I get this question a lot, especially from Silicon Valley tech VCs. Tech execs genuinely want to get more women involved in software, but many find themselves thwarted by their very own daughters.
I think I can help.
“I sent my daughter to coding class, but she just isn’t interested.”
The first mistake is in thinking that the child should have any say in the matter. Kids don’t get to have free will, okay. If your daughter announces that she has no interest in learning algebra, would you allow her to forgo maths? Of course not.
FWIW, I learned to code at the local Boys Club (free day care for poor people). This was in the 1980s; I was six and probably hated it. Was my mother concerned about whether this was a gender-sensitive learning environment? No, we were immigrants, we took what we could get.
“My daughter wants to major in photography/journalism/basket-weaving.”
The second mistake is in allowing your child to believe that a career should be fulfilling and fun. The do-what-you-love mythology has led thousands of students to load up on debt for a degree in what amounts to a hobby.
Work isn’t fun. If work was supposed to be fun, they wouldn’t pay you to do it. Software engineering is no different. Yes, we hear about cool projects like self-driving cars and rockets to Mars, but most Silicon Valley engineers are working on boring stuff like server virtualization and load balancers. My first programming job consisted of generating test vectors for network routers. Don’t get me wrong; my current job is great. But it took many years of crap jobs to get here.
The thing I don’t understand is why people keep agitating for more women to do software in the first place. Sure, we get paid well, but so do actuaries and aircraft mechanics. And those workers don’t get put out to pasture by age 35.
More confusing still, is that the people screaming most loudly about getting girls to code are not themselves coders. Ellen Pao founded Project Include to get more women into tech, but the only engineer on her team is a dude.
Nobody becomes a software engineer because they love writing code; they become a software engineer because it allows them to build out ideas. This is a useful skill to have. Except that most software engineers aren’t realizing their own ideas. They’re getting paid to build someone else’s pet project. Software engineers are the wage labourers of the tech industry.
It’s an oft-overlooked fact that Silicon Valley doesn’t care about software engineers — We really worship the Venture Capitalists. Programming is for chumps, which is why we give 74% of software jobs to immigrants. If you’re a Venture Capitalist, the last thing you want is for your child to go into wage slavery. I think that constitutes some sort of dynastic regression.
The most important tech skill, then, isn’t computers or engineering — It’s the art of getting paid to control vast amounts of money. Then you can make programmers build out whatever dumb ideas you like. Parents who want their daughters to succeed in Silicon Valley need not worry about teaching their girls to code: Teach them about capitalism instead.