Why are computer programmer competitive with each other?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

There are many areas of life where competition is destructive and should be banned as much as possible. My favorite example is the amount of sleep that doctors in training get — even now, when roughly 50% of new doctors are female, the tradition persists that medical residency should be a macho hazing process where sleep deprivation is used to weed out the “weak”. And yet, nobody wants to be treated by a doctor who has been getting 3 hours of sleep for the last 3 nights. In this situation, the social traditions of the medical community are put first, and the needs of the patients are put last. This needs to end.

Then there is the strange way that computer programmers tend to compete with each other to show off how much they know. I’ve seen this undermine team cohesion at every place that I’ve worked. I am not sure why this continues. I have the impression this social habit helps keep women out of computer programming, which is one of many reasons why this habit should end.

This was interesting:

To be honest, I felt pretty conflicted after that evening. On one hand, I really enjoyed the talks; on the other, I felt completely disassociated with the community itself.

Thanks largely to Hackbright, I was used to being surrounded by a friendly and supportive community—and, although I found Scala developers to be friendly, I felt like there was also an undercurrent of competition that I would never match up to. Many of the functional programmers I’d met had very traditional backgrounds in computer science, and since I’d never be able to have that, I wondered if it was worth sticking with functional programming at all.

Eventually, I realized that there was no sense in worrying about the things I couldn’t fix, and I gave up emulating someone with a traditional background. It turns out that having a computer science degree doesn’t make you better—just different. And, a lot of the time, my “nontraditional” background gives me a better perspective when solving problems!

Also, it is strange that this issue comes up, decade after decade:

Back at Hackbright, when I first told people that I would be attending a “coding bootcamp for women,” their first question was nearly always, “I mean, is that realistic—learning to code without guys around? You can’t avoid men forever! Might as well start working with them sooner rather than later!”

However, having a space to be enthusiastic about learning—without needing to worry about defending your gender, or guarding against harassment—is especially valuable. Women’s voices are rarely heard in the programming community at large, so belonging to a smaller community where the focus can be on developing your skills, versus developing “culture fit,” can be an overwhelmingly positive experience.

I recall that was a big issue in the 1960s when some women in California wanted to learn how to work on their own cars. The men in their lives reacted badly. Why exclude men working on cars? Well, the obvious answer is that if the men were there they would take over the proceedings, which would make it difficult for the women to learn how to do repairs on their own.

The only time when women were encouraged to work on cars and trucks was during World War II. Queen Elizabeth II became a truck mechanic:

After months of begging her father to let his heir pitch in, Elizabeth—then an 18-year-old princess—joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II. Known as Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor, she donned a pair of coveralls and trained in London as a mechanic and military truck driver. The queen remains the only female member of the royal family to have entered the armed forces and is the only living head of state who served in World War II.

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