If you were hacking since age 8, it means you were privileged. | Geek Feminism Blog

July 30, 2010 at 10:03 am 1 comment

The argument being posed here is a natural step from the one made by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.  If Bill Gates and Bill Joy got a leg up in the IT industry because of their early exposure to computing, then it stands to reason that those demographic groups who get access to computing first get a similar leg up on success.  Race and gender play a role in who gets access to computing first.

While that’s all true, I don’t think that access is the whole story.  As my earlier post today on digital natives points out, having access to technology doesn’t equate with thinking about it as more than a consumer of the technology.  While access to technology is a necessary condition for that leg up on success, it’s not sufficient.

A child’s gender modulates how her parents invest in their child’s education, as mentioned earlier. For example, girls, on average, typically receive their first computer at age 19, as opposed to boys at age 15. Note that age 19 is no longer high school, but university, when undergraduates have already chosen their major. If women typically receive their first computer as adults, and boys typically receive their first computer as children, then of course there is going to be a gender gap in CS enrollment.

Computer geek culture generally ignores issues of class privilege and male privilege when it comes to computer access, upholding a ranking system that mistakes the social privileges of affluent white males for inborn geek inclinations.

via If you were hacking since age 8, it means you were privileged. | Geek Feminism Blog.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Mark Miller  |  August 3, 2010 at 2:53 am

    The article you cite was not talking about exposure to technology for using it, but exposure to programming. The way the author approached the subject is kind of archaic, saying that guys who brag about programming on their Commodore 64s when they were kids intimidate girls from entering CS. As far as I could tell the C-64 went out with the 1980s. I assume we’re talking about kids who are (potentially) entering CS now who were born after the C-64 was pretty much out of circulation. It just seemed to me the author was projecting back to the past in their own life.

    After reading your post I tried to think of what would’ve discouraged me, or at least slowed me down, in pursuing my own learning of programming when I was a kid. I think one thing that helped a lot in the first year or so was getting a lot of help from peers. If I hadn’t had that, it would’ve been discouraging, though I don’t think I would’ve left it alone entirely. I was too interested. It would’ve slowed me down, though. I assume my situation is different from most people who would be learning it now, because I didn’t start out in a programming class. I first learned programming on a publicly accessible computer in a public library, and that was my only learning environment for it for a couple years. Maybe these women weren’t helped along enough when they were first starting out. From the description, though, they make it sound like there was a significant social factor as well. The common theme I hear is they feel “outside”, not included, and they want a feeling of social connectedness. I sure felt that when I was a teen. Where I was fortunate is that at least I was able to find a group of kids who were as interested in the subject as I was. So I at least had that.

    There is something to be said for grouping students together by their preparedness, I think, as in putting beginners with beginners. More advanced students would typically be too bored to go at the pace that beginners need, no matter the subject.


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