Yesterday’s post From Computer Engineer to Cheerleader was critical of women who consider their mere presence in the tech field a badge of honor. However, I did not intend to dismiss women in tech in general. I am tempted to say that the few women I worked with were generally capable. On the other hand, there are plenty of guys working in tech who are basically dead weight. I think the reason for that is that women are easily discouraged. They may be used to straight-As from high school, but at a decent technical university your professors normally doesn’t shower you with top grades. Guys tend to persevere, but girls not so much. If you are studying a tough degree, you know that merely making it to the end will open at least some doors for you, and being a mediocre engineer at some mediocre company most certainly is a better fate than ending up as Jim the Barista at the Starbucks down the road.
Another issue is that particularly guys who are not overly skilled easily end up having an obnoxious attitude. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect in action. The older guys among my readers may recall the early days of the Internet. In the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s, you could make a good living setting up websites. There wasn’t much skill involved, but universities were slow to adapt. Due to the enormous demand of that particular skill there was an amateur hour that lasted for over half a decade. Every hack who was able to cobble together some HTML made bank. The web evolved, and so did technology. In the early-to-mid 2000s, web frameworks like Ruby on Rails became very popular, which made it comparatively easy to set up websites. Again, this was a golden ticket for anyone with a modicum of technical skill to make some dough. As I see it, though, people with a background in web development, particularly if they are “self-taught”, often lack a solid foundation in computer science. This does not keep those guys from boasting about their “leet skillz” and proclaiming that university education is a waste of time. However, I don’t think that anyone who did well on basic programming courses is particularly impressed by the level of discourse you can find on typical web-dev watering holes.
The previous paragraph was rather specific. Even more specific is an example I recently came across. I had a CV on my desk of a recently graduated student with a Master’s degree. He had put half a dozen publications on it. At first this seemed impressive. Yet, as I quickly found out, this was due to a peculiarity at some scientific institutions where authorship is assigned to basically anyone formally employed, outside of administrative staff. For instance, if you spent half a year on an internship at such a place, you ended up as one of a few hundred or possibly even more than thousand authors of several papers. Technically, it is the case that you are an author. However, I find it at the very least deceptive to list a paper as one of your publications if you made no direct contribution, and only happened to basically hang out in the same building as the people who did the actual work.
Quite frankly, when given the choice between male braggarts or unassuming females, the latter may be more pleasant to work with. However, note that women who do well in technical fields tend to have much higher levels of testosterone than ditzy Jenny from HR who was your first point of contact. Some look quite masculine, in fact. This may also explain why such women tend to do well, while others need to play the diversity card.