November 18, 2008

The puzzling dearth of women in computer science and the annoying lack of statistical competence in the NYT.

Here's an article about how few women there are in the field of computer science, written by Randall Stross (which I noticed because of its rank on the NYT most-emailed list). It begins this way:
ELLEN SPERTUS, a graduate student at M.I.T., wondered why the computer camp she had attended as a girl had a boy-girl ratio of six to one. And why were only 20 percent of computer science undergraduates at M.I.T. female? She published a 124-page paper, “Why Are There So Few Female Computer Scientists?”, that catalogued different cultural biases that discouraged girls and women from pursuing a career in the field. The year was 1991.

Computer science has changed considerably since then. Now, there are even fewer women entering the field. Why this is so remains a matter of dispute.

What’s particularly puzzling is that the explanations for under-representation of women that were assembled back in 1991 applied to all technical fields. Yet women have achieved broad parity with men in almost every other technical pursuit. When all science and engineering fields are considered, the percentage of bachelor’s degree recipients who are women has improved to 51 percent in 2004-5 from 39 percent in 1984-85, according to National Science Foundation surveys.

When one looks at computer science in particular, however, the proportion of women has been falling....
Now, wait a minute. You can't compare the average of all the fields to the number in one particular field, then assert that the one field stands out from all the others -- or even "almost" all the others. The numbers that make up that average could be all over the place, with many lows balanced by highs. They could be drastically skewed by the inclusion of some science field that is unusually attractive to women -- or unattractive to men. I wish the NYT would link to the NSF surveys so I could see for myself what is inside that 51%. Also, unstated, is the fact that more women than men receive bachelor's degrees these days. What percentage of female college graduates major in science and engineering, and what percentage of male college graduates major in science and engineering?

Anyway, the failure of women to enter computer science is especially interesting if it is true that it's the only field -- or "almost" the only field -- that women have shunned as they pour into the rest of science and engineering, but I'm not convinced it's true. If it is, though, maybe it's a bit puzzling. One professor, we read, theorizes that in the past "young women earlier had felt comfortable pursing the major because the male subculture of action gaming had yet to appear." So there's this idea that the key to getting more women to enter the field is to entice young girls to play computer games. Indeed, there was a "girls game movement," but it's already failed.

There are other theories too: women who like computers prefer to do website design, women are more sensitive about being regarded as nerds, etc. These theories already contain the belief that women's interests differ from men's. That being the case, why not just say that fewer women are interested in computer science? Presumably, the answer is that because the percentage of women in computer science has been falling over the years, it probably doesn't reflect an innate gender difference. If it's something out there in the culture, then, supposedly, it's something that can -- and should -- be manipulated.

I think there are at least 3 shaky assumptions in the previous 2 sentences but I won't lengthen this post by belaboring them.

I'll lengthen this post by pointing to the news that Barack Obama might appoint Larry Summers as Secretary of the Treasury, and some women are displeased:
A controversial comment at a Cambridge conference may cost former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers a second stint in the Cabinet.....

In 2005, [Nancy Hopkins, a biology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] walked out of an academic conference after Summers, the keynote speaker and the president of Harvard University at the time, said that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers.....

And now women’s groups have expressed so much outrage over Summers’ possible appointment that, according to top Democratic sources, his name may even have been stricken from the short list....

Just after Obama won, National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy told the Huffington Post she had “mixed feelings” about Summers, saying he doesn’t “get” the economic implications of gender-based wage disparities.

The New Agenda, a nonpartisan women’s rights group, issued a press release, saying Summers’ “record of derogatory comments aimed at women ensures that his selection would be divisive and thus distract from efforts to fix the economy.”
How much does the work of the Secretary of the Treasury have to do with getting the implications of gender-based wage disparities? And does NOW really get the implications of gender-based wage disparities or does it simply invoke them to get attention and try to appear relevant and powerful? Is there some innate gender difference that makes women want to stand between the new President and the man who might be the best person for what is a phenomenally important job?

IN THE COMMENTS: Joan writes:
I read the article yesterday when I saw the headline -- couldn't resist. I graduated from MIT and worked for 15 years as a software developer. I did not major in computer science. My informed opinions on why fewer women are choosing computer science:

1. You can easily work in computer science fields without a computer science degree. The joke at MIT back in the late '80s was it didn't matter what you majored in, we'd all end up writing software anyway. It was true for about 80% of the people in my living group, at least for portions of their professional careers.

2. As far as choosing CS as a career, the field is dominated by people (both men and women) with stunted emotional and social maturity. High-school level drama in the workplace is wearing and unpleasant.

3. The work is challenging and can be really fun. It can also be a real grind, and the cyclical nature of new product releases means you have to work overtime for extended periods every year. The pay is good, and that is one form of compensation. But the work itself is ephemeral, and this is the key to why I don't work in software anymore: If I kill myself to get this release out, the software will be used for 6 months, maybe a year, until the next release. It never ends, and there's no perceptible benefit. Aren't you tired of the new versions of your favorite software continuously appearing, laden with feature-bloat and a host of new problems?

I'm teaching now because I get a sense of fulfillment, and because it works with my own children's schedules. The money is horrifically bad compared to what I was making as a project lead at Oracle, but money is not my only concern.

Regarding Larry Summers, he was right when he talked about the innate differences between men and women -- women self-select into professions they enjoy, just as men do, and those who deny this are insufferable. I stopped donating money to MIT after the Nancy Hopkins incident. They should have repudiated her, and instead she was lauded. I'm disgusted by how PC my alma mater has become over the years, and question the quality of the education kids are getting there, if they have idiots like Nancy Hopkins on staff.

97 comments:

Henry said...

I do a fair amount of client-side Web 2.0 programming now, but took all of one freshman programming class in college (1983).

It was unbelievably boring!

What is puzzling is the excess of male computer scientists -- at least the excess of male computer scientists that graduate with computer science degrees.

Meade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rhhardin said...

Is there some innate gender difference that makes women want to stand between the new President and the man who might be the best person for what is a phenomenally important job?

The nagging instinct.

Darcy said...

I would like to know more about this.

And as for Larry Summers' statement that "innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers", I really did think he took a bum rap there. At least until he is proven wrong by science. Has he been? I'm behind on my science. (smile)

Count me as one who doesn't think it is a bad thing to believe that men and women are different in all sorts of ways.

Meade said...

"Is there some innate gender difference that makes women want to stand between the new President and the man who might be the best person for what is a phenomenally important [post]?"

Just so you know - guys dig feisty post-feminist feminists who post feisty posts aimed to tweek pre-post-feminist feminists.

Balfegor said...

These theories already contain the belief that women's interests differ from men's. That being the case, why not just say that fewer women are interested in computer science? Presumably, the answer is that because the percentage of women in computer science has been falling over the years, it probably doesn't reflect an innate gender difference. If it's something out there in the culture, then, supposedly, it's something that can be -- and should -- be manipulated.

I think it's equally possible that the change is motivated by changes in the nature of the field. I don't follow it, other than as it distantly impacts the kinds of electronic toys I can buy, but it's my understanding that there are different kinds and styles of programming and research involved -- from heavy-duty machine code to abstracted virtual machine java applets and all that. It may be that a kind of programming generally uninteresting to women is in the ascent at the moment, and women are repelled from the field as a result.

Joan said...

I read the article yesterday when I saw the headline -- couldn't resist. I graduated from MIT and worked for 15 years as a software developer. I did not major in computer science. My informed opinions on why fewer women are choosing computer science:

1. You can easily work in computer science fields without a computer science degree. The joke at MIT back in the late '80s was it didn't matter what you majored in, we'd all end up writing software anyway. It was true for about 80% of the people in my living group, at least for portions of their professional careers.

2. As far as choosing CS as a career, the field is dominated by people (both men and women) with stunted emotional and social maturity. High-school level drama in the workplace is wearing and unpleasant.

3. The work is challenging and can be really fun. It can also be a real grind, and the cyclical nature of new product releases means you have to work overtime for extended periods every year. The pay is good, and that is one form of compensation. But the work itself is ephemeral, and this is the key to why I don't work in software anymore: If I kill myself to get this release out, the software will be used for 6 months, maybe a year, until the next release. It never ends, and there's no perceptible benefit. Aren't you tired of the new versions of your favorite software continuously appearing, laden with feature-bloat and a host of new problems?

I'm teaching now because I get a sense of fulfillment, and because it works with my own children's schedules. The money is horrifically bad compared to what I was making as a project lead at Oracle, but money is not my only concern.

Regarding Larry Summers, he was right when he talked about the innate differences between men and women -- women self-select into professions they enjoy, just as men do, and those who deny this are insufferable. I stopped donating money to MIT after the Nancy Hopkins incident. They should have repudiated her, and instead she was lauded. I'm disgusted by how PC my alma mater has become over the years, and question the quality of the education kids are getting there, if they have idiots like Nancy Hopkins on staff.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Regarding Larry Summers, he was right when he talked about the innate differences between men and women -- women self-select into professions they enjoy, just as men do, and those who deny this are insufferable

I agree with Joan. I believe that it is genetic. Certain people have the skills and others don't. It's like being a musician. You have the talent, or you don't. The business is also a grind.

You inherit the skills and personality type that enable you to work in this field. My brother is a systems analyist and musician. I'm a investment and financial advisor and musician. We both grew up playing computer games. (I'm still hooked). Both of these industries require a certain mindset and abilities that you can't conjure out of thin air.

As far as choosing CS as a career, the field is dominated by people (both men and women) with stunted emotional and social maturity

I'd bet that the majority of people in this field are high functioning Aspergers Syndrome and hence the bad social skills.

Lem said...

Computers take over the world, women and minorities hardest hit.

Daryl said...

Of course it comes down to innate gender differences.

Computer science is in many respects close to pure math.

In fact, a lot of CS majors also major or minor in math.

And that field is dominated by men. Because men are different, in a good way. (Not all differences between men and women are to the women's advantage!)

Hmmm . . . why wouldn't this article mention the disparity in the math field? Probably because that supports the theory that we're witnessing the effects of something biological.

Larry Summers was 100% right and it's a disgrace that someone speaking the truth could be chased out of academia for it.

Skyler said...

I think the obvious point is being missed, but I fear being pilloried for bringing it up.

Engineering schools have changed quite a bit. There is less emphasis on math and the really nerdy parts of engineering (though it's still there of course) and now there is more emphasis on team work. Engineers don't need to use slide rules anymore, they don't need to have as much internal spatial visualization skills because computers can draw things out for them. Computers have become a tool that makes engineering much simpler.

But someone has to make those computer tools, and that's where the internal spatial visualization skills are supremely important.

In computer programming, there is no such crutch. You have to mentally conceive of what is happening in the program and twist and turn with the logic in your brain.

Many women can do this. But most women are not interested in this.

Secondly, I'm sick and tired of people thinking that there must be equal results. Women can and do decide to be computer programmers and can and do excel in it. No one is stopping them. If they want to do it and they are able to do it, then they can do it. Why should the job and the degree be redefined for the sake of making it appear to have an equal distribution?

The sexes are different. Why do we have to change everything to make it appear that they are not? In this case, women can and do compete in computer science, but someone thinks that more should do so. To do that requires changing either men, women, or the nature of the job. I see no reason to change women because they already have access to it if they want. I see no reason to change men because restricting their access to comptuer science is not very nice, and I dont' see a need to change comptuer science because either you can program or you can't.

johnbono said...

Oh great. Another "Why Women aren't/won't/can't take up careers in x," written in grave, serious tones about the damage it does to the female gender.

Want to get my attention? Fine. Let's see the NYT write an article in similar grave tones about the lack of men taking up careers in cosmetology. Maybe do a series of followups, like the lack of heterosexual men who are able to get jobs on Cable TV makeover shows, or an expose on the lack of male shrieking harpy guest hosts on the View. Sheesh.

chickenlittle said...

As far as choosing CS as a career, the field is dominated by people (both men and women) with stunted emotional and social maturity.

I hear you Joan. I have two kids, a boy and a girl, ages 10 and 9. My daughter has many, many interests, including computers. But Wii, Club Penguin, etc., are my son's primary interests. I should add that despite being slightly older, his social maturity is well below his sister's.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Summers' key point ought to be quite uncontested, except that he gave only the conclusion, instead of the explanation:

a) Distribution of intellect is Gaussian (bell curve).

b) The spread of that curve is rather wider for males than females ... presumably some Y-chromosome factor involved. Consequently, at both extremes of intellect there are more males than females -- true idiots as well as true geniuses.

c) Real success in maths and sciences usually requires intellect somewhere out in the 5-sigma region and beyond.

d) When the population is examined as a whole, there will be more males than females in that region, and as you move out the tail towards 10-sigma the effect becomes even more pronounced.

Now, what I really want to know is: why are the only permissible inherent differences between males and females ... those presenting females as being better than males?

dmfoiemjsof said...

Writing good code is a lonely, solitary exercise that requires structured, analytical thinking. Women would hate it.

J said...

"When all science and engineering fields are considered, the percentage of bachelor’s degree recipients who are women has improved to 51 percent in 2004-5 from 39 percent in 1984-85"

Let me second your skepticism on this one. I'm not in college now, but I was then; if 39% of science and engineering students in 84-85 were women, the NSF is using a very, very broad definition of science and engineering.

nansealinks said...

ann, are you good in math? How far did you get? I got to algebra 2 because i had to slip in some home ec courses after my female counselor advised me to- if i wanted to get accepted into Iowa States Home ec program. They wouldn't let me fudge on the dang English courses, only math. Fact was I already knew how to sew and cook and the courses were redundant anyway.

i was really, really good in math, one of the best in my class, but i went into home economics (pattern making and design) . I think that just meant i was really really good in geometry.

on my vacation i was enthralled with envisioning the eighth dimension in some very ornate Turkish ceramic paintings. Other higher mathematical discoveries in carpet tufting and patterns were found in things 1000s of years old. And the computer is just trying to figure these things out.

I guess it is all in how you define math careers.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Not to worry. In a few years, development tools will have improved to the point where repeatedly sighing and saying "No, everything's fine" will become a viable debugging technique.

SteveR said...

Great comment Joan, I can't disagree.

I was educated as a geologist and throughout my education and oil business "eras" (mid 70s to mid 80s), the percentage of women was never above about 20%. The fact that the education requires lots of outdoor field work in some rather rough weather and topography seemed more of a factor than ability, but since we knew women geologists who were as good as any man, we never thought it was anything but self selection based on individual preference, and generally resented when it was implied there was a negative bias in the field towards women.

Heck we would have much preferred to have a typical ratio of sexes. Duh!

As for the lack of competence at the NYT, same song different verse.

Big Mike said...

Ouch, Joan, but touche'. That comment about "stunted emotional and social maturity" is all too true for most of us. I hope I'm an exception, but I married a physicist so who knows?

I don't know why there aren't more women in computer science. Since I'm a member of the ACM, which is the professional society for computer scientists, I know that a number of comp sci professors are very concerned about this phenomenon and trying to figure out what to do. Efforts to revise the standard comp sci curriculum in hopes of fixing things.

I know that there's plenty of opportunity for women. One of my good friends, Kathy Land, is the president of the IEEE Computer Society. More to the point, compilers don't know your age, race, or gender. Your code runs right or it has bugs. No sense in complaining that the compiler and operating systems are sexist (or racist or ageist or anything else -ist). In the 30+ years since I was a grad student have women changed so much that this reality intimidates them? In other words, have all the efforts of feminism to get rid of the raw s**t my poor wife had to wade through back in the day (I dare any modern professor to tell a promising female grad student that she will just be taking a job away from a man who has to support his family!) have we inadvertantly convinced too many women that they really are weak little buttercups that need special protection from a cruel and nasty world? Dangerous enough to ask the question; I'm not insane enough to try to answer it.

I took the liberty of asking one of the women I work with why she thought that so few women were in computing. The first words out of her mouth were that nearly everybody is a white male and that this is intimidating. Ouch! I do know that the field does take long hours for granted -- as Joan noted -- and this may be more of an issue for women. On the other hand, being an associate in a large law office is reputed to be even worse (Ann, this is your cue) and women don't seem to avoid the law, at least not to the degree they avoid computer science.

I wish I could draw a conclusion. Do we have to change the culture of computing? How would we do that?

Skyler said...

ROTFLMAO, Paul!!!

Michael_H said...

Ah, but why is there no concern about the shocking dearth of men earning degrees in Women's Studies?

Inequality!

Matthew said...

c) Real success in maths and sciences usually requires intellect somewhere out in the 5-sigma region and beyond.

d) When the population is examined as a whole, there will be more males than females in that region, and as you move out the tail towards 10-sigma the effect becomes even more pronounced.


Assuming there are 6 billion people on earth, 5 sigma is a pretty elite club: if intellect is gaussian, then there are probably fewer than 2000 such people worldwide. Nobody is 10 sigma. (In fact, only 6 people are expected to be 6 sigma.)

Roger J. said...

In fairness to the NYT (it really hurts to type that), journalism majors apparently are not required to take any mathematics at all let alone statistics. There are some basic arithetic tests on line (google "journalism math skills" for a compendium). I doubt that a journalist could even grasp Bart Hall's elegant explanation of variance and its effect at the third standard deviation.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Steve R:

A generation or so ago there was most certainly fairly widespread discrimination, and barely disguised at that.

When I was doing my M.Sc. in geochemistry back in the early '70s there were only three women grad students -- all married to men also in the department.

Those women understood fairly well that the only reason they were allowed to be there was because their husbands were also there.

I don't recall there being one woman in the undergrad department at that school, yet when I was an undergrad in geology at a different (smaller) school, pretty much half the rock majors were women.

jdeeripper said...

When all science and engineering fields are considered, the percentage of bachelor’s degree recipients who are women has improved to 51 percent in 2004-5 from 39 percent in 1984-85, according to National Science Foundation surveys.

What about political science and social engineering? Skews female, right?

When are these feminists going to admit the overwhelming biological truth - MEN ARE GENETICALLY MORE CAPABLE OF BEING NERDS THAN WOMEN ARE!

It's a proven fact!

Joan said...

Writing good code is a lonely, solitary exercise that requires structured, analytical thinking. Women would hate it.

I'm sure a lot of women would, but that was the one part of the job that I loved. There were those days when, confronted with a problem, I could just envision the data structures and the functions I would need to populate and manipulate them, and it was beautiful. I type fast because once I had that vision, I wanted to see it realized as quickly as possible. Cranking out code and then watching it run can be a blast -- even for applications as tedious as the marketing data slicing-and-dicing applications I used to work on.

Dust Bunny Queen, your comment about the field being populated by highly-functioning Asperger's folks hits very close to home. My son with AS reminds me so much of myself at his age, it's both scary and amusing.

Big Mike, software development is no longer dominated by white guys. It's dominated by white, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian guys. At least it was at Oracle.

rhhardin said...

Well, it's from 1963, my first programming assignment, preserved by a guy who sent it to me when he retired, cleaning out his desk.

page 1
page 2
page 3
page 4
page 5

As I recall, I coded something up for the problem, and then discovered that the grading program cited speed and length as a statistic.

Well, I thought, this is interesting. I wonder how fast and small you can make it.

I improved it for a week or so, taking every inspiration, and what you see is the result.

If you don't see that as entertaining work, you'll never be happy in computer programming.

The expert would have been a woman, quite reasonably coding something up that's perfectly competent; but taking no pleasure in it.

(IBM 7090)

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Because it is topical and ......because I just love this video!!

Enjoy

Alan said...

A few minor points:

Computer science is not equal to "programming", nor do all computer scientists become "programmers". Several people from other disciplines do learn to "program", and formally educated computer science graduates can certainly tell it when they run across such a programmer's code. The whole world should be thankful for the EEs covering the butts of "programmers" by making hardware so much faster over the years, covering up many "programmers" inabilities and laziness.

I guess quite a bit has changed in the 20 years I've been out of my undergraduate CS program. Then, about 50% of students in the department were women--CS and industrial engineering were the departments in the engineering college where most of the women were enrolled. Heck, my wife (then girlfriend) went to one of my senior-level CS classes to confirm her biases (that we were all "ex computer club nerds") and was shocked at the balance of men and women and "normalcy" she found.

I did, however, have precisely one female instructor in CS for my entire degree plan. 20 years later, about 35% of the department faculty is women (including the department head), but the enrollment is skewed heavily toward men.

nansealinks said...

ann,

in addition I will relate a quaint story about a old religious man sitting in one of the most prominent places for tourists in Istanbul.

He was knitting. Many european tourists stopped and smiled and thought "woo hoo." They took photographs. I was confused at a group of eldery women chiding him, I believe, only from the tone of their voices) I hardly understood a word of turkish. It is such a freaking hard language- belonging to the finish and hungarian family I believe). Anyway I thought what are these grandmother's upset about? Well, I went back to that square everyday and sat because it is such a lovely place. The old man was there again and again getting admiration from tourists while knitting. Then i looked. It had been 24 hours, the man was knitting in rounds with a heavyweight yarn about 80 stitches on his size 10 needles from what i could guess (from 40 foot distance.) He had only knit about an inch and one half, or about 7 rows. Then I understood the women. Or i think I do. Maybe i got it all wrong. (Really i am presently knitting with size 0 needles and in 24 hours I have at least 30 rows completed but 2 inches… and that's without even trying, but no one is taking my photo either or talking to me.

anyway, I gotta love, love, love the Turkish people for appealing to the western intellect.

Precious moments i will treasure forever.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Writing good code is a lonely, solitary exercise that requires structured, analytical thinking. Women would hate it.

Many women would hate it. I would love it. I work alone now (with the exception of a part time office clerk assistant) and hated working with other women. Too each his/her own.

Dust Bunny Queen, your comment about the field being populated by highly-functioning Asperger's folks hits very close to home. My son with AS reminds me so much of myself at his age, it's both scary and amusing

Before the syndrome was popularly known, my brother, myself and my father would have been classified as such. Instead in the "olden" days we were just thought to be nerdy and slightly odd. :-)

Bob R said...

The fact that fewer women have (measured) 4 sigma and 5 sigma math aptitude may explain the lack of female CS Ph.D.s, but it doesn't explain the lack of undergraduate majors. Large state universities have large numbers of undergraduate majors and are happy to sign up all of the 1.5 sigma talent they can get. (I have to teach them their math courses.)

Glen said...

Perhaps the ladies look around the classroom and are appalled by their marriage prospects -- excepting the lesbians -- who take a look around the classroom and are thoroughly appalled by their marriage prospects.

Sloanasaurus said...

I wrote a paper in College (1988) that more men was and would be drawn to computer science related fields than women because of video games. Maybe my reseach and theory was correct.

The fact is that young boys and young men far outnumber girls in playing video games. The natural evolution from video games is to other areas of computers in general, especially computer science.

However, maybe the internet will equalize the interest in computer science.

Sloanasaurus said...

There was a show on the History Channel last night about Einstein. Almost all the theoretical physicists interviewed were men. And it is still the case that men dominate these genius type fields in Science and Music. Perhaps it is true that men have a much more skewed bell curve when it comes to intelligence than woman. You get more idiots and genius with men while women tend to fall more in the middle.

SteveR said...

Bart, I would not suggest back then that there was not real negativity felt by women but in the world I was in, in the midst of real efforts to break down barriers and increase empowerment, etc. the percentages didn't grow. And there was plenty of cases where the desire to have a more even resulted in hiring advantages.

So I could only conclude that women didn't like mapping the Abo-Yeso boundary in Sierra County New Mexico, in July as much as the dorks I went to school with. Of course it could have just been they didn't like the dorks.

Big Mike said...

Good point, Joan. Most of the people in this local office are of European descent but the field as a whole is more polyglot.

Also a good point, Alan. I just hate it when I find an alleged "software engineer" (the modern PC term for "programmer") who has reinvented bubble sort or its equivalent, and thinks he's done something cool.

And very good point, Dust Bunny. I suspect I had mild Aspergers back in the day (I either grew out of it, or taught myself how to think outside of myself, or maybe I'm self-delusional). I suspect Aspergers people tend to gravitate towards software development because social skills a couple sigma to the left of the norm are not only tolerated, but downright encouraged.

1jpb said...

How about some complaining about the traditional (but changing) lack of men in nursing.

Why won't men go into this field? There's livable money, and the work is not horrible.

I know a nurse who was making over $100,000, received full benefits, and only worked three twelve hour shifts a week. She started doing this when she was only three years out of nursing school because she became a so-called traveling nurse, even though she never had to leave town. She changed hospitals every year when she hit the time limitation for a traveler at each institution (and then she could recycle through the hospitals after she had been away for a year, so this process can go on forever.)

And, there are particular travelers who help hospital managements in their fights with nursing unions. These folks can make more than $3,000/week in addition to their fully paid furnished condo rentals. This could be comfortable income for a lot of folks, though it may be a hassle to move around the country working against nursing unions, or it could be a bonus if you're politically anti-union.

SGT Ted said...

How come there's no concurrent puzzlement about the lack of male nurses or elementary school teachers? Because this garbage is politically leftwing, one sided sexist crap tarted up as "womyns rights".

Sorry, but in this day and age, with women attending College is greater numbers than men, the obvious answer to the "disparity" is what women are choosing to do and not do, all on their own. No one is forcing women into other fields, thus denying them their true love and vocation of computer science jobs.

What is puzzling is the inane amount of pomo bullshit navel gazing passed off as "analysis" and gender "science" by misandrist twats posing as journalists and educators.

Absent any real oppression, what business is it of anyone what any individual, male or female, chooses to do? This is a free society. Trying to play "find the hidden repression" has replaced respect for the individual and their choices.

Anneliese Dickman said...

I am an MIT grad and you are all missing the point. Larry's comment didn't make some women mad because there's a difference in the *number* of women and men in science and engineering, which could be attributable to innate differences...but because he implied a genetic difference that would result in more *success* by men. That's completely ignorant of societal norms and how they have a disparate impact on women, and that's why Larry makes some women mad.

I was a chemistry major but went to law school instead of grad school. Even at age 20 I could see that being successful in science would be much more difficult for me if I were also to try to have children. NONE of my male classmates felt the need to take that into consideration. If having children hadn't been a concern of mine, would my gender have defined my ability to succeed as a scientist? Not likely.

chickenlittle said...

If having children hadn't been a concern of mine, would my gender have defined my ability to succeed as a scientist?

Academe is slowly evolving into a childfree priesthood (for both sexes), so don't feel so left out. Really, it's a larger issue.

Paul Snively said...

From http://programming.reddit.com: Males are affected by autism spectrum disorders nearly 5 times as often as females. Discuss.

Wired article on the shocking increase in rates of autism in Silicon Valley: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aspergers_pr.html

Anecdote: I write software for a living, and as far as I'm concerned, you can't be successful doing that if you are neurologically normal. It requires the ability to go into and out of altered states of consciousness, in order to grapple with the literally thousands of excruciating details, at will. Recall the imagery of John Forbes Nash working on his equilibrium theories in "A Beautiful Mind." Those of us who are successful at it while also being relatively socially successful walk on that knife edge. Too far to one side and it becomes impossible to develop anything of any consequence for lack of ability to juggle the abstractions; too far to the other and it becomes impossible to have a normal life for lack of ability to connect with the physical world.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

but because he implied a genetic difference that would result in more *success* by men. That's completely ignorant of societal norms and how they have a disparate impact on women, and that's why Larry makes some women mad.

Sorry, but that is partly true and Summers didn't say that genetics is the ONLY reason for the lack of women in high level math and science fields. He was speculting that it might be one of the reasons.

The genetics of men and the functioning of their brains predisposes men to have more instances on the higher end of the bell curve in those disciplines.

I was a chemistry major but went to law school instead of grad school. Even at age 20 I could see that being successful in science would be much more difficult for me if I were also to try to have children

This is also a consideration: that societally (sp?) the woman tends to be the person upon whom the child rearing falls. Many women choose to truncate their careers. But.....that was/is your choice. Other women succeed in careers that are male dominated and still manage to have children.

We attempt to blind ourselves to the science and data that clearly shows than men are more likely to be in the upper end of the math, science, musical ability curve than women.....whether or not they choose to pursue those careers. Denying it...having the vapors when you hear the truth, or getting mad about it is just STUPID.

Science is not, or should not be, politically correct. This is the big problem with the Global Warming hoax. Political agenda parading as science.

Stephanie said...

As an undiagnosed female Aspie data analyst with a diagnosed daughter who plans on a CS major may I just note that...

virtually no one self selects the couch at the frat party in Animal House or the Tri-Lams in Revenge of the Nerds...

the couch selects you...

Ann Althouse said...

nansealinks said..."ann, are you good in math? How far did you get?"

The answer, as I've said before on this blog, is that I was the best student in my class in the highest level I reached, Trigonometry. I asked my teacher if I should go on to calculus, and she told me that's only for people who want careers in engineering (not, yeah, and you should consider a career in engineering). So I took more art, theater, literature, and languages (and was the validictorian of my high school class).

Skyler said...

Analiese petulantly complained:

"That's completely ignorant of societal norms and how they have a disparate impact on women, and that's why Larry makes some women mad."

But Analiese the MIT grad, as though that has anything to do with anything, seems to have forgotten that the point was not societl norms. The point was biological norms that trump biological norms.

And those biological norms are very clear. They're not all absolute, but they do exist. Get over it.

Tex said...

Here’s some data that shows about 80-90% of engineering college graduates are men.

In defense of the NYT, students in the field of communications came in third from the bottom on this chart of GRE scores, with very low quantitative and analytical scores. The only ones who scored lower were students in the fields of education and public administration.

Triangle Man said...

j said...
Let me second your skepticism on this one. I'm not in college now, but I was then; if 39% of science and engineering students in 84-85 were women, the NSF is using a very, very broad definition of science and engineering.


I would also like to see this broken down by discipline. My bet is that there were a lot of "biology / pre-med" majors in there.

Schorsch said...

The 51% number likely includes my grad school colleagues in Neuroscience. There's an even-to-greater number of females in neuroscience grad programs I've been associated with. The win-at-all-costs attitude of this science beyond grad school means that the female and male unscrupulous bastards all look the same.

What? Me bitter?

Crimso said...

Everybody bitches about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

Shanti Mangala said...

How does this apply to Asian/South-Asian women? I am an Indian Software Architect and CS grad myself and the majority of female developers I see at my company and a few others I have worked at before - all of them are either South-Asian or Asian.

I know at least in India CS is considered a better choice for a woman in engineering than the traditionally male fields such as mechanical engineering....interesting how different perspectives can get!

Jimmy said...

I graduated from MIT in 2002.

One big part about that "Science & Engineering 51% undergrad" is that it does not separate biology/chemistry from the other disciplines.

When I was there, Biology and Chemistry (and Psych/Neuroscience) were the pre-med departments. Many of the women at MIT were majoring there, and they had almost majority women.

At the same time, Computer Science/Electrical Engineering has the 2nd highest # of female enrollment. At the same time, because it was the #1 choice for males, women end up being a minority in EE/CS.

In other engineering departments, Chemical Engineering was about 4th or 5th in female enrollment. It was the dot-com/finance era, so Management trumped Chemical Engineering. Chemical Engineering used to be #3 back in the mid-90s.
(Chemical Engineering was kind of a pre-med dept too).

So, the conclusion is, that 51% includes many women from bio/chem/psych/neuroscience. If you strip out those departments, you will probably see around 10-20% female in physics/math/other engineering.

Incidentally, the math department was not that big, but it was fairly close to 50/50 gender parity as well, at MIT. Guess men were more interested in being engineers than going to grad school for math/physics?

Original Mike said...

Aren't you tired of the new versions of your favorite software continuously appearing, laden with feature-bloat and a host of new problems?

YES!!!

Freeman Hunt said...

If having children hadn't been a concern of mine, would my gender have defined my ability to succeed as a scientist? Not likely.

But might it not be at least partially genetic that child-rearing was a major concern of yours?

The people that I went to school with are generally shocked to find out that I'm a stay at home mom. I was never encouraged in that direction. Family, friends, teachers, employers, everyone assumed I'd be career focused, and that was always the path that I was encouraged to take. But I didn't even consider it. I remember telling my boss that when I had children, I'd be out the door. He didn't believe me no matter how many times I told him that there was absolutely no chance I would even consider continuing to work.

Based on my own experience and what I saw of how other women were treated in high school and college, I don't buy it at all that women need more encouragement to go into subjects like math and science. I knew many, many, many women who were talented in these areas, but I hardly know any who chose to go into those fields. I do think there is a genetic component to work preferences, and I don't see any reason that we should pretend that men and women are no different from each other in that regard.

Vive la difference!

Richard Fagin said...

Holy, moly, NOW it comes out. I wondered why Joan frequently makes comments that are so......rational and well founded.

I stopped giving money to MIT when then-provost John Deutsch (yes, the former CIA director) had the gall to suppose that the Defense Department's revocation of ROTC scholarships for two gay students who only came out as they came close to graduation somehow violated MIT's student policies. Someone fogot to tell his royal highness that when DOD pays the bills, DOD calls the shots.

Deutsch was an asshole when I took 5.60 from him in 1975.

And Nancy Hopkins didn't just walk out of that conference. She said that Larry Summers' comments made her sick to her stomach, reinforcing the very stereotype she supposedly was bound to destroy.

Revenant said...

Joan,

As far as choosing CS as a career, the field is dominated by people (both men and women) with stunted emotional and social maturity. High-school level drama in the workplace is wearing and unpleasant.

I have to disagree with you there.

My experience in the software industry has been that the drama and petty infighting comes from the non-engineering parts of the company. Software engineering has the benefit of having definite accomplishments by definite people; the drama is found mostly among the sales and marketing folk, the managers, and other people whose accomplishments and skills aren't as objectively quantifiable.

What IS true is that software engineering is not very social. For much of the day you're working alone, not talking to anyone else. This bothers a lot of people, and I think it tends to bother women a lot more than men.

Freeman Hunt said...

Ha, and at the same time, this. How about we're all just allowed to be whatever we want and leave it at that, and isn't that how it is already?

Skyler said...

I agree with Revenant. I've never seen programmers behave in any asocial or immature manner. The ones I've worked with have always been extremely sober minded and intelligent men. I've not worked with any women programmers, though I'm sure they exist somewhere.

But then I've never worked with game programmers, perhaps those are the immature ones others have talked about.

As a group, programmers that write for business systems or industrial controls are among the smarter, more rational and personally successful people I've known.

And many of them are the smartest people I've ever known in my life. Some of the programmers when I worked at Apple Computer were nothing short of brilliant. And nice people too.

blake said...

Richard Fagin, if I recall the description she forwarded, she did not simply get nauseous, she positively swooned in such a manner that if a male author had included her reaction in a book, he would have been accused of the worst sexism.


>>As far as choosing CS as a career, the field is dominated by people (both men and women) with stunted emotional and social maturity

>I'd bet that the majority of people in this field are high functioning Aspergers Syndrome and hence the bad social skills.


That does not match my experience at all. I find the IT world to be fairly diverse (except for the gender part).

As the product of nerds, I'd note that my father remained a programmer to his retiring day while my mother graduated to management pretty early on.

blake said...

There's a definite link between music and programming, or at least the state of mind one is in while doing both.

At least "classical" music and programming. They definitely create altered states of consciousness.

Synova said...

Normally I scoff at the idea that someone is discouraging girls from taking up a subject they would otherwise be interested in.

But then I recalled talking to a guy at work, genius level and a grease-monkey... works what amounts to two full time jobs, one writing computer languages and the other as a welder. And he wants a girl who is smart and will crawl under the engine with him.

And the only girls like that, he said, are lesbians.

And I realized... that's probably because a girl doing a *boy* thing very well in junior high will not be spoken to by boys. So only the girls who don't care if boys don't talk to them, will do it. (I was the only girl in my Vo.Ag. class that included such things as welding... and learned to act like a ditz to make up for my straight A.)

The boys grow out of being 13 years old and a whole lot of them really *do* get excited about a woman who shares their interests and will get her hands dirty... but by then the damage is done.

By no means do I think that the numbers would be *even*, but it might be well worth while for someone to look at the results of girls only and boys only elementary and secondary education. See if there is a difference or not.

Skyler said...

"And the only girls like that, he said, are lesbians."

Not true. He's not looking hard enough.

I dated a woman who looked like Kate Winslet, cooked like a chef, tiled and remodeled her house (from the studs out), had really good taste in art, and liked working on her cars.

And was she smart? She asked me, what are those LSAT questions like? I read a few of the long and tricky ones to her and she answered every one correctly, without even reading them, she did it orally after only hearing them read aloud quickly one time. Never went to college but smart as they come.

Her dream? To make babies and stay at home raising them. And presumably teach them how to remodel a home.

So, yeah, they're out there. You just have to find them.

Jimmy said...

Here is the MIT undergraduate and graduate enrollment data, by major, for this year and up to 10 years ago:
http://web.mit.edu/registrar/www/stats/yreportfinal.html

Here is the MIT women undergraduate and graduate enrollment data, by major, for this year and going back 10 years:
http://web.mit.edu/registrar/www/stats/womenfinal.html

The Registrar's Office has some more data http://web.mit.edu/registrar/

Freeman Hunt said...

Skyler, and you did not marry this woman?!

I kid, I kid. Not fishing for personal details.

Joan said...

Rev, Skyler, and Blake, my opinions were based on my experiences at three different companies, all three with a mix of male and female developers. I think that mix has a lot to do with it. I could not believe the shit that some of those guys would pull, and expect to get away with it. Really idiotic stuff like using company machines to download porn, and then getting annoyed at their female project lead (not me) for telling them to knock it off. One of my direct reports (I inherited him from another group) was reliably out sick every Monday after a paycheck Friday because he spent the whole weekend snorting coke. Two of my bosses at different times hit on me, even though I was engaged/married.

These are anecdotes, not data -- but for every story I ever told when I was still in the business, my other developer friends could match me. At one point the department of Oracle I worked in was compared to a frat house, and not in a good way. (Is there a good way?) I do blame the management for putting up with all of it.

OTOH, my husband (an EE grad from Cornell) works doing software integration and test on the Iridium satellite communications network, and either this kind of stuff doesn't happen there, or he shields me from it. There is a bit of political back-and-forth between the conservatives and the radical gays who work there (one of whom happens to be my husband's business partner...), but it doesn't affect the work, which is a very good thing.

I do agree that coding can be a solitary pursuit. My group acted as liaison between four other groups, though, and keeping all the communications and requirements straight required a lot of interaction. My team basically worked independently once we integrated all the requirements and figured out how to deliver something that would make everyone happy. That was a really good, fun job that was only spoiled by the attitudes of a lot of the people there.

Richard Fagin: Thank you.

cokaygne said...

I hope you don't think this is off topic.

For sure it is going to be Larry Summers for Treasury and Hillary for State. The article caused me to come to that conclusion.

When Obama nominates Larry some people are going to throw a fit; but he needs someone like Larry at Treasury because the economy has got to be the priority. If Barry & Larry can get the economy growing by 2012, Obama's going to get reaganesque numbers for reelection.

Hillary will get the State job as a diversion for the feminists. Obama is hoping they'll be so excited by Hillary's nomination that they won't notice the Summers nomination. These days, Secretary of State is a nothing job. The real power in foreign policy resides in the Oval Office and right next door at the NSC. Obama knows exactly what he wants to do in foreign policy. The Secretary of State will be just a gofer.

The computer science article is just the latest lame attempt to rally the feminist troops and point to Summers, but it is weak.

blake said...

Joan,

I don't deny you experienced what you experienced. And my sample size is only slightly larger (maybe a dozen or so companies as a consultant), and not primarily from software-producing businesses.

I just didn't the idea that most programmers are somewhere in the autistic range, and/or emotionally/socially stunted should go unchallenged.

Synova,

And I realized... that's probably because a girl doing a *boy* thing very well in junior high will not be spoken to by boys. So only the girls who don't care if boys don't talk to them, will do it.

A good reason to keep kids out of Jr. High, in my opinion. Or to separate the sexes. (Really, how one is expected to concentrate at that age in the presence of the opposite sex is beyond me.)

Revenant said...

Rev, Skyler, and Blake, my opinions were based on my experiences at three different companies, all three with a mix of male and female developers.

Joan, I've also worked at multiple software companies with male/female mixes. I just haven't seen what you're talking about. Sure, there were some emotionally and socially maladjusted folks. But you get that in all sorts of areas. I've certainly known teachers who weren't able to get along well with other human beings, certainly not children.

But you can't survive as an emotionally and socially stunted engineer unless you're freakishly brilliant -- much more so than the typical engineer -- or management is really bad. The examples you give sound like they were caused by lousy management. Hostile or antisocial coworkers do enormous harm to productivity. The few folks I've known who couldn't play well with others were quickly shown the door. :)

Two of my bosses at different times hit on me, even though I was engaged/married.

Eh, you get that anywhere men are working with women.

knox said...

2. As far as choosing CS as a career, the field is dominated by people (both men and women) with stunted emotional and social maturity. High-school level drama in the workplace is wearing and unpleasant.

My husband has a fair amount of contact with the CS-type people Joan talks about above. Just the other night he was talking about what a shame it is that they are such annoying freaks. He said he used to assume that it was an exaggerated stereotype, but it's not, and there are a lot of them out there.

This has been his main complaint since he started working in that field. Fortunately he is a flash developer, so he does get to work with a lot of normal people, graphic designers and web developers, who can sometimes be less nerdy.

knox said...

yes, graphic designers are the nerds of the Art World, but at least we're not THAT bad

Revenant said...

Fortunately he is a flash developer, so he does get to work with a lot of normal people

I have highlighted the exact cause of your husband's inability to get respect from engineers. :)

Joan said...

LOL, Revenant -- notice I never called myself a software engineer -- I was a developer. A big part of my job in AppDev was reining in the engineers who were designing tools for us. They often wanted to add stuff just because it was "cool", never mind functionality or performance. Even more often, hearing a client request, they'd say, "Why do they want to do that? That's stupid." The fact that the clients were running applications vital to their businesses didn't occur to those guys, nor did the idea that the clients might know better what they need the software to do.

Christy said...

What I really liked about programming was the quick feedback if I had done something wrong. Few activities in life are so clear. And the second best part of programming is that with patience, logic, and that clear feedback, one eventually attains unarguable success. Success that stands atop any and all meta-narratives.

Didn't the NYT, 2 or 3 months ago have an article about how in Asian culture, there is less discrepancy between male and female success in math?

My biggest fear with the upheaval around Summers' comments were that the feminists were going to force engineering programs to mold around the idea of science and math as social constructs.

John Tierney discussed the use of Title IX to force changes some months ago.

I don't know any of the answers. My crystal ball shattered decades ago. Why do any of us go into the fields we do? I wanted to enter the space program and help colonize the Moon. I figured a nuclear degree would give me better odds of making it. Like I said, my crystal ball is broken.

Revenant said...

Joan, it sounds to me like you were dealing with a young crowd without much experience.

Experienced engineers know, for example, that that "cool" thing you're doing today is something the company is going to have to support for years. Worse yet, if you're the one who wrote it, and it isn't the normal technology the company uses, YOU'RE the one who's going to get stuck supporting it.

The "that's stupid" thing is certainly common, but so is willingness to understand why the process is being done (i.e., openness to the idea that it isn't actually stupid). And quite often the process IS genuinely stupid -- just because something is a vital business process for a customer doesn't mean the customer understands the best way to do it or what the tradeoffs are. My experience with educational software, for example, is that schools often have processes they consider absolutely vital and inalterable which are, at the same time, completely devoid of intelligence. This is because they weren't designed; they accumulated over time, based not on a "what works best" philosophy but on a "what works at all" philosophy leavened with the knowledge that the average teacher came from the bottom of the undergraduate barrel.

I would also add that in my experience the engineers are usually the ones pushing AGAINST the addition of pointless new features without regard to purpose or performance. The ones pushing for it are usually the sales and marketing team -- "we have to have X! I can't sell this product without X!" The engineers are usually the ones saying "no, our online store does not need a calendar and a calculator and an email client and an RSS blog feed, at least not until we finish retuning all the code you made us shove out the door months ahead of when it was ready".

radar said...

I'm reading this post while attending a session of a computer programming conference and the male to female ratio is about 50 to 1. I have no explanation just adding a data point.

Skyler said...

rev wrote: "the average teacher came from the bottom of the undergraduate barrel."

Shhh. Not too loudly, people get upset at that type of truthiness.

blake said...

I always use the term "programmer". My parents always said "data processor" and I picked up a lot of basics of data processing from them.

I only mention it because nobody calls themselves a "data processor" any more and I run into few people who grasp the basics. Like, you can't change the file format go into a process without telling anyone.

rh's example of writing a process and make it faster, cleaner, more elegant: Fun, but not cost efficient these days. Computer time is way cheaper than human time.

(Unless you're coding Flash, like Mr. Joan.)

Joan said...

No, no! Mr. Joan is doing communications satellite software soft, not flash. I think he would find that funny. He really is an engineer, and I am not.

Rev, it's generous of you to attribute those errors to youth, but sadly, some of the worst offenders were the guys who had 10, 15 years of experience. They never came out of their bubbles. The vast majority of these problems were caused by management, which generally took a hands-off approach. That works if your team is mature...

I have also seen the "we have to have this!" feature demands that make no sense. I did my best to push back on those and say, "What do you need this for, what information are you looking for, how are you going to use it?" always with the attitude, "Let's think about this for a minute and figure out the best way to give you what you really need." I liked that part of the job, because I understood the technical constraints enough to tell them what we could and could not do.

As a teacher-in-training, the idea of working on educational software horrifies me. Teaching is a very muddled discipline without a whole heck of a lot of clear thinking IMO. Some teachers are fantastic, but many are just out there flying by the seat of their pants. Seat-of-the-pants software design is a very bad idea.

Revenant said...

The vast majority of these problems were caused by management, which generally took a hands-off approach.

That makes more sense, then. But I don't see that as an engineering problem. If you let a bunch of [insert name of career here] act however they want you inevitably end up with the worst of the worst ruining it for everybody. Especially since the normal people say "screw this" and go work someplace else.

I did my best to push back on those and say, "What do you need this for, what information are you looking for, how are you going to use it?" always with the attitude, "Let's think about this for a minute and figure out the best way to give you what you really need." I liked that part of the job, because I understood the technical constraints enough to tell them what we could and could not do.

Yeah, it depends on the corporate environment. A lot of companies are very sales-oriented and don't like to think about the long-term costs of quick development and minimal design times. There are probably companies where it works the other way, and the engineers call the shots; I wouldn't know, myself.

As a teacher-in-training, the idea of working on educational software horrifies me.

Well, the areas of teaching that benefit from software are all the parts OTHER than the actual act of teaching -- testing and assessment, attendance and enrollment, state standards, report generation, etc. That stuff is at least somewhat standardized within a given school or district.

Synova said...

Stuff going on today with my daughter's school today and it got me talking about education with my husband.

We agree that if we had a son in public school we'd remove him, and we're not too happy about our daughter but glad she does have a couple of male teachers.

Trouble today began in a "group" activity. One of the kids (a boy actually, but not importantly) mentioned it was unfair when one person didn't contribute as much.

Elementary and middle school is obscenely focused on teaching girls, and it has been for a while now.

A co-worker also had school issues today... it seems his son, who listens, doesn't disrupt, and does his work... doesn't *engage* properly, doesn't conform to the expectations of interaction. So his parents are hauled in for a teacher conference for a student who is not having problems.

When I was young the idea of a "girls only" school gave me a rash because all of the ways that "girls" were supposed to learn was opposite of how I did the best. The idea of going to a school that didn't test traditionally and wasn't organized traditionally terrified me, and yet what they were talking about back then, in the late 70's and early 80's was that school favored boys. Non-cooperative learning and testing discrete knowledge favored boys.

Not any more.

Now the schools are all turned into "girls" schools.

If there is one thing left... one thing only that is left... is that if you can work computers it's a skill you OWN. It's your own ability that counts and your own ability that gets you ahead.

So schools that have been entirely warped to favor how girls supposedly learn are *still* going to favor boys in this, because it's the one thing that boys can do in a system that is entirely hostile to them.

Joan said...

Now the schools are all turned into "girls" schools.

Not all of them. We're lucky to have a number of excellent charters around, and my city (Chandler) has built a series of "traditional academies" that are so over-enrolled they have to use portable satellite classrooms. All of these schools focus on academic achievement over self-esteem. Whether these schools represent the last gasp of AZ's old libertarian crowd, I don't know. I'm just happy we have the choice, and I hope nothing happens to change it.

amba said...

The shunning of Larry Summers for making a comment that should have been an interesting and legitimate hypothesis is truly disgraceful. If women need protection from the rough-and-tumble of free inquiry, how can they claim to be equal?

Charles Murray, of Bell Curve infamy, actually got the original point just right. The question women should care about is not whether there are more great male mathematicians or scientists than female. The question is whether an individual female who is gifted in math or science will have a real chance to employ her talent.

knox said...

Revenant,

sorry if my comment touched a nerve? His specific complaints are that they seem to be in their own world. They won't respond to emails. They spend time working on projects they are obsessed with rather than ones with impending deadlines. If there's some sort of "server" trouble-- sorry I can't be more specific than that--it's like pulling teeth to get any help. Some of the tech support people are openly hostile to employees who need help.

I personally don't know what the difference is between "Developer" and "Engineer" but he spends all day coding. Flex? Actionscript? I think those are some things he does. I tried computer science once and only made it through a couple classes. Not for me.

knox said...

As the product of nerds, I'd note that my father remained a programmer to his retiring day while my mother graduated to management pretty early on.

Blake, my parents were both programmers for a while in the early 70s.

blake said...

Knox,

The interesting thing is that my mother had a math degree and my dad was a (college) dropout with a more literary bent, and they had completely different coding styles. You could see it just in the way they formatted their code.

I had an entirely different style yet but I attribute that to technology changes.

Joe said...

As far as choosing CS as a career, the field is dominated by people (both men and women) with stunted emotional and social maturity. High-school level drama in the workplace is wearing and unpleasant.

I have to disagree with this as well. I've been programming for 28 years, professionally for 20. I've also worked other jobs, including in the entertainment industry, and would say that overall computer programmers are more rational than most and as well adjusted on average as any group. The single biggest problem group I've observed are MBAs, especially younger ones.

As a side observation; when I go over my mental list of the top 20 software developers I've worked with, only two have CS degrees. The rest are about evenly split between self-taught and having a hard engineering degree, usually EE.

(I didn't major in CS because, like Henry, I found it unbelievably boring. Frankly, much of it still is, but it pays well, it's something I've very talented at and, well, I pretty much suck at everything else.)

Joe said...

Oh, and in my 20 years programming, I've personally worked with less than a dozen female programmers. They ran the gamut of very good to mediocre. One, a tester, was brilliant and one was pretty bad. However, my mental top and bottom lists are exclusively male.

I currently work with a brilliant young woman, who majored in Math. Her coding isn't as brilliant as she is, but she picks up concepts so quickly and sees the big picture so clearly that she'll make a fantastic working manager down the line.

knox said...

Blake, ha, mine was just the reverse: Dad had a math degree, Mom was a college dropout.

nansealinks said...

ann,

thank you for the answer. that's great. i did trig with alg 2. actually my trig teacher was rather disappointed that i stopped taking math. He would have loved to see me reach higher and higher.

As for being val of your class that's great too.
My family ended up moving my senior year, that screwed me over in the grade department so I didn't even care any more that i wasn't juggling for position in the top five. Besides I had no money so i knew i was going no where but junior college the first two years anyway before I would even get to Iowa.

I never finished my design degree anyway. I just kept on moving. According to tom petty, at least I'll never grow old.

theobromophile said...

According to one of my former colleagues (a chemE engineer a generation older than I am), chemical engineering was split roughly between the sexes, even back in the '60s. Women who wanted to be engineers went into that field. Then, as the entire engineering field opened up to women, the proportion who were in chemE didn't change much; the gains were in mechE, civil, and the like.

No idea why this didn't translate into similar gains in compE. My alma mater - a few T stops away from that of Joan and Jimmy - prides itself in having a female/male ratio in engineering that is about twice the national average. Even there, compE was largely male.

It's nothing that can be blamed on a lack of exposure, since they made all of us take some basic compE and EE courses as part of our engineering distribution requirements. We were also required to take elective courses in different disciplines so the profs could try to sell us on their departments.

Boyana said...

Computer science has been pretty central in my life since the age of 6. There is nothing about the field itself that should intimidate or repulse women. It's the culture of the people doing it at the moment. It so happens more of them are male than female, but I would conjecture that it has little to do with gender. More likely, it's inertia from how science was supposed to be done decades or even centuries ago. We have just not caught up to modern times, in which a growing number of single or married people (not just women) would prefer to both be productive professionally and have children. Computer science (and other scientific fields) require long hours at times, the ability to intensely focus on a single task, the ability to work under pressure, etc. How does that fit with raising a kid or two and managing a household? Do you feed a baby or change his/her diaper only while compiling something? Is cleaning your house more or less important than finishing a paper on time? Is helping your child with homework lower priority than the next proposal? Do you bottle-feed because you have to go to a certain number of conferences in order to keep your job? Men and women in households with two working parents (esp. working in the same discipline) have to make these choices continuously and more likely than not, there won't be enough hours in the day for accomplishing everything or achieving the same qualitative and quantitative results than, for example, a scientist with a stay-at-home spouse. Anyway, this is only my perspective, coming from a family of 2 full-time computer scientists with three kids who are very likely to grow up wanting to do be something different than their often-unavailable parents.

blake said...

More likely, it's inertia from how science was supposed to be done decades or even centuries ago.

OTOH, The first computers were women. IT, as a field, has the advantage of having taken off during WWII.

You have strong role models in the form of Ada Lovelace and Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. In the PC era, you have pioneering game designer Roberta Williams. (Even if you don't know these names, you would have learned them pretty quickly were you interested in the field at the time.)

The current "IT culture" is nothing like the pre-PC culture which had even fewer women in it.

Boyana said...

You have strong role models in the form of Ada Lovelace and Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. In the PC era, you have pioneering game designer Roberta Williams. (Even if you don't know these names, you would have learned them pretty quickly were you interested in the field at the time.)

Yes, I'm well aware of them. Ada was a countess, so somehow I doubt she had to deal with anything resembling the everyday issues of today's middle class woman. Grace Hopper had no children. Just the fact that they are female inspires me not at all. My father is much easier to relate to -- I have a lot more in common with him than with these two women.

I agree Roberta Williams is a great role model (though a very quiet one); too bad no one pointed her out to me when I was in undergraduate or graduate school. Perhaps I'd have gone and designed games for a living instead of choosing science.

blake said...

Boyana,

Ah, I didn't mean you personally.

I just meant that even if one believes that tradition is what keeps women out of science, it's particularly less true of computer science. Hell, IBM offered my grandmother--a country girl with a High School diploma--a computer job in the '40s(!) based on her aptitude.

But the thing is, guys don't get into computers (or cars or football, etc) so much because other guys are into computers (or cars, etc), but because they like them.

Boyana said...

But the thing is, guys don't get into computers (or cars or football, etc) so much because other guys are into computers (or cars, etc), but because they like them.

I couldn't agree more. I like them, too (always have). Human role models do not really make a huge difference for me. Perhaps that's not universal.

I was only trying to make the argument that it's not gender per se, but the fact that by default, women have more distractions (unless they are childless and single). I know there are exceptions, but in the spirit of the original post, we can look at this statistically (plenty of studies have done that). That effectively narrows the career options that are both attractive and achievable. Maybe I'm wrong, but this seems very simple to me and explains a lot. I don't think it should be the women who need to change their minds. I also despise "mentoring" that misleads young women, fooling them into thinking that it's "not too hard" or even "fun" to have both a family and a successful career in computing (esp. after Ph.D.). It's an exhausting nightmare that lasts quite a few years, with the only comfort that if one survives it (kids grow up), one can then join in the relaxed community of their male peers, with their late night dinners, week-long conferences, and all the other networking opportunities that require someone else to take care of your family. Sorry if I sound bitter, I'm sure that will change after I have a chance to sleep a full night and get my work done, which I estimate will happen in about 4 years. My husband is looking forward to that, too.

blake said...

I couldn't agree more. I like them, too (always have). Human role models do not really make a huge difference for me. Perhaps that's not universal.

Honestly, I have no clue. Even though I, like you, aren't much into the human role model aspect, I think they influence even people like us in not necessarily obvious ways.

I don't think a married woman has more distractions than a married man these days, unless those distractions are self-imposed (which women may do more than men). Certainly women have been known to "distract" men from their work.

As for sleeping: Heh. I haven't had a full night's sleep in about 14 years. But I've never been much of a career guy.