It seems a big issue now, you’re hearing earnest young feminists asking this question on the talk shows these days, and sober pundits and educators nod sagely about how sexism is rife in the tech industry and how little girls need to be taught to code in grade school to set it all straight.
When I was hired on as a Senior Software Engineer at Gulf Oil in Pittsburgh in the late 1970′s this didn’t appear to be much of a problem. About a third of the programmers in our group were women, which was a much higher a percentage of women than in other comparable groups of working techies. I know this is anecdotal information, but this urgent contemporary issue was simply not discussed much in those days. nobody seemed to think it was a problem.
The same situation seemed to hold when I started working at Electromagnetic Systems Laboratories in Silicon Valley five years later, and at ITT six years after that. There were lots of women in programming back then, most of them originally trained in the sciences, engineering, math or the business world (FORTRAN, PL/I and COBOL). There weren’t too many IT or DP graduates in those days, programming was a skill you learned in class to help you do your homework, not a separate discipline in itself. Smart people didn’t get a degree in a field that was changing so fast that half of what you knew would be obsolete by the time you graduated.
Come to think of it, many programmers in those days weren’t even formally trained as programmers at all, it was a skill you were expected to pick up on the job, just like chemists are expected to master glass blowing, or marine biologists need to learn SCUBA.
A lot of programmers didn’t even have college degrees, they had picked up the skills on the job (remember, there were no home computers back then, only mainframes in industry and academia. Many with degrees graduated in not-STEM disciplines; one of my colleagues was a French Lit major, another a Pharmacist. At Gulf, the older chemists, geologists and petroleum engineers did not know how to program, and relied on programmers with heavy science backgrounds to translate their data into usable results. At ESL one of my fellow programmers, a man in his 40s, had a PhD in Physics. Another, a lady in her 60s, had a doctorate in Astronomy.
People who could write code were scarce, bosses weren’t too picky about your training or collateral experience as long as you could grind out your 12 lines of executable per day. (That’s what it averaged out to when you figured in the time for design, testing, documentation, maintenance and debugging.) If you could demonstrate your ability to write code, you could name your salary, even if you were self-taught. Nowadays, credentialism and the paper chase dominate Human Resources departments. It’s a buyers’ market.
I think this desperate attempt to teach schoolgirls, semi-literate urchins, the middle-age industrial unemployed and ghetto types how to code is just another form of corporate bullshit designed to keep salaries low and get the government to pay for the training programs.
If a commodity (like coders) is in short supply, aren’t
prices (like salaries) supposed to rise to encourage it to miraculously appear? It worked in 60s and 70s. It’s called supply and demand. Today we have for-profit colleges and student loan mills. Welcome to the monkey house.
But what do I know?