Erin Call

Erin Call

You Can't Spell Engineering Without Erin

Sorry Brogramming, I Gotta Cut You Loose


Let us begin at the beginning. Most programmers were probably not the cool kids. By and large, we were the fringe kids: futzing around with computers and reading sci-fi, rather than working on our rushing game.

When we came of age and started working together, we were excited to find ourselves on the inside. I clearly remember how thrilled I was at my first Real Job when I realized I could make offhand references to Admiral Thrawn or whatever, and everyone in earshot would get what I was saying. So it's natural that we formed our own tribe. This wasn't Revenge Of The Nerds, where the nerds win by adopting mainstream norms. This was nerds living well on their own terms.

Of course, once you have a tribe, you'll start to have shibboleths. It's an integral part of human society: you want to know if someone's a member of the group, so you know if you can trust them. The heuristic isn't actually all that good, but it seems to be hardwired.

Some of the identifying traits were positively-oriented: defining the group in terms of what its members are. Programmers know at least one programming language. Programmers have a favorite editor. Programmers are upset about the Star Wars prequels.

Others were negatively-oriented: defining the group in terms of what its members are not. Programmers don't play sports. Programmers don't wear suits. Programmers don't care about celebrity gossip.

It's understandable: Having gotten away from the "cool kids" who'd hurt us in one way or another, we were eager to stay away. But when it comes to guessing whether an individual is trustworthy, negatively-oriented group traits are deeply flawed. Positively-oriented traits are weak evidence themselves, but they tend to at least indicate a certain amount of time or emotion invested in a shared interest. Negatively-oriented traits tell you almost nothing at all.

The pervasiveness of these negatively-oriented traits was a matter of some frustration for me. I really like to ride a bike! I think of my body as a tool, and one that it behooves me to hone. It actually turns out that athletic pursuits made me a better programmer, as well--more focused, more energized. It was weird to catch flak for that.


I welcomed the "brogramming" notion with open arms. To me, it was a rejection of some problematic negatively-oriented traits. Yes, there were some troubling associations, but I saw them as mostly tongue in cheek. The unabashed adoption of self-improvement charmed me.

Either I had misunderstood the trend, or it changed direction. Suddenly it was inescapable that brogramming was a negatively-oriented trait. It was probably foreseeable, given the way "bro" was perched right there on the front of the word. In any case, brogramming had come to encompass the most sexist subsets of the programming community.

I don't think there's any chance of turning "brogramming" around. Personal fitness and self-improvement are still valuable goals within the programming community, but we have to call them something else. That gendered "bro" on the front was never a good thing, and it's grown to dwarf any parts that were.


Posted on 2012-03-23T13:29:00Z
Posted in feminism.
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