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‘Brogrammers,’ ‘hogrammers,’ and the gender gap in college computer courses

A small California college has bolstered women's representation in computer sciences, but tech industry bias persists

'Brogrammers,' 'hogrammers,' and the gender gap in college computer courses
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Only two in 10 computer programmers are women, according to federal statistics.

The rise of the brash, stylish, computer-geek-turned-cool-guy known simply as a “brogrammer” among popular technology startups threatens to further alienate women from enrolling in computer science courses, where for years they have been vastly underrepresented, higher-education officials said.

Mainstreaming of the label “brogrammer”—a combination of bro and programmer—began among technology companies appealing to recent college graduates who are experts at writing computer code. It has since seeped into higher education, where students said it has reinforced the archetype of a tech-savvy student ready for post-graduation life in the technology industry: A man.

“Some people say brogrammer is not sexist, because women can be programmers, too. They’re just called hogrammers,” said Xanda Schofield, a junior computer sciences major at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., where the college’s president has pushed for more women in technology-focused majors. “Hearing that, you realize that people just don’t understand the problem. They’re trying to make programming cool by excluding women, making it boys only. It makes me wonder why someone would try to apply a social construct that’s discriminating when you can just appeal to all students.”

Faculty members and campus decision makers nationwide for years have warned of falling rates of women students in the computer sciences, which hasn’t always been so thoroughly dominated by men. In 1985, nearly four in 10 undergraduate computer science degrees were awarded to women. By 2009, that number had plummeted to 18 percent. The U.S. technology industry reflects a similar trend: Two in 10 programmers are women, according to a 2011 report from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The number of students who earn a computer science degree plummeted for a decade after the dot-com crash of 2001, but while men receiving those degrees dropped by 35 percent, women graduating in computer science dropped by 67 percent at research institutions.

The startling lack of women in computer sciences and at technology startups, Schofield said, has made college women suspicious even when companies recruit them.

“There’s this very subtle culture that says men are better at this, but we still need some women just to look good,” said Schofield, 20.

Harvey Mudd’s seven-year push for women in computer science courses could be the antidote for the impact of the “brogrammer” culture and, quite possibly, a national model for higher education, said Ran Libeskind-Hadas, a chair in the college’s computer sciences department.

By requiring students to take an introductory computer science class, creating a class for students with little experience in the language of computers, and offering tangible examples of how computer science can be applied in the professional world, Harvey Mudd officials have watched women in the school’s computer science major jump from 10 percent in 2005 to around 40 percent last year.

Even the college’s advanced computer science class, known at Harvey Mudd as “boot camp for programming,” has seen a massive influx of women students. Before 2007, there were never more than two women in the program’s “boot camp.” Now, there are 23.

Libeskind-Hadas said separating freshmen who come to campus with years of programming experience and those with little or no background in computer science was a centerpiece of the college’s effort to narrow the program’s gender gap. This gave inexperienced students—both women and men—a far less intimidating introduction to a complex field.

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5 Responses to ‘Brogrammers,’ ‘hogrammers,’ and the gender gap in college computer courses

  1. rottinger

    May 2, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    I find this so disturbing that none of this has changed, and I think gotten worse since I was a programmer in the 70′s and 80′s. First of all, hogrammer is a very pejurative term. Ho is an abbreviation for w(ho)re!!!! the alternative term proglammer is not much better, visions of glitter fill the air with this one! We in the industry of CS and educators of CS have got to do a much better job of including and encouraging 52% of the population in this amazing profession.

  2. trinipat64

    May 2, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    I too find it very disturbing, sexist and degrading to women to be called hogrammers. This states any female in this industry is a “slut”. Who ever came up with that is small minded and belong in a primitive land. This is the year 2012 and women should not be looked down at. We have come too far for this type of treatment and for some airhead nerd to label us in this manner is beyond me. How would you like your mother to apply for a position as a programmer and one of your “bros” labels her as a HOgrammer…I’m sure that wouldn’t sit right with you. So don’t put such a degrading label on women if you don’t want others to call your mother or sister that name. This is from a mother with daughters and sons. I’ll be damn if I hear my son call someone a “ho”…his teeth would be scattered all over the floor. I have taught my kids to respect everyone…maybe that’s something your parents lacked.

    • morlanr

      May 7, 2012 at 2:36 pm

      I don’t disagree at all with the concern & disdain for the sexist behavior happening surrounding this issue. I do have a concern that in the same post discrediting these ridiculous labels, the term “nerd” is used to perpetuate the very thing we are aiming to end. Then later in the post, there is talk of teaching children to respect everyone…right after saying something about teeth being scattered all over. These mixed messages are not helping.

  3. dinapie

    May 2, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    we could just call them “fogrammers” cuz a lot of those guys are wanna be posers anyway…

  4. jungle15

    May 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    I’m astonished that companies would find the term “hogrammer” to be acceptable. It would seem to me that the HR departments would scream bloody murder at such an offensive and sexist term. Companies which allow its use are just asking for law suits.

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