Computing Tech

Jess Romeo on the male-dominant world of computer science

I studied computer science for 6 months at Nottingham Trent University. I can’t remember if I saw any female students but I did have at least one female teacher (she taught C++ but, despite her best efforts—it was always funny when she asked “are you winning?” as a way to check on our progress—I hated it and still do). I wasn’t as conscious as I am now so I didn’t think anything of it but that wasn’t good.

In that vein, Jess Romeo examined how computer science became a boys’ club despite a history of women as pioneers:

Prior to the 1960s and 1970s, writes Ensmenger, computer programming was thought of as a “routine and mechanical” activity, which resulted in the field becoming largely feminized. The work wasn’t particularly glamorous; “coders” were “low-status, largely invisible.” They were only supposed to implement the plans sketched out by male “planners.” Ensmenger quotes one female programmer, who recalled, “It never occurred to any of us that computer programming would eventually become something that was thought of as a men’s field.”

The turning point came during the 1960s and ’70s, when a remarkable demographic shift hit programming. Now dominated by men, the field spanned corporate, academic, and social spaces.

From the mid-1960s, a “newfound appreciation for computer programmers, combined with an increasing demand for their services, was accompanied by an equally dramatic rise in their salaries.” Aspiring male professionals wanted in, but they didn’t want to be associated with lowly coding clerks. To elevate themselves, they emphasized the esoteric nature of their discipline, deriving professional authority from individualism, personal creativity, and an obscure, almost arcane, skill set. “To be a devotee of a dark art, a high priest, or a sorcerer…was to be privileged, elite, master of one’s own domain,” writes Ensmenger.

This is absolutely linked to wage disparities in tech between white men and non-white men (I’ve written about that twice, here and here). Anyway, shout out to all the women in computer science, trying to make the world a better place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.