Alpha male programmers aren't keeping women out

By David Heinemeier Hansson on April 27, 2009

I just can't get into the argument that women are being kept out of programming because the male programmer is such a testosterone-powered alpha specimen of our species. Compared to most other male groups that I've experienced, the average programmer ranks only just above mathematicians in being meek, tame, and introverted.

When I talk to musicians, doctors, lawyers, or just about any other profession that has a fair mix of men and women, I don't find that these men are less R rated than programmers and that's scaring off women from these fields. Quite the contrary in fact.

When I sit down with any of these groups, I usually find that I'm the one blushing. Yet that atmosphere some how doesn't keep women from joining any of these fields. It's from that empirical observation that I draw the conclusion that this argument is just bullshit.

Now that doesn't mean the underlying problem isn't worth dealing with. It absolutely is! I think that the world of programming could be much more interesting if more women were part of it. I wish I knew how to make that happen. If I find out, I'll be the first to champion it.

But in the mean time I don't think we're doing anyone a service by activating the WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN police and squash all other sorts of edges and diversity in the scene.

You certainly have to be mindful when you're working near the edge of social conventions, but that doesn't for a second lead me to the conclusion that we should step away from all the edges. Finding exactly where the line goes — and then enjoying the performance from being right on it — requires a few steps over it here and there.