Men suck at tech

Adam Milligan
Nov 29, 2017 · 3 min read

I admit, I’ve never read the entire Google Douche Manifesto, or whatever it’s called, by James Damore. I have little stomach for readings things that I think are idiotic, and I haven’t made it past the first few paragraphs. On the other hand, I’ve read a fair bit of the analysis, and some of the responses, and I think some truths about it, and its author, have come clear.

1) James Damore is an irredeemable asshole. No matter what you believe, taking the time to publish a screed that suggests over half of the population is biologically unsuited to work that you’re still fairly junior at, well, that takes some unmitigated douchebaggery. Imagine if a third-year associate at a law firm published an article suggesting all of the female partners lacked a “killer instinct” in the courtroom. I hope he’d get shivved in the parking garage. And then sued.

2) James Damore is not an outlier. No one publishes a potentially controversial “manifesto” if he or she doesn’t feel support for the ideas. The manifesto is probably the last thing we should worry about. We should worry more about the weeks and months of bro-talk with like-minded colleagues, during which he shaped and polished his ridiculous thesis. That culture is still there. Everywhere in tech. Google firing James Damore was like a surgeon removing an unsightly polyp, but ignoring the fact that it’s a sign of systemic underlying cancer.

3) James Damore is right about one thing — as the saying goes, a stopped clock is right twice a day — he’s right about this: men and women are different. But, someone smarter or with more experience or with a shred of humanity would realize that different is not the same as worse.

Men and women are different. It’s a biological fact, and one that I hope won’t generate much controversy. But, how do these differences manifest themselves in tech?

It’s not 1983 any more. Nor is it 1993, or 2003, or even 2013. Long gone, if not forgotten, nor often enough missed, are the days of lone software “rockstars” communing with their black and green terminals late into the night. Nowadays software is written by teams, and good teams are composed of people who are good at communicating with one another. Would you want to go to trial with three brilliant lawyers who all planned a fantastic defense without talking with any of the others? Me neither.

The traits that software teams depend on these days — communication, collaboration, empathy — are skills that women historically, if stereotypically, excel at over men.

Swing a dead lolcat and you’ll hit a blog post about how software developers must be good problem solvers. Problem solving is about creativity; the ability to look at problems from different perspectives, to come up with new approaches, to mentally juggle problems and solutions until they fit into patterns that make sense.

Again, women historically, if stereotypically, excel over men in creative fields.

But, software isn’t just about finding a solution and communicating it to your teammates. It’s also about listening to other people’s ideas, allowing those ideas to change the course of your thinking, and accepting when someone else’s ideas are more appropriate than your own in a given situation. All of this requires that software developers allow their own egos to take a backseat to the success of the project and of the team.

In my experience, on average, women dramatically outperform men in situations that require controlling one’s ego.

Now, the astute observer will point out that I’m a white dude in tech, and I regularly tell people that I’m pretty good at this whole software thing. I can’t deny it. I’m not suggesting that men can’t excel as software developers, despite the obvious click-bait title of this article. All I’m suggesting is that the skills that really matter — not the ones that come up in whiteboard problems, or look-how-clever-I-am-puzzle-question interviews, but the skills that actually determine the success or failure of a software team — are skills that women more naturally excel at.

I predict that women will dominate tech in the next two to three decades, just as the percentage of women has increased dramatically — in some cases to a majority — in medicine, law, business, scientific research, and other previously male-dominated professions. The pace of this change only depends on how urgently the large tech companies, with their undeniably male-centric cultures, cling to the outdated glories of the past, and how spineless smaller tech companies are in their acceptance of this status quo.

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