NYT: Greedy employers love women; woke university professors hate them

“The Secret History of Women in Coding: Computer programming once had much better gender balance than it does today. What went wrong?” (NYT, February 13, 2019) describes a golden age of female nerddom from the 1950s through the mid-80s. Employers would recruit, train, and pay people who identified as women to write software in IBM 704 assembly language. They would even do this for applicants who identified as part of two victim groups (a “young black woman” is cited).

According to the newspaper, once it became conventional for programmers to get Computer Science degrees, the percentage of women choosing coding dropped:

If we want to pinpoint a moment when women began to be forced out of programming, we can look at one year: 1984.

Who was forcing them out, then? University professors and the environments that they set up! Women-hating CS faculty were apparently eager to send approximately half of the potential students, and the funding that would accompany them, into the arms of less sexist departments.

The women described in the article don’t support the narrative of the NYT. One left coding because she wanted to be a lawyer and had a successful four-decade career in the law (see Atlantic article below on how the availability of higher-paid and more prestigious work in, e.g., finance, medicine, law, and politics can draw women away from the last-resort jobs of engineer and computer programmer).

The comments are interesting. A young woman reading these would certainly choose some career other than programming. Women describes decades of misery and sexism in the cubicle plantations where they’ve been stuck (and now they don’t even get cubicles!). So we have the odd phenomenon of the NYT saying that they are passionate about pushing up the number of women in STEM while simultaneously writing articles that any rational young woman would interpret as a huge warning flag regarding a STEM career.

Alternative explanations are not considered by the journalist and editors. For example, the purported golden age of female coding ended just as programming changed character. The job of data scientist today is a lot more like what a “programmer” was doing in the 1970s.

Another alternative is that the golden age coincided with a time of maximum female economic insecurity. No-fault divorce was being rolled out, in which the husband could unilaterally shed the wife in favor of a younger sex partner. But post-divorce financial arrangements were subject to the whims of individual judges due to a lack of guidelines and precedent. Once known-in-advance rules were set up, a lot of married women concluded that they didn’t need to work (see the economic study by Voena cited in “Litigation, Alimony, and Child Support in the U.S. Economy”). Child support guidelines introduced in the 1980s made it more lucrative for a woman to have sex with an already-married dentist or doctor than to go to work as a software engineer (see Massachusetts family law, for example).

Nor does the Times consider why female-run profit-hungry employers don’t seek out women to hire, train, and exploit. Sheryl Sandberg runs Facebook and advertises her passion for the advancement of women. If there is a huge reservoir of female coding talent out there, why wouldn’t Facebook tap into it with an aptitude test and an in-house training program? The cost of training women to the standard of a BSCS is less than what Facebook is currently spending to recruit men. (Remember that most of the four years of a BSCS is spent doing stuff that doesn’t relate to being a software engineer. For one thing, a full two years is spent not being in school at all.) How about Epic Systems and its multi-billionaire founder who identifies as a woman? Why wouldn’t they save a ton of money by recruiting and training an all-female staff to relive the glorious days of the 1960s with their 1960s database technology? (Epic rejects the RDBMS!)

Finally, the Times doesn’t consider the apparent inconsistency between this article and the rest of their journalism. Capitalism is responsible for the evils of racism and sexism. Universities are where enlightenment prevails. Is it that CS professors are the exception to the general rule? And what’s their motivation? Why do they want to see the biology department get the fancy new building to accommodate all of the female students (now a majority on campus)?

Finally, the article is strong on its mischaracterization of what James Damore, the cast-out Google heretic, wrote. (Has anyone at any American newspaper actually read his infamous memo?)

Readers: What was your favorite comment on this piece? I like the ones that say that the waning of female nerddom was due to the high salaries that purportedly began to be paid to programmers (the BLS can’t find this! Programmers today get paid less, on average, than the women described in the article were getting way back when). None of these coastal elites ask why, if it is all about the Benjamins, the percentage of women is growing in the highest-paid fields, such as medicine and finance.

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8 thoughts on “NYT: Greedy employers love women; woke university professors hate them

  1. Here’s a data point from a different country. I visited Copenhagen University in the early 90s and had dinner with a friend who was a computer science graduate student at the time. His wife was a computer science undergraduate, originally from Romania. They mentioned that there were only a handful of women in CS at Copenhagen University, which surprised me. He had visited many American universities and we agreed that, at that time, there was a significantly higher percentage of women in CS departments in America. When I asked them why, they couldn’t explain it. I asked her if she had personally experienced any difficulties as a woman in CS in Denmark and she replied no, not at all.
    So apparently the phenomenon is not restricted to the United States and even occurred in a country like Denmark with a long tradition of feminism and extensive social welfare support.
    Unfortunately I haven’t visited Denmark recently and haven’t heard anything about the situation there lately.

    • Pull the academic calendar from your local university and see how many weeks per year a student would actually be sitting in a class or doing homework (answer for MIT: 26 weeks for the fall and spring semesters combined).

    • Most University-educated women are taught that children are an obstacle to true happiness, which lies in competing with men in the outside world.

      Those that have a couple of children immediately farm them out to pre-K, kindergarten and other institutions where they won’t interfere with the mother’s raison d’etre (see above).

      If that’s not the case and they slip through the cracks, a woman with small kids at home doesn’t have the bandwidth to work remotely, unless she has the money to hire a live in nanny.

      Here in Israel, there are a lot of Haredi women who have children, do a course in programming, and go to work for one of the agencies which specialize in hiring them out on contracts. They work from offices close to their home. The work is typically low paid and not very exciting by dev standards, but the upside is a short commute and an employer who understands that at 3:45, she has to be gone to pick the kids up. It’s an emerging ecosystem, and I expect to see some interesting effects in the next 10 years.

      I was sort of in this role for a month last year when my wife had our fourth child and was in the hospital for a month-I was working until 2:30, going to pick up the kids and then working a bit at night when they would be asleep. Very difficult.

  2. Because women weren’t considered “computer scientists”, they were “computers” (meaning people who made long strings of calculations) in the 1950’s and learned Assembler to keep their jobs, many of whom were lost as the hardware advanced in capability, and fewer “manual calculations” were done. Watch Hidden Figures and you will understand. It’s the story of the women who did the calculations for rocket launches at NASA and never got any credit. In the 1970’s and 1970’s higher level programming languages and “structured programming” became the all the rage, and the remaining Assembler jobs were pushed into niches like ACP/TPF in the Airlines. COBOL took over on the mainframe, salaries soared and Ross Perot and EDS (and many copy companies) dotted the landscape. Run by men, hiring men just out of the military or college.

  3. One final comment. My father hired mostly women in his position as a banking VP of a regional East Texas Bank (now Texas Bank and Trust). He did not do it because they were pretty or he wanted to use them sexually. He did it because he could pay them 70% of what a man made, and because he trained them to do their jobs well, they performed as well as men. Many of those women went on to become VPs at the bank, but as the bank was owned by a strong Southern Baptist family, the eldest male now is the CEO. So he broke the low glass ceiling, but the one remains at the top.

  4. >Finally, the article is strong on its mischaracterization of what James Damore, the cast-out Google heretic, wrote. (Has anyone at any American newspaper actually read his infamous memo?)

    Funny enough, even inside Big G it wasn’t widely read and was severely mischaracterized, lol.

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