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Hey brogrammer, let's crush some code

For women in computer science, Silicon Valley's startup world is still a very male place. And one character stands out: The brogrammer.

Kai Ryssdal: There's a pretty stark gender gap in technology companies, from the top all the way through the ranks. Part of that's because women don't go into computer science at the same rate men do. But part of it's because once they do, women realize they don't like it all that much. Not the work -- the culture.

Marketplace's Queena Kim introduces us to the brogrammer.


Queena Kim: Meet the Brogammer: part programmer, part fraternity brother. He used to be a geek, now he’s all about beer ‘n’ chicks and the gym.

Tasneem Raja is the interactive editor for Mother Jones online.

Tasneem Raja: Brogrammers are really macho, they have spiky hair, they drink a lot of cheap beer and bag the hottest girls.

Raja recently encountered the species at the South by Southwest Interactive conference when she dropped into a session on how to get a job at a startup. It was by Matt Van Horn, the vice president for business development at the social network Path.

Raja: And so he’s up there talking about this “nudie” calendar that he sent these guys at Digg.

Digg’s the site where Van Horn got his first online job.

Raja: And next he uses the word “gang bang” to describe an interview style.

Raja says at this point, a few women head for the door, but that doesn’t deter Van Horn.

Raja: He told another story about how his fraternity’s recruitment strategy was totally designed to help attract the hottest girls on campus.

Now Raja walks out and fires off this tweet:

Raja: "Biz dev vp of Path just cracked lame jokes about nudie calendars... and gang bang... cue early exit."

The tweet gets retweeted and retweeted. And the responses fell into two camps. The outraged -- and a second group, made up mostly of women in tech, who said:

Raja: Duh, this is nothing new I hear this all the time.

Christy Nicol: One of the problems with computer science is that you have this really homogenous group and no one is challenging each other.

That’s Christy Nicol a software engineer in Seattle.

Nicol: Someone says, I thought it was funny, it was just a joke. The person next to him -- who’s probably a lot like him -- says, “Oh yeah, it was just a joke.” And they say oh we must be right we agree and they move on.

Maria Klawe is the president of Harvey Mudd College, where she’s been pushing to get more women into computer science.

Maria Klawe: Especially in startups you’ll find that there are very few women and a pretty male-centric culture.

How centric? At last count, women made up 20 percent of programmers. Women at startups say that brogrammers have always existed in one form or another. What’s different this time around is that the sexist comments once made to the bro at the next desk -- they’re being blogged, put on discussion boards and on social networks.  

brogrammer tweetLike this tweet (see right) from a programmer at Twitter. The tweet reads: “Learning how babies are made.” Under it, a photo of his company’s “Sexual Harassment Awareness and Prevention” pamphlet.

Twitter declined to comment on the tweet. But Vic Schachter is an employment lawyer and he says these situations can be tricky for social networks. After all they practically exist to blur the lines between public and private.

Vic Schachter: These companies believe in an open, frank conversation and in fact in some cases, I’ve heard some people say, “Privacy, get over it.”

As for the Path executive who sent out the nudie calendar, he didn’t get over his bro-moment so easily. He ended up on CNN’s website apologizing. The news quickly made it to Twitter.

In San Francisco, I’m Queena Kim for Marketplace.

About the author

Queena Kim covers technology for Marketplace. She lives in the Bay Area.

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