Monday, August 7, 2017

That “google” screed

My email-protocol team learned that some servers mishandle one particular part of the email protocol relating to calendar appointments.  Did we give up, and just ignore customers trying to use those servers?  No!  We dug in, and worked around the problem.  That’s what computer programmers do: we find problems whose solution is hard, and we solve them anyway.

There’s been a recent document written by a person at Google about how women are genetically different from men and make worse programmers.  The author would rather sit and complain about the world instead of fixing the real problems in it.

Is their statement (“women are genetically different”) even true?  There used to be a wave of studies all about how different men and women are.  But there’s a more recent wave of studies that looks at the question sideways: “how easy is it to reverse the gender effect?”  It turns out that the answer is that it’s pretty darn easy; that seemingly trivial and cheap changes are all that is needed to reduce or eliminate differences as seen by common tests.

Even there a genetic difference, then what?  I have genetically bad eyes.  And with a hundred dollars of glasses, I get the same 20/20 vision as anyone else.  Am I to be condemned to a miserable, non-computer programming existence for the sake of some glasses?  My height is genetic, too, but it’s also helped by a good diet when I was a kid.  Just because part of an effect is beyond our control doesn’t mean that we give up all control; it means we have to apply the levers that we have.

Worse, it’s clear that genetics can only play a limited role in the effect.  Taking the author’s paper and assuming everything presented as a fact is true, he still acknowledges an large and unjust set of societal influences that hinder many women from succeeding in a field that I love and that I know many women would have loved, too.  It’s immoral when a person’s best possible career is thwarted for no reason other than some outmoded thinking.  The author, however, feels that keeping people from a great career is perfectly OK.  That wrong.

What particularly ticks me off is the number of people, apparently in my profession, who agree with the author – saying, “he’s misunderstood” instead of recognizing how wrong the analysis is.  We solve problems; we don’t sit wringing our hands and complaining about people who are making a change.

[Disclaimer: I work at Microsoft, which of course competes with Google in many areas.  Despite that, I recognize both that Google is full of fine people, and that (sigh) my own company presumably also has some of the left-behinds]