Meritocracy rewards bad people for writing good code
March 14, 2017 11:12 AM   Subscribe

It is well-know that the tech industry has a problem with women. Is it any surprise that the alt-right is involved?
posted by Lycaste (72 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
*ahem*

Check out the tech sector in Boston. It's heavily male, but it's heavily *older* male, bearded, nattily dressed, no cult-of-youth, with enough older types who still remember what the "right" was before it went "alt."
posted by ocschwar at 11:17 AM on March 14, 2017 [7 favorites]


Meritocracy rewards bad people.

Fixed that for you.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 11:25 AM on March 14, 2017 [7 favorites]


Eh. There's an interesting article to be written here, but this one wasn't it. It's primarily just a rehash of the role that 4chan and Gamergate played in the rise of the alt-right, with a quick overview of who Peter Thiel is. At the end of the day, the author managed to find and interview seven alt-righters who "included current or former employees of Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter" - companies which, combined, have about 85,000 employees - and pretty much all of them are saying "well sure nobody at our companies actually agrees with us and we need to keep our beliefs secret because we would be ostracized for holding them but deep down they know we're right!", which, uh, sure buddy.

The takeaway seems to be "look, a small number of people at these companies have vile beliefs" which is so true of pretty much any company on Earth that it's essentially meaningless; the author wants to, but doesn't actually really manage to, make this about tech in particular.
posted by Itaxpica at 11:31 AM on March 14, 2017 [39 favorites]


who still remember what the "right" was before it went "alt."

Openly racist segregationist sexists (as in they also say woman should be in the kitchen, but they're not pretending to be joking about it) who didn't bother with even the figleaf rationales the alt-right employs?
posted by Sangermaine at 11:35 AM on March 14, 2017 [14 favorites]


Openly racist segregationist sexists (as in they also say woman should be in the kitchen, but they're not pretending to be joking about it) who didn't bother with even the figleaf rationales the alt-right employs?

The "Great America" that we're going to again make.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:42 AM on March 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


who still remember what the "right" was before it went "alt."

Ah yes, when it was merely openly practicing class warfare, and kept all of it's racism in dogwhistles. I miss dogwhistles.
posted by el io at 11:42 AM on March 14, 2017 [7 favorites]


I wonder if the alt-right is a third stage of Lee Atwater's infamous progression of the Southern Strategy, a further abstraction beyond economics to things like culture, "free speech", co-opting progressive terms and concepts, etc.? Or is it a reversion back to the lower level now that the political environment will allow it again?
posted by Sangermaine at 11:57 AM on March 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


In my experience, bad people don't write good code.
posted by w0mbat at 12:00 PM on March 14, 2017 [8 favorites]


"One reason her career had gone so well, she thinks, is that she’d made a point of ignoring slights and oafish comments"

Aaaand that's where I stopped reading. No thanks on the "women are required to just take sexism in stride in order to get ahead" vibe.
posted by nirblegee at 12:03 PM on March 14, 2017 [12 favorites]


The tech industry is male dominated and has many problems related to gender and race (and age and class) issues, which leads to some of its members becoming acolytes of the alt-right. Not the other way around. If there's a secret ideological cabal that controls the industry, it's more of the hippie objectivist technocrat type who have been driving Silicon Valley culture for decades. A minority of them, Peter Thiel being the most prominent, have become alt-right, but most are still the "fuck you, go to Burning Man" variety. Though certainly pop internet libertarianism in the U.S. seems to have recently devolved into neoreactionism to a large extent.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:05 PM on March 14, 2017 [12 favorites]


"well sure nobody at our companies actually agrees with us..."

Just because most of the employees are not vocal white supremacists doesn't mean the culture isn't imbued with implicit racism/sexism/etc. (And none of those labels are the exclusive preserve of young white men.)

And there's a difference between "nobody agrees with us" and "we got run out on a rail." The difference is complicity.
posted by klanawa at 12:07 PM on March 14, 2017 [7 favorites]


The takeaway seems to be "look, a small number of people at these companies have vile beliefs" which is so true of pretty much any company on Earth that it's essentially meaningless; the author wants to, but doesn't actually really manage to, make this about tech in particular.

The problem is that those people are routinely given cover by their colleagues. Look at the recent Uber scandal where it came out that their new big hire from Google turned out to have left because of his sexual harassment of subordinates. Or how about the whole Brendan Eich fiasco, where a man who was openly a bigot kept getting promoted up the food chain at Mozilla - until they gave him the top slot and found out they couldn't cover his bigotry up anymore.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:09 PM on March 14, 2017 [8 favorites]


Itaxpica: The takeaway seems to be "look, a small number of people at these companies have vile beliefs" which is so true of pretty much any company on Earth that it's essentially meaningless; the author wants to, but doesn't actually really manage to, make this about tech in particular.

There was one interesting bit that definitely made it about tech:
Such bias may be particularly rife in Silicon Valley because of another of its foundational beliefs: that success in tech depends almost entirely on innate genius. ...a 2015 study published in Science confirmed that computer science and certain other fields, including physics, math, and philosophy, fetishize “brilliance,” cultivating the idea that potential is inborn. The report concluded that these fields tend to be problematic for women, owing to a stubborn assumption that genius is a male trait.
I haven't been immune to this particular bias. As I've gotten older, though, and raised a child, I've realized how much of my own ability to solve complex problems depends on plenty of sleep and lack of distractions. As a young white male who was "the smart kid" and expected to do smart things, I was given - much more than I realized then - the freedom to focus on learning and developing my problem-solving abilities. Everyone else had confidence that I was smart, so I got that confidence, too, and the privileges that came with it.

Now I'm learning how much work - cognitive load, emotional and physical labour - goes into raising a child and keeping house. Being smart under these conditions is much, much more difficult. My family was poor, but growing up I was still given the privilege of being allowed to think about challenging, interesting problems, and I was able to turn that privilege into a series of well-paying tech jobs. Did I have some innate problem-solving ability? Sure, maybe a bit. But I'm willing to bet that a lot of people have that innate ability, but never get to exercise it, never gain confidence in it, because it's assumed that they'll be doing non-technical work. They're the wrong gender, or the wrong colour, or they give off the wrong cultural signals.

Whenever this topic comes up, I think of the best example of true genius that I know: Euler, it is said, "calculated with one hand while bouncing a baby on his knee with the other." If anybody in tech thinks they're a genius, I give them that challenge. If you've only produced brilliant results and done smart things while being insulated from distractions and responsibilities, then there are probably a whole bunch of women and people of colour who would've done better than you had they been given, from childhood till now, your privilege.
posted by clawsoon at 12:20 PM on March 14, 2017 [111 favorites]


"well sure nobody at our companies actually agrees with us..."

Just because most of the employees are not vocal white supremacists doesn't mean the culture isn't imbued with implicit racism/sexism/etc. (And none of those labels are the exclusive preserve of young white men.)

And there's a difference between "nobody agrees with us" and "we got run out on a rail." The difference is complicity.


All right, then, let me put it differently: I'm a Google employee (standard disclaimer: speaking only for myself, not a representative of my company in any way, etc), and have been for years. The majority of Googlers in my experience are left-of-center democrat types, and most of the remainder are the kind of social-justice-oriented, activist folks who would be right at home on the Blue. I've never heard, or even overheard, anything remotely alt-righty from anyone in the office. At the average Google lunch table you're way more likely to hear people talk about intersectionality than H1-Bs, and if anyone started spouting vocal white supremacy I can pretty much guarantee you that they would be run out on a rail.

This is anecdotal evidence from one Google employee, which is to say exactly as much insight in to Google as the author of this piece cites.
posted by Itaxpica at 12:33 PM on March 14, 2017 [27 favorites]


Sorry, hit post too soon, I wanted to add: there's general, wide recognition of the existence and impact of implicit biases from the top of the company down, to the point where thorough, detailed training on recognizing and combating implicit bias is offered to all employees, who are strongly encouraged (and I believe, at the manager level and above, required, though I might be wrong there) to take it.
posted by Itaxpica at 12:38 PM on March 14, 2017 [6 favorites]


the whole Brendan Eich fiasco, where a man who was openly a bigot kept getting promoted up the food chain at Mozilla - until they gave him the top slot and found out they couldn't cover his bigotry up anymore.

Eich co-founded Mozilla. Given his views he probably shouldn't have been made CEO, but your implication that anyone who opposed gay marriage can't be allowed in tech is disturbing. Gay marriage is a recent advance, shunning everyone who wasn't on board with it isn't going to work so well in the real world. We're sometimes going to need to display some tolerance in the dictionary-definition sense of the word - i.e. tolerating things you disapprove of as opposed to celebrating things you approve of.

I'd also draw a distinction between donating to the prop 8 campaign and, for example, having an entire side career advocating racism and opposing democracy like Curtis Yarvin. In other words, between the right and the alt-right.
posted by Slogby at 12:52 PM on March 14, 2017 [7 favorites]


As another long-time Google employee, +1 to Itaxpica. There is plenty of implicit bias (though employees are generally receptive when called out on it, and initiatives to correct biases are supported by the company), but any explicit bigotry would result in, at least, ostracism, and quite possibly disciplinary action. There is also a strong recognition that there are probably a lot of talented people who could have been working with us, but aren't because they weren't given the same chances that most of us were -- and the general feeling is that this is unfair, tragic, and unfortunate both for those affected directly and for us.

(Of course, Google is a gigantic corp, and I'm sure you can find little pockets of horribleness if you look hard enough.)

When I worked at Amazon, there was explicit support for marginalized groups.

I gather Facebook and Microsoft are similar to Google and Amazon, respectively.

All of this is not to say that Silicon Valley doesn't have culture issues -- I've heard plenty of horror stories out of startups, Uber certainly doesn't look good, and there is a strong streak of libertarianism here -- just that the Silicon Valley megacorps and their employees are mostly on the left on social issues.
posted by reventlov at 12:59 PM on March 14, 2017 [6 favorites]


Okay, I'll.... bite. I'm twenty-six, I have a STEM background, I work with liberals plenty too, and I've been carefully building up my tech skills and my portfolio of coding languages in case I need them to transition out of biology in the future. I listened to my older female colleagues when I was preparing my current career, and I developed a list of things to do to minimize the chances of winding up somewhere abusive and horrible. I watched my mother rant about the shit she dealt with over her career in IT, and I quietly built a list of things to look for and think over. I know the rotten places and the warning flags in my industry and when I talk to other young women who want in, I try to make sure that I balance supporting them and cheering them on with the same realistic warnings I got, so they will know what they need to keep their budding careers safe.

When I am trying to decide if a workplace is likely to be friendly to women or just "friendly," I don't really want or need to hear from enthusiastic coding men. My experience is that people rush to say good things about their companies whether or not they're really true for marginalized people on the ground, and that if you actually do want to work out whether an industry will be welcoming or not to you as a marginalized person, you will need to ask some probing and specific questions--ideally of other women or other people in your subgroup, because they're the ones who will pick up on the subtext that you need to know about and remember and remember it if you ask. The explicit markers of politics don't really mean that much to me, because I've watched way too damn many liberal white men cheer on the idea of intersectionality only as long as it's happening over there and not making anyone too uncomfortable in the specific.

I'm increasingly bitter about explicit support when it's not backed up by implicit support, because it hurts so much worse when you seek that support and find out that the explicit support was just lip service. And because explicit support is so much less expensive than the implicit kind.

So it's making me kind of.... quietly suspicious to see that the discussion in this thread seems to be primarily driven by men or non-explicitly-female folk rushing to point out that their workplaces don't have problems with these things and that explicit support is everywhere. I want to know: are there women here who are okay bringing up their experiences? If a place is male-dominated, in my experience there's a reason for that shit and not just an accidental choice no matter how cheerfully feminist the surface level rhetoric is. What's the reason? Can we talk about that, or is that too depressing?

I am so, so much more suspicious of accounts that claim there's no problem here than I am of accounts that say "this person came at me on misogyny, but here's how I was supported," is my point. And the rhetoric in this discussion is making me more suspicious of tech, not less--because I have never ever had a close female friend talk about her career, knowing I'll listen, who didn't have a story about the face misogyny takes in her industry. Talking about the specific face it takes in your work and how you look for it might actually make me look up and approach; talking about how you never see it or how your company is always explicitly telling it to go away just makes me grit my teeth and think about how badly I want to be here anyway.
posted by sciatrix at 1:22 PM on March 14, 2017 [58 favorites]


Sorry, sciatrix, I want to make clear: I'm not at all saying Silicon Valley doesn't have a gender problem, I'm saying that Silicon Valley doesn't have the specific alt-right links that the article is asserting. Gender in tech more broadly is a way bigger point, and one that I'm not really looking to claim anything about here either way.
posted by Itaxpica at 1:26 PM on March 14, 2017 [9 favorites]


Put another way, the article seemed to be making the claim that there's this undercurrent of white supremacist alt-rightism all throughout the tech industry, and that doesn't gel at all with my experience in tech. I'm not saying that women don't face issues in tech; I've heard enough horror stories from women in tech across the board to know exactly how false that is. My point is much more specifically that I don't think the article manages to make the point it's trying to about the alt-right in particular being especially a thing within tech companies or among techies, and that in fact my lived experience suggests that the opposite is true. Sexism and misogyny within Silicon Valley more broadly is a different story entirely.
posted by Itaxpica at 1:34 PM on March 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


Put another way, the article seemed to be making the claim that there's this undercurrent of white supremacist alt-rightism all throughout the tech industry
I actually think it's making a way more limited claim than that. He explicitly says:
None of these alt-right figures would provide any data to support their claims. As I've reported, some alt-right sites have wildly overstated their reach. Moreover, the tech industry is renowned for its globalist outlook: Public-opinion surveys conducted by a Stanford political economist have found that rank-and-file workers in Silicon Valley exhibit less racial resentment and more favorable views toward most forms of immigration than average Americans.
I think he's claiming that there are tech people involved in the alt right, even if they're not at all the majority of tech workers or of people in the alt right. I'm not sure why I think that very-limited claim is significant, but I'm not an editor, so there you go. (And I actually wonder if the alt right might be more attractive to people in lower echelons of tech, maybe outside of Silicon Valley. If you thought your computer-something degree was supposed to make you a gazillionaire, and now you've got a $60,000-a-year IT job somewhere unglamorous, you might be bitter in a way that would tempt you to blame immigrants and H1-B visa holders for getting the plumb job that you were never actually going to be qualified for.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:41 PM on March 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


I would love to talk about my experiences more if there was a listener. I used to be mega involved in diversity work especially in regards to the programming field but I got burnt out. Lately I've been trying to focus on my other hobbies that bring about my personal happiness. I realized that even if I opt-out of actively helping out the community that even just being "me," having a work life balance and just being a woman that persists in the web development field may be good enough. I can be the woman that another woman or minority can turn to ask me ... "well.. how is it?"

I've seen and experienced a lot, and most women in the programming sector have. It can be very tough sometimes. While a lot of the bad actors are mostly men, I've also experienced a situation when it was a group of *women* that tried to excuse an active male member of the community that he really "didn't mean it" when he groped multiple women at events. I've faced situations where I declined a job and later heard through the grapevine that the director didn't want to hire me because I couldn't do the job as a woman. There's been toxic startup environments with the CEO to directly calling out women in the all-hands meeting up until the point she burst out crying and literally had to run out of the room.

But I've also had boring tech experiences. Where nothing happened. Mostly people are family oriented and there wasn't much socializing but not much drama or politics. There were places where I had diverse coworkers or at least mostly woke coworkers that volunteered and encouraged a fun atmosphere with no worry of -isms. To me, I've worked in so many environments and situations that it really comes down to that the experience can be all over the place. There's a high likelihood of ingrained sexism somewhere down the line, maybe an egregious act here and there, but it's definitely something you will eventually deal with (or ignore) as a woman in tech.
posted by xtine at 1:43 PM on March 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


Yet another (ex-)Google employee (though I've been gone for over a decade, so can't comment on what it's currently like.) When I was in tech, there were an awful lot of libertarian types that I now associate with alt-right types. Alt-right didn't exist as a thing back then, but I'd be really surprised if there's not a strong correlation.

There seems to be a link between "techie" culture and (to be overly dismissive) cultures of selfishness (libertarianism) and "I don't want others to get what I have" (which is what alt-right feels like to me). Obviously, I'm still trying to think these things through, and I think it's a mistake to paint libertarians as the same as alt-righters (I know a handful that I respect very highly even though I disagree with them, something I can't say for any alt-righter.)
posted by grae at 1:48 PM on March 14, 2017 [7 favorites]


I think he's claiming that there are tech people involved in the alt right, even if they're not at all the majority of tech workers or of people in the alt right.

That does seem to be the claim, which is why the article seems worthless. There are presumably alt-right people in basically every field. If they don't make up any sizeable or influential group (which they do not appear to in tech, from my experience and given that no evidence has been presented that they do) then what's the point?

The separate issue of the treatment of women in STEM is a much more interesting and important one. The alt-right thing is just clickbait attempt to draw some connection between the two even though there is no "there" there.
posted by thefoxgod at 1:48 PM on March 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


There is definitely a subgroup of libertarians in tech, although I'd still say its a small group compared to left-liberal types (at least at the large SV-type companies I've worked at).

But libertarian and alt-right are not really the same, the explicit white nationalism in the latter is not present in most of the libertarians I know (they are problematic for other reasons, especially the refusal to acknowledge racial/gender problems, but its different than the racially-focused alt-right).
posted by thefoxgod at 1:50 PM on March 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


There seems to be a link between "techie" culture and (to be overly dismissive) cultures of selfishness (libertarianism) and "I don't want others to get what I have" (which is what alt-right feels like to me). Obviously, I'm still trying to think these things through, and I think it's a mistake to paint libertarians as the same as alt-righters (I know a handful that I respect very highly even though I disagree with them, something I can't say for any alt-righter.)

This. I tend to find that there's a small but sizable percentage of libertarians in the tech field. They are SO concerned with "fairness" and gutting everything that doesn't directly benefit them in some way. To which they literally also feel the system of "well I did it, so can they" (never checked privilege, EVER) works so that's why there are so few women and minorities in tech, especially programming. The "fairness" that a woman would take a "deserved" man's spot.

While yes, libertarianism isn't exactly alt-right, there are many similarities. Trolling, predilection towards anime, "fairness" stretched to the idea that white people earn it because they deserve it. Etc.
posted by xtine at 1:56 PM on March 14, 2017 [7 favorites]


I made my first comment based on the conversation here, before I could read either article. (Remember, there's two in this FPP!) The Atlantic article is very in-depth, focused primarily on issues of misogyny in Silicon Valley, and contains a much more nuanced thesis on meritocracy and the tech industry's conceptualization of it that indicates that there are some deeper problems that both Silicon Valley and tech generally are fostering even through a desire to make things better.

I would recommend reading it.
posted by sciatrix at 1:56 PM on March 14, 2017 [7 favorites]


I made my first comment based on the conversation here, before I could read either article. (Remember, there's two in this FPP!) The Atlantic article is very in-depth, focused primarily on issues of misogyny in Silicon Valley, and contains a much more nuanced thesis on meritocracy and the tech industry's conceptualization of it that indicates that there are some deeper problems that both Silicon Valley and tech generally are fostering even through a desire to make things better.

I would recommend reading it.


Ah, I had only read the second article. For some reason I thought the first link was one to an older MeFi thread on gender in tech, I think I might have mistaken one of my way-too-many other open tabs for it.

Thanks for the pointer, that is a great piece.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:02 PM on March 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


I remain completely mind-blown by the dudes who got radicalized by of all things GamerGate/PizzaGate. I am supremely skeptical that such dudes were ever even remotely left-leaning if such things as, "Look at these women talking about videogames! On the internet!" and "Look at these people allegedly using euphemisms for child porn that we only know because we kind of use them all the time but it's different when they do it! also Occam's Razor, they're probably just talking about pizza" are what gets them to reflect on the overreach of Political Correctness and decide that, you know what, it has gone too far!

Anecdotally, I have known a lot of STEM/IT people (mostly dudes) who either express explicitly alt-right talking points or do the whole, "I don't agree with the Nazis, but in the name of free speech, let's at least hear them out" song and dance. Perspectives from women and minorities tend to be reflexively dismissed as "whining" or "special snowflakism" in the STEMmier circles I lurk in. The religious belief in meritocracy and proliferation of libertarian politics are things that contribute mightily to those attitudes, as there is often a working assumption that racism and misogyny are over, or a total blindness to things like imperialism and cultural subjugation (coupled with an ignorance of scientific achievements outside of Europe). My personal experience is pretty limited but has been that, on average, programmers tend to be ignorantly dismissive of feminist/leftist/intersectional viewpoints; the dismissal itself is often then dismissed as a way of avoiding discussions about the problem. As sciatrix said, there is often a rush to on the one hand declare that these problems don't affect people's workplaces while at the same time blowing off anyone who reports discrimination happening at their workplace as "just anecdata." It's not all that uncommon to see people declaring that discrimination/bigotry/bias aren't a problem while expressing discriminatory/bigoted/biased beliefs and attitudes. And meanwhile, corporate "support" for women and minorities is typically just transparent poppycock.

So. Yeah. A lot of the article is a rehash of the alt-right, but there are good follow up pieces going into more depth here, and I'd like to see them happen. I suspect there are many more fascist/alt-righters within the tech industry than anyone likes to pretend; my gut feeling is that it's the norm.
posted by byanyothername at 2:33 PM on March 14, 2017 [12 favorites]


sciatrix: I'm increasingly bitter about explicit support when it's not backed up by implicit support, because it hurts so much worse when you seek that support and find out that the explicit support was just lip service.

Yeah. Explicit support can happen in discrete moments of time - do it, and then you're done. (Until it's time to perform it again.) Implicit support has to be continuous, or nearly so: All the time, someone needs to be given the privilege, by everyone, of focusing on creative tech problems. They have to have everyone accept the assumption that that's their primary job. So many privileges flow from everyone just assuming that you are good at X and should be doing X.

Most of the time, in my experience, it's very few women in technical roles who don't start being given tech-housekeeping roles, no matter their technical potential. They don't get the continuous assumptions in their favour, therefore they don't get the privileges and the opportunities.

But am I making anything better? No, not really. I'm thinking about my niece right now. She's just as smart as her brother, but should I encourage her to go into a technical field, do my best to support her and build her confidence in her technical abilities and make the assumption for her that she could be technically brilliant until she believes it herself... only to have her enter a career of... this?
posted by clawsoon at 2:41 PM on March 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


Eich co-founded Mozilla. Given his views he probably shouldn't have been made CEO, but your implication that anyone who opposed gay marriage can't be allowed in tech is disturbing. Gay marriage is a recent advance, shunning everyone who wasn't on board with it isn't going to work so well in the real world. We're sometimes going to need to display some tolerance in the dictionary-definition sense of the word - i.e. tolerating things you disapprove of as opposed to celebrating things you approve of.

The reason that same sex marriage is a recent development is because bigotry against homosexual individuals was widely societally acceptable until recently, and it's still a work in progress. Saying that someone should be a second class citizen because of their orientation (and yes, that is what opponents of same sex marriage were arguing for) is bigotry, and it's not my job to either sugarcoat it or "tolerate" it. Part of the reason things like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. remain socially acceptable is because we're told to 'tolerate' them - and how they become unacceptable is the refusal to do so. And we don't oppose them because we disapprove, but because they hurt and demean people.

And no, just because he was a co-founder doesn't excuse his intolerance, either. This attitude of having to tolerate the bad behavior of so-called "geniuses" is why SV continues to struggle with sexism, racism, and the such, and we need to stop it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:01 PM on March 14, 2017 [21 favorites]


Meritocracy rewards bad people.

Fixed that for you.


More to the point, meritocracy isn't. Sure, it thinks it is, but that's only because those who tout it tend to define "merit" in a way that is essentially tautological. These folks conveniently believe that whatever qualities, skills and / or experiences happen to be shared by a large enough proportion of those who benefit from the system, must therefore be "merit."

To put it another way, it's not actually the writing of good code that's being rewarded. In fact, what's being rewarded is mostly having the social, cultural and economic capital to be in a position not only to learn to code in the first place, but also to convince someone to hire you for it. Are there exceptions? Of course. But still.
posted by dersins at 3:31 PM on March 14, 2017 [8 favorites]


This. I tend to find that there's a small but sizable percentage of libertarians in the tech field

A fair number of alt-right types are former libertarians. If I had to guess I'd say it's a pretty small percentage of programmers who are alt-right but alt-right folks might be more likely to be programmers than the average person.

Or how about the whole Brendan Eich fiasco, where a man who was openly a bigot kept getting promoted up the food chain at Mozilla.

I don't want this to be the thread to re-litigate Brendan Eich but - I don't actually know - did people at Mozilla even know about his stances before he donated to the Prop 8 campaign and somebody looked it up? I'm not worried about how you characterize him but the way you describe this situation makes an implication about the other members of his organization and I don't know whether it's true?
posted by atoxyl at 3:31 PM on March 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


Gay marriage is a recent advance, shunning everyone who wasn't on board with it isn't going to work so well in the real world. We're sometimes going to need to display some tolerance in the dictionary-definition sense of the word - i.e. tolerating things you disapprove of as opposed to celebrating things you approve of.

Sorry, but there isn't actually a "paradox of tolerance" where people who advocate tolerance* are required to tolerate people who advocate the elimination of those who don't meet their standards.

Carl Popper:
Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.
* As this piece discusses, the idea that liberalism is about "tolerance" is mistaken.
We have no interest in everyone getting treated the same. We have no interest in giving all ideas equal airtime. We have no interest in “tolerating” all beliefs. I don’t know where this fairy tale comes from, but it’s completely disconnected from every experience I’ve had with progressive liberal folks in my lifetime.

When conservatives cross their arms and glare and shout “It’s not fair! You’re supposed to welcome everyone but you aren’t being nice to me!” it stings about as much as if they shouted, “It’s not fair, you’re supposed to be wearing tutus and juggling flaming donuts!”

The progressive liberal agenda isn’t about being nice. It’s about confronting evil, violence, trauma, and death. It’s about acknowledging the ways systemic power, systemic oppression, systemic evil, work in our world around us. I’m not fighting for diversity. I’m not fighting for tolerance. I’m fighting to overturn horrific systems of dehumanizing oppression.

posted by Lexica at 3:34 PM on March 14, 2017 [23 favorites]


Meritocracy rewards bad people.

Fixed that for you.


This is roughly the same as "democracy encourages demagogues" - a statement that is true in some cases and not in others, depending on the details of how things are structured around the phenomenon in question. Meritocracy, like democracy, only works (i.e. delivers consistently positive social outcomes) within certain contexts.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:34 PM on March 14, 2017


Meritocracy, like democracy, only works (i.e. delivers consistently positive social outcomes) within certain contexts.

No, meritocracy just flat out doesn't actually exist. As people have pointed out through this thread, many cultures that call themselves "meritocratic" wind up defining "merit" in ways that protect themselves at the expense of others. It becomes the "morally correct" way to create an oligarchic structure, because it sets up the myth that anyone can ascend the ranks, even if the reality is that those ranks are really only for the "right" sort.

In short, meritocracy is bullshit, and needs to die.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:46 PM on March 14, 2017 [6 favorites]


I don't want this to be the thread to re-litigate Brendan Eich but - I don't actually know - did people at Mozilla even know about his stances before he donated to the Prop 8 campaign and somebody looked it up? I'm not worried about how you characterize him but the way you describe this situation makes an implication about the other members of his organization and I don't know whether it's true?

Yes, they knew - there had been prior incidents where his homophobia had come to light. The problem was that they had always been tamped down with the "we're here to write code, who cares if I'm a bigot" argument from him. When he got to the top, though, he found out the hard way that argument doesn't work as well anymore in the wider culture.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:50 PM on March 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


For people who're all about objective proof when you talk to them about stuff like religion, I find it very interesting how ideas like libertarianism and this whole "meritocracy" thing have taken hold in tech. It's not that I think it's impossible to be a libertarian if you're an educated person, but I've met a lot of people who espoused it who, to be frank, had arguments that made the banana argument for creationism seem well-reasoned. They liked the feel of the idea that, in Silicon Valley, the deserving were getting rich and only the undeserving were homeless. They repeated facts that were fairly easy to disprove with Google. They couldn't point to any actual studies that proved that tech is a meritocracy--it's just an article of faith.

And in any faith community, you have some people who're maybe not investigating it too deeply but are still generally okay people trying to do their best. And you have some people who aren't investigating it too deeply and would be okay people if they'd just try... well, at all, but they don't. And then you have the people who believe the story about how the deserving will be rewarded, and then they feel like they aren't personally being rewarded sufficiently, and those people are very easily convinced that the whole problem is some kind of outside influence.

Like Satan. Or women who play video games.

I'll believe there's a meritocracy when someone comes back with peer-reviewed studies by qualified experts that actually establish that the current industry is led by the most competent people from within the industry. I'm not holding my breath. I don't mind if people believe in impossible things that don't hurt people, but this one is.
posted by Sequence at 4:03 PM on March 14, 2017 [17 favorites]


ideas like libertarianism and this whole "meritocracy" thing have taken hold in tech

Has libertarianism really taken hold, though? Everyone can point to a few examples, of course, but that would be true anywhere. Is there any data showing its more common? Because the vast, vast majority of people I've met in tech (and I've been working in SV for 20 years) are not libertarians. I don't think it's as common as people outside the industry think.

The meritocracy thing has also been weakening dramatically in the last few years. While some still believe in the idea that tech is a meritocracy (which I would more agree was common thinking), the idea of biases and discrimination in the industry is widely accepted in my experience and talked about openly. That doesn't mean its "solved" or fixed in any way, the problem is real and will take a long time to fix, and most importantly --- just because people acknowledge the problem doesn't mean they want to give up their own power/jobs to fix it.
posted by thefoxgod at 4:10 PM on March 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


Yes, they knew - there had been prior incidents where his homophobia had come to light. The problem was that they had always been tamped down with the "we're here to write code, who cares if I'm a bigot" argument from him. When he got to the top, though, he found out the hard way that argument doesn't work as well anymore in the wider culture.

Do you happen to know where to find links for this? It makes the story look a lot different from the version people like to tell to argue he was treated unfairly. So far I've got this - Pat Buchanan is not a good look.
posted by atoxyl at 4:10 PM on March 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


But I'm willing to bet that a lot of people have that innate ability, but never get to exercise it, never gain confidence in it, because it's assumed that they'll be doing non-technical work. They're the wrong gender, or the wrong colour, or they give off the wrong cultural signals.

yeah but a lot of people also have that innate ability and do get to exercise it and do gain confidence in it, and they're women the whole time, and they get right up to the stage where they should start to be rewarded and chased after, and then.

There's nothing in your comment to disagree with and I don't disagree with it. swear to god I don't. but it kind of has an aura of regret and respect for theoretical women, like if only they had been allowed to thrive. meanwhile all these comments from accomplished women further down in the thread who were the smart kid, like you, who got practice and training, like you, and then.

like I guess I am saying it bothers me to see an elegiac lament for the women that never got to be geniuses that seems to pass over all the ones that did. as though it's too bad clever women get stifled so early on that by the time we're willing to support them, there aren't any left.

and it is too bad about the stifling! for sure. what you describe is real. but maybe the best way to say what I am struggling to say is:

If you've only produced brilliant results and done smart things while being insulated from distractions and responsibilities, then there are probably a whole bunch of women and people of colour who would've done better than you had they been given, from childhood till now, your privilege.


sure, but..there are a whole bunch of women and people of color who did do better than the boy geniuses of the world. who are doing better right now. they're real. you're not wrong about the early obstacles, but I don't want to implore men who can't imagine women doing brilliant work to do a thought experiment that reinforces their false belief that such people only exist in imagination.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:37 PM on March 14, 2017 [19 favorites]


sure, but..there are a whole bunch of women and people of color who did do better than the boy geniuses of the world. who are doing better right now. they're real. you're not wrong about the early obstacles, but I don't want to implore men who can't imagine women doing brilliant work to do a thought experiment that reinforces their false belief that such people only exist in imagination.

They're real and they've been here this whole time and they've always been here, and we always forget them! No one remembers Alice Ball who developed a cure for leprosy before she was 25 or Mary Anning who clawed her way up from poverty to become one of the first experts on fossil bones in Europe and supported her family doing it all the way or Chien Shiung Wu who was on the Manhattan Project right up alongside anyone else or anyone else outside of a few proscribed examples we trot out when it's time to remember Women In Science!

We've been here throughout history. We never stopped being here. But no one remembers; they rewrite the histories of science and technology to erase us from them and so every new girl, every new person of color, has to think they're forging their way alone and breaking a path that in reality we've broken over and over and fucking over again throughout history. Science and technology belong to all of us, all the way back, and we can't keep erasing the stories and achievements of half the people who came before and contributed as we tell ourselves how it "really" is here and now.
posted by sciatrix at 4:52 PM on March 14, 2017 [44 favorites]


But am I making anything better? No, not really. I'm thinking about my niece right now. She's just as smart as her brother, but should I encourage her to go into a technical field, do my best to support her and build her confidence in her technical abilities and make the assumption for her that she could be technically brilliant until she believes it herself... only to have her enter a career of... this?

You should encourage her to do what she really wants to do. Maybe she's into tech stuff now, but fashion later and then music. Or she really wants to stick with tech because she really, really likes it! Generations of women have always persisted to do what they want despite the pushback. Look at all of us women in tech and programming that still persist in this field as shitty as it is sometimes. She might end up the one that leads the revolution, maybe just a laid back volunteer, or even just a regular woman in tech. It doesn't matter. We need more women in the field that enjoy this. Even if she doesn't lead the revolution, she still adds to the number of qualified women in the industry that can make a difference just by kicking ass in it.
posted by xtine at 6:06 PM on March 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


Do you happen to know where to find links for this? It makes the story look a lot different from the version people like to tell to argue he was treated unfairly.

Here's his 2012 posting when the donation came to light originally.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:32 PM on March 14, 2017


I can't remember who it was, but I heard an interview a while back with someone who worked on issues related to women and underrepresented minorities in tech, and she said that she flat-out refused to discuss the pipeline problem, which is about why underrepresented people don't get into tech in the first place. It's a big problem, and it needs to be addressed, but it is also a very safe way to deflect questions about how your particular workplace is and isn't supporting underrepresented workers. The pipeline problem is someone else's fault, and that someone is usually very distant and diffuse, like the education system or society or the underrepresented people themselves. And it's easy to think wistfully about how society screws over other people without ever thinking about how your company is failing to hire the qualified people who are there, or when you hire them how you're failing to support them in their careers. And since that's the thing that people in Silicon Valley have direct control over, that's the thing they should be focusing on, rather than changing the subject to the pipeline.

So anyway, I work in higher ed, so I'm concerned about the pipeline, since I'm part of the pipeline. But I think it's a derail here.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:45 PM on March 14, 2017 [11 favorites]


If you want to see some vicious white nationalism from people in tech, get an account on Blind. (Need an @company email address to see that company's forum). The Microsoft one is full of people complaining about Indians and women and H1Bs.

And I have certainly reached a point where I equate "let's work on the pipeline" to "let's do some easy media friendly shit with cute kids and not think about how I and my company are making life harder for minorities who already made it into the industry".
posted by the agents of KAOS at 7:10 PM on March 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


I want to know: are there women here who are okay bringing up their experiences?

I'm female. I work at Salesforce, in SF. My words here are my own and I'm not paid to market the company here.

I've often thought that Salesforce is a kind of tech liberal utopia. We have a leader who last year hired a Chief Equality Officer. Who goes to bat, putting our stock on the line, for equality issues like opposing the hb-2 bill and anti-trans bathroom laws. They've twice recently done a massive investigation into if they're paying men and women equally and rectified pay accordingly. We have sponsored activist groups, and they are not only allowed, but encouraged. I was thrilled recently to see a high-up leader post at work encouraging us to all go to one of the meetings of an activist group we don't identify with, and basically attend and shut up. Sit there and learn something about an identity group you know nothing about. (Seriously, they were like... Don't talk. You're going to be tempted to insert your opinion. Don't.)

Every employee gets 7 paid days a year to volunteer for any non-profit. And so many employees choose to use those hours to go into underfunded schools and try to help kids get the skills they need to get into coding and other well-paying jobs. Starting Thursday, I'll be going into the Oakland Unified School District to tutor ESL, on the company dime.

Since we have such a mix of different cultures working there, I've long wanted to interview female and black engineers to see what their experience is. Both groups are underrepresented, although I do believe Salesforce that they are really trying to fix that, from what I've seen. Women there seem, in my experience, to be treated with the same respect as their male counterparts. That said, there could be *a lot* I don't see, and I'd love to hear their first-hand experiences.

There are other identity groups I also don't see represented much, so we still have work to do. But all in all, as tech goes, I'm pretty proud of the culture my company has, and sad it doesn't seem to be indicative of the industry.
posted by greermahoney at 7:23 PM on March 14, 2017 [10 favorites]


And I have certainly reached a point where I equate "let's work on the pipeline" to "let's do some easy media friendly shit with cute kids and not think about how I and my company are making life harder for minorities who already made it into the industry".

In the social sciences there's the by-now old concept of sanitization, in this case manifest as a performance of change within the confines of whatever is allowed by the corporation or institution, making far-removed problems easy to frame, and then champion and support, while the immediate experiences of direct oppression that the company or group is complicit in, with the victims being its own laborers, remains safely unexamined. This seems to be a pattern.
posted by polymodus at 8:00 PM on March 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


If you want to see some vicious white nationalism from people in tech, get an account on Blind. (Need an @company email address to see that company's forum). The Microsoft one is full of people complaining about Indians and women and H1Bs.

YUP. It is truly awful. Really scary shit on that app
posted by azarbayejani at 8:50 AM on March 15, 2017


Something in the Atlantic article that, I think, deserves more attention (and maybe an FPP of its own, though I recall there was one) - the whole idea of innate talent versus hard work and practice. I think the whole idea of innate ability deserves, if not to die in a fire, at least some hard criticism. This notion of inborn talent seems to lead to the idea of races and genders having different abilities, sociobiology, "human biodiversity" and other beloved ideas of the alt-right. And it keeps talented women and POC out of STEM fields, which is a shame. (I'm all for forcing these men to watch Hidden Figures! And read up on Mae Jemison while they're at it!)

The whole "innate abilities" song and dance spills over into other areas: Men Don't Want Female-coded Jobs: notice that one man talks about health care as "needing a woman's touch." But taaaaaalent! is a pernicious idea unless one is talking about the upper echelons of the arts; it's BS when it comes to everyday work. I think most people can, with effort and practice, become skilled enough to get by at an average job.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:17 AM on March 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


I think there's a huge difference between Brendan Eich and the openly-democracy-averse HBD alt-right. I was very unsettled by what happened to Brendan Eich, and would not want to see that sequence of events weaponized and replicated.
posted by Svejk at 10:20 AM on March 15, 2017


Itaxpica: "if anyone started spouting vocal white supremacy I can pretty much guarantee you that they would be run out on a rail."

Yeah, but that's the thing isn't it? It's not like racism and white supremacy is an involuntary, uncontrollable Tourette's-like tic. If someone with racist tendencies is sharp enough to get hired at Google, they'd probably also be sharp enough to understand the kind of social capital they'd lose from openly spouting white supremacy in mixed company. They'd probably keep it undercover and manifest it in other ways (e.g.: tanking performance reviews, either consciously or unconsciously).

Anyways, if you we're talking data points, might as well also point out that when Milo Y. got his Twitter verification revoked, Marc Andreesen's and Jason Calcanis's (and Vivek Wadhwa's but he's not really in the same league) reactions were essentially indistinguishable from Gamergaters'. So there's also that.
posted by mhum at 10:26 AM on March 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


I was very unsettled by what happened to Brendan Eich, and would not want to see that sequence of events weaponized and replicated.

I sure would, seeing how it's been weaponized against people fighting for justice since forever ago. It's well past time for the intolerant and bigoted, like Brendan Eich, to reap the rewards of their hateful actions.

I'm so bloody sick of people getting a pass for practicing bigoted politics, while having never shown that they understand why their actions were problematic and taking steps to make restitution to those they harmed. As Lexica noted above, we are not under an obligation to tolerate intolerance.

Politics and character are not independent characteristics. Political action very often reflects one's character. If one's politics are fucking rotten, it sure says quite a bit about one's character.
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 10:40 AM on March 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


queenofbithynia: sure, but..there are a whole bunch of women and people of color who did do better than the boy geniuses of the world. who are doing better right now. they're real. you're not wrong about the early obstacles, but I don't want to implore men who can't imagine women doing brilliant work to do a thought experiment that reinforces their false belief that such people only exist in imagination.

Good point, thanks.
posted by clawsoon at 11:48 AM on March 15, 2017


the idea of biases and discrimination in the industry is widely accepted in my experience and talked about openly. That doesn't mean its "solved" or fixed in any way, the problem is real and will take a long time to fix

It's a common assumption that things are (slowly) getting better for women and other underrepresented groups in tech, but it's actually false. The percentage of women in tech peaked in the late nineties and has been steadily declining ever since. The percentages of black and Latino people have been consistently flat. There is zero evidence that those numbers are increasing, and plenty of evidence (including tech companies' self reported diversity stats) that they are not.

I call this out because I think it's tempting to believe this is a problem that will fix itself and we just need to wait patiently. It's not. The numbers aren't changing, at all. Whatever the things we are doing to try to boost them, there is no evidence they are working.
posted by Susan PG at 6:19 AM on March 16, 2017 [5 favorites]


Interesting piece from the Guardian that argues that "teach women to code" initiatives often steer women into front-end web development jobs, which are low-status jobs in an increasingly stratified tech sector. I've been noticing that a lot, because I've been looking at resources for people taking non-traditional paths to tech careers. People tout the fact that bootcamps are way more diverse than, for example, university CS programs, but boot camps only train you for very limited roles. And there's a risk that things like boot camps will make the overall numbers look better while masking new forms of exclusion.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:26 AM on March 16, 2017 [4 favorites]


Is a world without meritocracy possible? When you choose a restaurant, don't you go back to the best ones? When you choose your friends, don't you make plans with the people who make you happiest? Life is competition.

…argues that "teach women to code" initiatives often steer women into front-end web development jobs, which are low-status jobs in an increasingly stratified tech sector…

You think coding boot camps should steer their participants into direct competition with people graduated from four-year computer science degrees (who are mainly people who have loved mathematics and been programmingn since their preteens)? Who do you think will succeed in tech interviews?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:43 PM on March 16, 2017


When you choose a restaurant, don't you go back to the best ones? When you choose your friends, don't you make plans with the people who make you happiest?
These are kind of bizarre examples of meritocracy. For what it's worth. They're both completely subjective!
You think coding boot camps should steer their participants into direct competition with people graduated from four-year computer science degrees (who are mainly people who have loved mathematics and been programmingn since their preteens)?
No, I'm pretty sure that's not what she's arguing. Was that what you took from the article?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:49 PM on March 16, 2017


You think coding boot camps should steer their participants into direct competition with people graduated from four-year computer science degrees (who are mainly people who have loved mathematics and been programmingn since their preteens)?

No, I'm pretty sure that's not what she's arguing. Was that what you took from the article?


The point is that women who graduate in top computer science programs do end up at top tech companies like Google and Apple. Women and men who go to boot camps are being steered towards less competitive parts of the industry (having commensurate pay). That's not surprising.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:59 PM on March 16, 2017


You think coding boot camps should steer their participants into direct competition with people graduated from four-year computer science degrees (who are mainly people who have loved mathematics and been programmingn since their preteens)? Who do you think will succeed in tech interviews?

Yes. Because the fact that the programming industry is built on glorification of hobbyists is a major sign of how flawed the profession is. There are very few fields in which there is an expectation that to be able to perform, one needed to start as a hobbyist in their childhood, and most of the others are things like professional athletics where the time is needed to develop not just skill wise but also physically. We don't expect that any other professional field start with people dabbling in it during their childhood, but for programming, this is suddenly the standard? Doesn't that seem a bit odd?
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:10 PM on March 16, 2017 [5 favorites]


Yes. Because the fact that the programming industry is built on glorification of hobbyists

The programming industry is not "build on the glorification of hobbyists". The most competitive roles in the programming industry have the most competitive interviews. It's no wonder that someone who has literally been practicing for a decade has an advantage over someone who learned to code a few months ago. This isn't a question of "glory" or "reserving roles for men" or whatever. Ask any of the Googlers in this thread about how their interviews go, and what kinds people make it through to the hiring committee.

We don't expect that any other professional field start with people dabbling in it during their childhood, but for programming, this is suddenly the standard?

Some people have an upper hand because of their childhood and education. Some people spoke two or three languages as children. They have advantages for all kinds of jobs. It's very common for the children of professors to go into academia, and children of actors to go into acting. Aptitudes develop over a lifetime; interviews test aptitudes. That is the unchangeable reality.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:17 PM on March 16, 2017


The programming industry is not "build on the glorification of hobbyists". The most competitive roles in the programming industry have the most competitive interviews. It's no wonder that someone who has literally been practicing for a decade has an advantage over someone who learned to code a few months ago. This isn't a question of "glory" or "reserving roles for men" or whatever. Ask any of the Googlers in this thread about how their interviews go, and what kinds people make it through to the hiring committee.

You're missing the point, which is there is no other professional profession has this concept of needing to have started in childhood to excel, and the other professions that do tend to be things like athletics, where the reason is that they require physical development as well as professional. But for professional professions, the routine expectation is simply that people will enter the profession as a young adult, developing from that point. Programming is very much an outlier here.

There's also the point that the quality of said "practice" is highly questionable as well. When the CS department at CMU reworked the curriculum to make the major more accessible to newcomers (prior, the program was infamous for requiring entrants to be serious hobbyists), one thing they did was require an entry level course to use a toy functional language. They found that many of the students with "hobbyist" backgrounds wound up being on the same level with the newcomers, since they were actually lacking in the theoretical underpinnings.

Finally, given that a large point being argued is how healthy the culture of SV firms really is, pointing to those firms as a support isn't the solid argument that you think - especially given that many (including Google) seem to think that a blind eye to poor behavior by skilled technical people should be given.

Some people have an upper hand because of their childhood and education. Some people spoke two or three languages as children. They have advantages for all kinds of jobs. It's very common for the children of professors to go into academia, and children of actors to go into acting. Aptitudes develop over a lifetime; interviews test aptitudes. That is the unchangeable reality.

And yet you routinely have people enter acting at a late age and see great success, such as the late Alan Rickman, or people enter academia with no academic background whatsoever. The culture of programming being more a passion than career is not an unchangeable reality, it's a cultural artifact, and one that is very toxic in a number of ways (it helps companies justify abusive practices, for one.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:40 AM on March 17, 2017 [4 favorites]


I think you're missing the point. No one in the profession of software engineering has a "concept of needing to have started in childhood". No one asks a candidate when they started programming, and none of their colleagues are interested. Interviewers care about interview performance; colleagues care about job performance.

The point is that practice improves performance; and performance is tested on interviews; and performance matters in any job. Where is the problem?

What might make programming an outlier in your eyes is that it's possible for very young children to practice at a university level. But the same is true for languages and some mathematics. Maybe it should be taught to everyone sooner? Maybe not.

There's also the point that the quality of said "practice" is highly questionable as well.

The point isn't that everyone who starts early has an upper hand; the point is that most people who had an upper hand started early. The set inclusion goes the other way. So, it doesn't whether you think that some people are practicing badly (or whatever). It is very clear that the people who really excelled—the people who did the computer and math contests all through high school and college, the people who have thousands of open source contributions, experience designing and working on major personal projects—these people tend to have started really early. Like I said, no one asks candidates when they started. They ask candidates to demonstrate aptitude, and those aptitudes are developed by experience.

especially given that many (including Google) seem to think that a blind eye to poor behavior by skilled technical people

I think that's a big accusation mainly made by people who want to believe in a moral tax that smart people should have to pay to make the world feel more fair. The Googlers I've met are really kind people and I find this accusation meritless and typical of news sold to average people to make themselves feel better about their lives.

And yet you routinely have people enter acting at a late age and see great success,


Of course, it can happen in any profession, even programming. If you're so sure that you can turn aging people with no background into Google engineers, I suggest you start a training business.

The culture of programming being more a passion than career is not an unchangeable reality, it's a cultural artifact

This obsession with the "culture of programming" is ridiculous. There is a causal link between the passionate people and aptitude. That is an unchangeable reality. Most of a software engineer interview is an aptitude test—not a cultural test.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:51 AM on March 17, 2017


I think that's a big accusation mainly made by people who want to believe in a moral tax that smart people should have to pay to make the world feel more fair. The Googlers I've met are really kind people and I find this accusation meritless and typical of news sold to average people to make themselves feel better about their lives.

There was a fucking major news story about this shit not more than a month ago. (Short version: Long term Google lead gets caught harassing female coworkers to a degree that Google can't ignore. In order to protect Google's name, they come to a deal with him - he resigns, the company softpedals the claim so he can bounce back somewhere else in Silicon Valley. Which he did - at Uber. Until a former female employee exposed how fucked up the Uber internal culture was with regards to sexism and misogyny, which got people investigating, which in turn caused everything to come out.)

It's not about a "moral tax", it's about the fact that there seems to be a cultural myopia that says that we can't challenge the people we deem "geniuses" lest we cripple their "spark", which in turn results them being allowed to get away with stuff like sexual harassment. Maybe the Google employees you've met have personally been kind to you - that doesn't change the fact that they work for a company that chose to cover up sexual harassment instead of addressing it (and no, quietly shoving someone out the door to protect your name is not handling it.)

This obsession with the "culture of programming" is ridiculous. There is a causal link between the passionate people and aptitude. That is an unchangeable reality. Most of a software engineer interview is an aptitude test—not a cultural test.

First off, no, there is no causal link between passion and aptitude. History is full of the works of the passionate who showed little aptitude (Ed Wood and Tommy Wiesau come to mind very quickly here), and none of those are things that anyone would consider "great". Second, the argument that any sort of interview is not a cultural test is a load of bullshit. Interviews by their very nature are cultural tests, meant to determine - on both sides - if the candidate would be a good fit for the employer's culture.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:42 PM on March 17, 2017 [9 favorites]


I think you're missing the point.

Someone's missing the point for sure and it's not the person you're quoting.

The point is that practice improves performance; and performance is tested on interviews; and performance matters in any job. Where is the problem?

The problem is a society that is set up to encourage boys and men to practice and improve their performance, a society that gives boys and men the time and space and tools to do that, and that takes that time away from women and girls by obliging them to do your fucking housework and raise your kids.

HTH.
posted by emilyw at 9:39 AM on March 18, 2017 [9 favorites]


The problem is a society that is set up to encourage boys and men to practice and improve their performance, a society that gives boys and men the time and space and tools to do that, and that takes that time away from women and girls by obliging them to do your fucking housework and raise your kids.

And one that praises and rewards boys and men for ambition and risk-taking, but criticizes and punishes girls and women for being anything less than perfect.
posted by dersins at 10:28 AM on March 18, 2017 [6 favorites]



The point is that practice improves performance; and performance is tested on interviews; and performance matters in any job. Where is the problem?

The problem is a society…


This isn't an article about society. It is an article about the tech industry. The tech industry has very little control over "society".

First off, no, there is no causal link between passion and aptitude.

When we talk about causal links, we usually mean in expectation. Finding a handful of counterexamples doesn't prove anything. It's definitely been my experience that passion and practice usually turn into aptitude. Do you not encourage your kids' and help them develop their passions? We shouldn't be surprised that passionate people with lots of practice become good at what they do. If that's surprising to you, then I hope you're not in education.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:11 PM on March 18, 2017


This isn't an article about society. It is an article about the tech industry. The tech industry has very little control over "society".

Now you're just being willfully blind. Tech has had a major role in reshaping our society, for good and I'll. Or are you going to say that Facebook, Twitter, et al. don't exist?
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:24 PM on March 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


This isn't an article about society. It is an article about the tech industry. The tech industry has very little control over "society".

Last I heard the tech industry was composed of people who are members of society. Every one of us has agency and can take some damn responsibility for the things we do that harm other people.

One of the things we do that harm people is perpetuating sexism in our industry.

One of the ways to help perpetuate sexism in our industry is to wait until women are talking about how sexism affects them and then make sure you argue good and loud with all of them about how wrong they are.
posted by emilyw at 12:28 PM on March 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


[esprit de l'escalier: this has happened with you over and over, and I'm giving you a last warning. Drop this right now, and if you want to stay on the site at all, you need to stay totally away from threads about women/sexism/etc, and anything where your inclination is to insist repeatedly that This Might Look Like *ism, But It's Totally Not *ism.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:37 PM on March 18, 2017 [13 favorites]


When we talk about causal links, we usually mean in expectation. Finding a handful of counterexamples doesn't prove anything. It's definitely been my experience that passion and practice usually turn into aptitude.

lol @ accusing someone of not understanding causation and immediately following it up by supporting a baseless assertion with anecdotal "evidence" while using contradictory language (definitely...usually) to undermine one's own argument

the snottiness of "i hope you're not in education" is just the cherry perched atop the irony sundae
posted by dersins at 12:45 PM on March 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


When you choose your friends, don't you make plans with the people who make you happiest? Life is competition.

This reminds me, in a roundabout way, of rank-and-yank, and the assumption behind it that building a successful organization consists solely of assembling a group of the highest performers. The most competitive producers. Every year, identify the 10% of your friends who were least successful at making you happy, and ditch them.

(This is an aside, but you might find that your friends leave you for someone who creates less anxiety in them, just as many talented engineers left Microsoft because of rank-and-yank. Competitiveness is not always the best trait to have in a software engineer, especially one working in a collaborative environment.)

If you're so sure that you can turn aging people with no background into Google engineers, I suggest you start a training business.

Coincidentally, I was thinking about that just today as I watched a couple of the older women in the office tear through a newspaper puzzle. Maybe they wouldn't make it to the vaunted high priesthood of "Google Engineer", but they have the passion and ability for problem-solving to at least match the average developer at the average company. They also have more conscientiousness than many of the bright young men I've known, a trait that Google has identified as being important in predicting the outcome of a new hire.

They'd make decent developers. But it would take a lot to convince them of that fact. It would take even more to convince them that anyone would hire them as developers, precisely because of prejudices like yours. And, thus, yes, your prejudice becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The point is that practice improves performance; and performance is tested on interviews;

In most cases, your second statement is not true. It's something that Google's own HR department has identified: Most interview processes consistent of a first impression within the first 20-30 seconds that determines the interview outcome followed by 20-30 minutes of confirmation bias. To be fair, Google has done much more than most companies to try to overcome that.

and performance matters in any job. Where is the problem?

The problem is the dog-eat-dog world that you are helping to re-create and re-enforce. Unless you are leaving things unsaid, you seen to be coming from a point of view where all that matters is performance; all that matters is competition.

This attitude - your attitude, if I may be personal - leads to tactics among those who want to survive four years at a top CS program and get offered a job at a top company that will have little to do with the best rising to the top and much to do with narrowing the pool of competitors. Scorn, dismissiveness, sexism, anti-jock-ism, clique-ism, anything to undermine the confidence and determination of someone who's already teetering at the edge because they've been told all their life that they don't fit the profile - no matter how good a software engineer they could've made given the right training and encouragement, maybe a lot better than you, even - anyone who just needs a little push over the edge to disappear will get that push.

If you believe that it's all about competition and performance, that might be an appealing world for you, and the company you work for, to strive toward. And you will say, when someone is pushed over the edge and disappears, "Oh well, I guess they just didn't have the passion for it. That means they never would've been good at it, so we've suffered no loss."
posted by clawsoon at 9:57 PM on March 20, 2017 [5 favorites]


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