Monday, 9 September 2013

Sorry about being such douche bags, but its stressful in software



I think we should admit this:  I think a great deal of the sexism and hostility in IT comes from fear and anxiety.  We all feel on some level like we are frauds, and we bully each other with mechanical rants to try and bolster ourselves.

One thing I wonder a great deal about is why my fellow coders can be such douche bags.  I personally don't feel that sexism is my issue, but I tend to revert to flaming random people on Twitter who happen to have the bad luck of disagreeing with me.

Why?  Why is techie culture so aggressive, rude and often sexist and even cissexist.  

What is it about working with computer that makes us like this?

One of the things I had noticed in the 1990s that many coders complained about the lack of women in IT.  Over the past 10 years Geek has become cool and women are flooding in to all areas of techie culture, from comic books to working in start up the women are coming.

And how has a huge part of the geek culture responded: as total douche bags.


The very fact that the 'fake geek girl' has become a 'thing' is disgusting to me, and this is my theory why this nonsense happens.

Most geek guys feel that they are fakes much of the time, they are confused by most of the technology they present themselves as experts of, they develop a few pieces of expertise but don't really grasp why it is working, they daily face a complexity beyond what one human mind can master, we are all frauds to a less or greater extent.

It is actually a major step in growing up to say 'I don't know' and many geeks can't do that.

This is not all their fault, its simply the case that modern computer systems and culture are beyond the mind of one person.  In a culture that promotes the individual and guru status this is deeply stressful.  

For example my apps on geo-location often game me some modest praise on the Internet.  Over 3 years via remote contractors and my own banging around with pieces of JavaScript, JQuery Mobile, PHP and the APIs I have produce some code I can show off.

If I had to present how it worked to someone most of it would be beyond me.  That code came from a contractor, that code is part of JQuery, who knows why it is done that way.

I will come out and admit it:  I often feel anxious about the pace of technology and confused about things I work on.  I

For example I know Kerberose is better than NTML but I could not tell you why.  I have looked it up dozens of time but I forget, there is so much to know.  I could not tell you how threads are created on computers or why LISP Scheme Hashtables are a good idea. Again I have looked this up in the past but other work comes along and you can only hold so much in your min.  Even when I learn stuff I can't remember, I can't remember Design Patterns and each time I access the MVC solution I have to remember how MVC works.  I have to look up XML rules again and again, reading the same book over and over again.

I will come out and admit it:  I often feel anxious about the pace of technology and confused about things I work on.  I often present myself as a expert when I am struggling to understand the technology.  People often seem impressed by things I do which I don't fell I deserve credit for, but everyone seems to want to believe I hacked it up so I just smile or say thank you.

Being in software makes you feel like an inadequate fraud almost every week.  I have suffered often from stress related to my work and research.

I think we should admit this.  I think a great deal of the sexism and hostility comes from fear and anxiety.  We all feel on some level like we are frauds, and we bully each other with mechanical rants to try and bolster ourselves.



I want to make it very clear that this is not an excuse.  In fact this reaction has serious negative impacts on society.   Men in IT, often feeling anxious and suffering from untreated depression and anxiety will attack women maybe in part to gain some sense of release from their own anxiety, but the outcome is that women face a very hostile situation in much of IT.

I have seen over the years how this works.  I often find the most marginal programmers and IT experts are actually the worst, so its not as much a case of nerds who are too smart but nerds who are marginal. They are under great stress and target women, trans-genders, anyone who they can.

This bullying culture makes software unpleasant and causes a great number of women, minorities, and others to leave the field or not join it.  Thus the political and the emotional go hand in hand here.  The reaction to stress has the impact of keeping more people out of IT, which is precisely what someone who feels overwhelmed by software knowledge wants to keep a job.



In fact the entire IT culture has been about exclusion for a long time.  Dilbert is funny, but really its just about how the 'good programmers' face a world of business people and users who want to have some say in the most important transformation of their lives.  Dilbert shows who geek culture works to systematically exclude everyone not fitting in to its narrow confines.



I have developed a small rule about Dilbert cartoons.  I see lots of projects and some are pretty well run and making progress, others are disasters.  I always find more Dilbert cartoons at the car crashes

So insecurity, stress, and anxiety mix with prejudice and sexism as a protective strategy not only emotionally but also economically.

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