The culture problem in computing: I Would Have Hired NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden

July 15, 2013 at 1:35 am 5 comments

I read this piece as an explanation for a computing culture that leads to “Donglegate” and a thousand paper cuts.  Hostile, uncommunicative, arrogant, impolite, eccentric — none of those are impediments to getting hired.  That’s what we have to change to broaden participation in computing. We have to change the culture.

Snowden’s lack of formal education—no high school diploma—wouldn’t have bothered me. The ideal was a person who was sharp, independent, systematic, and very careful. The top tech programs—at places such as MIT, Caltech, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, UC–Berkeley, and the Ivies— produced many strong candidates, but a computer science degree from most other universities was less of a positive indicator. People with nontraditional educations sometimes did just as well. They usually had some gaps in their knowledge of algorithms and data structures, but I cut them slack, because teaching yourself is harder than being taught, and often more valuable. If you could run the gauntlet of five or six whiteboard coding tests, you stood a good chance of being hired. Sometimes an applicant would be too hostile or uncommunicative, but for me at least, technical skill was the deciding factor the vast majority of the time.  There are a nontrivial number of techies who are smart but literally impossible to work with because they are incapable of compromise or politeness. When eccentricity is the norm, it’s hard to have a litmus test for what acceptable eccentricity is.

via I Would Have Hired NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden – Slate Magazine.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bijan Parsia  |  July 15, 2013 at 8:17 am

    Hmm. I recall this being mentioned as a positive for acceptance of autism spectrum people.

    I’d be interested in how much of our climate troubles are due to assholishness/arrogance/aggression/superiority complexes and how much to insularity, standard sexism, etc. (A lot of this goes for philosophy too. US philosophy has a very aggressive tone, but it also has a shedload of sexism. Remove the latter and I wonder how much is left.)

    I say this as someone who is not infrequently perceived as being overly demanding and contemptuous. Part of my problem is that I have a schtick about it. E.g., I mocking pretend to be super scary. I had a “hate ontology”. I play up mock rivalries. Of course, I have straight versions of most of these as well. I self deprecate and exaggerate, but there’s truth behind it. Of course, these traits are not all that I am, but they rarely are for anyone.

  • 2. Dennis J Frailey  |  July 16, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    It isn’t just computing that has this problem. Many organizations, will hire you for your skills at doing what is needed on the job, not necessarily because of your personality, morality, etc. So it is more of a societal issue than anything else.

  • […] eccentric, rude, asocial stereotype of the programmer dates back to those early days of computing. Ensmenger says hiring that followed that stereotype is […]

  • […] me of the “thousand little cuts” […]


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