What is a ‘Brogrammer’ – and why it poses a problem for the industry

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When you play with your little app on your iPhone, or use sites like Facebook, you don’t really think about the people who developed it, or you picture them wearing thick glasses, tuck their shirts in and wear pocket protectors. Programmers aren’t like that, but one ‘sub-group’ is taking it to a whole new level.

And potentially, it could be a problem in itself for an industry that wants to change how people perceive them.

We are, of course, talking about the ‘brogrammer’. As Urban Dictionary defines it (since the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t have a definition yet), they are:

A programmer who breaks the usual expectations of quiet nerdiness and opts instead for the usual trappings of a frat-boy: popped collars, bad beer, and calling everybody “bro”. Despised by everyone, especially other programmers.

In other words, they break the typical nerdy/geeky stereotype. But the term has pretty much split the entire programming community. Some don’t see it as a problem. Others, however, see some issue with the popularity of the ‘brogrammer’ trend – especially its sexist undertones.

We should clarify that there is two definitions of the term ‘brogrammer’. There is the internet meme, which makes fun of the stereotype with, according to Quora, “exaggerated and nonsensical rules” – which clearly are joking.The other is the corporate environment that allows for misogynistic and sexist behaviour, and objectification of women.The latter part is the one that people have issues with.

Plus, we should also make the distinction that if you happen to be a social person, or drink alcohol – that doesn’t necessarily make you a ‘brogrammer’. If you do it like some frat boy, and act like a douchebag (that’s more subjective) – then you probably are.

One of the most recent examples of its sexist undertones include Sqoot, when it advertised its API Jam event in Boston, listing women as one of its “Great Perks”, who will give you another beer while you essentially write code. After a flurry of angry tweets, it issued an apology.

You would have noted that a similar thing happened in Melbourne, with the York Butter Factory sending out a tweet that was sexist. It, like Sqoot, issued an apology – not before its website received some unwanted attention for being down for a long time during the whole debacle (it should be noted that York Butter said that its downtime issues were not related to the misguided tweet).

Online publication Mother Jones and Bloomberg Businessweek have also written articles about the rise of the brogramming trend. The Mother Jones‘ article features Path’s Matt Van Horn, where his South by Southwest (SXSW) talk saw women walking out of the room because of his “lame” jokes. However, the Bloomberg Businessweek article pretty much summarises the problem:

We got invited to a party in Malibu where there were naked women in the hot tub… We’re the cool programmers.

But, it is all a bit of fun, right?

Sadly, no. It basically makes the IT industry appear as some sort of ‘boys club’.

Dan Shapiro, who works for Google, notes that it has been a problem for a while among the startup community. Shaprio recalls one team he was coaching for a startup day who believed that winning a pitch include having images of scantily clad women – even if it had nothing to do with the company. And if you have read the articles from Mother Jones and Bloomberg Businessweek – Path, Klout and Geeklist are all startups.

But it’s not just localised around the booming Web 2.0 companies out there – it’s prevalent where there isn’t much diversity. Katie Cunningham, a Python programmer with Cox Media Group, wrote in a blog posting, “As the woman, I’ve been the only person in the group asked to put together a pot luck.”

“I’ve been the only one asked to take notes in a meeting… even if I’m the one who’s presenting (because my title really should be ‘secretary who we let on the servers’). I once had a boss who wanted to turn me into a personal assistant so badly, it ended up in a meeting with HR.”

Cunningham also notes the subtle sexist comments by her co-workers, and has even pondered leaving the industry for good.

“That’s the main problem with subtle discrimination. It leaves those that it affects the most powerless against it, quietly discouraging them. If they speak up, they’re treated to eye rolls at the least, and at the worst, are called oppressors themselves. We’re accused of not wanting equal rights, but of wanting tyranny,” she writes.

Let us not forget that women have made a mark in the IT industry – Mary Lou Jepsen, for example, helped designed the One Laptop Per Child’s XO-1; while Google’s Marissa Mayer is credited in developing its user interfaces. Heck, even the first recognised computer programmer is a woman – Ada Lovelace, who created a method in calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers with Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

This type of behaviour, frankly, does an impact to gather future talent in this industry – female programmers and entrepreneurs alienated away from what is an already male-dominated industry. A few bad, but public displays, does damage to the reputation of IT industry.

If you have lived under a rock, the industry is heading for growth – whether it is on the internet or in making new gadgets that will be in your house in the next ten, or even five years. As such, many universities – including my own, Monash University (what I have heard from inside) – are crying out for more and more people to be part of IT, especially women.

And part of the problem with this brogramming trend is simply not enough women are entering the industry.

Looking at statistics available from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, you can see there has been an overall trend in people enrolling into IT subjects for both genders. Despite this, not a lot of women are taking up IT as a subject. In 2010, those who completed an IT degree was 13,421 – and only 2,588 of those were women. Enrolling into the subject in 2010 were 50,457 people – only 9,718 of those were women.

In other words, the ‘brogrammer’ trend – with the sexist undertones – is not helping.

Yes, we should also eliminate the stereotype that you have to be a total nerd to become a programmer or be within this industry – you don’t necessarily need to like or see Star Wars or Star Trek (I haven’t seen them).

However, making it more like some frat house, or like a Jersey Shore episode? Not a good idea.

Also disclaimer: I am a Monash University student. They haven’t paid me to simply mention their name in this post.

Image: the cover image of the Brogramming page on Facebook

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