Tuesday, September 13, 2016

My perspective on female programmers

Setting aside the obviously sexist tone, one thing I've noticed (aside from the dearth of female programmers) is that, at least on my team, the female programmers seem MUCH better at asking good questions. While I realize the sample size is too small to be even remotely scientific, I have a couple of observations that seem to hold true.

  • Female programmers seem to do "just enough" research before asking questions and can frame the question in a way that makes reaching the crux of the question very easy.
    • Too often with male programmers (especially junior ones), I get questions that amount to "I'm stuck and I don't know what to do" ... with no background or research ... so I end up playing a game of "did you google the error message?" "what is it you're actually trying to do in the big picture?" or "what have you already looked at?".
    • Worse yet, with many male programmers, they will have spent a month rewriting an entire subsystem in a new programming language (or framework)...before getting stuck on something, and THEN reach out for an answer. In this situation, when I dig back to "why are we rewriting this?" there are often uncomfortable pauses as the best answer usually ends up being a variation of "I thought it would be better" without any clarification of what "better" actually means.
  • Female programmers seem inclined to actually ASK questions instead of give ego driven general proclamations about their opinion on how it "should" be. Too often with male programmers I hear things like "this code is all crap, we should rewrite it" or "we should reimplement this with (a new language/a new tool). Any challenge to this assertion and I feel like the crusty old gunslinger that every new kid on the block has to test their mettle with in a shootout.

In short, it seems like female programmers (please feminists, don't hurt me!) are more adept at "figuring out what the real question is" and "respecting the way things are". That's not to say there aren't good innovations coming from my female team members, some of the best real improvements we've seen in our system are from these folks rolling up their sleeves and coming up with novel ways to solve problems. The difference is that they seem to "fix problems" or "make improvement" that are based on what we're ultimately trying to do instead of their opinion of "how the world SHOULD work".

I'd be inclined to think it's a reflection of culture, but it would have to be something with "females in software development" as the folks I can think of that best reflect this are from WILDLY different places and grew up (as far as I can tell) in very different ways. Perhaps this is why so many females tend to drop out of tech and take on ancillary positions like project managers and analysts...maybe those roles better reward this sort of behavior, versus the "wild west" culture of software development that seems to better reward this sort of behavior. From my perspective, we need to better foster this collaborative mentality, versus the historic "dude in a cave writing millions of lines of code in a vacuum".

For a quick guide see asking smart questions, an essential read for hackers and open source developers.

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