There is gender in software, and there’s empirical evidence of influence on problem-solving

October 24, 2011 at 8:24 am 1 comment

I hope to get to PPIG someday, the Psychology of Programming Interest Group. PPIG dates back to the golden age of computing education research, back when the Empirical Studies of Programmers workshops were going strong.  While I haven’t made it to the UK yet to attend one of their conferences, I remain on their mailing list and enjoy reading the reports.

The keynote from last August’s meeting had quite an interesting idea — that software can be gendered or gender-neutral.  I’m surprised that they can find significant evidence of these differences, that the differences aren’t more subtle.  I wonder what is the role of the genders of the developers in defining the gender of the software?

Margaret Burnett opened the conference with a keynote on Gender HCI and Programming. She reported on a series of investigations conducted by her and her students. They found that purportedly gender-neutral software tools do interact with gender differences, resulting in lower problem-solving effectiveness for female users. In particular, males were more prone to explore and attempt problem-solving by trial and error, while females did not explore as much and stayed with familiar functions. Female end-user effectiveness in programming environments like Excel could be improved by taking gender differences into account. This would not necessarily mean the tool would be less usable by males; in fact, many groups of people could benefit from the improvements.

via August 2011 Newsletter – Psychology of Programming Interest Group.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  October 24, 2011 at 8:43 am

    A lot of men will not play around with software to figure things out. In fact being willing to try things and explore is a big advantage for many people in the workforce. That said, a lot of features should be more easily discoverable if not just plain intuitive. I think the problem is often that programmers write software to work they way they do and not the way a typical user would. Usability testing can, and probably does help, but it may be that one reason we need more diverse thinkers in software development is to get more obvious ways of doing things to a more diverse population.


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