Saturday, February 8, 2014

My Response To: "How The Meritocracy Myth Affects Women In Technology"

I just read How The Meritocracy Myth Affects Women In Technology and I must say that while I think there is a real problem with the lack of women in the tech industry which needs addressing, I am profoundly disappointed at the misunderstandings and stereotypes propagated in the article, which in my mind are only likely to exacerbate the problem.

Some background: I have worked in 'the Tech Industry' for 10 years now. (9 if you count the year I took off due to burn out.) Note also that 4 of the 5 companies I have worked for were Video Game Companies, and I am working on my own indie game now. So here are my thoughts on this subject, and in particular what I think the article misses in its aim to aid what is clearly a legitimate problem:

1) Every single tech company that I have worked for WANTED MORE WOMEN.

Unfortunately it is notoriously difficult to find people with the required technical skills (at all, let alone among women) so much so that most places I have worked needed many more people than they could actually find. There is a huge need for talent in the tech industry and a massive shortage of people with skills. Hell, I get notices all the time from headhunters promising me as much as 1000 bucks just to recommend someone from my professional network to take whatever job they need filled at the moment. Most companies without big public names like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc have a REALLY hard time finding enough talent just to do the work they need done. They are in no position to be prejudice, and will very often import workers from poorer parts of the world who have the needed skills out of necessity. In general, and not only with women, we REALLY REALLY need more people to be knowledgeable about Math and Science. Don't skip it because it is hard! Do the work! Please! Please! Do the work! WE NEED YOU!

Note that if you have good programming skills and some good experience, you can go work in just about any country in the world you want with little or no hassle, no matter where you are from, what your gender, and often without even needing to speak the language, as long as your English is passable.

2) The problem with women lacking needed technical skills, in my experience, starts WAY before the job market, and likely even long before college. The percentage of women in my computer science department in University was also low single digits. So it is no surprise to me that it is so low in the actual work force.

I do not know for sure what prevents women from choosing Math and Science degrees (but will express some of my opinions below), although one female friend told me recently on Facebook that she was told as a kid that Math was too hard and she should choose something else. If this is the case then prejudice starts with (and may even entirely be from) guidance counselors and other early mentors, not tech companies. Although I will add that women are not unique in this regard. A coworker at my current job told me how his High School guidance councilor generally discouraged kids from their dreams because it was a poor neighborhood and he wanted them to be 'more realistic' about the fact they would probably just end up brick layers or whatever. I would say that we seriously need to examine what ALL kids are being told about their capabilities and dreams in life. I also think that while this might be a little bit cheeky, it makes a very valid point on the subject as well. If you think it is an unfair statement, consider this.

3) In my experience, technology companies generally have single digit percentage of women at all levels except HR, not just at the top. So complaining that there are not more women heading tech companies is kind of absurd. If women don't/won't/can't even take jobs at the entry level, how can one complain they are not at the top? Generally speaking, nobody walks in to any company or industry with no experience right out of school (or without any relevant schooling at all) and takes the lead. If someone does walk in with such expectations they are most likely going to be in for some profound disappointment. (Note: I realize that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg didn't complete University, but they were all the sort who had been constantly programming for years instead of going to parties or otherwise living a 'normal' life, and they invented or perfected entirely new industries for the public.)

4) Brogrammer culture: I really wish people would just drop this entire negative stereotype all together. I realize that there were a couple people out there making titstare (which is easy to target and bitch about), and even Mark Zuckerberg supposedly make this 'hot or not' app back in the day. However most programmers I know, or have known, are VERY far from the brogrammer stereotype. If anything, I would expect that propagation of this negative stereotype is only going to convince more women to stay away from technology, so stop bringing it up. => And before you tell me not to act like this then, why don't you first go up to random black people and tell them not to steal? It reminds me of an extremely offensive short film I saw recently in regards to Augmented Reality, which I think gets us closer to part of the real issue.

This film has several big problems. For one thing, it is profoundly unscientific and ignorant to believe that AR contact lenses will give you the ability to control someones mind, and it plays directly into the Anti-Science/Anti-Intellectual culture. But even more importantly, it portrays an extremely damaging stereotype of programmers specifically, and men in general. I realize there are some criminal rapist types out there, but why is it that men in general are so often portraid this way? The whole idea of 'rape culture' is a giant insult to decent men everywhere, who are by and large the majority. Who is it out there that thinks we all need to be reminded every two seconds that forcibly degrading another person is wrong? And to whoever it is propagating this crap: Why do you hate men so much? Stop stereotyping us this way!

Seriously: Why do people feel the need to make things in such poor of tastes as the ending of this film? Because all programmers (and scientists in general) are 'evil geniuses' and socially incapable of legitimately interesting a woman? Yeah, that's a GREAT message for boys and girls alike! No wonder more women (and men) don't become interested in technology, except in bitching about how it is "the patriarchy". Maybe we should stop portraying scientists and engineers in the media as social retards who only speak in techno babel, and must be relegated to the position of sidekick to some Johnny Knoxville type who is just perpetually lucky through all stupidity before getting the girl.

In closing:

The lack of women (and more people in general) in the tech industry is a serious problem. I appreciate the fact that there are people outside of it who also recognize the difficulties we face in this regard. However, oversimplifying things does not help. Insinuating that there is some 'white male conspiracy' to keep women and others out doesn't help any more than pretending all scientists are in a giant conspiracy to disprove God so they can be gay and sin all they want. Pointing fingers at the imagined "brogrammer/rape culture" doesn't help but just creates more segregation. Demanding acceptance of 'more diversity of thinking' from people who don't understand technology at all isn't going to help any more than pretending mumbo jumbo quantum meditative healing is a substitute for real medicines like vaccinations and chemotherapy.

What will help is getting rid of the negative stereotypes our culture has about programmers, engineers, scientists, and also men. What will help is telling girls (and boys) at a young age that science and technology is cool and that they can do it if they apply themselves and work hard, which they are expected to do. What will help is discouraging kids from giving up Math and Science and Technology. What will help is to no longer accept the attitude that it is somehow cool to be an ignorant flunky in Math. When you start looking at THOSE things, then I think maybe you will start to get close to the real issues and how you can fix them.

Thank you for your time.