There’s been some fuss recently about “brogrammers”: the phenomenon of software organisations proudly displaying a hyper-masculine culture full of casual sexism. I was going to write a post about how this didn’t align with my experience at all. In my time in the software industry I’ve never heard anyone voice the idea that women might make worse engineers (nor seen any indication that anyone believes it). That many of my working environments have been numerically dominated by men can’t be denied, but it’s almost never degenerated into a “blokey” atmosphere. Generally, engineers seem to be far more reticent to discuss sexual matters than almost any other all-male group I’ve been in.
On the other hand, I’ve worked with salesmen from time to time (and in this context I really am restricting my comments to men) and it’s a whole different story. By no means are all salesmen more sexist, but the prevailing culture (which is hard for any one individual to overcome) seems to be one of unreconstructed sexism. It’s not that engineering has no cultural problems at all, but I don’t feel we should be concerned that we are lagging behind the curve.
But then I saw this job advert from Precog. While it’s obviously fair to point out that there’s no reason to suppose the Precog culture is explicitly sexist, or that they practice discrimination in hiring (their team page shows they have a proportion of female engineers that seems roughly average for the industry), I think most people would draw the conclusion that their culture is overtly “masculine”. From the competitive, “most people aren’t good enough” stance on the recruitment page to the “About Us” page listing team members’ favourite free weights exercises, they clearly aren’t going out of their way to make everybody feel welcome.
I’m left undecided about whether this is a bad thing, though. While I unreservedly condemn anyone who discriminates on the basis of a candiate’s biological traits, it feels like hiring on the basis of personality and cultural fit is justifiable. Making software involves more than just turning up, it involves passion and drive and teamwork, and all these things come out better when we can let our authentic selves come out at work. A side-effect of this is that not all team cultures will be identical. And while diversity within organisations can be good for the organisation, it seems like diversity between organisations is equally good for society. As long as nobody is forced into cultures they don’t like due to lack of choice, I think we’re doing OK.