+ years while the number of women programmers has steadily declined I've run into plenty of men who both program and suck at it. (I've only ever seen one bad programmer fired for suck -- after he was asked why the report he produced for auto insurance auditors in NH had no info on drivers he responded that maybe there weren't any drivers in NH. Fail.) Most improve with time, and it often doesn't take them that long as long as most of their time is spent programming.

So permission to suck GRANTED. It's just a phase to work your way through. And selfishly, the more women who do program the less I'll look like a (lonely) talking dog.

#7 ::: K. G. Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 06:46 PM:

Back in the days of hand-coding HTML, I had to hire a junior-level website programmer for a corporate communications department. I put an ad in the paper and got back two types of responses:

Men who said they had heard about HTML and could easily learn it in a couple of days and women who apologized at length in their cover letters for "only" having two or three years of experience doing HTML and web design.

Sigh.

#8 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 06:58 PM:

A few days ago, I visited the guy who was my M.Sc. project supervisor, as part of looking into options for my finding a post-doc or some other research-assistant position. (I've spent a long time doing general software development. I'd like to spend at least a little while working in the field that I spent all that time studying.) He's doing some very interesting work in pharmaceutical design.

I told him about my doctoral work, which involved several years of lab work in organometallic chemistry before I switched to a structure-modelling project. I explained to him that part of the problem with the lab work was that -- granted, the compounds I was working on seemed to be relatively tricky -- my lab technique just didn't seem to be up to the demands of the work. I just couldn't seem to get the solvents dry enough, the environment sufficiently oxygen-free; I couldn't manage to keep the reaction temperature consistent and low. I wasn't getting useful results.

"Wow, you're awfully... candid about your lab work," he said.

I shrugged. "I figure that it's better to be honest about my abilities. This isn't a matter of not being very good to start with but getting better with practise. I spent a while on it, and I wasn't getting good enough for what the work needed. Some things I'm good at, but this isn't one of them. I don't like being in a position where people are expecting me to be able to do things that I can't."

Permission to suck? Omnicompetence is for Heinlein characters. There's no gender correlation. Probably the best organometallic chemist I worked with in that lab, the one who was doing successful work with the most finicky reactions and compounds, was a woman (and is still a friend of mine, whom I correspond with regularly). The most hopelessly incompetent chemist in that lab was also a woman. I still tell stories about her -- the day she had two fires (doing the same damn stupid thing both times), for example.

Maybe you're not all that good at coding just now, and maybe it's just not really your thing -- yeah, you'd get better in time, with investment of effort. Is the investment worth the probable return? Do you need to be significantly better at it to do your job well? This sort of thing is up to you to work out. But the idea that you're somehow letting down women collectively because you're the only woman in the group and don't have the same level of skills as all the others in the group -- never mind that you have other skills at a level well beyond the other people..? Well, at least you know that that's irrational, regardless of how you feel about it.

#9 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 07:03 PM:

I'd think some of the issue is cultural (as I keep on saying ;) ). As a generality, assertive women are generally considered to be [negative descriptor], while assertive men are [positive descriptor].

Further, I could see making an argument that men boasting about their coding skill (whether it exists or not) are indulging in yet another form of mating/fitness display -- something that the female of the species doesn't tend to do[0].

I will say, though, Abi -- I've heard similar sentiments from the vast majority of folk I know doing QA or release management. QA and release management don't seem to have the same communities that (say) programmers or sysadmins have, which provide external validation and support. I don't know if this is the nature of the beast, or there's some organization out there that's only well known it its small corner -- but to me, at least, that apparently missing community (and the typically small number of people involved in QA & release management) adds isolation that crosses (and also probably worsens) gender issues.

[0] All else aside, it's still more common for the male of the species to do daft things to impress the female of the species. It should be interesting to see if/how this changes over time.

#10 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 07:17 PM:

Joel @8:
An irrational thing can still be real, both to me and to the people around me.

I didn't develop this twitch out of nothingness. In previous jobs, I have worked with people who judged me by my gender and my gender by me, at least when I screwed up. (Somehow it never did reflect that way when I did something right.)

In this particular case, it's all in my head. But this affects plenty of people—not just women, but minorities and, in some contexts, men*.

----
* My (male) fifth grade teacher was later arrested for taking inappropriate pictures of underage girls. Did other male teachers in the district get the backlash from that one? You betcha, as they say.

#11 ::: Heidi ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 07:22 PM:

Well, I am a female windows systems admin. I feel the same way about skills I haven't had the chance to develop, like scripting. I'm pretty good at troubleshooting and solving problems. And I learn quickly. (And I have a minor in math so I don't suck at it.) Anyway, I can understand why more women don't go into the sysadmin field. From my perspective, the hours are long and the reward is little. For me, it's not about the money (although I can't say I'd take a pay cut). When something goes wrong it's usually very noticeable and unpleasant and most people aren't grateful for the rest of the 99.9% uptime. I am fortunate to work at a place where people are usually pretty grateful when you can easily solve their problems. But there aren't many places like that.

#12 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 07:27 PM:

the lone tester

"Who was that masked tester?"
"I don't know, but I wanted to thank her."

#13 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 07:32 PM:

KeithS #3: "Human languages come to me with difficulty."

Alien overlords always say that.

#14 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 07:35 PM:

It's the fear of failing, of sucking if you will, that seems to drive a lot of young people away from learning. I feel frustrated as fairly bright young people balk at engaging in class because they don't want to look dumb in front of their peers. And then they won't get help, because that would be admitting to themselves that they might fail. *Grumble*

#15 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 07:39 PM:

K.G. Anderson, #7: Yes, that would be one practical effect of women, on average, having lower self-confidence than men.

xeger, #9: Yes, some of it is likely to be culturally-inculcated gender differences. But there is almost certainly a component that derives from the specific (male-dominated) environment.

Oh, look - the paper on gender differences in academic self-confidence among engineering students that we presented a few weeks ago is now online [PDF].

Joel Polowin, #8: Suckitude might not correlate with gender, but you can bet that if you're an underrepresented group and you suck, majority members of that group will be happy to make that correlation. Did we mention this xkcd cartoon?


#16 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 07:41 PM:

Abi, you have the double-whammy of being the only tester and the only woman. As you're well aware, but other readers here may not be, the QA folks in a development organization are usually accorded a lower status. Alas, professionals may have work experience that validates that view, because there's a positive feedback loop:

- "We just need some monkeys to pound keyboards to test this."
- Hire inexperienced people who don't know anything about testing or software development (they're cheap, and easy to find).
- The newbies find some bugs, but not many, ask lots of ignorant questions, and are generally inefficient.

This cycle doesn't result in the manager finding that QA people are knowledgeable and productive. Developers on the team that don't have other experience with QA teams naturally form their opinions based on this, too. After spending some time in an organization like that, and having a few people with attitudes like that sprinkled through every team I've worked in, I've gotten really sensitive to being wrong. I knock myself out to triple-check things to make sure I've got my facts right. You could argue that accuracy is a good thing, but when overdone it's just inefficient. As you're seeing.

About a month ago, one of my coworkers says that his motto is "Dare to suck!" He wants to take on challenges and try new things. I salute him! Maybe we need to print up buttons and t-shirts.


#17 ::: Beable ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 07:49 PM:

Joel @8: Yeah, but it is so very easy to internalize the message, however "wrong" we know it to be.

I still remember my first "professional" sucky code - I had written an entire web system (a set of about 2 dozen webpages that were supposed to provide highly customizable querying and reporting of a specific set of data open to the public) at my current employer as a co-op student. This was during the downtime for the project for which the system was being written, and so there was no QA, no testing beyond what I was doing myself.

Three years later the software was used in production (still only having been tested by the expected clients as they did a mock run of the production process). A bug turned up, based on a coding assumption I had erroneously made based on my best information (including asking people) at the time it was written.

Despite a) not having used the coding environment in 3 years and b) not having the software for the coding environment available for me to set up on my computer (now being the unix sysadmin instead), I was trying to fix my code in the equivalent of notepad, and I was trying to do it in a mad rush on an evening where I had already been at work for 14 hours on an unrelated (planned) project. After I had been at it for about about two hours, the people who really were working on the project in question found a workaround to avoid my having to do last minute code changes.

But I felt so stupid, like I was the worst developer in the world for having made such a big screw up until one of the managers (perhaps not so coincidentally the only female manager in our mostly male developer shop - and someone who had been around for long enough to know what some of the personalities I was working with were like) suggested that as a perspective, my attitude in acknowledging my coding mistake was a lot better than several of the other people in the shop she could name (but I shant here) whom would have been acting high and dry like they never make mistakes, even in the face of some whoppers.

More importantly, she pointed out that for a system that never went through qa if this was the worst bug in the code, I had done ok, and that catching these things was why were were supposed to have qa. Once that bug was fixed, it did turn out that my code stood up well - the target clients using it found it useful enough that unlike in previous years in which they had hired analysts to do similar kind of reporting and analysis, most of them were able to do it in-house because of my tool.

But I did feel like I was just proving that I couldn't code (and - especially as the few female coders who were in the shop at the time were mostly considered to be lightweight/mediocre techies) and that I was just reinforcing the "women couldn't code" message with my failure, even though in hindsight I'm not sure anyone given a tricky (because it was so intrinsic to how that part of the code worked that even after the initial time panic was over they decided not to change it) bug to fix in a such a tight panicked deadline with no proper coding environment to test or debug could have fixed it properly.

#18 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 07:52 PM:

For what it's worth, testing is an important part of software development that's rarely ever given the respect it's deserved.

Absolutely. In my mind, a good tester is far more valuable than a good programmer - because most business software can be produced by mediocre programmers, but few can withstand mediocre testers.

#19 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 08:02 PM:

debcha @ 1:

Thank you for trying to make engineering a better place for women.

Jennie @ 6:

It would be interesting to see whether and why the number of women in computing has gone down over the years. I'll try to keep a look out for some information on the subject.

Fragano Ledgister @ 13/14: Alien overlords always say that.

Shh. I'm trying to cultivate an air of not appearing evil.

More seriously, fear of looking foolish and fear of failure are huge drivers in a lot of social interactions. It's not something that bothered me overmuch in university, but it is something that I have to fight with in dance classes, and, to a lesser extent, at work. They know I'm still new and learning things, and I do want to learn, but the amount of knowledge of the field they have that I don't can be intimidating.

#20 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 08:04 PM:

K.G. Anderson, #7: I find that disconcerting precisely because it rings so very true.

#21 ::: Ahayweh ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 08:26 PM:

That's a good thing to remember, about moving beyond the suck; thank you for reminding me.

I took a C++ class in high school. The teacher was a woman, but I was the only girl out of 20+ students, and I was a terrible coder, so obviously I was letting down my entire gender and my teacher on behalf of same. It's a hard thing to get by. (I get the same thing in my college engineering courses, but at least so far there have always been other girls there, which is heartening. It tires you out, being the local Representative of [x]Kind.)

#22 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 08:28 PM:

We've got a problem in engineering, with far too few women studying it in college and pursuing careers, and it's a nasty negative-feedback loop, with young women looking at the career and just not seeing themselves in it.

Recently, a male engineer of my acquaintance was in a situation where he was the only man in a group of women, and he told me that this had made him uncomfortable. I asked him to think about his workplace (now, and over the years), and how often there was only one or two women surrounded by men. I pointed out that this had been my experience for about 20 years. He looked quite startled. (I resisted the urge to tell him to butch up.)

The most extreme case of this was 15 years ago. I was on a committee working on a standard method to calibrate fiber optic measurement equipment. There were several committees, each working on a different type of measurement tool. The committees met two days before the start of a conference on photonic and fiber measurements. I wasn't really surprised that I didn't see a single other woman in the two dozen or so committee members, but expected to see more women when 500 people showed up for the conference. More women did show up. About two.

I'd like to think that it doesn't make any difference to me. I've been fortunate in never running into the sort of buffoonery at work that's been described recently at the Ruby conference and elsewhere. But even with coworkers who are perfectly pleasant, I know that being that only woman does affect me. When I was in college, I had a woman professor for a freshman English class, but by the middle of my second year, all the other professors were men. If you'd asked me about it at the time, I believe I would have said that it was a poor reflection on society, but that it didn't make any difference to my ability to learn and thrive in the university. I'm not a shrinking violet by any means, and didn't consider myself particularly intimidated by my professors or classmates. Spring term, I had a woman professor teaching a class in my major. Not just a woman, but a young woman who had recently finished her PhD in the field I was studying — someone I could see as myself in less than 10 years. I was astonished at how much more confident I was in her class.

#23 ::: Melody ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 08:45 PM:

Not long after I started coding some twumbly-mumbly years ago, my boss at the time used one of my more boneheaded constructs - a nested IF some dozen clauses deep - as an example of shiny badness to the rest of my group. Projected on a screen. To my whole work group...did I mention that part? Two of my coworkers (women) burst out laughing at the turbo-suckitude, and I was almost reduced to tears.

Fast-forward fifteen years to a different and wholly better scene, and I was in a position to hire one of these ladies to work for me. The rewarding thing turned out not to be hiring her in as my employee, but finding that she was if anything more unsure of her talent and skills after taking a long kid-raising break than I had ever been, and being in a position to (I think) help her a bit with that.

Thoughtful coders remember their early suckness very well, and have nothing but encouraging thoughts for novices.

#24 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 09:07 PM:

Abi - Like everyone has been saying, your feelings of guilt cross lines of gender and industry...

In my part of the nursing profession, we routinely have to make up our care plans on the fly, and implement them as we go. Aside from asking another nurse (of which there is only one other on duty), we're pretty much on our own. We're a small satellite operation kludged onto a local large trauma hospital down the street, with no on-site doc of our own. We have telephone access to the E.R. docs, but this works much better on paper than in reality. We also have a phonebook-sized policy/procedure manual that serves as our bosses 20/20 Hindsight Machine.

The upshot of all this is that we make all kinds of mistakes, all the time, and 99.9% of them don't impact the quality of our service to our patients. However, we get hauled into the office for beatings on a regular basis. Our bosses don't EVER give us permission to suck, because they enjoy the beatings too much. We (or at least I) have had to learn to forgive ourselves for the vast majority of our mistakes.

I always get among the top feedback scores from patients, and the worst reviews from my bosses. I treasure the former more than gold, and have made the latter worse for myself by repeatedly saying to my boss, "Hey, if that's the worst mistake I make all day, then I'm doing pretty damn good." (The Mantra)

Although actually saying that to my boss isn't the greatest for labour relations, it has really helped me to get over (mostly, but not completely, alas...) being my own worst critic, and let's me really focus in on the real learning opportunities, which I'm alerted to any time I find that using The Mantra isn't appropriate...

#25 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 09:12 PM:

Finding one's old suckitude can be amusing. Currently I'm working at a place where I developed pieces of the order processing system twenty years before, and one of my responsibilities is maintaining it.

So I'm going through some of this code, now old enough to vote, and frequently saying, "What was I thinking?"

#26 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 09:14 PM:

Time to tell the story of how I came to consider myself a good programmer. This requires a bit of back-story...

In one of my very early programming jobs, we had a fairly gender-balanced team -- male department head, 2 male programmers and me, 1 female junior programmer -- and we all worked together pretty well. Then the company hired another female programmer, and within 2 months she had managed to polarize the entire team into "girls" (her and the junior programmer) vs. "guys" (me and the men); I still don't know how she did it, though I'm sure I'd be more able to analyze her tactics now than I was then. It's telling that I wound up in the "guys" section -- I think it had to do with the fact that I could tell she was being manipulative (though I couldn't verbalize just how) and wouldn't play along with her game.

This was COBOL and BASIC on... I think it was a DEC PDP-11. I wasn't great with BASIC, but most of what we used it for was canned terminal-operation subroutine code, and it was well-commented and didn't need much maintenance. The meat of the system was the COBOL, and that's what I worked with.

We had terminal operators entering data into a common flat-file database; the boss wanted a program that would allow them to add, update, and delete the database records using the same screen format. He gave the assignment to the other female programmer. After a week, she got the junior programmer assigned to help her. They couldn't figure out the terminal-interface code; I remember at one point hearing them explain to the boss that they were "trying to eliminate all the non-essential code" (and I'm thinking, "WHAT non-essential code?"). After a full month, they were no closer to having a working program, and the boss (who was tired of waiting for this) took the assignment away from them and gave it to me.

I looked at the stack of paper they'd generated, said something equivalent to "fuck this shit", and started from scratch with a hard-copy of the data-entry program code. I had to add one entry field for the type of operation (add/change/delete), and then write separate routines for the change and delete functions, modeling them on the add function that was already present. It took me a grand total of... five days. The program was tested and running by the end of the following week.

Up to then, I had considered myself to be an average-level programmer, and thought that anyone competent could do as well as I did. This was an eye-opening experience, because I had no reason to think that either of the other women were incompetent -- if they were, why would they have been hired? And yet they fumbled around for a month and had no success with a moderately-complex project that took me a week (plus testing time) to complete. I never thought of myself as just an average programmer again.

It's true that I don't have any significant experience with the programming languages in common use now, but IME programming is programming; only the language changes, not the underlying structures and formats, and learning a new language is mostly a matter of learning how to do old things in new ways. What eventually drove me out of programming were two things: (1) I worked for too long on an obsolete system, and then nobody was willing to give me a learning curve on newer ones, even though I've always been a quick study on that; and (2) I got fucking sick and tired of always being the office freak -- which had nothing to do with my gender, only my politics and interests.

I don't really have an overall point to make, I'm just presenting this story as a datapoint.

#27 ::: D.Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 09:17 PM:

When I first produced code for business use back around 1981, I sought out dock workers and other individuals who did not use computers at all. I then explained just enough about the program and asked them to then react to the on-screen form to see if it made sense to them and whether there were any problems. My programs became very good quite quickly because I looked for what posed a problem to them and not what was easier for me to code. I'm happy to say the company let me produce 52 programs handling plastics compounding, machine scheduling, and a few miscellaneous tasks while I was with them.

Your efforts at testing are very important, if not critical. Don't put yourself down.

#28 ::: Danielle L. Parker ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 09:35 PM:

An interesting anecdote.

Let me add a bit from my experience: I am a female who started as a programmer (Fortran was the first stuff I wrote). I went through 15+ years in IT and Telecomm and ended up as a project manager who often worked with R&D testing buggy software... for huge complex CRM systems.

And I was often the only female among men doing the job. And the better you are, the tougher you are in the job, the less your male colleagues will even think of you as a woman.

I am reminded of a story I heard about an American woman who was sent to do business with the Japanese during what was no doubt the height of the gender gap there. Eventually they simply treated her like a man. Right down to the obligatory social events at the late-night karoke bars.

Men are by nature competitive, and I know from experience that the IT business is one of the most competitive there is. Enjoy the kindliness you get now from men who are actually probably quite happy you're at the fumbling around stage. When you get to the, excuse me, emasculation stage--when you're as good at their job as they are and better--things will change. And you won't like it.

Real-life experience, sister. But good luck. Keep plugging. You'll learn the technical stuff if you want to, and damn the torpedos. Keep at it.

#29 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 09:50 PM:

An old book, The Psychology of Computer Programming, described a couple of cases that stuck in memory.

One contrasted a knowledgeable and experienced engineer with a beginner programmer. The experienced engineer would submit his card decks (the story told is in the murky depths of the beginning of computer programming) to the programming department; if there was a problem, he would submit them twice again before examining his work, because he thought it was more likely that the programming staff made a mistake than it was that he had made a mistake. The beginner was more willing (and able) to learn from his mistakes; eventually, he remained, while the 'expert' retired from the field.

Another story involved a math student working with the computer engineers who figured out a clever solution to a problem. He lorded it over the engineers for weeks, until he goofed on another problem that they were able to easily solve. They in turn paid him back with merciless teasing, until he left the department. From what I'd read of Ted Kaczynski, I'd wondered if this was the first description of the Unabomber.

#30 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 10:06 PM:

Melody #23: Deeply nested IFs can get pretty scary, but in my first paid programming job (after freshman year of college), I wrote a working program with two crossed loops... in PASCAL!

These days, I have a completely different issue, yet still relevant to the thread. My last job traumatized my professional identity (abusive workplace). Combined with other factors, including the death of my father, that sent me into a disabling depression, from which I've only begun to emerge recently (some ten years later). That's left my programming skills not only rusty, but seriously out of date....

#31 ::: Mashell ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 10:34 PM:

I am apparently in the minority here as I work in IT in an office where women outnumber men. True, we are all COBOL people,so maybe the gender gap is more relevant to the new languages.
I have to say though that I am studying for a Master's in Software Engineering and the program is exactly 50/50 between men and women, and we are all trying to learn Java together and equally sucking at it, no matter our gender.

As for the importance of QA, I can speak from the perspective of trying to fix a major production error only one week ago that should have been detected in UAT, but the tester only verified messages halfway thru the process without following them through to the customer - IT didn't catch it as it was a affecting existing processing, and the new process worked fine, which is all IT checked. Never underestimate the importance of a good tester!

#32 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 10:37 PM:

This is not unique to IT. The other American woman in the village and I often feel that our failures in Dutch language and manners reflect badly on every one of the 307 million people in the United States. Individually. Sorry about that.

As a relatively rare breed in my current country of residence (white, in Japan), I feel a huge pressure to be as polite as I'm capable of. If I am walking down a street, and an old lady says something in my general direction IN AMERICA, I'll ignore it 99% of the time. Here, in Japan, where somehow, I feel that my behavior can/will impact people's perceptions of white people in general (or even just young, long-haired, white males) I'll stop and see if she was trying to talk to me, and if so, see if I can figure out what she wanted. I cross against traffic lights much much less. I take off my headphones when dealing with convenience store cashiers...

Yes, those are things that I should do anyway. But when I'm the only thing on the line, it's often not worth it (to me).

I have no idea if it's a good thing, or a bad thing. But there is a certain way in which people become representatives, whether they want to or not...

#33 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 10:52 PM:

Lee @ #26, "(1) I worked for too long on an obsolete system, and then nobody was willing to give me a learning curve on newer ones"

Ah, I recognize this. First job: IBM S/34. I spent 10 years at it. When things switched to AS/400 I couldn't get a job.

#34 ::: Melody ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 11:06 PM:

David @30: I have a healthy measure of datedness myself, as I work in a very old, limited-market 4GL called Natural. There are maybe a handful of m/f Nat/ada shops left in the Midwest.

I haven't had long enough gaps in my coding career to have personal experience, but some of my friends tell me that it was really the bike thing for them - slowly remembering everything over a surprisingly short number of months, and emerging pretty much where they were.

A couple of us took some short HTML, XML, XSL and JavaScript classes at work a few years ago and ended up only using it for one brief project and that was it. One, though, decided to experiment with it in his own time, and did a cool website that gained him some moderate notice and eventually a great opportunity elsewhere. My better self thinks that this would be a wise path to follow to diversify a bit, but the absolute last thing I want to do when I quit working for the day is more coding.

Good luck in whatever direction you decide to go!

#35 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 11:37 PM:

Stereotype threat seems like it might be a useful idea to add to the mix here. Basically, it's the phenomenon in which reminding people of their association with some group that has a negative stereotype (women are bad at math, black people are stupid, etc.) will reduce their performance. Even something as simple as asking someone to check a male/female box at the beginning of a math test will adversely affect women's performance.

#36 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 11:45 PM:

Melody @ 23: Thoughtful coders people remember their early suckness very well, and have nothing but encouraging thoughts for novices.

I think fixing your sentiment up like that makes for a better general rule. Either way is very true, and something I aspire to.

edward oleander @ 24: Abi - Like everyone has been saying, your feelings of guilt cross lines of gender and industry...

This is true, but matters of gender and industry conspire to make it more difficult to deal with anyway. I can feel that I've done a poor job at work, whether I have or not, but I don't have to worry that my entire gender is being judged based on my performance as I'm male.

Disciplines like programming and engineering are fundamentally cooperative, however they can also be competitive. In our society, a woman being competitive is automatically at a disadvantage. For example, if a man expresses strong feelings on a particularly contentious design decision, he's being strong and assertive; if a woman did the same thing (or even with less vehemence), she'd be uncooperative and 'bitchy'. Combine that with even run-of-the-mill insecurities, and, well...

And, of course, the obligatory and already multiply-linked xkcd cartoon.

So I'm not disagreeing, and I do think that pointing out that a lot of people across the board feel this way can be very helpful. I just wanted to add that it doesn't address the whole picture, even though it should.

#37 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 11:46 PM:

When did I enter the market as a programmer? Let's see. The year Freaky Friday was released, if I remember correctly. In all the jobs I had, from the Quebec govt to a Mississauga appliance maker to a San Francisco importer/exporter to the faux-relaxed Gap to where I am now, there were always as many women as men, in management and in the trenches. Is that so unusual?

#38 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 11:48 PM:

Linkmeister, #33: Very nearly identical, except mine was the S/36. If we'd ever even gone to S/38 I'd have probably been okay, since the OS on the 400 was based on the one from the 38. But I had no experience that would even begin to port, and when I tried taking an AS/400 certification course in night school, it turned out to be Basic Programming -- which I didn't need. I was hoping for an intensive short course on using the OS, but they didn't have that.

#39 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 12:23 AM:

heresiarch @ 35: Thanks for hunting down the Stereotype Threat link. I was remembering reading an article about that, but unable to summon up the name of it. It's a remarkable how we can sabotage ourselves without realizing we're even doing it.

#40 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 12:34 AM:

Serge @ 37 ...
In all the jobs I had, from the Quebec govt to a Mississauga appliance maker to a San Francisco importer/exporter to the faux-relaxed Gap to where I am now, there were always as many women as men, in management and in the trenches. Is that so unusual?

Yes. In the vast majority of jobs that I've held, there were seldom more than one or two women in 'deep' technical/programming roles. Project management, in spades -- databases[0], again, routinely. At my current employer, while the gender balance is actually fairly healthy as these things go, there are few enough women that they don't need to identify themselves on most calls.

[0] I have no idea why I think that databases aren't 'deep technical/programming roles', but I clearly have that bias in spades. Possibly due to SQL...

#41 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 12:40 AM:

Serge, very much so.

When I worked for a medium-sized (and famous among geeks) development company, while there were a fair number of women in QA and in tech support and tech pubs, there were basically none (eventually, one, but that took a long time) in development. For years.

At the company where I work now, women are maybe 1/15th of the engineers; on the other hand, most of our QA engineers are women.

(It's also true that 2/3 of our developers are first generation Chinese or Indian immigrants, and as far as I can tell everyone other than me is straight ... for all that Silicon Valley claims to value diversity, it's not clear that those claims translate into practice.)

#42 ::: Jim Lund ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 12:49 AM:

I'm someone who spent three weeks at the start of programming trying to get a program to count the number of a, c, g, t, & n's in a text file and went on to get good at programming. Starting was slow for me and I've got the knack for it. My Y chromosome didn't magic away the errors. The beginning of the programming skill curve has a very shallow slope...

Programming is fairly unforgiving for beginners. A beginning painter makes crude but recognizable pictures while a beginning programmer only makes error messages.

#43 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 12:57 AM:

A lot of what I'd like to say has already been said, but I'm going to try to talk about some of these issues from a slightly different viewpoint. For part of my career in computers it's been my job to try to understand how programs are developed, how they could be developed better, and why repeated attempts to improve matters have failed miserably. This turns out to be very much related to the prejudice against women that's so common in the field, and the truly dreadful way in which some male programmers will speak of and to their female colleagues.

First, some history of female presence in the field, as I see it (very much IMHO). Initially, programming consisted of low-level coding in assembly language and such, almost all done by hardware engineers who were almost exclusively male*, scientific coding in Fortran, mostly done by (male) scientists, and business programming in COBOL and such. Now the last case was considered by the industry culture to be a low-level job little better than data-entry, requiring mostly the ability to type quickly. At this time many men refused to learn how to touch type, as it was considered a menial skill, fit for (female) secretaries, so women could often get junior business programmers jobs**.

Sometime in the mid to late '60s the emphasis in computing jobs started to shift from hardware to software, as more standard computer models became available, more application code needed to be written for people who couldn't write programs themselves, and the US and UK governments started pouring money into defense and operational computer systems. The relative lack of trained programmers pushed both the status and the pay of such jobs up, and men started being interested in training for and getting those jobs. This put men and women into competition for programming jobs, and as the status changes became apparent to hiring managers, more men and fewer women were hired.

This trend continued until around the beginning of the dot.kaboom, which was also about the time that deep cuts were going into effect in defense spending as a result of the end of the Cold War. The "software industry" (scare quotes, because just then it was in the process of morphing into several different industries) noticed that if their predictions of success in internet software were accurate they were going to need about 5 million more programmers than they had. So they started beating up the universities about changing their curricula to be more trade-based than research- and theory-based. The unis, already suffering from loss of government grants, bent the knee and went along.

Now a strange thing happened. Graduates were no longer "Computer Scientists" or "Computer Engineers"†, they were "Programmers". What had been a trade when it was good enough for women, and then became a profession suited for men, suddenly was again considered a trade, with lowered status, advancement expectations, and requirements for creativity and theoretical understanding. This put many programmers, mostly male I believe, in the position of having to find some way to justify, or at least deny, the lowering of status. One time-tested way to do that is to identify a minority group and claim to be better than they are, up to and including public vilification. And thus it was, and still is to a large extent today.

Now this is a sort of slice of the history; I haven't talked about all the changes that went on, or all the cultural and economic factors that caused them. But it's a part of the situation that I haven't seen talked about much, and one I think deserves to be recognized. It also has had major effects on the lot of programmers in general, both male and female. If I have some time tomorrow, I'll try to post about those.

* "Girls aren't any good with machinery" among other specious reasons.
** The IBM "Chief Programmer Team" concept was often used, in which a (male) lead programmer wrote flowcharts and data structures, and the junior (female) programmers typed in the code.
† Though a few "Software Engineers" were graduating, about whom I'll say nothing in this post.

#44 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:03 AM:

Re suckitude: I am not a particularly good programmer, something I try to tell all my prospective employers. There are two reasons for that: first, my talent lies more in architecting and designing programs than in writing detailed code. Second, I have a short attention span, so I find that after a few years of working in a field, I get bored and want to do something else. So I'm usually at the point in working with some set of tools and techniques where I'm still figuring out how not to suck.

I wish more people understood that this is a good thing.

#45 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:07 AM:

Bruce, my official title is "Lead Software Engineer", but I call myself a programmer, because I'm not really convinced that what I do is actually engineering; most of the time it's more like emergency fly-by-my-pants firefighting. I'm at best a professional tinkerer and hacker.

I've been pretty much insulated from most of the trends you describe - only working at two companies and so therefore having the corporate cultures loom larger in some ways than the global culture - but one thing rings true: the job of computer programming does seem to me to be much lower status today than it did in 1995. I've always assumed that my perception was wrong in 1995, and that as my social circle grew and I was exposed to something outside the Santa Cruz bubble, I became more able to see the way things really are(tm); but your comment is making me wonder if maybe that's less true than I imagine.

#46 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:09 AM:

xeger @ 40... aphrael @ 41... Then I can consider myself blessed. Even in college, the male/female ratio was even, and they were all in development. The only discrepancy has been with employees (full-time and contractors) from India. They're much more likely to be male than female, but even then, two of my 6 co-workers from India are women. Like I said, I feel blessed.

#47 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:12 AM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) @ 43 ...
An extra data point for you, about ENIAC.

Now a strange thing happened. Graduates were no longer "Computer Scientists" or "Computer Engineers"†, they were "Programmers".

Given the sheer number of programmers who aren't CS or CE grads at all, this doesn't really surprise me at all.

That aside, I'm afraid that I'm not following your logic from "why do programs sucks" through to "men with inferiority complexes".

I'd certainly agree that the vast majority of programs suck. In fact, I'd be generally inclined to posit that any program over a given (small) degree of complexity is pretty much guaranteed to suck, -unless- there's directed (asserted? assertive?) design and refactoring involved.

Hm. Then again, I can certainly see a the possibility of a gender difference right there -- there's a documented tendency for guys to "just do it", and for gals to "figure out what and why, and then try it"... neither of which on their own are necessarily helpful.

#48 ::: Lawrence ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:17 AM:

You know, the sort of attitudes cited in #7 aren't limited to technical fields. When I was editing Newer York, I wound up with twenty-five stories -- three by husband-and-wife teams, eight by women, and fourteen by men.

Of the seventy-three stories I rejected, five were by women and sixty-eight were by men.

I'd like to say all the utter crap came from men, but two of the five rejected stories by women well and truly sucked. Still, in general, it seemed as if males were willing to take a chance with anything, while females only sent stuff when they thought they had something really good.

#49 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:41 AM:

In 40 years in the industry, I haven't seen much sign of prejudice against female programmers. But this may be more a facet of the types of places I've worked than the general tenor of the field. I also have not seen anywhere NEAR equal numbers of female programmers.

Anyway, just for the record --

There were a couple of women at my very first job, when I was working part-time doing 1401 assembly code when I was 15. I'm still not sure where they learned to do it, certainly not in any course. This was at Carleton, a small liberal-arts college, and much of their programming was done by students, and then they hired in some people from the highschool (starting with me) when they needed more.

First National Bank of St. Paul didn't have any women I noticed doing software; certainly not directly in the group I was in, anyway.

Van Dusen air had one woman programming (nearly everybody had been hired recently for the same big project). She and a couple of the men were just out of school (as was I, but my resume had 8 years of experience at that point).

DEC Minneapolis (software support specialists) didn't have any women while I was there, though I believe one woman moved from group secretary to software support shortly after I left).

DEC Large Computer Software Engineering had, oh, I think five women, including one of the consultant-level people over in the TOPS-20 monitor group (I have a nagging feeling I'm forgetting one or two, people in other groups I didn't see much of). Also two group managers.

I'm remembering a couple of more recent hires at Network Systems. (In all of these, the company as a whole nearly certainly had more women; I'm mentioning the ones I worked with or knew in the group.) (And quite a few in testing.)

I don't remember any that I interacted with at the short contract at Honeywell avionics (and I was doing testing there; developing test software at least).

Multilogic didn't have any women in software (until they brought in two different women to be the engineering manager, sequentially). Small company, there were only 5 of us in software most of the time, and three of them came kind of as a group. It seems to me there were even some women at the IEEE 802.1 meetings, though since those were only a few times a year with some turnover, I don't remember details much.

The sub-group I was in at Sun had one woman out of 4 (and she was from mainland China).

No women anywhere near software at my current hedge fund.

I really don't remember anybody ever suggesting that women weren't good at software, or blaming bad results on a person being female, or anything. I'd have noticed anything clear, since it doesn't fit my experience (or prejudices). But you'll notice I haven't been in software departments attached to heavy engineering work, or in any big old companies (except that brief Honeywell contract; a few months). I have a theory that there's more likely to be a problem at some of those other kinds of places.

My experience has enough small groups in it that it's hard to make any clear conclusions. I would say that there hasn't been the increase in women in the field that I would have told you, in the 1970s, that I rather expected. I have no idea why. I've been involved in interviewing people at most of these places, and nowhere did I see any recognizable signs that people were resisting hiring women. I did see a shortage of female applicants.

Software may be a field that's especially hard to reenter after being away for a number of years, so taking time off to be a full-time parent, which women still do a LOT more than men, may keep women from advancing or cause them to drop out more. If you don't have the right buzzwords on your resume you won't get considered especially for lower-level jobs, and if you've been out of the field for a decade you probably won't have those words on your resume.

Sucking happens. Missing things happens even after you're not regularly sucking. Software is a REALLY bad field for people who have to be right all the time; it consists of creating a series of successive approximations of the software you really want, each of which sucks a bit less than the previous one. You spend essentially ALL your time beating your head against walls of one sort or another, because that's the only really slow thing; the parts where you accomplish something whiz by.

The concept that people might be afraid to ask questions is so foreign to me that I have to handle it as a purely intellectual concept. Well, I can see why people might not want to risk getting me started explaining something at a party; but that's a different issue.

#50 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 02:19 AM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ #49, If you don't have the right buzzwords on your resume you won't get considered. . .

Or even if you do.

I'm not good at electronic resumés yet.

#51 ::: Sharon M ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 02:25 AM:

My own programming data point - in college, in the 90s, I was one of 3 women in an intro programming class (Pascal) of 25. By the end of the second week, I was the only woman, and it was uncomfortable. My mistakes felt magnified all out of proportion, and the jokes were about as funny then as they are now. When I went to drop the class (I had 21 hours that semester, and it just wasn't worth the hassle), the prof didn't understand why. (He thought it was funny! I should lighten up!)

So I made a web page in 94, then worked part-time for the computing center, then I graduated, and they hired me full time, and I've been making websites freelance for several years now. (Poor shiny never used degree.)

I don't think of what I do as programming - it's just markup, really, and design. And css, and javascript, and sometimes modifying other stuff. You know, not proper programming. And I'm still a little disappointed that I gave up on that class.

#52 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 03:08 AM:

One of the most common ways that beginning programmers get Permission to Suck is by having such low standards that they don't notice they are sucking. That was certainly my strategy. As a colleague puts it: if you aren't embarrassed by the work you did five years ago, it shows you haven't learnt anything.

This must make it more difficult for testers to learn to program -- if het Abiveld can routinely break the work of experienced coders, it must be murder on beginning programs.

#53 ::: Doug Burbidge ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 03:23 AM:

Dear Abi:

> I feel guilty for sucking.

There's a relatively small issue which I have been putting off for over a week now -- basically, making a phone call to someone. And I felt guilty about it because I knew that I should be doing it, and the more I put it off the worse I felt, and the harder that made it to actually go and do the thing.

But hearing you, a person who from here on the other side of the world sounds pretty damn awesome, say that there are things on which you feel you suck made me suck it up (so to speak) and face the thing, and make the phone call, and now that it's done it was really no big thing.

So, thank you.

#54 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 03:45 AM:

abi, just a thought, but do you have to learn programming with the language everyone else is using?

I can see how this can feed into the job: the IDE and the scripting language are pretty obvious. And it will help to understand the way in which things are done in a program you're testing. Maybe reading code matters more than writing?

But I've never felt comfortable about languages such as the C family, or Perl. I've written useful, if trivial, code in the DOS batch language, Pascal, and Awk. And Python looks tempting.

It's getting that first language that's difficult, grokking the concepts. Wasn't Pascal originally designed with that in mind?

But can you dodge the immediate pressure to learn the language your co-workers are so good with?

#55 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 03:53 AM:

In my twelve years in IT, I have been in exactly one meeting* that had no men in it. It was a test program progress meeting, and the one guy who usually attended was on vacation.

I said something about it at the time, to a male colleague. "Huh," he said, "I've been in all-male meetings all week."

-----
* where a meeting is a group of more than two people assembling at a pre-arranged time to discuss an agreed topic

#56 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 04:10 AM:

Doug @53:

I find phone calls hugely difficult; ones I've put off are doubly so. I'm glad that I helped get you over the barrier, and that it wasn't so bad in the end.

(And I appreciate the compliment.)

#57 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 04:29 AM:

janetl @16:

You point to the well-known "pay peanuts, learn to expect monkeys" pattern of QA. Sometimes I think we're lucky that there are any other patterns.

My (partly designed) good fortune is that I am not only the sole tester at my company, but also our first tester. Add to that the fact that many of my colleagues are relatively young, and haven't been around the industry long. Basically, I get to create my own reality, with only my own particular ghosts and twitches holding me back.

The result is that none of my colleagues treat me as an inferior. Infernal, infuriating, infelicitous and informative, yes. (It helps that my boss sets the tone for the team, and the tone is "we like it when Abi finds bugs, because then our customers don't."*)

Oh, and since I was the first tester, I got to set pay expectations, too. My non-negotiable demand: pay parity with developers with equivalent experience.

-----
* There are occasional outbreaks of rebellion against this attitude. Just now, one of the developers has a bad case of "Works on My Machine, Mark Resolved", but I think he'll pull through after a few more side by side walkthroughs.

#58 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 04:44 AM:

the tone is "we like it when Abi finds bugs, because then our customers don't."

From a business perspective that's the only tone which makes sense. Far better to find bugs in testing than in the field.

#59 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 06:10 AM:

re women in open source software.

The only OS project I've been even remotely connected with is the fannish 'Archive of Our Own' project from the OTW.

That project grew out of the female dominated corners of livejournal fandom and most of the people working on it are women and a significant portion hadn't really done much coding before they started but were happy to learn and are doing great work.

The OTW's happy Ada Lovelace day post.

As for me personally, yes I've been the only woman in the room in company meetings and until recently I was the only woman in the company I worked for. However I was working in a small start up that only had two people full time for a good while, so my co worker was the only guy in the room as well. Heh..

Still when I was doing my undergraduate CS degree the ratio started out as something like 20 women and 140 men. When I graduated three years later it was around 14 women and 30 men graduating.

#60 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 06:22 AM:

Abi,

I'm sure that you know it already, but you might want to look into testnet (www.testnet.org), the Dutch guild for test professionals, if you want some of that peer groupiness. Being the only tester on a project can suck hard, because everything that goes wrong is down to you and you have nobody to compare your succes rate to. It's been an eye-opener for me to be working for the last two years as a test coordinator on a large project with dozens of other testers and realise, hey, I actually am better than 99 percent of them (he said modestly). But when working on your own, you not own your successes, but more importantly all your failures too and those tend to stick in the mind more.

One reason testers don't get no respect is that really, you don't need so many macho tools to be one. Ninety percent of the work can be done using no more complicated software than Word and Excel. No cool toys = not interesting to IT geeks.


#61 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 07:04 AM:

I started work as a tester back in 1998, for a semi-public company involved with social security. when I got there it was almost all male, with the usual mix of newbies like me, some retrained employes fromt he shopfloor and one or two experienced consultants. Because of y2k and the introduction of the euro, as well as new developments in social security law that team grew from 30 and it became most gender balanced team I ever worked in, though still only 25-30 percent female.

The reasons it had even that high a percentage of women was imo down to two reasons: 1) the manager was female and 2) most importantly, the company made a deliberate attempt to get women on staff, through sponsoring "return to the workforce" programmes and the like aimed at mothers, being willing to let people work part-time. Whether this programme was done out of idealism or just because everybody who could get Windows to start got an IT job at the time I don't know, but it proved that if you want more women, you need to work on it.

Since I've left there I've never again worked anywhere with the gender balance being that equal; most places the number of women you work with are much much lower than the number of men. At the same time, they often tend to be key figures: managers, expert consultants and so on and much less "warm bodies". Which leads me to believe that in the Netherlands at least, female IT professionals need to be much better than their male counterparts if they want to make a career of it, much more easily discouraged from doing so, by their peers and bosses and perhaps also by their own expectations.

#62 ::: pensnest ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 08:05 AM:

A couple of interesting pages that came to mind when I read this:

http://infotrope.net/blog/2009/03/25/ada-lovelace-day-two-ground-breaking-open-source-projects/

Talks about two mostly-female Open Source projects.

http://infotrope.net/blog/2009/05/19/dispatches-from-the-revolution/

Includes comments about people's experiences working on these projects. Very interesting stuff.

#63 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 08:36 AM:

abi, #67:

My (partly designed) good fortune is that I am not only the sole tester at my company, but also our first tester. Add to that the fact that many of my colleagues are relatively young, and haven't been around the industry long. Basically, I get to create my own reality, with only my own particular ghosts and twitches holding me back.

Why can't you simply adopt your coworkers' account of what you do, since it seems to hold you in higher esteem than your angst is allowing you?

From the few days I spent testing software, my best moment came when I hosed the server. I did a dance, and felt free to raid the refrigerator. I represented the user, and what I knew of coding played no role of it.

#64 ::: David S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 08:47 AM:

If you haven't already, read "The Bug" by Ellen Ullman, I think it'll help and might even make some of the worry go away. A female tester who doesn't code joins a software project and finally has to learn to code (and cope with the heavily male dominated project and their attitudes).

A novel that explains programming to non-programmers (in C yet! With actual code snippets!) in a way that makes sense and yet doesn't kill the narrative, while managing to also tell a great human story with involving characters (some of whom were scarily reminiscent of people I've worked with during 25+ years in IT). And then there's the bug of the title, that character was like an old friend, I've seen and tracked them many times.

Until I read it a few years back I would have laughed at anyone claiming such a book could be written. She did it though and it's amazing.

#65 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 09:16 AM:

abi @ 55... I have been in exactly one meeting* that had no men in it

Me, I've never been in one of those, hard as I tried. Mind you, am I really in a meeting if I'm 1100 miles away from everybody?

#66 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 09:30 AM:

abi @ 57... I get to create my own reality

I for one welcome our evil reality-testing Overlady.

#67 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 10:39 AM:

I, not being a software/hardware sort (I play with wetware... whole nother world), am at something of a loss to find something constructive to say.

edward oleander: Abi - Like everyone has been saying, your feelings of guilt cross lines of gender and industry...

I don't think that's really true. Yes, men (in all lines of work) can feel the sort of generic guilt. I've never felt I was carrying the additional burden of my gender.

I have felt the problem, in some way, when I was the only American, or the only National Guard Soldier, but those are issues of a corporate identity which isn't quite so much intrinsic. I can divorce myself from those other twits and idjits. If I work at it enough, am likeable enough, I will be judged on my merits, even if I trip and fall.

As the xkcd strip points out (and my observational experience supports), women don't get that advantage.

I've taught a lot of people to shoot. In my experience women are better students on the range. They bring fewer preconceptions about how guns work, and have fewer built-in ideas about how to handle them.

Most of the shooting instructors I know say the same thing. But.... I still hear, all the time, "women just aren't good with guns".

abi... from here, I'd love to be as sucky at what I do, as you seem to be at what you do.

#68 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 10:46 AM:

Giving yourself permission to suck is a very important thing for people at all levels of learning, but it needs to be coupled with acknowledging when something you did sucks. I'm quite well established in my field, and I really have to push myself to be willing to try new stuff, expose my weaknesses and lacks of knowledge, etc. That's how you get smarter and learn more, but it's still a bit like putting on a dunce cap in front of your co-workers. I keep having younger co-workers point out new stuff I didn't know about, and it's always a temptation to pretend like I already knew all about it and BS my way through. (And I probably would, except I don't want to be that guy, if you know what I mean.)

The other place where I notice this is in speaking Spanish to native speakers. It's amazing how hard I find it to just go ahead and say something when I'm not sure if it's quite correct, or (worse) when I know it's not quite right but I'm just not sure which tense I'm supposed to be in for different parts of the sentence. This may be a bit more like abi's situation, because most people who don't know me expect me to know zero Spanish, and after two or three words, probably expect a high school Spanish level of conversation. (It took quite awhile of going to Spanish mass regularly before most of the people there realized that I actually spoke Spanish, partly because of my own shyness in saying anything.)

#69 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 11:21 AM:

albatross @ 68 ...
Giving yourself permission to suck is a very important thing for people at all levels of learning

Heh. I don't often show my sketchbook to people, partly because I'm not particularly comfortable showing off my efforts -- but mostly because it's not an art sketchbook per se - I use it to draw out costuming and woodworking plans.

That said, I was off helping man a booth at an event, (which boils down to lots of time to do handwork), and I'd taken it out to check a sketch without really noting that there was a well known (in that context) artist hanging about with us. The artist asked if he could take a look through it. I attempted to demur, failed, and passed it over. His comment, which I've tried to take to heart since then boiled down to

    "You need to stop trying to be perfect, and just try".

It's -really- hard to create things that, well, suck -- even more so if you're already known to be competent (or better) in a variety of fields.

I'd argue that it's even worse if the first reactions to what you've done, _even if you know it sucks_ boil down to "Boy, that sucks! Why did you bother doing -that-?".

Hmm... and that plays into gender difference in other ways too, I suspect. There's an interesting post about men and women over at Kari Hultman's blog, The Village Carpenter, where she points out that (among other things), a little encouragement goes a long way with women.

#70 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 11:44 AM:

The other American woman in the village and I often feel that our failures in Dutch language and manners reflect badly on every one of the 307 million people in the United States. Individually. Sorry about that.

Well, now I know who to blame. Gah!

-

On a more serious note, an anecdote on the topic:

I was not a CS student, but I took several courses and knew a great many CS students. There were maybe a half-dozen women in the entirety of the CS department, or at least in the higher-level classes. Of the women I ran into, they behaved in two ways:

A few were really good at what they did. These women did everything themselves and everyone knew they was excellent and respected them.

All the others got by because they asked guys for help. They were flirtatious, always leaning on some guy's shoulder in the computer lab to watch what he did, always making coy comments. They weren't less competent that many of the men, or perhaps even sufficient in numbers to make the proportion of incompetence worse for women than for men. They were very obvious.

The other women blended in because they did their own thing, just as the competent guys did. The only women anyone really noticed were the incompetent ones because they made a point of being notices; it was how they passed the classes. By contrast, the incompetent men went out of their way to not be noticed when they didn't know what they were doing, always asking for help in hushed tones and shadowed corners.

The end result of this was women appearing incompetent, which is very unfortunate.

#71 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 11:47 AM:

I have had the opposite experience-- a bunch of random events have led to me being surrounded by women (I am one) from second grade on. Gifted program in elementary school had twenty-five to thirty students, and seven boys. High school was more balanced, but I was still in choir, theatre, and speech*, which had a lot of girls. College? Bio program, thirty-three people by senior year, six or seven guys and none of them 'counted'**. Grad school, environmental engineering? My immediate peer group tended female, and the biology-oriented people are still female. It breaks down almost perfectly by lab: mine, doing lots of biology, is mostly female, while the water-quality and chemistry people are mostly male.

This means that a) I am in a mostly-female group and still resent it in the larger context of the group and b) I still, at twenty-five, have to remind myself that I'm allowed to interact with men.

I got a Master's this year, and I feel bad about it-- I had planned to get a PhD. I'm letting us down. I was the awesome nerdy girl in the (soft female) science, and now I'm leaving.

When I learn new things, I mostly remind myself that it doesn't have to be perfect. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing badly.


*broken up into pronoun groups by event-- our extempers were male, our OOers were female, and most of the rest tended female.
**here meaning 'going to grad school or otherwise notable'.

#72 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 12:01 PM:

Regarding the matter of actually learning to program: Abi, have you seen the Project Euler pages? It's a list of programming problems, starting with relatively simple ones and working up. Apparently (I haven't yet registered myself) there's also a facility to verify answers for each problem. This seems like a good way to build your skills privately.

#73 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 12:25 PM:

albatross/xeger: I am (for all that I am competent) reluctant to use my Russian when I don't have to. Foot, self, shoot.

When it comes to my photography... showing a portfolio is kind of hard too. I've gotten better at that, because I know that 1: the selection is made, and 2: it's going to take another photographer to see the weaknesses, and we will just talk shop (probably were talking shop when the book came out).

Which brings me to abi's point... It took me years (maybe decades, hard to say) before I gave myself permission to suck at photography.

Thanks abi... I think I just became a better photographer.

#74 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 12:31 PM:

When I worked in a university CompSci department in the Eighties, we offered degrees through the Engineering, Arts & Sciences, and Business colleges, with different requirements. Almost all of the first-year Engineering students were male. I'd say about thirty percent of the first-quarter Arts & Sciences students were female, but the percentage dropped rapidly. The Business classes were usually pretty even, but all their upper-division stuff was in their own college, so we didn't see them in our labs after the first two years.

We had thousands (~4000, IIRC) of students taking classes each quarter, and averaged across the entire department, I'd be surprised if more than 10% were women. And we didn't supply much in the way of positive role models, with only a handful of female grad students and TAs.

Fast-forward to today, where I'm in a small Silicon Valley startup that's not quite a boy's club, but there is only one female software developer, and she's a recent hire. Her presence at meetings and in the middle of the cube farm is slowly affecting the locker-room culture; the female PM has just been putting up with it for so long in her career that she just lets it go by...

-j

#75 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 12:34 PM:

Abi @ 10: An irrational thing can still be real, both to me and to the people around me.

You betcha (as you say). During a convention about five years ago, I joined some friends in their hotel room for a quiet take-out dinner, and another guy tagged along. A little while later, he pulled a little box out of his pocket, holding some cicadas he'd caught, and started showing them off to people around him.

One of my friends has an insect phobia. She became very uncomfortable. I pointed this out to the guy, and asked him to put the box away, or (better) to take it outside. His reaction was to say "But they're harmless!" and wave the box in her direction. As you might expect, this really didn't help. I had to tell him rather pointedly to get them out of the room.

My friend knows perfectly well that her reaction is irrational. That makes it no less real. Reasonable people with some degree of empathy can take that into consideration.

#76 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 12:53 PM:

Xeger @69: You need to stop trying to be perfect, and just try.

Xeger, that one's going in my permanent mental notebook. Thank you.

#77 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 12:53 PM:

When we live in Grover Beach Maia and I had dinners once a week for friends. Maia was in Large Animals, and because there were overlaps (it's a Science Degree, not an Arts degree, so she is, as of now, AA/AS/BS/MS OT/R[L-pending]), we had a largish contingent of engineering students. One of them was female.

None of the Large Animal Students were female. We had a boyfriend (CS) and a bunch of structural/mechanical engineers (there was also a wife: non-student). At the risk of stereotyping, the female engineering student had to be much more aggressive than the males.

When the males weren't over (they didn't come all the time) she was much less so. One of the things I noticed was the sense of discounting they gave her. I, a non-engineer; but former machinist, could talk about things in which they were training, and be believed. She could say something, and be discounted; until I chimed in. At which point I'd be agreed with, and have to point out she had said it.

Compare that to the Large Animal group. They were on equal footing with each other, and didn't take any guff from the boys, which confused them, but they were out of their depth, and when they tried to fake it, well they lost.

There was the evening they decided to try and gross out the house. The women went... "You think that's gross? Hey Maia, Alexa, do either of you have "x text". At which point the dicsussion was all about reproductive disorders of sheep and cattle.

But even there, as I reflect, the oddity wasn't so much that the women were stronger stomached, but they were impressed I wasn't grossed out.

So... I can really see where being female in those enviroments would be a hard row to hoe.

#78 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:18 PM:

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. I remind myself of this continually, and usually forget it anyway.

I've felt dismissed as part of a group that "everyone knows" is no good in one way or another. I once had a woman tell me that she knew I had to be a racist, because I had blond hair* and blue eyes** and a midwestern accent. (No, I swear, she was serious. The irony of this claim did not impinge on her consciousness at all.) I once had a guy chat me up in a gay bar because I was blond, and lose interest when he discovered that I wasn't stupid—which he admitted he expected of blonds, and that's why he liked them (I think I dodged a bullet on that occasion).

I'm not sure I've felt responsible for representing a group to which I belong, except maybe Wiccans.

Joel, deliberately exposing someone to the object of their phobia is evil and possibly tortious (IANAL). That guy should have been kicked out of the restaurant entirely IMO. Also...insects at the dinner table? Repellent at best, even for people with no especial phobia. In other words, wotta jerrok.
___
*   I did, at the time.
** She wasn't looking closely enough.

#79 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:26 PM:

DDB @#49: "in 40 years in the industry, I haven't seen much sign of prejudice against female programmers." Doesn't the list of jobs you follow with, with the paucity of women in pretty much all of them, indicate something other than random chance is resulting in women not working in the field? Really -- what would be the probability that every one of those jobs you've had would have fewer women than men, without some sort of prejudice being involved somewhere?

I'm perfectly willing to believe that you haven't seen this, but it's a pretty blatant sign.

#80 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:26 PM:

Terry: One of the things I noticed was the sense of discounting they gave her. I, a non-engineer; but former machinist, could talk about things in which they were training, and be believed. She could say something, and be discounted; until I chimed in. At which point I'd be agreed with, and have to point out she had said it.

I've seen a cartoon about this. It's a bunch of people around a conference table. Standing at the head of the table, in a suit, is a man saying, "That's an excellent suggestion, Miss [Smith]. Perhaps one of the men here would care to make it?"

All knowledge being contained in Making Light, and certainly people with better Google-fu than me...if anyone else can find info on or a pointer to this cartoon, I'd be deeply grateful. As I mentioned upthread, I do research in engineering education, and I'd love to use this cartoon in my talks.

And also, Terry - thanks for being the guy who stands up when he sees this sort of thing happening.

#81 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:34 PM:

debcha 80: this one?

#82 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:36 PM:

Xopher @ 78: On several occasions I've felt responsible for representing a group I belonged to. (I'm not counting work things, of course.) Several times, I've offered apologies "on behalf of" local SF Society members for their tantrums and misbehaviour, when they themselves wouldn't consider for a moment that they'd done anything wrong even if they had it explained to them, for the sake of trying to maintain good relations between the Society and others. But I've never felt personally responsible for the misbehaviour itself. There was nothing I could have done to prevent it; I only wish that there was. (Not counting stuff like, say, suppressing the persons in question with a large canvas bag. Tempting though that might be.)

Ryct me, this wasn't at a restaurant, it was in a hotel room; not at a dinner table, but people casually sitting around on the available horizontal surfaces, some of them eating off paper plates or out of containers. But yes, a jerk.

#83 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:36 PM:

I've never done less than my best as a programmer, and it's only in the last 10 years that I came to realize that my best is actually not bad at all.

#84 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:36 PM:

Ahhhhh!

Yes, that would be the one.

[prostrates herself on floor in front of the master]

#85 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:39 PM:

Good gods, debcha, simple thanks would do. My humble google-fu, limited as it is, is at your service.

#86 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:48 PM:

#76 ::: Mary Frances @ 76 ...
Xeger @69: You need to stop trying to be perfect, and just try.
Xeger, that one's going in my permanent mental notebook. Thank you.

You're absolutely welcome! I know it's helped me, and I hope it helps you as well!

#87 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:49 PM:

Thanks, Xopher!

I just sent them an e-mail explaining who I am and what I do, and asking if it would be a possible to get a digital copy to use to illustrate a research talk (rather than paying seventeen pounds plus shipping for a print). Although given how stringent the site seems, I don't know how amenable they'd be to supporting educational/nonprofit uses.

#88 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:51 PM:

DDB@49:

"In 40 years in the industry, I haven't seen much sign of prejudice
against female programmers. But this may be more a facet of the types
of places I've worked than the general tenor of the field. I also have
not seen anywhere NEAR equal numbers of female programmers."

I've only been in half that long, but my experience is the same. I
haven't seen prejudice, and I haven't seen very many female programmers.
(My current job is the happy exception.)

As the programming joke goes, now I have *two* problems. Where is the
prejudice, and how do I learn to see it?

I can name one obvious factor: networking, the human kind. Out of six
jobs, I got three through the circle of friends I made in college.
This was the hacking social group at CMU in the early 90s. And that
was heavily (not entirely) a male group.

I experienced the same curve others have noted in college. A
relatively balanced freshman class of wannabe-engineers entered CMU; a
smaller, mostly-male cadre walked out the other end into the computer
industry. Being in that group has been a huge advantage for me. (I
speak of the experience I got in college as well as job-hunting
afterwards.)

That's how it *keeps* working, ten and twenty years after any given
learning experience.

#89 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 02:03 PM:

abi, yes yes yes.

During my four years getting a B.S. in physics, I was the only woman in all but one of my physics classes, and the only female physics major. I studied harder and got better grades than all but one of the guys. But every problem set, and every test I studied for, I spent at least ten times as much mental energy beating myself up for being so damn stupid and having to struggle to get this stuff, as I did on actually figuring out the problems. And most of the content of the self-flagellation was because if I had to visibly struggle, if I was the one who couldn't get this, the guys would assume that women just aren't good at physics.

I always had to be top of the class and look like I was a genius who could effortlessly grasp the material, or I was letting down all women everywhere.

Grad school has been somewhat better, because there are so many more women in my field. It's also been somewhat worse, because everything I do is met with infinite reminders of how much I don't know. Everything I do know seems hopelessly naïve and trivial. I'm nearly always the stupidest person in the room, because the other five people in the room are full professors with thirty-five years of experience apiece, and I feel like I have to measure up to that standard after just a couple of years. Everyone talks to me as though I know everything they know, which implies that I ought to know everything they know, which implies that if they find out I don't know, they'll think I'm unforgivably ignorant. (Note: I am aware that this is probably not true, but mostly I am scared to find out.)

Someday I'd like to have a job where I actually feel competent on a daily basis. Since I am planning to jump fields again after I graduate -- from cardiac electrophysiology to interface design -- this may take a while.

(See also: imposter phenomenon.)

This has been Making Light As Therapy Time.

#90 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 02:04 PM:

Andrew, #88: As the programming joke goes, now I have *two* problems. Where is the prejudice, and how do I learn to see it?

There's an anthropology joke/saying that 'Culture is all the stuff you do that you don't think about why you're doing it.'

There are many, many answers to your question, but a good place to start might be with this checklist of male privilege.

#91 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 02:12 PM:

Terry #77: Parts of your scene description confuse me: None of the Large Animal Students were female. [except, apparently, Maia], but later Compare that to the Large Animal group. They were on equal footing with each other, and didn't take any guff from the boys,

Is there a misword in that first bit?

#92 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 02:16 PM:

Martin Wisse @ 61: wrote that women, while rare in IT, ...often tend to be key figures: managers, expert consultants and so on and much less "warm bodies". Which leads me to believe that in the Netherlands at least, female IT professionals need to be much better than their male counterparts...

That hadn't occurred to me. In my career, I've noticed that despite the tiny percentage of women in development departments, they seem to disproportionately end up being managers. I've wondered if perhaps this is because the average women engineer is likely* to have more people-skills than the average male one.

*Gender-bias alert! But note that I am just saying "on average". Society puts a much strong emphasis on pounding social skills into girls than boys.

#93 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 02:21 PM:

xeger @ 69: "You need to stop trying to be perfect, and just try".

This is a hard lesson, but I'm going to try to squirrel it away in my brain. Thank you.

janetl @ 92:

My guess would be that since the women who make it in the field tend to be more ambitious than average to make up for all the things we've talked about above, that ambition will take them clear into management if that's where they want to go.

#94 ::: Dan ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 03:08 PM:

My least favorite part about software testing (as a sub-unit of QA):

Test in the quality as fast as you can! Have it ready by COB tomorrow.

There's an aspect of art to doing it well, and more than a little tenacity required. There are also two widely divergent testing belief systems: those coming from a programming background, who like to launch scripts to test specific things from the command line; and those who believe that the most complete and appropriate expression of the success of the code is viewed through the UI (whatever that may be for that piece of software). In my experience, male or female are spread without particular bias in either one or the other camp, though the trend of more males than females in programming seems to carry over to QA as well.

Being able to accept oneself as a perpetual student is key to testing successfully, I think. Always learning, always trying to do something new.

#95 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 03:18 PM:

Carolline @ 89
I was in engineering/science classes, and also CS classes later, that had ratios like that. I just did my best, and didn't worry about what they thought - in the physics class, even the guys weren't all good (and in HS, the person who boiled a beaker dry was a boy).
On the other hand, my mother had been a lab tech - oilfield, at that - and she didn't treat her daughters as incompetent in science and math. (Her complaint actually was that she didn't know how she ended up with two daughters who got lost in hardware stores!)

#96 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 03:26 PM:

Caroline @89: Everything I do know seems hopelessly naïve and trivial. I'm nearly always the stupidest person in the room, because the other five people in the room are full professors with thirty-five years of experience apiece, and I feel like I have to measure up to that standard after just a couple of years.

What will happen after a couple of years is that you will better understand just how much those experienced people are-- not BSing, precisely, but winging it. They have seen a lot, but have also forgotten stuff. When you ask them to explain, that is, to be precise, they are often exposed as being rather fuzzy on important points. Etc.

I am a chemistry grad-school dropout, and my career has chiefly been in organizations structured as one man with a PhD and a bunch of women who know what's going on. Including one guy who, under the guise of "soliciting our input," kept asking for a solution to a problem "if we see anything in the literature." (Well, bub, you may be allowed to sit on your kiester staring at journal articles all day, but I'm actually expected to turn out some work around here.) When I did propose a solution based on my experience, he literally acted as if I had not spoken. No journal reference, therefore not an idea.

Someday I'd like to have a job where I actually feel competent on a daily basis.

For this, I recommend teaching. Not so much for the molding-impressionable-young-minds, which is actually a bit scary, but for the realization that yes, I can actually navigate my way smoothly among these concepts. When asked a question, I can answer it coherently. When asked a perceptive question by a bright and engaged student who is getting way ahead of where this class was supposed to be going, I can be excited and creative all over again. I am not stupid; I know stuff I didn't realize I knew; I'm actually pretty good at this.

#97 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 03:40 PM:

I took three programming classes in college, and the main one followed exactly that pattern of 1/3 women in the first semester, 1/15 in the second. What helped me get through it in that case was that of the two women in the second semester, one was a friend of mine--in fact, she became a friend partly because we'd huddle together next to each other in the back of the class out of sheer twitchiness at the Overwhelmingly Male Population of the class--and so neither of us felt particulary like we had to represent Women In Computers. She was also much better than I was at the programming, so I could let her show everyone else up, and just trail along in her wake cheerfully middle-of-the-class.

That was in a college that had around a 60% female population; I can recall at least two classes I was in where there was only one male student out of the 15-30 in the class, though none without any. (Possibly that would have been different if I'd taken any Women's Studies classes.) I recall the professor who taught all the programming classes was very dry and dull, but not discriminatory in any way I noticed. Perhaps it helped that I've never had trouble asking for assistance when I'm having difficulty working something out. Sure, I'll feel horribly guilty for needing to ask, but I'll ask anyway. I still recall spending a good half hour in his office once trying to figure out what was wrong with my very first "real" program. (Turns out I had built the function properly, called it properly... never assigned its output to the variable, since I hadn't realized that sending that variable up to the function to be messed with still left me needing to call it back out again afterward in its changed form.)

#98 ::: Mickle ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 04:05 PM:

TK @ 77

Welcome to my high school physics labs.

Me: "I think it's this."

Particular Classmate I Grew to Hate: "hmmm."

Me: "See, this is the part of the book where it talks about it. Here's the formula."

PCIGtH: "hmmm." (but more skeptical this time)

Me: "I think if we do [this] then [that] should happen, which is what we want."

PCIGtH: "I'll go ask the teacher." (in a tone of voice that suggests I'm crazy)

does so. comes back.

PCIGtH: "Teacher says it's [this]."

With [this], of course, being what I just said/explained. With nary a word of acknowledgement of this fact, of course.

The conversation was bad enough the first time, but the second? Third? *hulksmash*

But of course, as the Other Particular Classmate I Grew to Hate would say: "Oh, you got stuck with all girls this time? Sucks to be you. You're totally going to fail the lab/have to do all the work/etc."

#99 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 04:08 PM:

KeithS @ 93 ...
My guess would be that since the women who make it in the field tend to be more ambitious than average to make up for all the things we've talked about above, that ambition will take them clear into management if that's where they want to go.

My experience has been that women get pushed into and towards management, and have to actively resist to stay technical. Nothing at all to do with ambition, and everything to do with unspoken assumptions about which gender is better at dealing with which things, and/or more valuable as a technical resource.

#100 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 04:18 PM:

I also looked for the "perhaps one of the men would like to make it?" cartoon before I saw Xopher's reply, and found a completely different one with almost the exact same caption here. (Scroll down to cartoon #9).

When I tried to click on one of the links to find out more about the cartoon, the ad down the left of the column displayed a tall woman in a very small bikini, with the slogan (displayed in a font like the one for the Xbox 360) "PLAY HER".

Arrrgh....

#101 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 04:35 PM:

I wonder if that joke was first drawn by a female cartoonist, then repeated by a male..?

#102 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 04:43 PM:

Andrew, debcha: See also the male programmer privilege checklist for a list focusing specifically on programming.

As for learning to notice it: I became more aware of it when I moved from CMU's CS department (which at the time was very heavily male, nowadays I gather significantly less so), to work in digital libraries (where there's an interesting, and not always harmonious, convergence of traditionally-male (IT/CS) and traditionally-female (librarian) cultures).

The actual department I'm in has a relatively good culture, and a fair number of both men and women in development. But the new job did give me more occasion to work with female colleagues in various places, and hear about some of the problems they'd faced (or were still facing). That was very informative and useful; I can learn a lot more in this area from listening to my colleagues than from what I see personally.

So, I'd recommend: listen to what your female colleagues have to say (or write, or blog) about these issues. (And if you don't have many female colleagues who you can listen to about these things, ask yourself why that is.)

One possible starting point, of many: this post and the one that inspired it, along with various other pieces linked and cited from there, by Dorothea Salo and an anonymous correspondent.

#103 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 04:55 PM:

The last time I felt really isolated in an IT team was when everyone else, including my manager, smoked and I did not. Important decisions were repeatedly hashed out during smoking breaks outside the building.

#104 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 05:50 PM:

Earl Cooley III @ 103 -- I frequently felt isolated in my most recent workplace even right in the meetings with everyone else, because they all had a computing / network background and I didn't. A lot of the time, I didn't understand what they were getting at, and trying to get explanations just left me mired even deeper -- I often didn't even understand well enough to know what questions to ask. So I just tried to stay focussed on the issues at the levels that I did understand ("look, regardless of how the modules communicate, there's still the basic problem that that feature is incompatible with the current concept of a memory data structure") and tried to keep my frustration level at a simmering minimum.

I just didn't have the time, energy, or aptitude and interest to fill in the huge holes in my background and experience. Dammit, I'm a chemist, not a software architect.

#105 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 05:56 PM:

Dan, I've had some lengthy arguments with my manager about that.

Due to a combination of poor planning and an inability to say no to our customer, my team frequently finds itself in the position where we want to ask QA to verify a patch or release in a day (when QA says it takes them three).

QA always says yes to this request, but complains about how engineering never gives them enough time to properly test. And they're right; when a bug comes in from the customer's testers at 8am, gets to engineering at 10, is fixed and released to QA at 4, and then released to our customers at 7, QA hasn't had enough time to do its job properly.

I think we should stop asking; QA can't do its job because we aren't letting it and they, for whatever reason, don't feel like they can say no to us.

My manager thinks that if QA doesn't say no, they must be fine with it.

#106 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 05:57 PM:

Andrew:

In addition to the good lists others have linked to describing privilege, there are other things you can do.

1. If you are in charge of hiring for a position, don't make a decision until you have interviewed several women. Pay attention, because you've recognized that if you aren't paying attention, you're a person who can exclude without thinking about it.

2. If taking a reference or suggestion for a potential hire, consider the potential sexism of the person who is giving the reference. Are they the sort of person who says derogatory things about women programmers? If so, they aren't qualified to give you a good reference or recommendation, as they're ignoring the potential talent of women programmers, and possibly leading you away from good hires.

3. Ask for recommendations from people who you see working well with women, and including many women in their own groups. Take your cues from people who you see are an example of the type of boss you want to be.

4. If you're a supervisor, do the people you supervise make sexist jokes, or treat your work space like a locker room? If so, they're the type of people who are likely to to make a good woman programmer think she's unwelcome, when she comes to the workplace to interview.

5. Even if you don't have women working in the area now, the atmosphere needs to be one where "professional" includes "comfortable for any professional to drop in and work with us, unannounced, and without changing our habits - because our habits are good and welcoming."

6. When you hire someone new, and are introducing them around, be sure to include introducing them to any women in your group, and watch how they interact. It isn't a 100% foolproof screen, but if someone can't manage to behave well to the women in the work group during an interview, they'll cause problems down the line.

7. If the women who are in your group mention that there is a problem, take them seriously. But don't assume that there is no problem if they don't mention one, because they've had to deal with sexist crap so much that they're used to being called the problem if they mention a problem.

#107 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 06:00 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom, #100: Thanks! It looks like that site may be more amenable to licensing a digital version. And it really is strikingly similar to the one from Punch, which I rather imagine came first (1988). And Joel (#101), I laughed out loud at your take on it.

Also, thanks for sharing the male programmer privilege checklist and other resources in #102.

xeger, #99: My experience has been that women get pushed into and towards management, and have to actively resist to stay technical. Nothing at all to do with ambition, and everything to do with unspoken assumptions about which gender is better at dealing with which things, and/or more valuable as a technical resource.

In fact, I have data collected by my colleagues of this happening in a first-year engineering project course: men spent more time than women doing things like modeling and prototyping, and women spent more time doing 'administrative' stuff.

They showed the data to the class, and the students were dismayed, to say the least. One woman responded, "I didn't come to [elite engineering school] to make the coffee!"

#108 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 06:17 PM:

I wonder if the NFL's "Rooney Rule" could be modified for IT departments. It would need to be re-targeted toward gender.

That would generate shrieks of "Affirmative Action Bad!" from the privileged men, I'm sure.

#109 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 06:26 PM:

aphrael 105: The smartest manager I ever had in QA (perhaps anywhere) would have said "OK, if you sign off on the fact that this has not been adequately tested and that you accept full responsibility for any bugs QA might have found in the normal testing process."

And then we would have done our damnedest to find any problems. The trouble is...what if QA finds a bug at 6:30?

#110 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 06:31 PM:

I'm going to stay out of the gender-balance stuff because as a lifelong bachelor programmer I have absolutely no right to say anything in it, other than that better gender balance in the field would be truly wonderful (though it might drive down the average skill level: I have trouble thinking of any women I've worked with who weren't at least competent, and most have been excellent: I wish I could say that of the men).

Mike@#63: my best moment programming probably came when a simple automated testcase took... longer than I thought to run, and then the entire shared development server started to slow down, and then oops that testcase seems to have eaten 14Gb of RAM growing at 1Gb/10s let's kill it *now*. 'Twas a race condition causing a rare error path to become extremely common in obscure circumstances and a 16-byte memory leak on that path... both bugs that had existed for years. (Both summarily fixed, of course, and resource limits imposed on the testing suite after kicking myself for not doing it earlier.)

Ten minutes later $GIANT_EX_DUTCH_BANK called, saying that things were running awfully slow: they'd hit the same combination of bugs! Ten years of trouble-free use, and then this bites twice in an hour. I felt oddly guilty: it was obviously a genuine Schroedinbug.

#111 ::: Dragoness Eclectic ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 06:51 PM:

This is very interesting. I am a female programmer who has been coding for over 25 years now. Back when I got my computer science degree, several of my professors were women; in fact, my entire thesis committee were women. I had them as examples, and back then, RAdm Grace Hopper hadn't been all but forgotten. SHE wrote the first compiler ever and was the primary developer of the COBOL language.

When I was in college, I was enough of a self-centered misanthrope that it never occurred to me to worry that my own problems were a reflection on my gender; it was bad enough that they were a reflection on me. I always thought I was mostly average as a programmer until a few years ago, when I got my first honest-to-goodness Silicon Valley job.

It was a real eye-opener, starting from the first day I reported to work, when my fellow programmers introduced me with "Wow! We have a new female programmer who's NOT 20 years old and Asian!" Apparently women with a bit of frost in their hair who knew their way around Linux were not common. I found that in comparison with the young Silicon Valley hotshots I could hold my own, and that 25 years of experience and learning from my own and other's mistakes gave me a serious advantage when it came to writing good code. (I've done a hell of a lot of maintenance programming over the years, and gotten used to figuring out and fixing other people's weird code. You learn stuff doing that). I'm not an average coder; I'm actually quite a bit better than I realized.

Seriously, don't all programmers say "Well, I haven't worked with [buzzword x] yet, but just hand me the manual and I'll learn it, no problem"? The key isn't knowing the latest buzzword technologies, it's knowing how to solve problems, how to think, how to learn.

For those of you whose skills are out-of-date on your resumes--I had that problem, and inadvertently stumbled on the solution: work on open source code as a hobby. Nobody requires your resume to work on open source projects, they just want patches that work, and open source experience counts. I got that Silicon Valley job because I had lots of C/C++ experience on my resume--AND because I knew my way around the guts of a Linux system from playing around with Linux From Scratch systems for a few years as a hobby.

My current employer keeps raving about my programming skills, which almost makes me feel a bit uncomfortable; I think he does it because it's a lower-paying government job and he's afraid I might take a better-paying job elsewhere. The government job is an interesting balance of genders; while I'm the only female programmer, we're part of department of oceanographers, and they're about 50/50 each gender, so there's a lot of middle-aged women around the office. It makes for a very comfortable environment, as far as behavior goes.

#112 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 07:11 PM:

Xopher @ 109: The trouble is...what if QA finds a bug at 6:30?

Well, that would be completely missing the point, wouldn't it? I mean, the purpose of sending something to QA is for it to go through QA, right?

Some years ago, we'd finally finished a major software revision, and it took months longer than the boss had expected. (We were just removing features, right? That shouldn't take any time at all. Oh well, yeah, there were a few new graphics options, and a couple of new computational models, but those were just extensions of existing code. Oh, and a new compiler for a new platform, but that shouldn't make a difference.) The package was all set to go off to our beta testers.

The boss decided that since we were behind schedule, we should send the CDs off for mastering at the same time as the prototypes went to the beta testers. We looked at each other. "What if the testers find a serious problem?"

"Oh, that's not very likely, is it?"

"Uh, then why are we sending it to them?"

"Oh, but you have to have beta testers."

Of course, the testers found some critical problems. We fixed them, and sent updates to the testers... and, at the same time, new CDs for duplication. Scrap the old batch. Because, of course, the boss didn't learn from the last time. And, of course, the testers found more critical bugs which had to be fixed, and another batch of CDs had to be scrapped.

Finally the boss learned the lesson. He didn't send the third version to the testers, just sent it directly for duplication. La la la la la la....

#113 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 07:22 PM:

Joel, people like that boss make me want to tear out my hair (I'm no longer at risk for actually doing so, fortunately)—or throttle him (still, alas, a danger).

He doesn't think testing has an actual purpose, other than to appease The Authorities. Wise development managers (and there are some) know enough to assume that there WILL be bugs found in QA.

Some years ago, on my very first testing job, the development manager (who wanted to go home, understandably) became impatient with my insistence on retesting the release after a "minor" change. He not-quite-yelled "Just send out the release!"

I replied "I'm sorry, John. I can't do that. This release is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it."

He calmed down at once, said "Send out the release, HAL," and left me alone. It really was only about 20 more minutes. We got along famously from that day forward.

Some months later I was fired from that job; they were unhappy with my level of productivity. He quit a couple of weeks later; they hired two full-timers and one part-timer to replace me.

#114 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 07:27 PM:

xeger @ 47

That aside, I'm afraid that I'm not following your logic from "why do programs sucks" through to "men with inferiority complexes".

That's not at all surprising since that post of mine sucked. I really should have waited until today to type it in; due to lateness and general spaciness I seem to have left out part of what I was trying to say. Rather than try to fix up the previous post, let me try to encapsulate just that part of my observations.

I think that men on average are much more likely than women to compete in a hostile manner; in particular are more likely when they feel inferior at the job to try to change the arena of competition from the level of quality of work or breadth of knowledge to the level of office politics or outright harassment. This is especially true when the job market is tight; competition becomes about survival in a real sense, not just about being right or well-respected by your peers.

When large numbers of programmers were trained to what I insist are inferior standards in the 90's and then the internet boom collapsed, there was a scramble for jobs among people who often did suck at programming because of that training, and a harsh competition to keep jobs within organizations that were shedding them. In this sort of situation public displays of group discrimination against a minority are often used by a majority or plurality to reduce the competitive field. This is one of the reasons for the sometimes savage treatment of women in what should be professional situations.

[BREAK]
I was going to make a post about another aspect of this situation in the current software environment, but I think it fits here. The "current wisdom", as of the last couple of decades is that software development and testing should be done in an "egoless" environment. This means, for instance, that it's expected that a developer will submit their code for inspection and comment by other members of the team (which should include testers as well as developers). Inspectors are expected to look carefully for problems, and express concerns in a polite and civil manner. In return the developer is expected to listen receptively to comments and explain how (or if) they intend to address them.

Now I happen to believe strongly in this principle of egolessness, and have seen it work extremely well in some organizations. It can result in higher productivity in the sense that code with fewer bugs and more careful thought about testing and future change can be produced in the same amount of time as bad code done in an "ego-full" environment. But my experience in a number of organizations, including several that prided themselves on their "code inspection process", is that this is not usually the way the process is actually performed. If the nonsense written in status reports about what actually happens were snake oil, a single match would destroy most software development in the industrialized world.

What actually happens depends a lot on the particular corporate culture and the personalities involved, but one common outcome is that a strong competition arises in which each developer is trying to defend their own code while finding as much to criticize in everyone else's as possible (sounds like a bad writing crit group, doesn't it?). And again, it's often easiest to start by picking on the women, as long as the culture allows this (way too often). Also, it's common to exclude testers from the review, and since the proportion of women in testing is usually higher than in development, this tends to reduce the number of women who get to make comments.

#115 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 07:36 PM:

I have graduated entire class years in my discipline with no men in them. This past academic year we had only one. I should note that, in general it is a male-dominated discipline at the undergraduate level. Not at my college.

In the African-American community, there's a huge and continuing debate about the deficit of young men graduating from college. What I've seen in ten years of teaching, part-time and full time at an HBCU has certainly persuaded me that in some disciplines it is a real concern.

I worry about young men who are afraid to speak out in class, because if they say something wrong and it is pointed out their manhood will be impugned. So they'd rather sit and say nothing, than speak and seem foolish. I worry about young men whose model of manhood is one that emphasises self-reliance to such a degree that the idea of a study group is seen as a threat to their masculinity.


I worry about young men who casually tell me stories of police harassment that I find frightening, and I've dealt with some very scary people in my time.

#116 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 07:41 PM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) @ 114 ...
That reminds me of why I always try to file useful bugs with enough information to reproduce them -- or enough information to make it clear why I can't reproduce it, but keep on running into it.

#117 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 07:54 PM:

xeger, I was taught that a well-formed bug report consists of

  1. A starting point (e.g. 'From the login page')
  2. Numbered steps (ideally exact keystrokes and clicks) to reproduce the problem
  3. 'EXPECTED RESULT:' followed by the expected result (usually from the functional specification if any existed)
  4. 'ACTUAL RESULT:' followed by the actual result as observed in testing
  5. Optionally, comments describing other circumstances in which the issue does and does not occur, speculation on possible causes, etc.
Despite following this formula precisely throughout most of my QA career, I still ran into developers who marked issues "Not reproducible" without having followed the steps I'd given them. I guess they felt that following instructions from a lowly QA analyst was beneath them.

Incidentally, I had no problem with being told my Expected Result was incorrect—except when it was from the Expected Results column of my detailed test plan, which had been signed off by the development team. Gods forbid I should expect them to actually READ something so boring.

Wow, all my old resentments are resurfacing. I think I need to fill my brain with mindless entertainment for a while.

#118 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 07:57 PM:

Fragano @ 115: if they say something wrong and it is pointed out their manhood will be impugned.

I keep my brain... elsewhere.

#119 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 07:59 PM:

The thing is, many of these young men grew up in, or even live in, communities where such impugning of their manhood could actually pose a physical danger to them.

#120 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 08:57 PM:

BTW, I love my job. I think it's about as free of the pathologies that have been described here as is possible. Whew!

#121 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 10:19 PM:

... and speaking of permission to suck, I'm currently caught in rather wishing I -could- do less than my best for a specific work context[0]. It's astoundingly hard to do a bad job :)

Ah well :) It'd still bother me to know I'd done that, even though my name's not likely to come into it anywhere.

[0] When you -know- you're about to get the wrong end of the stick, and have your work appropriated *sigh*

#122 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 10:20 PM:

Well, I've described one pathology, but to be fair, most of the places I've worked have been delightfully free of the Culture of Blame. We've all just grimaced and gotten on with fixing it, without too much energy spent on gloating over the errors of others. Except the one fellow I mentioned, my direct supervisors have all made it reasonably safe to swallow my pride and 'fess up when there was need.

That's one of the things many of my students need, is that safety-- I have quite a few perfectionists who had rather not try, and my role is sometimes to reassure them that a certain amount of flail is all part of the process. I wound up quoting an article from (ACM Communications? Something my favorite developer left on the dining table) about how to answer bosses who spout "get it right the first time." The argument was: on a software project, if it's even *possible* to "get it right the first time," you are wasting your time, because you are not learning anything or creating anything, you are rehashing something.

#125 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 11:51 PM:

I also have to note that the title of this thread, out of context, is rather ... entertaining?

#126 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 12:16 AM:

IDE == _Integrated_ Development Environment. So named because it integrated several disparate tools into one. Borland's Turbo line of products in the late 80's were one of the first widely used IDEs. Typically and IDE has an editor, a compiler a debugger, and a build management tool.

Popular IDEs today are Netbeans, Eclipse, and Visual Studio. On Unix there is a long standing tradition of using separate tools for each job, although programmers editors often provide ways of orchestrating the other tools.

Emacs, bringing things back to RMS, who wrote one of the most popular flavors of emacsen, is in a bit of a different class. Although nominally an editor, it's also a programming environment for lisp, and in fact most things in emacs are actually bound to lisp functions. Including things like the a key, which is usually bound to the function self-insert the character 'a'. More complicated functions might be things like, do a syntactic analysis of the highlighted text, and pop up a menu of all the function definitions.

xkcd on emacs

re: women in programming. I do interviewing and college recruiting for my company. And I'm afraid by that point, it's too late. Although our stats show that we're more likely to hire a female candidate than a male, and they tend to be more successful hires, there are nowhere near as many of them signing up for interviews.

#127 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 01:38 AM:

Xopher: I've had my share of bugs and bug systems, and my preferred method is as simple as possible, but no simpler:

1) What were you doing (url is real good)
2) What happened
3) What did you expect to happen

The thing is that I can explain that to non-technical people and generally get good results, without having forms paralysis and have them need to fill in a bunch of detail that they might not understand or care about.

#128 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 01:50 AM:

I like to think I'm on the good side of average for a programmer, but eh, I just don't know. Though, I look at some of the stuff that I did 10 years ago and cringe. I still maintain it from time to time, and it still runs and is mostly productive, but ick, some of it hasn't aged well. I also look at some open source stuff and cringe (e.g, one package I'm looking at makes no distinctions between GET and POST. helllooo csrf. but marginally useful when you need to do sneaky unsafe things behind it's back.)

My new tack on trying to improve is to shift to writing more, in particular, working on documentation and what happens when we find a serious (or even noticable) customer facing bug. I've found that writing it down, and asking why until I hit a solid seeming cause is a good way to prevent it from happening again.

And what I'm finding is: better testing would catch some of it (my title could accurately be "Technical Staff" (not member of, it's just me. Programmer, architect, sysadmin, budgeter, documenter, tester, coffee maker. That's me. )), and better interfaces, or more visibility for things that may not be to expectations would get the rest of it.

As an example, no one in our large team caught that 7/3 wasn't actually a real holiday. I entered the date a few years back, and apparently didn't check the reference, and since it's a hidden setting, no one saw that the Friday was a programmer declared holiday. So, if the system told people a week in advance that there was a holiday, some of us would have noticed. Or, a tester could have figured it out as an edge case.

#129 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 01:58 AM:

eric @ 128 ...
I'll trade you the Julian to Gregorian date shift and associated calculations involved in normalizing records ...

#130 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:44 AM:

eric, #128: FedEx Ground certainly thought July 3 was a holiday! My partner and Pegasus Publishing between them had no fewer than SIX deliveries (intended for people at cons) go astray, after the online interface indicated deliveries on that Friday which didn't happen. Words Have Been Had with the FedEx customer service people.

#131 ::: Judith ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 03:42 AM:

@80: I have that cartoon in my office. I found it on a greeting card and couldn't stop laughing.

It's weird but true, that women in mostly male occupations feel representative of their gender. I went from one male dominated industry (electrical engineering) into another (patent law). And I still feel guilty for having left engineering. Because I do hear regularly from males that women "just don't stick it out" in engineering.

On the up-side the obvious sexism is on the wane. In 15 years, I've only had two engineers who told me they wanted to work with a man, because women didn't understand technology, and both were over 60. (I write patents, effectively, I interview engineers and translate their idea into English.) I sent a more junior male attorney, and they were happy.

#132 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 04:30 AM:

Xopher @117:
Barring the reference to a functional spec, which we don't have, that's the bug report structure I use. Because our stuff is settings- and data-dependent, I usually spend some verbiage on system configuration and data sources.

Doesn't stop one colleague from (at the moment) playing very stupid with the instructions, or not trying them at all. When I get back from vacation, I'm going to have to cure him of this, probably with mixed doses of praise and sarcasm.

eric @127:
My audience for bug reports is exclusively technical. If they're having tl;dr problems, they know where the coffeemaker is.

For a non-technical audience, I'd probably use a newspaper approach: attention-getting brief description or screen shot, further details lower down.

#133 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 04:33 AM:

Steve Downey @126:
Re: definition of IDE

You're right, of course. I know that, but my brain was elsewhere at the time I typed that word.

And I didn't see it when I proofread, because testing is best done by someone other than the developer.

Fixed.

#134 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 06:30 AM:

Caroline, 89: Everyone talks to me as though I know everything they know, which implies that I ought to know everything they know, which implies that if they find out I don't know, they'll think I'm unforgivably ignorant. (Note: I am aware that this is probably not true, but mostly I am scared to find out.)

I would see that as a compliment that they actually rate you high enough not to need handholding...

110, Nix:

and resource limits imposed on the testing suite after kicking myself for not doing it earlier.

But had you done so earlier, would you have found the bug?

#135 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 09:19 AM:

Steve Downey #126: Emacs was an IDE before IDEs were cool! IMO, The problem with Emacs these days is getting a given install to focus on a particular problem domain -- when I try to find the function I want, I have to wade through too much other stuff.

Xopher @ 109, et seq.: The trouble is...what if QA finds a bug at 6:30?

That's not a problem -- the problem is that management doesn't realize that QA can (must be able to) throw a hold on the release.

-----

Its also worth remembering that women can also help perpetuate sexism. An out-of-field example: While heading to that shiva i've been mentioning a lot (sorry), I had the following exchange with my mother:

Me: I wish I'd had a chance to get to know Thelma better -- I figure first-class people pick other first-class people.
Mom: Oh, she was a beautiful woman, always well dressed...
Me: <*> [umm, that wasn't the point]

Now, Mom's a pretty strong woman who raised two successful daughters (and me ;-) ). She's not a technical sort, but she's quite well-educated (library teacher, Master's in LibSci). And she darn well knows how inattentive I am to appearances... but that was still the very first thing she thought of. I didn't call her on it (because, well, she's my Mom), but even knowing her foibles, I was startled by the disconnect.

#136 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 09:25 AM:

Martin Wisse: #134: Easily, and without staggering the server. "Test suite aborted -- memory limit exceeded [1GB]" "Whoops, it's not supposed to do that!"

#137 ::: jdparadise ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 09:33 AM:

FWIW, Abi, I'm a male tech writer who sucks at programming. And I too feel guilty for sucking at programming; every thing I don't know is a thing I have to ask a coworker about if I can't find it online. And yet.

And yet if I didn't program in my suckitudinous ways, it would in the end mean more work for my coworkers, as I would be forced to demand of them things that I can haltingly, clumsily, and generally awfully, hack my way through eventually. Yes, it takes me longer than it would take them, but in taking me longer it's taking them even less time, which frees them up for the money-making programming.

Plus, once you do give yourself permission to suck (long ago, I have), programming is kinda fun.

While I can't speak for your particular co-workers, I've found programmers in general to be eager to help spread knowledge; things that I don't know are opportunities for them to tell me the things that they -do- know. And who doesn't enjoy a bit of showing off now and again? :o)

You probably weren't looking for validation, but I sympathize with the plight too much not to validate you :o)

-j

#138 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:17 AM:

#126 Steve

Stallman wrote EMACS, the original... all versions are direct descendants of his work. Before EMACS was TECO, which was NOT written in Lisp, TECO was some editor or some such done by Digital Equipment Corporation and included with some if not all of its minicomputers of the time.

Stallman fits in the category of "mad scientist." Just think of him as a Phil and Katja Foglio spark sort, or rather, think of a Phil and Katja Foglio spark as derivative of the likes of rms, since he was around long before Girl Genius.

Steampunk engines and clanks and such, are to mechanical creations as EMACS is to software.... the analogy actually is very close!

(Thinking about it, there's a strong possibility that the genesis of Girl Genius had Stallman in its ancestry; fandom used to be a lot smaller place, Richard is and had been a fan for decades, Phil used to be a regular on the convention circuit that included Boskone, Stallman used to be a regular at Boskone, and Stallman really is one of the quintessential mad scientists in fandom, really and truly--and as for rants....)

#139 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:50 AM:

To this day, I have an irrational nostalgia-driven affection for TECO.

#140 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 12:03 PM:

Didn't CMU do a big push to get women into CS, that raised the numbers from single-digit percentages to near-parity?

Google suggests this was it: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs/project/gendergap/www/index.html; I've not read the book myself, but one the lecturers in my department has used it for seminars on computing culture.

#141 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 12:26 PM:

David Harmon: Oops, I meant to say, All of the Large Animal Student were female, and somehow transition to trying to say, "none of the Large Animal student were male" and got my self into a confusion.

#142 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 12:39 PM:

Joel Polowin #118: I don't do all my shopping at Double-entendres 'r' Us...

#143 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 12:45 PM:

Earl #139:
To this day I still know how to do the basic stuff in TECO, and will occasionally do a mock edit post to "fix" the error in a previous post by writing the TECO command for it.

Paula: Text Editor and COrrector. Originally Tape Editor and COrrector (meaning paper tape). Goes back to the PDP-1. It was on all Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) computers until the VAX, where it was deliberately dropped and then implemented due to demand. I last used it professionally in 1998 to write license extension patches for software my company dropped support on in ca. 1987.

It is cryptic due to its roots in a world where computers had memory measured in one-digit-of-precision Kilo (Bytes or Words), but a very logical and very powerful programming language for editing.

EMACS started as rms's macro extensions to TECO.

#144 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 01:11 PM:

Several Nobel Laureates gave "dare to suck" messages to the finalists in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair this year.

(Martin Chalfie: "I would say that a good 95 percent — maybe I’m being generous to myself — of my ideas turn out to be wrong. I think that’s how we do science.")

#145 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 01:27 PM:

#138 Paula
EMACS, the 1976 version was written in TECO, by RMS, Guy Steele and Dave Moon, building on earlier mscro packages in TECO. Added the Meta key.

Bernie Greenberg reimplemented it as a standalone program for Multics, in MacLisp. This was the first version that used Lisp as an extension language.

James Gosling implemented it for Unix, in C, with a Lisp like language, MockLisp.

Stallman initially used Gosling emacs as the starting point for GNU emacs. However, he soon replaced MockLisp with a true Lisp. First public release of GNU Emacs was around 1985.

Most current emacs are direct descendants of GNU emacs, although there are a couple oddballs based on zmacs, which derive from EINE (EINE Is Not EMACS), which was implemented on Lisp Machines shortly after EMACS.

TECO was the Tape Editor and Corrector. Later s/Tape/Text/g

There is, of course, an emacs mode for teco.

"Stallman really is one of the quintessential mad scientists in fandom"
"s/ in fandom//"

Emacs seems to attract the type. Stallman, Steele, Gosling, Andreessen, and Zawinski, just for examples.


#146 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 01:41 PM:

#145
Steve:
I think your reference is missing some earlier information. I graduated from MIT in 1975 and Stallman wrote EMACS before then. (Note that I didn't mention GNU, just EMACS.)

(Hey Seth, are you around with your memory intact on the subject?)

#147 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 01:52 PM:

A variation on "daring to suck"...

I've more than once told our users/testers (most of them women) not to hesitate to ask me if they have questions and that it's better to ask stupid questions than to make stupid assumptions.

That attitude is probably why one of them brought me some yogurt when I showed up for Christmas 2 years ago.

#148 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:00 PM:

Lila, #144: And two of my personal favorites...

"If you know what you're doing, it's not basic research." - unknown

"Engineering is a collection of successful recipes. Science is a bunch of kids playing in the kitchen and making a mess." - Jordin Kare

Of course, even the best cook (or engineer) has a learning curve.

#149 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:10 PM:

Sharon@51: I don't know if I have a good overview of how people got into the industry; but the examples that come to mind, as late as the 90s, do not involve taking beginning Pascal courses in college (or at least, they don't involve that being how one learned to program). It's possible that the women were already badly behind the curve, for whatever reason, before you got to that class.

On the other hand, your description of the experience of that class does sounds like a reason why women would not stick around, and many (if they heard in advance) would not take the class in the first place.

Just curious; do you know, do you have an impression, of whether the men in that class were really learning to program there, or had they done that already and were just clearing a formal prerequisite?

#150 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:18 PM:

(further thoughts after having caught up with all the comments)

This thread is fascinating and enlightening.

I work in a field (physical therapy) that is 80% female (yet somehow a majority of the department managers seem to be men). It seems male PTs and PTAs are just taken more seriously (possibly because they get mistaken for doctors, while female PTs/PTAs get mistaken for nurses or aides).

My youngest daughter, however, is planning to apply to Georgia Tech and MIT, aiming for a dual degree in geology and microbiology. She wants to go to Mars. I hope she can stand all the bullshit she'll have to wade through, over and above the genuine school-and-job-related challenges. She exhibits the high-end Dunning-Krueger phenomenon of thinking she's a lot less smart than she actually is (her self-estimate of her high school class position was "top 25%"; she's actually in the top 4%).

Incidentally, I have in common with abi a dread of making phone calls to strangers, and with Caroline the expectation that I should be able to keep up with peers who have way more experience than I. (I have 3 siblings 12, 17 and 20 years older than I am. I'm also 2 years out of PTA school, but 48 years old, so I *look* like I ought to know what I'm doing but sometimes don't.)

#151 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:26 PM:

tom@79: Short answer, "no".

There are many possible reasons, generally cultural, why there may not be many women in those jobs. Prejudice is one. But using the statistic to argue for prejudice over any of the other reasons is not, for me, convincing. The statistics are a fact, and the question is what's the cause; the statistic itself cannot validly be used to argue for one possible cause over another; any and all of the possible causes explain the fact.

#152 ::: ConfusedInDC ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:33 PM:

I hate to be not very supportive here, but I have to ask: "is this just a desire for validation for not being able to instantly master something that takes practice, or is this something I need to suck it up and do something about it?"

It's OK to suck at something for a while, but you are immediately faced with a very clear choice: do I want to continue to suck at this and just get sympathy/validation for that, or do I want to NOT suck at it? If the latter, then the feeling of suckitude is supposed to motivate you to DO something about it -- not just get sympathy about sucking at it. Guilt is your subconscious telling you to get off your ass and do something about it.

I confess I don't understand the sympathy/validation need as much as the OP does. It's NOT OK that I continue to suck at things I'm expected to be able to do. I don't want permission to suck at what I'm supposed to be able and willing to do. I may want someone to kick me into DOING something, but validation is the last thing I (or the OP) need.

#153 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:46 PM:

Steve Downey #145:

That really should have read fsTape$Text$$

#154 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:48 PM:

Interesting discussion. From a recommendation on Facebook I just ILL'd Do What You Are, which purports to give career advice based on your Meyer-Briggs type. Basically, don't "do what you love and the money will follow" -- do what your personality predisposes you to be good at and career satisfaction and longevity will follow.

So long way around, I'm thinking it would be a useful tool for determining if one's suckitude at a new task is due to "not enough practice yet" (the Outliers approach of needing a minimum of 10,000 hours to get Really Good at something), or to being "not what I'm wired to do" (as dear Sarah Palin would say), and therefore helping you decide if it's worth it to keep trying.

ConfusedinDC @152, that puts me in mind of a scene in The Devil Wears Prada, which I've just recently caught up with. Andy, the idealistic young office assistant, seeks sympathy from Nigel, longtime production manager, and he very bracingly tells her she needs to make a decision to either stop whining and try harder, or quit, since this isn't the job she really wants but "a million girls would kill for it."

#155 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:50 PM:

ConfusedInDC: The problem is that it's not so easy, or quick, to "do something about it". My experience from working days was that it took me a good six months of effort to really master a new, major system or language. Late in that period I might be able to do some usable work in the system, but definitely below my standard of excellence.

#156 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:50 PM:

ConfusedInDC @152:

It's NOT OK that I continue to suck at things I'm expected to be able to do.

The key word there is "continue".

It is a fact universally acknowledged that the road to not sucking passes through the state of sucking, unless one is a freak of nature*.

This isn't about permission to suck forever at software development. This is about being able to accept that I suck temporarily while I make the necessary mistakes and learn from them.

If I'm concerned that the snapshot of me in my temporary sucky phase is going to be part of people's mental model of how women do software development (ie, my temporary sucking becomes evidence of categorical permanent incompetence), I'm not going to be able to examine my mistakes in the dispassionate spirit that provides the best learning. There will be too much blame, too much desire to deny or hide mistakes.

However, if my sucking is attributed to me alone, and is seen as part of the natural process of learning, I can then make the necessary mistakes and learn from them.

-----
* I admit that I may be a freak of nature, but not this particular kind

#157 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 03:04 PM:

Andrew@88: Yes, prejudice going on that I overlook is a possible explanation. Since I'm looking fairly hard and do seem to be pretty good at seeing specifics that other people see, I don't find it the most-likely explanation, but who knows? I'm hardly unbiased in assessing myself!

I think prejudice going on but not in front of me is more likely. I don't see resumes of female candidates to review; either they don't come in, or HR or managers are eliminating them.

I suspect childhood training is a major root cause; self-confidence, how you deal with uncertainty, and so forth. As I said above, software engineering is a HORRIBLE field for people who have to be right all the time.

#158 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 03:05 PM:

ConfusedInDC @ 152: "Guilt is your subconscious telling you to get off your ass and do something about it."

Sure, it can be that, but in the context being discussed here it most certainly isn't. It's an irrational thing, worrying that one is being a representative for one's entire group and not living up to the challenge. I do not know abi personally, but from what I've seen of her here she's incredibly intelligent, talented, and thoughtful. She's worried that she and her entire gender are being judged based on something that she's not good at yet.

Let's say that you're just not good at plumbing. Never were, never will be. You can never quite get into the flow of it, for whatever reason. Are you supposed to feel guilty that you can never be a plumber? Are you supposed to feel guilty that maybe your entire gender or ethnic group will be thought of as poor plumbers just because you're no good at it? I'd say the answer is no in both cases, but that doesn't necessarily stop the feeling of guilt anyway. That feeling of guilt is certainly not telling you to do something about it.

Now let's say that you want to be a plumber, but you're just starting out. You know you'll be good at it one day, but you're not there yet; you just need practice. You still take too long to solder joints together, and, ouch, that pipe gets hot. Are you supposed to feel guilty that you're not living up to the skill of your colleague who has twenty years of experience and personally re-did his entire house? Are you supposed to feel guilty that maybe your entire gender or ethnic group will be thought of as poor plumbers just because you're not good at it right now? No, but that doesn't necessarily stop the feeling of guilt anyway. You're already doing something about it, and that feeling of guilt is getting in the way.

Permission to suck is permission to not freeze up worrying that you're not going to produce the most beautiful painting, the most enthralling novel, the most correct program on the first go. It lets you work through that initial stage of not really all that great yet to get to the point of basic competence and then beyond.

#159 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 03:07 PM:

One other complication here is recognizing when your suckitude in some area is a long-term feature (maybe you're just not especially talented in this area) vs. when it's just lack of experience or practice or relevant background. On the one hand, it's really valuable to be able to make a clear-eyed assessment of your own strengths and weaknesses, to be able to say "that would be a good career path for some people, but I'd suck at it." But doing that too easily leads you to assume that your temporary suckitude in some area is due to innate lack of talent, rather than insufficient effort or practice or what-have-you.

I try to rephrase most statements inside my head from the "I'm just not any good at X" form to the "I'm not very good at X yet" form, because I think I have a bias toward assuming that things I'm not good at are due to my innate lack of talent for them. And yet, in some areas (say, time management or sense of direction) I'm really lousy at them, and I'm far better off acknowledging that and adapting to it (writing out my schedule and keeping a list of what has to get done, printing out a dozen maps before I go on the trip, etc.)

#160 ::: Jennifer Barber ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 03:45 PM:

This post was particularly well-timed for me, though perhaps it ought to say "permission to fail" rather than "permission to suck".

Because on Friday the new job that had been created specifically for me, which I'd been excited about, and which I'd only really been able to start a week ago was declared redundant. (Which I'm pretty sure is code for "she's been here long enough that she makes more than we want to pay", given that it was a brand new program.)

The timing is particularly bad--on July 1 I had just signed a 2-year lease on a new apartment, wherease if I'd known I was about to be unemployed I could have arranged to move to North Carolina, where I could live rent-free while jobhunting--and I'm still kind of in shock.

While the past 11 years of experience working with libraries means more than likely I'll end up stuck working in one despite not having an MLS, what I'd like to do is get into testing. Someone upthread mentioned the OTW and the Archive of Our Own; I've been on the QA team for the Archive since the project got off the ground last February, and Test Lead for about 6 months now. The fact that we have "training newbie coders" as one of our goals means at least I have an opportunity to use this time to learn Ruby with a lot of resources eager to help me out. (In the process, I've been asked to test our training materials. :))

I've selected Ruby as my first real foray into programming precisely because of those resources, and from what I hear about the wider Ruby community I'm doubly glad to know about the OTW. I don't know if the difference in atmosphere is because the coding team is all female (we have a few men on Systems, I believe, but that's pretty much it as far as I know), or simply because we arose out of a fandom-based culture rather than an IT one, but it sounds like open source projects in general tend to be beginner-unfriendly, even without adding gender to the mix.

#161 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 04:38 PM:

abi #156: Aristotle saith that the person who hath not experienced suckitude at some point in their life is either a freak of nature or a god.

#162 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 04:45 PM:

obFilm

If someone asks you if you're a god, you say YES!

Sorry, blew that one.

#163 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 05:14 PM:

Albatross: One other complication here is recognizing when your suckitude in some area is a long-term feature

Which actually leads back to OT126's Aspie discussion.... One of the reasons I was so psyched to realize that I had NLD was that it explained so much of my life....

#164 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 05:19 PM:

re 154: From what I can tell a lot of the problem with programing is that programmers are largely xNxx M-B types, but they are writing programs to do xSxx work.

a general note: Guilt is about something you did; self-doubt is about something you haven't done yet.

#165 ::: Jennifer Barber ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 05:21 PM:

One of the reasons I was so psyched to realize that I had NLD was that it explained so much of my life....

Goodness, yes! It's so much easier to give myself permission to suck at the things affected by NLD than it is for everything else, and such a relief to do so.

#166 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 05:44 PM:

ConfusedInDC @ 152 ...
I confess I don't understand the sympathy/validation need as much as the OP does. It's NOT OK that I continue to suck at things I'm expected to be able to do. I don't want permission to suck at what I'm supposed to be able and willing to do. I may want someone to kick me into DOING something, but validation is the last thing I (or the OP) need.

ITYM "validation is the last thing I need" -- I don't think it's reasonable for you to try speaking for what abi needs, especially since it's pretty clear that you've managed to rather miss the point.

It's not "permission to always suck", it's "permission to not start out perfect", "permission to not know everything right away", and "permission to learn, make mistakes, and learn from mistakes".

It's also permission to say "I don't know" or "Could you help me" without feeling that you've somehow failed, or 'enjoying' the corrosive erosion of confidence that comes along with that feeling of failure.

I'd also observe that I drew an immediate conclusion about gender (and plausibly age) based on your post -- probably correct, possibly not... but there's been a very strong commonality and correlation with gender in the comments about confidence...

#167 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 05:51 PM:

KeithS @ 158: "Sure, it can be that, but in the context being discussed here it most certainly isn't. It's an irrational thing, worrying that one is being a representative for one's entire group and not living up to the challenge."

Except it's not irrational--the phenomenon she's worried about is very real, and there's nothing irrational about believing it to be so. Plenty of people do see any example of women being bad at [technical_task] as being the rule, and any woman who is good at it as the exception. Maybe abi's coworkers are all so goodhearted they have not even the shadow of sexist assumptions in their hearts, but it's not a safe bet, not even if they are considerate enough to keep such things to themselves.

#168 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 06:58 PM:

heresiarch @ 167:

You're right, I'm definitely wrong there. What I was going for was that the feeling of guilt is irrational, but in my haste I wrote that worrying was irrational, which is, as you say, not true at all.

#169 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 07:14 PM:

Fragano@161

That quote brought to mind the character of Aileron in Guy Gaviel Kay's "Fionavar Tapestry" trilogy.

IIRC, at one point Diarmiud (Aileron's younger brother) remarks to one of the characters from Earth that Aileron quickly lost interest in anything that he couldn't almost immediately become best at.

The character remarks that that must have sharply limited Aileron's activities and Diarmiud answers "Not really."

(Of course, Aileron IS a freak of nature.)

#170 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 08:48 PM:

If programmers didn't suck, debuggers wouldn't exist. If programmers didn't suck, we wouldn't need QA departments. If programmers didn't suck, we wouldn't need support departments to act as post-release QA.

If you work with computers in any way past glorified typewriter or television, you will, at least occasionally, suck. Sometimes, you will suck so hard the sounds can be heard in the next state (literally, for me, given that I sometimes have a client on the line).

We had an "intro to programming" course here last year (sysadmins don't need to do formal programming (although it's easier if they can), and our department is mostly sysadmins who support other sysadmins). I was a full-time programmer for years; the course was a walkover for me (so I challenged myself: make textbook-quality code). Some others, not so much. I kept saying, during assist, all the things I said when I was TAing programming in grad school - effectively, "we're not joking about the good habits to get into now; commenting, functions, indenting, and the rest. Yes, it's easier to do *these* assignments if you don't do the formal; but if you don't get into the habit while it's still small and manageable, it will bite you when it gets big and only controllable."

Everyone who has programmed full-time has gone back into code they've written six months ago and said "what was I on when I wrote this?" Everyone, similarly, has looked back at code and said "what does this do?" - because they can't understand what seemed obvious when they first wrote it. Everyone has made simple, stupid syntax errors that they can't see for hours - or, famously, until they send off the code to a colleague asking "why does this not compile?" (It's amazing the power of intellect the Send key has). Most everyone gets better, true; but that just means they make more advanced (and possibly more spectacular) mistakes.

The key is to get to the point where you are "a decent programmer", and accept that decent programmers suck. This one mistake is just something that happens; it got found and fixed. Concentrating on the suck instead of the stuff that doesn't suck is natural, but ultimately self-defeating.

Now I can do that in situations where I am decent; but I completely sympathise with abi because where I don't think I'm decent, I have the same reaction (except for letting the gender down - I know my failings are all, terribly and unequivocably, my own, and not reflective of men in general. Unfortunately, it doesn't help much). And yeah, JFDI isn't the right reaction to my problem; maybe "it's tough, everyone has problems with it (see here, here, and here); but if you don't do it, you never will get good at it. Maybe this time, consider your goal to be 'fail, more than once'" would help.

As far as gender goes, I have yet to work with a female in the computer industry who was bad (my current crop of clients seem to run the gamut though, male and female). And by bad, I mean below average. On the other hand, at best I have been in a parity environment.

#171 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 09:00 PM:

And I will reiterate my deep admiration for the workers in QA here. Like sysadmins (in a non-computer company, at least), they are considered "overhead" by the PTB, and so understaffed, underpaid, rushed and possibly ignored. They can see why they need programmers (they make stuff); they can see why they need an accountant, or a receptionist (it's overhead, too, but they understand what the person's doing); but QA only causes problems and delays shipping of the product (Sysadmins only get noticed when something goes wrong - when nothing goes wrong, they're unnecessary, right?)

A good programmer doesn't always make a good QA tester (this applies doubly if it's their own code). The skillsets are very different. A good QA person need not be a good programmer - unless she's QAing code dev tools, I guess - but it probably helps. But the person willing to dig in her heels and say "no, it's wrong. Fix it" or "Listen, let me see you run the repro steps in the ticket. Clearly what you have is different from mine" (translation: I know you read "A" and did "B" because "B" is how you think it should work. But I'll pretend it's a difference in the code. When I prove you wrong (again), you might believe me next time, at least to the point of attempting Follow The Instructions) is worth every penny she's being paid (and probably more - see above). Someone doing it as a lone wolf - amazing. I am truly impressed, abi.

#172 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 09:18 PM:

TECO is actually available for PCs. I've used it on one. Try here: http://almy.us/teco.html
<j$19c$i $4cfs $ $0tt;$$> - moving a space from the end of a house-number to the beginning, adding room for another digit. If I was sure what the first digit of the number was for all of them, I'd fix it at the same time.

#173 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 09:51 PM:

Ah yes, I remember TECO: "Try to guess what will happen to your file if you type your name as a TECO command."

People really did program in TECO, after a fashion. It was used to convert human-readable typesetting marks to the A-M codes used by the machines that did the Noreascon 2 publications; I also used it for some of the sort of data munging that would have been trivial if I'd had even a 1980-vintage UNIX available. I wouldn't say I look back on it with affection, but there was a distinct it-feels-so-good-when-I-stop sensation.

#174 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:05 PM:

#171
Mine usually starts as 'That can't be right!' - but I'm doing it on maps. (Why is the pipe going through that building?) I stopped one file dead in its tracks this morning, because it was so obviously wrong ... and it was supposed to be ready to go out this evening, too. (Maybe not.)

#175 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:19 PM:

Lee @26

We had terminal operators entering data into a common flat-file database; the boss wanted a program that would allow them to add, update, and delete the database records using the same screen format. He gave the assignment to the other female programmer. After a week, she got the junior programmer assigned to help her. They couldn't figure out the terminal-interface code; I remember at one point hearing them explain to the boss that they were "trying to eliminate all the non-essential code" (and I'm thinking, "WHAT non-essential code?"). After a full month, they were no closer to having a working program, and the boss (who was tired of waiting for this) took the assignment away from them and gave it to me.

I looked at the stack of paper they'd generated, said something equivalent to "fuck this shit", and started from scratch with a hard-copy of the data-entry program code. I had to add one entry field for the type of operation (add/change/delete), and then write separate routines for the change and delete functions, modeling them on the add function that was already present. It took me a grand total of... five days. The program was tested and running by the end of the following week.

Up to then, I had considered myself to be an average-level programmer, and thought that anyone competent could do as well as I did. This was an eye-opening experience, because I had no reason to think that either of the other women were incompetent -- if they were, why would they have been hired? And yet they fumbled around for a month and had no success with a moderately-complex project that took me a week (plus testing time) to complete. I never thought of myself as just an average programmer again.

A data point related to this anecdote: there's an oft-quoted statistic in certain software engineering circles, deriving I think from statistics compiled by Fred Brooks. It states that there is an order of magnitude difference between the productivity of an average programmer and a top-five-percent programmer. I don't think there are many other fields where that could even possibly be true, but you hear so many stories like this in software development that I certainly give it some credit, at least.


---


Tom Whitmore @79 :

DDB @#49: "in 40 years in the industry, I haven't seen much sign of prejudice against female programmers." Doesn't the list of jobs you follow with, with the paucity of women in pretty much all of them, indicate something other than random chance is resulting in women not working in the field? Really -- what would be the probability that every one of those jobs you've had would have fewer women than men, without some sort of prejudice being involved somewhere?

I'm perfectly willing to believe that you haven't seen this, but it's a pretty blatant sign.

It's a sign of something, but I don't think it's a sign of prejudice against female programmers. The problem is cultural, not one of discrimination. I studied CS at a Russell Group University. Among other things, this means that we had a pretty broad mix of nationalities represented in our students, something in the region of 40% were overseas students.

In my year, there were only two European female students on the course. The Asian and African students, however, were a practically even mix.

This is (IMO) almost certainly the result of cultural bias discouraging European girls from wanting to study "hard" subjects like CS. It's worth noting that our Mathematics course, which is actually much harder, attracted a much closer to equal mix.

--

Paula Lieberman @138

(Thinking about it, there's a strong possibility that the genesis of Girl Genius had Stallman in its ancestry; fandom used to be a lot smaller place, Richard is and had been a fan for decades, Phil used to be a regular on the convention circuit that included Boskone, Stallman used to be a regular at Boskone, and Stallman really is one of the quintessential mad scientists in fandom, really and truly--and as for rants....)

RMS at a con. Hmmm.

I'm trying hard not to think of RMS and Harlan Ellison in the same room. It could lead to some quite bizarre results.

---

Earl Cooley III @139

To this day, I have an irrational nostalgia-driven affection for TECO.

There is treatment available for that. Here, let me help: $ sudo apt-get install vim

---

And unrelated to previous posts, mainly as a suggestion to Abi: if you're learning C#, may I recommend this book. It's like Programming for Testers. Seriously.

#176 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:26 PM:

Jules @ 175 ...
I'm trying hard not to think of RMS and Harlan Ellison in the same room. It could lead to some quite bizarre results.

RMS/Harlan Ellison *shudder*

#177 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:33 PM:

In my reading on this topic, I came across a great post by Martin Fowler about that Ruby Conference mess. Bless his heart!

#178 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:50 PM:

Jules @ 175 ...I'm trying hard not to think of RMS and Harlan Ellison in the same room. It could lead to some quite bizarre results.

M-X major-mode-depression ?

#179 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 11:04 PM:

P J Evans #172:
<j$19c$i $4cfs $ $0tt;$$>
I do not think that macro does what you think it does... My reading, off of the top of my head*:

loop: 
Jump to top of buffer (j=0j)
move forward 19 characters
insert a space
move forward 4 characters
search and replace a space with a space
(unless there is a different white-space
character there)
print beginning of line to the end of line
exit loop if last search failed

but the double escape ($$) terminates the command before you close the loop.

What I think you wanted, assuming single line records:
j<19ci $4cn $;-1d0tt>0ttl$$

Which just shows that I can be pedantic about near-dead editing language syntax, and proves everyone's point about TECO being cryptic and obscure.

*If your macro or mine were any more complex, I'd probably have to hit a reference card. I don't remember, for instance, how to search for 3 digits in a row. Stan Rabinowitz(sp?) I'm not.

#180 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 11:06 PM:

RMS/Harlan Ellison
Topic: Intellectual property rights
Result: contrl-meta-cokebottle-explosion

#181 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 12:18 AM:

Mycroft, #170: Everyone has made simple, stupid syntax errors that they can't see for hours - or, famously, until they send off the code to a colleague asking "why does this not compile?" (It's amazing the power of intellect the Send key has).

Oh, yeah. Logic errors work the same way. In my last non-contractor position, my Ultimate Last Resort for fixing an intractable "this isn't working" error was to ask my boss (who was a non-programmer, but a very nice person and an excellent supervisor) to sit down and let me walk him thru the code. Inevitably, there would come a moment of, "And then I take that result and... oh, shit," (in a very disgusted tone of voice). And I'd shake my head and thank him for the help, and he'd look bemused and walk away. This happened about once a year or so.

janetl, #177: I had an interesting notion while reading that article. I gather that the slideshow, complete with images, has been posted in various places around the web. What if someone (don't look at me, what I know about video-editing would fit on the point of a pin with enough room left over for the OED!) were to take that slideshow and re-edit it with similar soft-core GAY porn -- and/or BDSM images of dominatrices and their subjects? Then all the guys who are saying it's no big deal could look at the new version and (perhaps) understand what the women who saw the original presentation were feeling.

#182 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 01:00 AM:

Interesting observation: being that I work for the electrical engineering department at a Major University, and often work with the CS department, I've noticed that the incoming classes have a much better gender mix the past few years compared to when I started. Sadly, it's harder for me to track what happens beyond the incoming classes, and in any case it's too early for them to have graduated.

It will be interesting to see if, in 5 years, the gender mix propagates to the grad students. (Of course, that also requires something similar to be happening at other universities.)

#183 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 01:35 AM:

geekosaur @ 182: I hope you're seeing a real trend. In an interview on Science Friday back in March, Barbara Liskov said that the percentage of women undergraduates studying CS at MIT has increased slightly in recent years, and is now over 20%. She sounded guardedly optimistic that the tide may be turning.

BTW, for those who don't recognizer her name, here's the blurb from the Science Friday website: MIT professor Barbara Liskov has won the 2008 Turing Award, what's been called the Nobel Prize of computing research. Professor Liskov heads the Programming Methodology Group in MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The award, offered by the Association for Computing Machinery, is for "contributions to practical and theoretical foundations of programming language and system design, especially related to data abstraction, fault tolerance, and distributed computing." Liskov was also the first woman to be awarded a Ph.D. from a Computer Science department.

#184 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 03:17 AM:

Lee @181:
In my last non-contractor position, my Ultimate Last Resort for fixing an intractable "this isn't working" error was to ask my boss (who was a non-programmer, but a very nice person and an excellent supervisor) to sit down and let me walk him thru the code.

When one of the two garrulous developers on my team starts getting into a frustration loop, I either suggest he talk it over with the other guy (they're good friends) or pull my chair over and start asking leading questions until he talks it over with me.

The term I know for this is "the confessional method". It's time-consuming for the person in the virtual Roman collar*, but it works.

----
* but it's part of my job, so if it takes the time, it takes the time

#185 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 05:07 AM:

Paula Lieberman @ 138

Steampunk engines and clanks and such, are to mechanical creations as EMACS is to software.... the analogy actually is very close!

A very sprayworthy statement; good thing I wasn't drinking when I read it. There have been days when trying to get some elisp package to do what it purports to do that I could swear I could hear the ticking coming from the lisp engine maingear.

#186 ::: Sharon M ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 05:23 AM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 149: I wasn't a cs major, and the Pascal class was the most introductory class offered - I don't know if it was required for majors or not.

I remember some students having the same questions I did, so they didn't have much experience. But I wasn't in that class for long, myself.

And even though it was clearly better for me to drop the class, I still feel a little guilty for validating the stereotype. And then I feel a little guilty for feeling guilty, since I can't change the past, and it's not like I did anything wrong. And then I get over myself, and try to kick the insomnia again. (tmi? I can never tell.)

#187 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 05:24 AM:

I haven't seen Harlan Ellison* face-to-face in almost 35 years, but saw a documentary about him on TV a few weeks ago, so his face and voice have earwormed me for some time. Now I have an image of Ellison taking Stallman on a tour of Ellison Wonderland and RMS** saying something like, "Yes, this does remind me of the steam tunnels".

Either that, or on meeting their entire mass is converted to pions and lots of gamma rays.


* Didn't he write a book called "The In-ignorable Man"?
** I'm sorry, I started out as an analog hardware engineer, and I just cannot read that without thinking "Root Mean Square".

#188 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 05:30 AM:

janetl @ 183

She sounded guardedly optimistic that the tide may be turning.

I hope she's not just trying to keep up a good front. She's been a role model and mentor for a lot of women in the field; she was also my hero for some time back when I was trying to figure out just what it meant to "design" a programming language and I read a lot of her papers. She deserves that Turing Award at least twice over.

#189 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 05:47 AM:

janetl @ 177

Good on Martin! He's one of the few people I've met who is now in or came out of the methodology consulting business who was a real professional, not a snake oil salesman.

#190 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 07:40 AM:

Sheesh, the "l" (advance to the beginning of the next line) should be after the 0tt INSIDE the loop.

#191 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 08:36 AM:

@ 187... Speaking of Ellison... I was on a pun panel at FiestaCon and my Muse deserted me. Ask Lee - she was in the audience. Then again everybody on the panel was equally short on inspiration. We won prizes anyway. Me, I chose the "I have no mouth and I must scream" mouse pad, an antique from 1997's NASFiC, if I remember correctly.

#192 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 08:55 AM:

The 1997 NasFic.... Did I go to that? One forgets.

#193 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 09:04 AM:

Serge #147:

...yogurt?

#194 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 09:10 AM:

Kevin Reid @ 193 ...
Apparently Serge has yogurt, and permission to suck. That'd be your average 7 year olds spectacularly revolting noises in a bucket.

#195 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 09:16 AM:

Terry Karney @ 192... Or maybe it was an LAcon. They were held only a year or two apart. I think the one with the mousepads was the year of the raging fires in the hills.

#196 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 09:40 AM:

Kevin Reid @ 193... When I arrived in the Bay Area, that Christmas, I had to go work at our users's building because the programmers were all working from home because their building was closed due to water damage. Anyway, on my way in, I noticed there was quite a crowd in the lobby. When I got upstairs, I asked our users what that was about. Apparently, this being the Holidays, the building owners were giving desserts to people. A few minutes later, one of the users, a young woman who had never talked much to me much during my previous visits but with whom I had worked on some projects, popped a yogurt container on my desk that she had fetched downstairs. The Yogurt, not the desk.

#197 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 09:42 AM:

xeger @ 194... Humph. Today'syoungpeoplenorespectfortheirelders...

#198 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 10:17 AM:

RMS/Harlan Ellison

"It's slash fiction".
"Why's it called that?"
"Because they're slashing each other."

#199 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 10:18 AM:

Regarding cultural issues/influences/commercial marketing effects....


http://www.military.com/news/article/troop-support-videos-pulled-over-taste.html?
col=1186032310810&wh=news

Troop-support Videos Pulled Over Taste
July 14, 2009

Fayetteville Observer

The promotional videos were meant to show that Fayetteville goes out of its way to support the thousands of Soldiers who call the city home.

But the videos were quickly pulled from YouTube and other Web sites Monday after their tastefulness was questioned.

[Apparently a marketing and promotion company with the name Republik known "for being somewhat edgy in terms of our ideas. Certainly, nothing distasteful, that's for sure." , together with the no-clue-chip local convention bureau have no concept of responsible advertising etc.]

[Different people obviously have different ideas of what constitutes "distasteful" than the males who presumably are white also who were responsible for the videos' production and distribution. Also those [ir]responisible executive apparently have no mental attention for being the slightest bit interesting in or comtemplating, much less being accomodating to, opinions and responses and valued of women and people who respect the idea that "person" is not an mathematical identity to "has penis and testicles"....]

The videos were shot in the first week of June. They were tested with focus groups of military males ages 20 to 40, Meroski said.

[What's wrong with that picture, oh, right, there are women in the military... and there are female civilians, including military dependents. There are male dependents to... but only males in the workforce apparently matter, not anyone else....]

"They were received like they should have been received," he said. "People got it and understood what the message was. It's a creative way to get the message across of our military support -- we'll do almost anything for the military."

[And again, note the complete and exclusionary definition of "MALE in the military" with "people."

Women Are Veterans Too! --giant badge that my aunt Mary wore.

#200 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 11:09 AM:

Jules @175: RMS at a con, yes. He had a habit of coming into the Arisia gripe session holding a bunch of grapes and saying "Isn't this the grape session? Would anyone like a grape?" He did this SEVERAL YEARS RUNNING, despite the repeated eyerolls and ignoring-with-prejudice reactions. I don't know if he still does, because I quit going to the gripe sessions.

#201 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 11:26 AM:

#200 Rikibeth

Did anyone ever flat out said, "No, thank you, and please do not do this again, it is Excessively Annoying!" to him? Expecting the socially dysfunctional to essentially by osmosis pick up on ill-will without being flat-out told something explicitly, Does Not Work. It's like the mule and the two by four, or the Marine and the ten by twelve, you have to get the attention without ANY ambiguity, and then one must specify "There is an issue, this is what the issue is, and this is what people want/expect/demand."

#202 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 11:35 AM:

Paula, I don't know if anyone else did. I said "no, thank you," and moved away from him -- I was an audience member rather than a discussion leader and didn't feel I had the authority to tell him what not to do in the setting. From what I remember, the discussion leaders would call on him, he'd make his dumb joke to the room at large (after having already done so to various individuals), the leaders would say, "Right. Next question?" and go on, hoping to minimize the interruption.

While he probably DID need someone to tell him flat-out "look, it isn't funny, and it's getting on everyone's nerves, so knock it off," what would the potential be for such a rebuke to provoke a hissy fit? The hissy fit, of course, being even more disruptive than the dumb joke. This would be why people are reluctant to offer clear rebukes for troubling behavior, as a general case, not just with RMS.

#203 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 11:53 AM:

Rikibeth, #202: You've just encapsulated one of the main reasons why bad public behavior in general is so difficult to control. The people who engage in it are often much more willing to escalate and "make a scene" than the people who don't want it are willing to deal with; therefore, few people are inclined to call them on it. See also "Known Asshole Defense".

#204 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 12:01 PM:

Lee, I've had a couple of recent incidents that have driven home to me just how hard it is to call out bad public behavior -- idiots talking on their cell phones at a Cirque du Soleil performance -- I signalled the usher, they put away the phone but were very pissy about it, and kids standing on picnic tables at an outdoor concert unconcerned with how it might block the view of people behind them -- I didn't get involved, but a companion asked them to get down, one mother objected, and the security guard came over to reprimand not the table-standers, but my friend!

It's always a calculation of whether it's Worth The Trouble.

#205 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 02:19 PM:

janetl #183:

The really frustrating part of that interview was that the interviewer (Ira someone) pretty much wouldn't let her talk about her research, but instead kept coming back to jokey references to nobody but boys in CS.

#206 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 02:50 PM:

Lee, Rikibeth: http://somethingpositive.net/sp03272002.shtml .

WARNING: Something Positive is frequently NSFW, and in this particular story arc is deliberately offensive to Christianity (think "Springtime for Hitler" offensive, and go up). But if you ignore the first panel and just enjoy the way the obnoxious behaviour was dealt with...this point should be made more often.

In a play I was involved in (well, I was in one-act-play 3 and this was play 1), _'Night, Mother_ - a brutal, 50-minute twohander involving suicide and Alzheimer's, and it isn't the Alzheimer's patient considering suicide - one night the "daughter" came out just seething. Someone's cell phone rang - and they ANSWERED IT. At the climax of the play. Please note, a full house for this theatre was 48 people - it's not like they could use the "I'm not bothering anybody here" defence.

I suggested that she should have gone "upstairs", got the (stage) gun from the attic, brought it down and fired it at (the wall above) the cellphone person. Might just have woken him up. No, I never would have done it, but I so would have wanted to.

#207 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 02:52 PM:

heh, should have known. 'night, Mother on Wikipaedia.

#208 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 03:30 PM:

Rikibeth # 200 and 202:

I get the picture. In my part of fandom we have quite a few people who feel entitled to repeat performances of their equivalent of the gripe/grape joke. (On the other hand, we have quite a few people who enjoy that sort of humour, and who might well have gone something like this: "Oh, I hope that fun guy with the grapes turn up this year as well.")

Per
(I am, of course, aware of the possibility that there might be people in fandom having "Oh my, did Per do that again?!" conversations...)

#209 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 03:57 PM:

Coming late to the conversation. Re women in IT: I am female; I got my degree in computer science in the late 70s. Undergrads in our department were maybe 25-30% female and we all just assumed that parity was right around the corner. Didn't happen.

See Table 2 in this article on trends in women in computer science and computer engineering. One of the things that is interesting about this is that you can see the difference in the percent of bachelors degrees granted to women in the CRA Taulbee Survey group of institutions (those which grant PhDs in computing, i.e. research schools) vs. the complete National Science Foundation numbers reflecting all bachelor's degrees in CS/CE. More women get CS degrees (and go on to graduate school in the field too, though it isn't shown in this data) from the more supportive environment of the 4-year and liberal arts schools.

There's also some interesting data in "A Matter of Degrees: Female Underrepresentation in Computer Science Programs Cross-Nationally", Charles & Bradley, a chapter in "Women and Information Technology: Research on Underrepresentation", Cohoon & Aspray, eds. (2006). Somewhat oversimplifying complex results (me, not the authors), across 21 countries they found that in societies that had the resources and the culture to support greater individual choice in what was studied in university, women were more likely to study gender-traditional fields and less likely to study computing. Societies where access to higher education was more restricted (e.g. by state-mandated exams) and where the government had more control of curricular choices, tended to have more gender-neutral results.

People interested in women-in-IT in general might also want to look at the information available from the National Center for Women in Information Technology

#210 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 06:11 PM:

Per Chr. J. #208:

I shall breed a new variety of pear. I shall name this variety Christian Jorgensen. Then, when you least expect it (since this will take a long time), I shall do, er, umm..., something* with it to embarrass you.

*I'll have plenty of time to figure out how to make this work, since breeding pears isn't quick work.

#211 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 06:18 PM:

John: with two identical ones, surely?

#212 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 07:20 PM:

It appears that a pair of pared pears on the pier is parity for poor Per?

Purr.

#213 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 07:42 PM:

John: I heard about that on Jack Paar.

#214 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 07:45 PM:

What about Michael Paré?

#215 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 07:48 PM:

Au pair?

#216 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 08:48 PM:

#179
Maybe not as typed now - I was doing that from a 20-year-old memory (which tells you how often I typed that string)!

#217 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 09:25 PM:

P J Evans: Isn't it scary how incantations get engraved into our fingertips like that?

#218 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 09:33 PM:

It's right up there with the location of your cubicle in the farm. Move, and it seems like you have to relearn everything ....

#219 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 10:57 PM:

Abi #162 This is the internet. Nobody knows you're a god.

#220 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2009, 02:01 AM:

Mycroft W.@206: My grandfather was a popular man from a large family, so there were a lot of people at his funeral. During the service, someone's cell phone went off. Okay, they forgot to turn it off or mute it; a mistake anyone could make. Nope: A little while later, the same cell rang again...and the person answered it. I don't know who it was, and never got to ask them just what business was more important than showing respect to my grandpa and to the family gathered there. It's probably just as well: I honestly think that if I didn't get a really good answer I might have thrown a punch.

#221 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2009, 02:24 AM:

I saw the world the play "Dead Man's Cell Phone" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland this year. That run finished in June, but you should keep an eye out for productions in your area. It's a good play. And when the phone rings in the audience, you just don't know....

#222 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2009, 07:44 AM:

P J Evans #216:

re: TECO macro @ #172 and #179
Maybe not as typed now - I was doing that from a 20-year-old memory (which tells you how often I typed that string)!

So you're telling me that software rot occurs not only on the computers, but in our brains as well?

I amazed myself when I looked at the line and immediately started decoding it in my brain. I also reached for the <ESC> key for the terminators when typing them.

#223 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2009, 09:22 PM:

Ok, I should have been more explicit: we're talking about 40%-45% in recent incoming classes. I think SCS actually managed 51% recently but I'm failing to find figures on a quick search. Also no idea how the balance has changed as the classes go.

Amusingly, I did find a news release saying that Carnegie Mellon's Qatar campus recently admitted its first class with more men than women.

#224 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2009, 09:32 PM:

Bruce@187: your meaning was how RMS initialed book checkouts when he was a MITSFS keyholder; in text form, <x**2>**1/2.

Rikibeth@204: I remember diming somebody smoking several rows ahead of me (and hence even more rows ahead of the smoking section); she waited for me in the jetway afterwards to flame. (I regret not complaining about the stewardess who must have pointed me out.) Having an authority to help with a complaint usually works better than making it yourself, but sometimes you just get stuck; as you say, it's always a tradeoff.

All: there was no 1997 NASFICC; the Worldcon that year was in San Antonio. (I remember not going; a small matter of a house needing painting.) The nearest occasions were 1995 and 1999. There was an LAcon in 1996; I don't remember fires, but I never left the premises.

#225 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2009, 09:46 PM:

CHip @ 224... I knew I had the dates wrong.

#226 ::: David G ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2009, 03:58 AM:

re: version control software:
I hope you've tried git (or mercurial, or even monotone). CVS, SVN, and basically all non-distributed systems are really bad at making sense and cooperating. When I first started using git, I thought after a while, '.. hang on, this is SANE!' (I had used SVN for quite a while before that). Even if you never get to use git otherwise, it's IMO quite worthwhile to get an accurate picture of how usable and even fun VCS's actually can be (very -- esp. with a good gui like git-cola)

#227 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 05:56 PM:

Permission to suck! I wish I would have given it to myself in grad school. I had a chemistry undergraduate degree, but was pursuing physics, so some permission to suck was built into my change of fields. But by my second year, I felt like I should have learned a lot more than I really did. (In retrospect, though, my knowledge acquisition was fairly amazing.)

Only when I became a science journalist did I finally become comfortable asking the "stupid" questions and admitting my ignorance. It's crucial! Either you ask your sources the no-brainers, or you find out through the editing process that you didn't understand what you thought you did.

#228 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 06:29 PM:

Thanks for waking up this old thread!

Coincidentally, today I finished the process of typing the first draft of a story I wrote a year ago. There are things wrong with it and if I showed it to other people I would feel embarrassed by it. But it has a plot. The characters have personalities and motivations that drive the plot. I know what it should feel like, though I don't know whether it does.

It's lousy, but in a need-to-fix-it sort of way, not a forget-it-and-throw-it-away sort of way.

#229 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 07:51 PM:

Permission to suck! I wish I would have given it to myself in grad school. I had a chemistry undergraduate degree, but was pursuing physics, so some permission to suck was built into my change of fields. But by my second year, I felt like I should have learned a lot more than I really did. (In retrospect, though, my knowledge acquisition was fairly amazing.)

Only when I became a science journalist did I finally become comfortable asking the "stupid" questions and admitting my ignorance. It's crucial! Either you ask your sources the no-brainers, or you find out through the editing process that you didn't understand what you thought you did.

#230 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2013, 09:54 AM:

I am still linking to this post years later, because it is so great. Thank you, Abi.

#231 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2013, 12:13 PM:

Thank you for the feedback, Sumana. Also, your comment made me reread the thread. It remains a useful and thought-provoking discussion.

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