Businessweek published an article titled “The Rise of the Brogrammer” (3/1/2012), a piece meant to spotlight a trend among software engineers to shatter your stereotypical “nerd” who loves Dungeons & Dragons and would rather play Minecraft than have a real social interaction with another human being.
Danilo Stern-Sapad writes code for a living, but don’t call him a geek. He wears sunglasses and blasts 2Pac while programming. He enjoys playing Battle Shots—like the board game Battleship, but with liquor—at the office. He and his fellow coders at Los Angeles startup BetterWorks are lavished with attention by tech industry recruiters desperate for engineering talent. “We got invited to a party in Malibu where there were naked women in the hot tub,” says Stern-Sapad, 25. “We’re the cool programmers.”
Tech’s latest boom has generated a new, more testosterone-fueled breed of coder. Sure, the job still requires enormous brainpower, but today’s engineers are drawn from diverse backgrounds, and many eschew the laboratory intellectualism that prevailed when semiconductors ruled Silicon Valley. “I don’t need to wear a pocket protector to be a programmer,” says John Manoogian III, a software engineer and entrepreneur.
But the article goes deeper. It isn’t just a movement to paint the profession as “cooler” than a group of young men with no social skills working in a dark basement. It also has a heavy dose of ego, inferring that those not living this lifestyle are missing out on its spoils. One group in particular that is left out on this so-called “brogrammer” movement: women.
A poster recently displayed at a Stanford University career fair by Klout, a social media analytics company, tried to woo computer science graduates by asking: “Want to bro down and crush code? Klout is hiring.” Says Chipps: “No. I don’t want to bro down. I can’t imagine that a girl would see that and say ‘I totally want to do that, it sounds awesome.’?” Klout CEO Joe Fernandez says the sign was just a joke and “definitely not meant to be an exclusionary thing,” and that the company hired a female programmer at the fair. At the University of Pennsylvania, a computer science club had to back down from plans to wear T-shirts saying “Brogrammer” to a school festival when female members objected to it.
[Needle scratching sounds]
Ah, now I get it. This is an excuse for some folks to let their chauvinist flag fly and attempt to mimic a rock-star lifestyle. Let me be open on this one. I have worked, and perhaps continue to work, in an industry that tolerates the occasional joke about some supposed male superiority. From the “sudo make me a sandwich” quip to characterizing non-developers as strident nuisances. Perhaps it is part of the culture. It is so much to that point that at a former employer a female candidate (in an entirely different department) was once asked if she were aware of the reputation of a male-only work group being, at times, over-the-top offensive and faux-aggressive towards one another (“You write another bug like that and I’ll shove my keyboard [...] sideways”). It was a fair warning. She took the job anyway.
But is it right?
In further interest of clarity, I have also been “that guy.” I’ve implied that a co-worker’s mother was was less than reputable — repeatedly. I’ve told raunchy jokes. I’ve had a beer while working on a project at the end of the day. But I do not think that this culture should be one of exclusion to a single gender. Just like it should not exclude folks who do not find humor in a “your mom” joke nor those who do not prefer to drink alcohol. It shouldn’t exclude them either. But it does. What about the guy who wants to come in, do a good job, help his coworkers and go home at the end of the day?
Maintaining the party-all-the-time atmosphere requires a lot of time and energy. And that’s time and energy that is not necessarily helping get the job at hand done. That deficit in efficiency has wide-reaching affects across an entire organization, not just the development group.
If this culture starts to over emphasize “cultural fit” over actual skill, it is bound to meet a tragic end when somebody up the foodchain finally says enough is enough and starts to clean house. That goes for recruiting female candidates as well — don’t be fooled into thinking there is male superiority among software engineers, just a larger share of the demographic. Skill is skill, no matter which person it arrives in.
So what about the Silicon Valley startups mentioned in the article. Is it hopeless to think these guys in popped-collars/v-necks and sunglasses, chugging Redbull and saying “that’s what she said” every ten minutes will ever be the more mild-mannered, welcoming group? I hope so, but it starts with individuals and a changed way of thinking. As long as there is this facade of the “Glamourous Life of the Brogrammer,” the industry will continue to attract that kind of demographic. I am reminded of my time in a college fraternity. When someone in our group wondered aloud how we could attract “better” guys (better grades, better gentlemen, better behaved), the answer was rather pointed: Stop advertising yourselves as the home of the original “frat” boy. You will only be as good as the company you keep.
Funny how that has parallels in business.
Editor’s note: Standard disclaimer on this one — The opinions and accounts expressed in this post are solely those of the author and are not meant to represent any other person, company or organization.