"When it comes to balancing the gender ratio, it's a good idea to ask “why?” before charging ahead with “how?”" according to Alex Cruickshank, Freelance technology journalist.
|Photo: IDG Connect|
As the father of two tech-nerd daughters and husband of someone who writes Java code for a living, I've been in favour of the idea of getting more women into IT. My assumption was that it would be A Good Thing. Until recently I hadn't questioned that assumption. Now I am doing so.
Women are under-represented in IT, no question about it. They always have been. Female programmers like my wife are notable for their rarity. But women are also under-represented in the taxi-driving and refuse-collection industries. By contrast, women far outnumber men in the public sector.
Should we be encouraging more men to be nurses, primary school teachers and social workers? More women to be taxi drivers? Perhaps we should, but why? What are the underlying assumptions?
One assumption is that IT is a good career choice: lucrative, rewarding, stimulating. It can be those things, but often it isn't. Just look at IDG Connect's report into bullying in IT. Working in this industry can be a stressful, tiring, boring and depressing experience.
I wouldn't go back to coding for money if you paid me. It's just not worth the pain. It's a job for young people, those who haven't yet discovered how the corporate world works and where they fit into it. A friend's son just left Google after three years as a programmer, because he wants a life and is feeling burnt out. He's 27, and far from being the only one. Almost everybody I know who works in IT these days is permanently overworked and stressed.
Another underlying assumption in the 'women in IT' debate is that girls don't get involved with computing because they see it as being above them. Having spoken to a number of teachers and parents, it seems that in at least some cases the opposite is true: they don't do it because they feel it's beneath them. I wonder if those girls might be right.
I was there when home computers first appeared. I was 10 years old. There were no prejudices about who could or couldn't use them, because there was no precedent. Many boys – including me – were instantly hooked. We spent weeks of our lives trying to write simple, blocky computer games, or get animated balls to bounce around the screen. Many girls – including my sister – glanced at those primitive counting machines and said the equivalent of, "Meh, come back and show me when it can run Minecraft or The Sims."
In hindsight the girls' evaluation was the more sensible. How much of my life did I waste writing sprite collision detection routines on a BBC Micro? How many days, weeks, months were frittered away optimising config.sys and autoexec.bat files to get memory-hungry PC games to work?