Community Informatics · Social Justice · Teaching · Technology and Society

Should we promote more collaboration among male “things-oriented” coders and female “people-oriented” coders?

Last weekend a now-former Google engineer, James Damore, rattled Silicon Valley when his internal Google memo was made public. I caught up on how this is unfolding in today’s Washington Post Morning Mix post: ‘I’m not a sexist’: Fired Google engineer stands behind controversial memo , by Samantha Schmidt.

The article is a valuable read throughout. But one paragraph in particular has especially stood out in my mind over the course of the day:

He told Molyneux that Google should attempt to become a more “female-friendly environment” by capitalizing on his viewpoint that women tend to be “more people-oriented” while men are “more things-oriented.” He suggested promoting more collaboration among coders, skills in which he says women tend to excel.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been tightening up my opening conversation with Introduction to Social + Technical Information Systems students when we gather August 30th for the first time as a class. In my 8th slide, I quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was this quote that came immediately to mind in reading Samantha Schmidt’s article about James Damore.

King’s speech was given at the Riverside Church in New York City in April, 1967. It was given against the advice of many of King’s closest advisors. They were concerned, with merit, that bringing together the civil rights, poverty, and peace movements would loose the support of some major donors, influential liberals, and many white supporters. King would not be dissuaded as he saw all things interconnected. The structures in place were already appropriating the civil rights gains. Over the coming months, tensions would grow and military would be used against the citizens of the U.S. in urban areas. The director of the FBI at the time, J Edgar Hoover, would use every trick possible to assure King’s influence and reputation were increasingly tarnished and questioned, even as he worked to call for non-violent movements for change with an increasingly quieted voice. Ultimately, one year to the day of his delivery of this speech, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

My questions to you who read this:

  1. Is it possible that there is a strong left bias that is missing important social differences between men and women that is disrupting effective collaboration between coders?
  2. Is it possible that as was the case 50 years ago, the importance of shifting from “thing-oriented” to “person-oriented” is itself being used as one of many tricks to tarnish and question those of us who are pushing to leave behind a prioritization on “machines and computers, profit motives and property rights”?
  3. Is it perhaps that these two uses of “thing-oriented” and “person-oriented” are totally unconnected with each other, and I only randomly read these two different disconnected uses of the phrases within the same 24 hour period?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *