Thursday, April 17, 2008

What Women Want: Pairing

It's not the first time I've read an article about the continuing decline of women in IT, "Where Did All the Girl Geeks Go?" continues to note the slide:
"There's a perception that being a computer science major leads to a job as a programmer and you sit in a cubicle where you type 12 hours a day and have no interactions with other people," Block said.

Yusupova noted that even if pure programming jobs are outsourced, opportunities still remain within a company for people to bridge the relationship between the outsourced IT vendors and the business side.

"These roles would probably be ideal for women who prefer to be in communication-focused roles, if they know computer science and can communicate to all parties involved," Nelly Yusupova, chief technology officer of Webgrrls International, a networking organization.


There's was a talk given recently, at a local XP group, that lead to a discussion on the benefits of things like pair programming (see "Pair Programming").

I see pair programming and other means to improve interactions between developers not only essential for better code and a better project but also as a way to improve the IT industry generally and to expand its appeal especially to younger people and women. The idea being that certain people work better in a participatory manner rather than being told what to do.

This is pretty much what an article a couple of year ago suggested called "Debunking the Nerd Stereotype with Pair Programming" (or as PDF):
Jamie wants to be a software engineer. She enjoyed her programming and science classes in high school and wants to combine her interest in both disciplines to help society through biomedical applications. Since she started college, it seems that her life has been centered on time consuming programming classes. In those classes, her professors insist that she work alone—some professors expressly forbid even discussing assignments with fellow classmates. Before entering college, Jamie was aware of the stereotypical view that programmers work long hours by themselves. Based on her college experience, now she knows it’s more than just a stereotype—it’s true. Perhaps she should forget programming. She likes the friends she’s met in her biology lab group—maybe biology would be a better major.


Having been working in bioinformatics for over a year it's startling the number of women in this area compared to IT. It seems basically 50/50 in what is essentially an application of information technology. They still write code, they still develop large applications and so on. Why does it drop to 1 in 20 or worse in IT? It does seem that in bioinformatics you are expected to work in groups and teams, they are forever interacting with each other - it seems a brilliant environment as far as productivity is concerned.

And it's not just IT or biology but it seems that there is a general benefit from greater interaction, more pairing and the like generally improves performance:
The success rate of underrepresented minorities in science courses has been shown to be dramatically improved by shifting the learning paradigm from individual study to one that capitalizes on group processes, such as student work groups and student-student tutoring.


From an IT perspective pairing doesn't only improve the quality of the software it also improves your abilities as an individual programming as well, as has been demonstrated where pair programming has been used in IT courses and the results of students in exams improved (see "Pair Programming Improves Student Retention, Confidence, and Program Quality").

I re-read "All I Really Need to Know about Pair Programming I Learned In Kindergarten" which still holds up quite well as a set of rationales behind pair programming and NCSU's Pair Learning has lots of papers related pairing, learning and making IT more attractive to more discovery based system.

Update: Finally found a public version of the nerd article.
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