The Prestige in Writing Code for a Living

Posted in Engineering

This writeup on the software industry’s gender bias is maddening and depressing.

To summarize, someone commenting on Secret made a horrendous assumption about a woman being “unqualified” to be a software engineer in the context of her giving an interview and disregarding her as defacto technically incompetent. The commenter was unwilling to back down from his textbook instance of blatant mansplaining, until the woman eventually revealed that she is the author of a successful book on technical interviews, forcing the commenter to humbly retract his statements.

The tone and commentary wasn’t much better on Hacker News. The peanut gallery focused unduly on Gayle’s current role as a successful author and consultant; the tone was that as her website and her current job is slightly removed from hands-on programming, people should be excused in assuming she’s not a qualified software engineer. This is tech’s gender and diversity problems in a microcosm, wrapped in a puzzling sexist enigma.

And stepping back, I find it disturbing that for some software engineers subscribe to an unspoken code of respectful conduct which mainly extends out to other practicing software engineers. As an engineering manager, my technical background is a huge boon in allowing me to relate and empathize with my team; I doubt many developers would argue that all things being equal, they’d prefer a manager with no technical background versus someone who has done the work in the past.

If there is some level of prestige derived from hands-on coding, I can certainly agree that there’s some level of depreciation as former coders transition to less purely technical careers, but experience in those roles should be evidence of ability. I’d be the first in line to admit rustiness with syntax, but that’s only actually problematic during interviews, impossibly tight deadlines, or if the vestiges of time have robbed us of the capacity to learn.

Software developers as a whole are a pretty exclusionary group. Outside of the obvious lack of gender and ethnic diversity, we freely discriminate based on perceived intelligence, ability to remember undergraduate college classwork, choice of language and/or framework, software methodologies and techniques, and pretty much every other unimportant facet of character or opinion. Diversity can exist upon a multitude of axes, but it’s on us to shift that attitude towards inclusion.