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!