The ugly underbelly of coder culture

Today's developers are overwhelmingly young and male, and they're barring the door from a more diverse workforce

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As a rule, older workers in most professions have it a lot easier than women do. According to federal statistics, mature workers tend to earn higher salaries and they're the least likely to be unemployed.

That's the rule. I'm sure I don't need to tell you which field is the exception.

According to Professors Clair Brown and Greg Linden of the University of California at Berkeley, programming salaries follow the opposite pattern from those in most other careers. Pay rises for coders spike when they're in their 30s, plateau when they're in their 40s, and actually decline from there. Those numbers put the lie to the popular theory that older programmers don't get hired because companies can't afford their inflated salaries.

The other theory -- that mature programmers fail to keep their skills up to date -- doesn't hold water, either. According to this month's Tiobe Index, the most popular programming languages are Java, C, and C++. All three are mature languages with large, complex standard libraries. They take a long time to master.

Programmers with deep knowledge and extensive experience are simply more valuable than newbies, especially if you can pick them up on the cheap. So why don't they get hired?

Is this an industry or a fraternity?
Evidence suggests that the problem is cultural, and it's not just women and older workers who are being excluded. Take the case of Ryan Funduk, who has given up going to programming conferences and events. He fits the demographic of a successful developer in most respects, save one: He doesn't drink.

"Practically every single event, and a huge percentage of the online discussion about these events, revolves around binge drinking," Funduk writes. "The simple truth is all you can do is just opt out of going to these parties ... or put another way, you can opt to exclude yourself."

Put all the pieces together, and you're left with an impression of developers that's markedly different from the geeks and nerds they're made out to be in popular culture. On the contrary, developers harbor the same attitudes and engage in the same behaviors you see whenever a subculture is overwhelmingly dominated by young males. They've even coined a clever name for programmers who think and behave like fraternity pledges: "brogrammers."

But saying "boys will be boys" simply isn't good enough. Developers pride themselves on their skill and intelligence. They like to think of their culture as a meritocracy, where the very best developers naturally rise to the top. But as long as the industry tends to exclude more than half of the potential workforce, that's nothing but pure arrogance. 

Today's software business seems to value youthful testosterone more than the stuff that actually matters, such as talent, skill, intelligence, knowledge, and experience. Until that changes, we're doing ourselves, our customers, and our industry a disservice.

This article, "The ugly underbelly of coder culture," originally appeared at Follow the latest news in programming at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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