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InfoQ Homepage Presentations The Evolution of Engineering Culture: Oh, the Places We've Been

The Evolution of Engineering Culture: Oh, the Places We've Been



Melissa Pierce discusses the metamorphosis of programming from "a room full of inconsequential women working on math and logic problems" to "a room full of important men doing math and logic problems" in an attempt to explain the history and now of CS culture, gender relations, and tensions between hardware and software engineering without pointing fingers.


Melissa Pierce is a film producer, science enthusiast, idea generator, strategic thinker, and social connector who enjoys converting impossible concepts into successful projects.

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Software is Changing the World. QCon empowers software development by facilitating the spread of knowledge and innovation in the developer community. A practitioner-driven conference, QCon is designed for technical team leads, architects, engineering directors, and project managers who influence innovation in their teams.

Recorded at:

Feb 15, 2015

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Community comments

  • I like these history talks...

    by Richard Richter,

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    But this one was probably the weakest one I've heard so far. Content was interesting indeed (if you are into these things), but it doesn't have to be emphasized over and over again ("and this is super-important", "what's interesting..."). Women vs men problem was overmentioned (and of course over-emphasized). And on couple of places it lost any tempo it had ... like completely. Maybe she was anxious too, at least it looked like that. And too excited too. Sorry.

    First Crockford's lesson about JavaScript (which was also rather hitorical) was much better, but there were less women. Obviously. :-) Perhaps if this was prepared/practiced better - and shorter and toned down - it would be much better.

  • Re: I like these history talks...

    by William Smith,

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    I really enjoyed the talk myself.
    "Women vs men problem was overmentioned (and of course over-emphasized)."
    I'm not sure it's possible to overstate just what a "women" problem we have as an industry. Consider:
    The number of woman doing IT degrees has fallen. In the United States, the proportion of women represented in undergraduate computer science education and the white-collar information technology workforce peaked in the mid-1980s, and has declined ever since. In 1984, 37.1% of Computer Science degrees were awarded to women; the percentage dropped to 29.9% in 1989-1990, and 26.7% in 1997-1998. Figures from the Computing Research Association Taulbee Survey indicate that fewer than 12% of Computer Science bachelor's degrees were awarded to women at U.S. PhD-granting institutions in 2010-1
    Certain parts of the tech press (not InfoQ I'm pleased to say) celebrate scum bags like Andrew Auernheimer despite the fact that his sole claim to fame is destroying Kathy Sierra's life because she was a woman in IT.
    That's not an isolated incident. The whole disturbing Gamergate nonsense is the latest in a long line of campaigns that attack woman on the grounds that they are, well, woman working in IT.

  • Re: I like these history talks...

    by Richard Richter,

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    I'd welcome more women in IT, no questions there. But if I got clever girl to a team I hope she'd not mention this problem over and over again. I personally don't like any "male are better in IT" or similar b/s, but we hardly can expect 50/50 ratio anytime soon, even if conditions are equal (which hardly are when women often go out of business for 5 years having children - and obviously men can't "do" this :-)).

    As I said, I liked the topic, I liked the content, but it was longer than necessary. I somehow got used to speakers saying "you know" as a filler anywhere and it does not distract me even when it's not nice. But here all those "interesting/important" was too much. You know how it is, once you start noticing something like that during the talk. It was like the stuff wasn't interesting enough on its own and needed to be supported by these remarks.

    After all, many men are not to be blamed for the situation. IT ratios in our country are predetermined by girls going on technical high schools (1/10 maybe?) and at that time they know of no sexist manager or what... it is much deeper in the culture. True, those who follow the path must fight these ridicule prejudices. But they should not fight too overzealously against everybody (a bit of a stretch here, but I'm sure many male may feel offended when they are implicitly blamed for the current state).

    For me personally it's not a touchy topic (though here I am with two longer reactions). I really think that gender problem aside, the presentation should be better prepared (she skipped couple of parts and it always seemed she can't recall exactly what she wanted to say). It's far from worst talk I'
    ve seen, just probably the weakest I've seen regarding computer history.

    I know Barbara Liskov is different class altogether (and part of that history after all), but her talk ( is more persuasive about wanting more women in IT without mentioning it explicitly.

  • Really nice historical perspective

    by Francois Rey,

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    I really enjoyed this historical view with a focus on how women were seen in society and how they found their place particularly in the computer rooms. It takes some work to immerse yourself in history and bring such perspective, and I feel other comments here do not give enough credit to such effort.

    Also when I hear that not so long ago women were not allowed to have engineering degrees, despite successful studies, or to vote, I cannot help but feel ashamed for humanity as a whole. That feeling dominates so much my perception that any remarks about the lack of content or presentation skills become pointless. Even if these remarks were justified, her enthusiasm definitely compensates for them. In fact she does a great job at being factual enough to not fall into the trap of being judgemental or taking a strong side on the topic of male vs female.

    Finally I don't think her point is to say we need more woman in CS, even though she highlights the imbalance. Her point is to make us reflect on our perception of things throughout history until now.

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