Why aren’t there more female programmers?

A student asks the crowd at Yahoo! Answers:

I’m a university student studying game and graphics programming and I’m a girl. In my class there are a lot of guys but only few girls, only two or three of us. I also heard there’s a bit sexism when it comes to applying for programming jobs for women. Is it true?

A Level 6 answerer (highest is 7) replies:

I’m a female software developer. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, and I have to admit that there are a lot less women in the job now than there were when I started and even I’m not sure why.

I work for a global organization, of which I think about 5% of the software developers are female. Most of the women working in our various IT departments are in project management, business analysis, quality testing or frontline support.

When I first started programming, at university, I guess about 40% of the class were female. In my first job about half the programmers were female. Even as recently as the late 1990s about one third of the programmers I worked with were female.

I really don’t have an answer on the decline. The only thing I can think of is that, when I started, object oriented languages and PC development weren’t really a thing. We wrote code in languages like COBOL on mainframes. There was a whole other team of computer operators whose job it was to look after the mainframe, run backups, look after operating system patches and disaster recovery wasn’t really something people thought about. Now, developers are much more expected to be conversant with server architecture, web configuration etc. It’s like that old adage that women are hopeless at programming their video recorders. I must admit I struggle with the server configuration side of things but it’s part of my job now and I get by. But I am much better at the core logic of writing code, which unfortunately only takes up about 20% of my working day these days. Maybe that’s part of the reason.

This latter problem, I suspect, is due to ever-diminishing staff: the gods of commerce have decreed that if a task can be completed with a staff of ten, it’s even better to do it with five or six.

And while not everything can be explained away by sexism, there’s plenty of it out there.

1 comment »

  1. Holly H »

    15 May 2017 · 3:06 pm

    You knew I’d have to weigh in on this one, didn’t you, Blogmeister?

    I’ve worked as a software developer forever (I’m a baby-boomer). I’ve often wondered why young women have dropped out of this arena, as opposed to law, medicine, etc. I think that level 6 answerer is onto something. It’s not exactly sexism. It’s geek-ism. Back in “my day”, programming was pure sweet fun, because of the intuitive nature of the languages (especially my favorite, RPGLE). It all went wrong when the concept of 0-based programming came in. How in the world can there be a zero’th instance of an array? ie, the first item in array X is X(0). Makes my head explode.

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