Saturday, February 10, 2018

Women once ruled computers

Bloomberg excerpts Brotopia:
Based on data they had gathered from the same sample of mostly male programmers, Cannon and Perry decided that happy software engineers shared one striking characteristic: They “don’t like people.” In their final report they concluded that programmers “dislike activities involving close personal interaction; they are generally more interested in things than in people.” There’s little evidence to suggest that antisocial people are more adept at math or computers. Unfortunately, there’s a wealth of evidence to suggest that if you set out to hire antisocial nerds, you’ll wind up hiring a lot more men than women.

Cannon and Perry’s research was influential at a crucial juncture in the development of the industry. In 1968, a tech recruiter said at a conference that programmers were “often egocentric, slightly neurotic,” and bordered on “limited schizophrenia,” also noting a high “incidence of beards, sandals, and other symptoms of rugged individualism or nonconformity.” Even then, the peculiarity of male programmers was well-known and celebrated; today, the term “neckbeard” is used almost affectionately. There is, of course, no equivalent term of endearment for women. In fact, the words “women” and “woman” don’t appear once in Cannon and Perry’s 82-page paper; the researchers refer to the entire group surveyed as “men.” ...

Damore’s argument hinged on the conventional wisdom that being interested in people somehow correlated with poor performance as a software engineer. Men were more likely to be antisocial than women; therefore, he intimated, men were inherently better programmers. Damore presented this as a novel observation. In fact, it was the same lazy argument advanced by Cannon and Perry 50 years earlier.
The article (and book, I guess) seems to accept the idea that men are naturally more likely to be antisocial nerds, but reject the idea that men are naturally more suited to computer programming.

If you have some sort of equalist philosophical prejudice, then I guess you would believe that men and women, whites and blacks, Catholics and Moslems, etc would all be equally suited for computer programming. But then I would think that you would insist on believing that all are equally likely to be antisocial nerds.

Once you admit that one group is more likely to include antisocial nerds, then it seems obvious that the group will be more suited to some occupations than others.

Or perhaps there is a belief that our society should be re-engineered in order to make life easier for women and harder for antisocial nerds. If computer programmers were forced to spend half their time doing child care, then maybe it would not appeal to antisocial nerds anymore, and women would take over the field.

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