A couple of notes to preface this entry: Firstly: I’m indebted to Jessica Hopper of Punk Planet, whose famous column “Emo: Where the girls aren’t” I’ve shamelessly plundered for this entry’s title Secondly: much greater minds than mine have written extensively on the subject of women in programming and I can only claim to be a mostly uninformed but interested observer. With that out of the way, let’s begin.
A great talk by Dave Haynes of Soundcloud and Matthew Ogle of Echonest got me thinking about the industry and its direction. The very first slide in this “Love, Music and APIs” talk proclaimed, rightly, that “Developers are crucial to the future of music”. I’d probably go for even stronger terms than ‘crucial’ and maybe say developers are the future of music, but it was their talk, not mine. Full marks for an interesting and inspirational talk which my colleague Robbie Clutton has already written about here.
What did get me thinking most of all though were a couple of slides which the guys projected. They featured some typical images from the music hackdays which produced some of the fantastic apps Robbie’s blog highlights: some geeky-looking guys lying on floors surrounded by pizza boxes, guys huddled over laptops coding into the night, guys packing out the Guardian’s very own Scott Room for tech demos, guys writing apps and designing interfaces.
Guys. I took a look around the room. The presenters? Two men. The people sitting around me? All men. Scanning around, I counted maybe half a dozen women in my immediate line of sight, in an audience probably in the three figure mark. While I’m sure there were more I missed, the ratio was certainly somewhere around the range of 10:1.
In the column I mentioned in my preface, music writer Jessica Hopper laments the proliferation of boy bands writing songs about unrequited love from faceless females and shedding tears over cruel she-devils neglecting their hearts. This was back in 2003 and hopefully the music scene has since made some progress towards an inclusive environment for artists. Certainly the pop music scene is currently dominated by strong, unusual female artists, apparently powerful within their spheres. Could it be that the developer scene is lagging behind?
Now, I’m not going to pretend there aren’t any female developers, and indeed, at least one slide in the presentation did feature a female hacker. But predominantly, the room and the slides were full of young white males with beards - and I say this as a young white male with a beard. Last I checked, women like music and computers too. Maybe the problems we’re trying to solve with the aging dinosaur that is the music industry should be put on hold until we can solve the problem of how half the population seems to be restricted from the boys’ club that is a hack day.
- Matt Andrews
Endnote: I’m fully prepared (and indeed, hoping) to be proven wrong by responses to this entry. I know plenty of female geeks and even a few who attend hack days. But the music scene in particular is still a strongly male-dominated arena, and I’m just now starting to wonder why we’re not as concerned about this as we should be.