movie review: Code

Carl and I went to a screening earlier this week of Code: Debugging the Gender Gap. I didn’t expect it to be a great film (too many film festival awards), so I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a coherent, cohesive, and compelling film about the gender gap in computer science, particularly in programming. It started with dialogue from young girls about what they thought of coding and who they thought of when they considered it. Some girls were defiant and said that there was no reason they couldn’t do it, and others said they almost always think of boys coding rather than girls coding.

One of the sentences that really stuck out to me was a founder (CEO?) of a company saying something like, “I don’t feel like I can try to convince women to join a profession where they’ll be harassed.” I think her point made a lot of sense and addressed the catch-22 the profession has. It needs to change its culture to be more inviting to women, but it probably needs more women in order to change its culture. Groups of people don’t suddenly realize they’re being exclusive without more people around who are being excluded to point it out.

They interviewed the founder of Goldieblox, who talked about her construction toys for girls and the engineering learning that goes along with them. They talked to founders and volunteers with female-oriented coding programs. They had extended conversations with a woman who works at Pixar about combining coding with her love of art and her experiences as an undergrad in computer science classes of mostly men. That was an interesting insight. She said that the men would get together and do their homework and projects together, figuring out the tricks and shortcuts embedded in those things, and they wouldn’t communicate any of that to the women. It turned into a self-reinforcing group excluding women from improving and learning as a team (they still succeeded, but they had to work harder for it).

They talked about the changing stereotypes of coders, from the scruffy and socially awkward programmer of the ’80s and ’90s to the “brogrammers” of today (what a terrible word), who are more likely to be (or act like) frat boys. Women stopped going into the field around the same time as the perception of coders changed from logic-oriented people to nerdy men, helped by media and job ads. And they talked about the attrition of women in the field, something like 41% of women leave by their tenth year (I might be making up both of those numbers), compared with only about 17% of men. One woman attributed this to women feeling like their careers stagnate fairly early, while men experience acceleration in their careers.

My own experience with sexism will be the topic of another post, provided I can do it without pointing too many fingers. But I will say that in software testing at my company, at least, women are pretty fairly represented among all the levels, including management, except on the automation team. I don’t exactly know why that would be, but I can guess. At other companies where I interviewed, they paraded in the one woman on their testing team, which left a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

The movie comes out on Netflix in November. If you get a chance to watch it, I highly suggest that you do!

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