Letters To A Young Programmer: 3

It’s easy to make fun of your peers who wax hysterically and indignantly about sexism.

But I can sense a touch of unease. So many people believe in social justice. And they believe in it so very passionately. The fanaticism, the self-satisfaction, the merciless bullying of dissent: Incredibly unpleasant. Yet Silicon Valley is full of unpleasant but brilliant people. Being a jerk doesn’t make one wrong.

It may be helpful to lay out the explicit components of the argument that your workplace is rife with discrimination against women:

1. All humans are equal.

2. Men and women are humans.

3. Therefore, men and women are equal.

4. Therefore, men and women have equal potential for skill at software engineering.

5. Women are not equally represented in the software engineering workplace.

6. Therefore, some unfair nefarious scheme or schemes are preventing women from attaining their just representation in the software profession.

The trouble with this chain of reasoning: Only the second and fifth points are true. Hard to build a good argument from a big pile of false premises — even if the argument is fashionable and its proponents want to believe in it so badly.

I can give you references as to why points (3) and (4) are false. This essay by “La Griffe Du Lion” is an excellent summary of why women are severely underrepresented in fields requiring exceptional mathematical ability.

But I’m going to ask you to do something simpler and braver: To use the evidence of your own eyes.

You’ve seen that the students in your high school who showed promise in math — or just in getting a computer to do what they wanted — were usually boys.

You’ve seen that the science and engineering classes in your university were largely male.

And you’ve met exceptionally talented programmers at your job. Maybe you met them on the way up, during an internship or among your fellow newhires. Maybe you’ve met them when they’ve arrived, after they’ve developed complex and high-performing systems. Those people, without fail, are men.

(Something I hope you will discover in decades to come: People, even progressives, become much more accepting about the innate differences between men and women when they have kids. The adults in my neighborhood may vote Democrat and speak approvingly of diversity. The backpacks their girls carry are adorned with Disney princesses or Hello Kitty.

Children do not need to be taught that the sexes are different; they perceive it themselves. My own boy described one of his kindergarten classmates as “bossy”. I am not Sheryl Sandberg, but the topic of young girl bossiness had never come up in our household.)

You can tell, from the evidence of your own eyes, that explanations by the social justice crowd about why women are underrepresented in tech are bilgewater. Take for instance the claim that male students somehow crowd out or intimdate their female compatriots. 95% of my own computer science curriculum was comprised of:
– Listening patiently to a lecture, writing notes, looking at the clock to see when I would get out of class.
– Sitting patiently at a workstation, writing code, looking at the clock to see if I could maybe get my assignment done before bedtime.

Not a lot of opportunity there for me to discriminate against women or make them feel unwelcome. Also makes you wonder what color the sky is in this world, the one in which males between the ages of 18 and 22 are unhappy in the presence of women. The world in which college boys plan a party and one of them says, “Hells bells, what if girls hear about it? What can we do to prevent women from attending our beer bash?!”

The explanations that pertain to your job are similarly out of contact with reality. White American male software engineers have been hiring on merit, for decades. The engineer/scientist ethos: What you do matters, not what you look like. We happily hire Chinese, Indians, Russians, Israelis. Why would we suddenly get all white male supremacist when it comes to women? Makes no sense. Contradicts observed reality.

You must also be aware, again from the evidence of your own experience, that the reasons proposed for lower promotion rates of women are extremely thin. My own employer has made a fetish of “unconscious bias”, which explains everything and is not falsifiable. (The main purpose of unconscious bias training appears to be to get the attendees to be aware of their unconscious bias. This self-congratulatory recursiveness is a sure sign of the flim-flam artist, of holy rolling.)

Be honest: If there is sex bias in the technical workplace, it is in favor of women. From my own experience, males are slightly more likely to hire women, promote women, celebrate women’s accomplishments.

Whenever you hear extravagant claims about sexism in tech, please keep in mind that the simplest and least complicated explanation is usually best.