In Coders at Work by Peter Seibel, only 1 programer, out of 15 programmers featured in the book, is a female programmer — Fran Allen. Funny thing is that she actually had no plans of becoming a programmer. Her original plan was to be a math teacher but then for financial reasons, she took the programming job offered to her by IBM. The funnier thing is that she stopped programming when C language was introduced.
She was asked by Seibel why there are less female programmers compared to male programmers. She cannot actually pinpoint the reason why. Because, according to her, if you based it on Math aptitude, girls in senior high schools can perform better than boys. She also attributed it that women tend to choose more socially relevant sciences — like biology, earth science, and medicine. In the end, quoting her, she pointed out that it maybe due to:
“A lot of people think it’s the games and the nerdiness of sitting in front of a computer all day.”
This was also pointed out by Joel Spolsky on his blog post, Great female *programmers.* Quoted from his post below:
“In retrospect isn’t it just common sense that most females don’t want to sit in front of a computer typing obscure code, completely opaque to 99.9% of the population, for the *decade* that it takes to produce a lasting and classic piece of software?”
You can get a lot of theories and assumptions of why there are more male programmers than female by reading the comments by reades of Joel Spolsky. Some contributed it to cultural, social, biological, and others. But then nobody can agree on something.
In few memories of my psychology degree, I remember that studies showed that females are more detail-oriented than male. So boys would usually asked girls to find their socks for them. Or, that boys get a lot of ‘cold-shoulders’ for not remembering anniversaries and special dates. While males are better at spatial skill — the ability to mentally rotate images. Males are better at being able to mentally represent a whole complete object.
As I mentioned in my previous post, How to know if you are a great programmer?, programmers interviewed by Seibel mentioned that one of the abilities they are great at is the ability to have a full grasp of the whole program in their head. They can mentally process the whole program in their head.
Relating it to my own experience, I can say this can be one of the reasons why there are few female programmers. Because as I mentioned on that post, my first choice for college degree was BS Math Major in Computer Science. I was/am actually good at Math — well, just average but average in a way that it was not much of a struggle for me to pass Math subjects. But then I sucked at programming. I enjoyed Turbo Pascal during my 2nd-year high. But then when I get to 4th year, I just copy and paste the ‘video rental’ program of our computer whiz who was a boy. I can still remember that there was something about me not being able to relate one part of the program to the other end of the program or to the whole program; and, I guess this is what the great programmers described as ‘being able to have a full grasp of the of the whole program.’
I got lost in the program; like what I should do next, or where this particular set of ‘codes or function’ should I connect this to were some of the troubles I could remember with my short experience with programming back in high school. If I can still remember, a program is one big application which is composed of different functions to make it run, and each functions might contain mini-functions and within this mini-functions are another set of mini-functions and so on and so forth. Somewhere in the jungle of mini-functions, I got lost and drowned. And, I kept to be drowning, it was a struggle for me to swim up so I can take a peek at the whole image of the program. This was the main reason I never took the risk of pursuing the BS Math Comp Sci degree.
So in my case, I can say it was a matter of biological or mental make-up, and not because it is uncool to be facing the computer 24/7. Of course, what is true to me might not be the case of others. Also brain is trainable. If I had stucked up with Math CS degree, I might had improve my spatial skill over time.
Nevertheless, I guess women should still be actively involved in programming. Since male programmers lack the ‘detail-orientedness’ of women thus ‘glitches and bugs’ cannot be avoided. Owkei, applications can be really buggy. So I guess a woman. with her detail-orientedness, will perfectly fit the role of bug testing/user testing or software design. The company I previously worked at has this female Lithuanian tester who can still remember all the bugs from bug #1. Elisabeth Hendrickson, known as @testobsessed in twitter, is another female who is quite famous in this line of work. Women are definitely much needed in any place where ‘nitpicking’ is a sought-after talent.
I guess another reason why there are more male programmers than female for males have this heroic fantasies where they used to realize them through wars. But since, there is no reason now to go on wars or wars are simply unacceptable nowadays, they now instead display their ‘heroic’ pursuits in creating ‘grandiose’ application. Make programs, not war! While girls go on fantasizing as damsel-in-distress; of course, not!