The Rise of the ‘Brogrammer’: I won’t learn from you

April 16, 2012 at 9:05 am 7 comments

Wow! Talk about going in the wrong direction for diversifying the computing industry!  InfoWorld had a similar piece this last week about the ultra-male culture developing in the post-recession IT industry.  This is so disappointing after all of the work of NCWIT and the NSF BPC program.  It reminds me of the report about the IT industry’s resistance to publicize demographic data.  Not just not-hearing the message, but explicitly resisting hearing the message.  We require all learning sciences and technologies students at Georgia Tech to read Herbert Kohl’s I won’t learn from you which describes this phenomenon.  I can imagine a caricature of the modern IT industry in the face of BPC and NCWIT, holding its hands over its ears and chanting “La-la-la! I can’t hear you!”

At some startups the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that it’s given rise to a new “title”: brogrammer. A portmanteau of the frathouse moniker “bro” and “programmer,” the term has become the subject of a Facebook group joined by over 21,000 people; the name of a series of hacker get-togethers in Austin, Tex.; the punch line for online ads; and the topic of a humorous discussion on question-and-answer site Quora titled “How does a programmer become a brogrammer?” (One pointer: Drink Red Bull, beer, and “brotein” shakes.) “There’s a rising group of developers who are much more sociable and like to go out and have fun, and I think brogramming speaks to that audience,” says Gagan Biyani, co-founder and president of Udemy, a startup that offers coding lessons on the Web.

There’s also an audience that feels left out of the joke. Women made up 21 percent of all programmers in 2010, down from 24 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Anything that encourages the perception of tech as being male-dominated is likely to contribute to this decline, says Sara Chipps, founder of Girl Develop It, a series of software development workshops. “This brogramming thing would definitely turn off a lot of women from working” at startups, says Chipps.

via The Rise of the ‘Brogrammer’ – Businessweek.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Michelle  |  April 16, 2012 at 11:42 am

    I have mixed feelings about the brogrammer meme. I have seen explanations and descriptions that are far less offensive than most of the media coverage, which indicate that it’s trying to change the image of computing for mainstream boys, not just trying to attract jerks and alienate everyone who isn’t cool enough.

    As much as I care about gender equity in computing, I think diversity needs to be about more than gender and ethnicity. It isn’t that we have an overabundance of *men* in computing, it’s that we have an overabundance of a particular type. The cool soccer players and football players aren’t doing CS either.

    I don’t claim to love the frat boy stereotype, but I think diversity of all kinds, including the ‘popular kids’ of both genders, will only help (our products, our numbers, our industry). If the brogrammer meme can encourage men who wouldn’t otherwise consider CS because it’s too geeky then that’s good.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  April 16, 2012 at 1:35 pm

      I’ve been wondering if it’s ever possible for something to become “cool” and “inclusive.” Doesn’t something becoming “cool” automatically mean that someone/something has to be “un-cool”? And if something starts with the prefix “bro-” what are the odds that the *included* “cool” people include women?

  • 3. Mylène  |  April 16, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    I read Kohl’s piece with great interest a while back. My understanding is that he is describing not-learning as a strategy used by marginalized groups to resist assimilation. Your comparison of that phenomenon to the current state of programmer-culture made me think. Do men in CS see themselves as a marginalized culture in danger of being assimilated? If so, it would be interesting to find out why a group of people would think that while they are not only overrepresented but also increasing.

    • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  April 16, 2012 at 4:53 pm

      It’s a fair point — I am stretching an analogy. I see the “marginalized groups” as the IT industry, an almost entirely white male entity in an increasingly diverse world. The rest of the world is asking IT to diversify, in its own best interests. While IT is become more male, as you point out, white males are a shrinking demographic in the United States overall. So while any individual “brogrammer” is certainly not marginalized in the IT industry, the IT industry is clinging to a marginalized perspective, that a lack of diversity will serve its interests long term.

      • 5. eengbrec  |  April 16, 2012 at 9:57 pm

        Depending on how you define “marginalized,” I don’t think the IT industry is clinging to a marginalized perspective. The common media portrayers of software engineers, computer scientists, and other techies consists of a rather unkempt socially awkward male who is either overweight or awkwardly gangly and not particularly manly as viewed by mainstream culture. The whole brogrammer idea is extremely juvenile, but let’s face it, mainstream culture has no shortage of intensely juvenile ideals. It seems like an attempt to take an overwhelmingly male group that is socially marginalized and transform it into a group that is socially mainstream by adapting to mainstream definitions of manliness without compromising core values of both technical competence and certain aspects of nerd culture, especially the more juvenile definitions of manliness that plague young men.

        I brogrammer idea represents a sort of doubling-down that attempts to expand the talent pool will be most efficiently achieved by expanding the core demographic – young, middle and upper middle class white, Asian, or Indian men – than it can be by sacrificing core values (legitimate technical ones or otherwise) in order attract people who differ more greatly from the traditional demographics. Furthermore, sacrificing certain cultural aspects risk alienating current demographics far more than adding a few that align the field more closely with the social mainstream.

        Also, keep in mind that our recent recession (or ongoing one, depending on how you define it) has hit men significantly harder than women. So not only does attracting young men who have the potential to be software developers but were turned off by the social outcaste stereotype of the field require less cultural adjustment, it also targets individuals who are more likely to be enticed by the associated financial incentives.

        Remember, these are businesses we’re talking about. Businesses that are dependent on attracting talent in order to survive – often times in the very short term. Expanding the current demographic into an immediate adjacency is a lot lower risk proposition – especially in the short term – than pursuing an entirely different demographic.

  • […] thanks to a post by Mark Guzdial, I discovered an article that put together so many classroom experiences for me that I simply have […]

  • 7. Don Davis (@gnu_don)  |  April 16, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    “The cool soccer players and football players aren’t doing CS either.” Seriously? By which metric? Almost my entire soccer team consisted of programmers (in Austin, TX….) and none of us used the term “brogrammer” (and we all drank beer)… Also the term “brogrammer” has distinct connotations of middle-class and white… perhaps solidifying another white male “arrogant” CS stereotype which can serve to alienate others. Not exactly poised to inflate the ranks of the 1.5% Latina CS graduates (NSF, 2011) or others who are alienated by the “strutting” and arrogant posturing that contributes (at least in part) to underrepresentation in CS (Barker & Garvin-Doxas, 2004).

    Barker, L. J., & Garvin-Doxas, K. (2004). Making visible the behaviors that influence learning environment: A qualitative exploration of computer science classrooms. Computer Science Education, 14(2), 119-145.


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