Software Craftsmanship is Sexist and Must be Scrapped

It’s 2018. The gender imbalance in software development is huge. Along comes a new energetic movement that aims to take back software development from the managers and process-monkeys — fantastic! To instil values of care and love and passion in young developers — even better! And then they call it Craftsmanship — …oh FFS.

Software Craftsmanship is a movement in the tech industry that focuses on the technical practices of the very fashionable Agile methodologies. Eschewing the traditional labels of ‘Engineer’ or ‘Developer’ it draws on medieval history to find a term that it feels embodies the care, dedication and professionalism that it wants software craftsmen to take in building software. And that is all wonderful.

What’s the problem? Let me quote Professor Delys Snyder who says it better than me:

“When children hear a job title that has a gender mark on it, like an e-s-s ending or an m-a-n ending, and you ask them to draw pictures or talk about who’s doing that job, they will pick the one that matches the gender of the word… If we’re going to be fair in opening up the world of work to men and women, and make it possible for everybody, maybe our job titles should reflect that.”

Proponents might say that you can take the ‘craft’ prefix and add any gender suffix to it: you can be a craftsman or a craftswoman. The problem is that the group that you are joining is called the Software Craftsmanship Community. The concept itself is only referred to as craftsmanship. What makes it worse is that we can’t even blame history for this one — software craftsmanship as a term only dates back until around the late 1990s. Although of course craftsmanship alone is a much older term.

The thing is we were already using non-gendered terms to describe the work — Developer or Engineer. Language is hard to change and gendered work titles like craftsman and postman aren’t going away in a hurry. However, when we do consciously try to change it, we absolutely should not be changing in a more sexist and exclusionary direction, especially in a profession that is so bereft of female talent. Personally, I find that Developer or Engineer are fine. I believe that Developer is seen as too bland — a mere description without implying any magical and amazing qualities — and there’s a feeling that we are unworthy of being called Engineers. That argument is fine but by that logic we can’t have architects either — or data scientists for that matter. As an analogy, I think engineer is rather a good one. We’re highly trained technical professionals who build things and fix things. It gets you thinking along the right lines. To be honest, if I told a lay person I was a software craftsman, they are probably going to think that I use a computer program to carve wood into furniture. If I had to propose a new one I’d go for ‘Software Artisan’. It’s a synonym for craftsman but without the casual sexism.

There are some good points about the software craftsmanship movement. Quality, passion and self-improvement are all admirable qualities. But as developers we should be doing everything we can to correct the gender imbalance in our industry, not digging out sexist terms from the middle ages.