Before brogramming, table flipping, and beyond…

It wasn't always this way. Where did we make that left turn into experienced, table flipping talent leaving the industry and the culture of brogramming scaring new talent away?

Women who have come to technology since the late 80's have never seen anything different — how sad is that. I’m fortunate to have first hand experience that is has not always been this way.
Check this out:

This is a picture of a young woman, about 24 years old, working as a programmer at IBM in 1984.

This young woman loves programming and often ate Lorna Doones with coffee for lunch (and sometimes dinner). She also wore a dress or skirt and suit jacket to work every day, and served as the technical team lead to an eight person programming team.

Yes, that’s a microfiche reader on the credenza, and I had to use it…
Oh yeah, that’s me. Over 30 years ago. And I still love programming.

My team was terrific, we solved problems together, and I was responsible for the largest and most complex portion of the code. I was a woman, and they weren't; it was no big deal. They all wore button down shirts and ties. We had great fun, joked around, and on occasion I wore the ‘Magic Moose’ on my head (we were working on a system called ‘CDF MAGIC’). We were successful.

This is a picture I like to keep in my head, as the existence proof that women can be happy and successful in programming and technology.

IBM treated me well; I went on to join the personal computer, ‘shrink wrap’ software industry and later became an application development consultant at Microsoft. After wielding the Microsoft stack for many years I ventured into open source and Ruby on Rails. I’m on an amazing journey.

So, what happened?
When did I start hearing silly things like ‘you’re not architecture material’, ‘you did surprisingly well on the programming test’, and being openly berated for not wanting to ‘step up’ to a non-technical role? When I talk to other women who hear similar things, we tend to say ‘he means well, he’s just unaware’. Sometimes it’s not malicious, sometimes it is.

Maybe we need to ditch the hoodies and go back to wearing dresses and button down shirts. But then again, when you are at the flipping tables stage you’re dealing with people in button down shirts. I wish I had the answer. I’d like to reclaim my profession and move past all this.

There is great excitement around building the pipeline and encouraging more women to take on careers in STEM. I’m encouraged by that, but also have a nagging worry that we are only addressing one end of a pipeline that is broken at both ends.

The field of programming has become so broad and complex that no one can be deeply expert across the board. You can be written off in an interview if you admit you don’t know some low level technical detail that you do know in concept and have the ability to learn. Or maybe you’re just not a good ‘team fit’. It’s tough to pass a brogrammer interview.

At the other end, it’s too easy to push experienced technical women into ‘project manager’ and administrative roles, and eventually we flip the table. Brogrammers at one end of the pipeline, flipped tables at the other. No wonder there are not many women in-between. It’s a good puzzle to solve, and I do like to solve puzzles.

People, men and women, were programming long before Silicon Valley and the media taught us we had to be young, aggressive and male to be successful at it. People will still be programming long after we are past this techno-adolescence.

For now, I've decided to keep doing these things:

  • Teach people how to program (I love teaching, so it’s a win-win)
  • Be patient with people who mean well but aren't aware they are perpetuating this rut we’re in
  • Be part of the existence proof that women can be successful and happy in technology

Ok, one more for the ‘existence proof’ bucket, because I always loved that lavender dress: