Our images of software developers

This is an excellent article by Birgitta Böckeler on the history of software developers and our images of them.

The stereotype of the socially-awkward, white, male programmer has been around for a long time. Although “diversity in tech” is a much discussed topic, the numbers have not been getting any better. On the contrary, a lot of people inside and outside of the IT industry still take it for granted that this stereotype is the natural norm, and this perception is one of the things that is standing in our way to make the profession more inclusive and inviting. So where does this image come from? Did the demographics of the world’s programmer population really evolve naturally, because “boys just like computers more”? What shaped our perception of programmers? This text is about some possible explanations I found when reading about the history of computing.

Read it for the history and insights on what to do about it.

Stop acting so surprised!

Whenever you hear yourself or somebody else saying things like “You don’t look like a programmer”, or “What? You don’t know ___?” — stop right there. It might be an innocent little comment that you don’t mean anything by, but the person you are saying it to might be hearing this for the 500th time, and your comment might be the last straw to make them think that they indeed do not belong. This is why such comments are often called “microaggressions”. Each one is small, too small to really be aggressive, but when they appear every week they have a significant cumulative effect.

Learn more about microaggressions to increase your awareness of this, for example by reading this excellent article about how microaggressions enforce stereotypes in tech.

Source: Born for it: How the image of software developers came about (via Pat Kua)

Waking up to the Web’s Misogyny

If by some chance you haven’t seen any of the discussion this week about the Kathy Sierra affair and about the prevalence of abuse towards women on the web, this article by Joan Walsh today in Salon is a good starting point.  Excerpt:

Is there really any doubt that women writing on the Web are subject
to more abuse than men, simply because they’re women? Really? I’ve been
following the Kathy Sierra blog storm,
thinking I had nothing new to say, but the continued insistence that
Sierra, and those who defend her, are somehow overreacting, or charging
sexism where none exists, makes it hard for a mouthy woman to stay

I say this as a mouthy woman who has tried for a long time to
pretend otherwise: that Web misogyny isn’t especially rampant — but
even if it is, it has no effect on me, or any other strong, sane woman
doing her job. But I wasn’t being honest. My own reactions and those of
others to the Sierra mess served to wrestle the truth out of me, and it
wasn’t what I hoped.

Link: Men who hate women on the Web | Salon.com.
Also recommended: Annalee Newitz, Who’s afraid of Kathy Sierra?

Land of the Vanishing Girl

Excerpt from a story in today’s Chicago Tribune:

BADHOCHHI KALAN, India — This is the land of the vanishing girl, where 14 boys and seven girls attend 1st grade, where educational plays warn of a future with no women. A nearby midwife delivers one girl for every five boys.

Villagers do not talk openly about why the number of girls is so low here–how couples use ultrasound tests illegally and then abort female fetuses. But everyone knows the reason.

"I want a son, because daughters don’t stay with you," said Jaspreet Kaur, 30, who has two daughters. "Around me, in all the houses, there are boys. All my classmates have boys."

This village of 3,000 is well off by Indian standards. People here are educated. They crave small families, only one or two children. They talk about relatives in the United States, Canada or Lebanon. And they talk about sons–how at least one son is necessary to run family land, to care for parents. Some talk about daughters as if they were walking price tags.

Link: Fewer girls, and few will discuss why | Chicago Tribune.

via Center for Genetics and Society.

Competition for Donated Eggs Heats Up

NPR ran a story this week about how stem cell researchers are increasingly competing with fertility clinics for donated eggs.  Donating for reproductive use pays, but donating for stem cell research doesn’t, because of ethical concerns.  Some argue that it should.

Link: NPR : Stem-Cell Scientists Compete for Human Eggs.  See also this companion NPR article: Q&A: Embryonic Stem Cells: Exploding the Myths.

For a comprehensive rundown of the issues with egg donation, check out the fact sheets and other background material put together by the Center for Genetics and Society: Egg Extraction For Stem Cell Research: Protecting Women’s Health.