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There's the old ["Linux developer gets laid"] troll from BBSpot, and then there's the deeper question of why North American and European tech culture remains highly gendered compared to South East Asian tech culture which isn't really that gendered at all. Given that our Western (North Amerian, European) societies have moved past the male-dominated engineering cultures that built the Internet, why is the hacking community lagging behind?

I think it's momentum. The [crushing loneliness] of hackers has disconnected them from wider society, and thus inside this subculture, we teach ourselves unique geeky problem solving techniques that are neurotic at heart. For instance, forking instead of negotiating. I wonder if the movement is really philosophical (as not many people understand the philosophy beyond mantras) or a reflection of an underlying emotional sentiment that has led to a communité des miserables.

The [story] of Starla Pureheart from March 15, 2004 is very telling. And I'm not saying that the problem is the male/female ratio. I'm saying that is a symptom of a wider social problem in HackerCulture. -- SunirShah

Another similar case is EmacsWiki:EmacsChannelHarassment.

CategoryHacking CategoryCase


I agree that the Starla Pureheart matter is a red herring for a wider social problem in HackerCulture.

Most of the important HackerCulture institutions and icons have a badly distorted demographic base. I would characterize the demographics like this:

As a consequence, we are by and large people who do not have normative interpersonal relationships. We do not have the skills to get and maintain such relationships. We do not have normative relationships with community groups because we are too different. Most hacker/geek people who develop such relationships and skills later in life secede from visible activity in the hacker community and become ExGeeks, an important topic worth exploring in its own right.

To become a member of the Hacker/Geek culture, one must be a) very bright and b) have either INTP or ENTP personality type. Otherwise, it's like a short person trying to play basketball.

Bright INTP types who lack social baggage of one kind or another become doctors, dentists, or research scientists. Bright ENTP types who lack social baggage become MBAs, attorneys, or doctors. All these roles are more prestigious and in most cases far more remunerative than fiddling with computer systems. Without some sort of TragicFlaw?, Hackers/Geeks pursue these other avenues.

Thus the Hacker/Geek community is made up of bright, young outcasts. They were, by and large, ostracized by their childhood peers, ignored by their schoolteachers, and tolerated (at best) by their parents. [ed: compare OutcastNewcomer; qua childhood as newcoming] Most have had limited social interaction outside the Hacker/Geek community and can only guess at what relationships and values and reactions are really like for everyone else. The solidarity they find when encountering others like themselves is what passes for community.

Since the community is not tolerant of fools, the newly minted Hacker/Geek learns the importance of being right.

With a background of being on the receiving end of taunts and jests, the Hacker/Geek is tempted to dish a few out. Like the Stella Pureheart "joke." Being clever and funny is fine, but the young Geek is not sensitive to the feelings of others.

Most hackers have not been through the usual teenage dances and romances. The GBLT hackers were too busy struggling with sexual issues. The rest had other sources of insecurity -- learning disabilities, alcoholism at home, ADHD, and so on. The result is that hackers don't learn the social boundaries of sexual conduct. They don't know when, where, or how to initiate a romance. They don't think socially, so they don't have any idea how to go about finding friends or meeting new people.

We at MeatBall are like a newly-elected president of some third-world country. Here we are--this is what we have to work with in our respective communities, and there is much that we cannot change. It is unlikely that tech will become anything other than a dumping ground for intelligent misfits anytime soon.

One thing we can change is to try to stop the ExGeek exodus. It's the most socially aware people that are unplugging themselves from the culture.

And we can try to empower the right people. The prominent people of olden time -- say, Wiki:DennisRitchie -- were rather more balanced than RichardStallman, or Wiki:LarryEllison. --anon.

One small criticism: stastically ISTJ's are the most predominant compsci.

Most compsci students aren't hackerish, though

As for `a short person trying to play basketball', I don't see INTJs having any kind of handicap over INTPs


In all my years on Usenet, mailing lists, and IRC, I have found a fair share of friendly, helpful, and social guys. I've also met many idiots. But the same is true for the rest of my life, and this includes other stuff besides computers. There seems to be no statistically relevant numbers to support the claims made above. Was the relevant section in the JargonFile on Hackers ever appropriate for people that joined in the nineties, when the Web took off? Perhaps this is all just "cyber myth" collected by such people as EricRaymond and remembered for entertainment value? -- AlexSchroeder

Aggregate statistics don't apply uniformly to each of TheIndividuals in the population. So, if 83% of applicants to Western computer science universities are male, that doesn't mean the other 17% are also male. That ISTJ's are overrepresented amongst programmers doesn't mean every programmer is an ISTJ. Further, "One-half to two-thirds of the software development population is introverted compared to about one-quarter of the general population," (McConnell, 1999) doesn't suggest the final third of programmers are also introverted. It suggests that the cultural dialectic in this subpopulation might differ significantly from the general population. Then we can further break down the subpopulation of all programmers into internal categories. The SocialSoftware crowd is seemingly very different than the kernel hacking crowd, so we can look at that as well.

Your personal experiences are going to be biased because it's your life. You will naturally hang around with birds of a feather, so the places where you feel most natural stand a high chance of being socially similar. For instance, let's say that you (apparently) put "friendly" and "idiot" as opposite ends of the same axis, and this might say something about your perspective. Maybe you measure the world and its people and determine who will be potential friends along this perspective. Others may choose "friendly" and "stingy" as their axis, or "friendly" and "closed" or "friendly" and "inattentive" or "friendly" and "disrespectful".

The only way to see the wider picture of what is going on socially is to measure a large fair sample and do some stats, and then based on these stats do some ethnography. That is a lot harder than it appears on the surface, and it appears hard on the surface. But SteveMcConnell?'s (1999) [Orphans preferred] is a good synopsis. I've also recently read [(Margolis, Fisher and Miller, 1999)]. You may also want to read Margolis, Fisher, and Miller (n.d.) ["The paradox of "geek mythology" and the culture of computing"] (N.B.: a work in progress), although I wonder if these latter two CMU studies to be potentially "just so" theories (data fits the theory, vs. theory fits the data). -- SunirShah


My background, such as it is, was with a BSEE/BSCS type crowd, and that back in the early 80s at Rose-Hulman, which at that time was an engineering school for men (I was at a summer program and didn't end up going back). The profile may be different now, and it may have always been different at less engineering-oriented schools. I was a physics/music major for a time, as I may have mentioned, and never did graduate. So the path I followed was atypical in many ways.

It is worth noting that there are fewer workplaces willing to tolerate destructive personalities to get technical competence. This is good. Some of the hotheads have learned to cool it and a few have left the business to go work in, say, the recycled auto parts business where they can swear and curse all they want and no one cares.


Quoting from the linked URL above:

"Student: When I have free time I don't spend it reading machine learning books or robotics books like these other guys here. It's like `Oh, my gosh, this isn't for me.'...In my free time I prefer to read a good fiction book or learn how to do photography or something different, whereas that's their hobby, it's their work, it's their one goal. I'm just not like that at all; I don't dream in code like they do." -- Female computer science student

Yes, but when I was a CS student at Berkeley, let me assure you that almost all of my fellow undergrads said extremely similar things, whether male or female!

There was a very small core group of us CS undergrads who where extremely, extremely obsessed with programming and computers, and almost all of us who were thus obsessed formed a tightly-knit social group. We hung out together, dinner'ed together, dated-with-the-appropriate-sex with each other, and not longer after, many inter-married within our group. (There is lots to be said for the grad student issues, and overlap with above undergrad issues, too, but I'm skipping all that here.)

The rest of the Berkeley CS majors thought we were weird UberGeeks? -- and of course, they were right. I discussed the situation with a large number of them, since I was doing UberGeek? stuff like volunteering in the computer lab to help random undergrads (well, all comers; included grad students too) with their computer and CS homework difficulties, and most of the non-UberGeeks? made comments like the one quoted above, most definitely including males. Typical paraphrase: "I'm majoring in CS because it will lead to a good paying job [or similarly, and very frequent, because "my parents insist that I do engineering or medical" for the same reason], but I'm not that interested in it for its own sake."

Before anyone tries to draw conclusions about male versus female phenomenon, it would be worthwhile -- essential, actually -- to first try to draw conclusions about male versus male phenomenon...that would then serve as a more neutral baseline for further studies and comparisons.

Sadly, doing so is rare. Vastly more common is to note simply male/female disparities in data and leap to unwarranted conclusions. -- DougMerritt


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