How do I get my daughter interested in computers?

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.

The Project Include Team

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.

35 thoughts on “How do I get my daughter interested in computers?

  1. Probably worth mentioning that there’s a dearth of evidence suggesting that parents’ efforts have an outsized effect on their kids’ long-term outcomes. The twin and adoption research is particularly compelling.

    (See: Caplan’s Selfish Reason to Have More Kids, Harris’ The Nurture Assumption & Pinker’s The Blank Slate)

    1. I’ve read all those books, but they don’t apply to career choices: parents have a strong effect on what jobs their kids have.

  2. Confucius said, “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life”. If you can find what you’re naturally passionate about, and make a career out of it, then it’s going to lead to a much happier and more fulfilled life. Having a job purely for economic expediency should only be a last resort (not to say we shouldn’t still value such a job). I think it’s a good idea to insist kids give programming a proper chance. I’m a software developer and love my job, and besides that it’s an important life skill now. On the other hand, if your child is really not taking to programming, and you have the means to provide them opportunities to explore other disciplines, then keep searching for their passion. You might just discover some natural talents elsewhere.

    1. Hi Jordan, I am curious on how your discovered your interested/love for programming? Was it love at first sight? Did you struggle a lot initially and never gave up? Also, did the school system you studied allowed you choose or skip certain subjects? Importantly, were you allowed to skip maths?

      If you were allowed to skip maths and you ended up skipping maths because you were passionate about it, then I am pretty sure you won’t be a software engineer by now.

      I was forced to studying by the system which didn’t give any choices. I ended up loving Computer Science. 🙂

  3. Jordan you seem to be Childless, we live in a Financially Connected lives where you pay for what you get. If you get one of those USELESS Degrees or Go To College at all chances are you will not get your moneys worth if you go to that BS method follow your heart when people especially younger ones change everrrrrrry minute. Why not avoid alllll of that Headache and Heartache and Get Something of USEFULLNESS…

  4. > 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.

    Silicon Valley also doesn’t tolerate veiled racism.

  5. Wow. One of the worst articles I have read recently. From the start, I was wondering if it’s a satire, but apparently it’s not.

    – Okay, yes, work can’t always be fulfilling but forcing something down on children only erodes the their natural curiosity to discover its interesting parts on their own. Your entire premise is based on the fact that programming is excruciatingly boring but people should be forced to put with it anyway. If that were true, why would teenage hackers do it when there were no career prospects in sight?

    – Wage slavery? Now, that’s what I call elitism at its best. Most programmers get paid extremely well with great benefits and little work pressure. Why is building someone else’s ideas so bad if you get paid well to do it?

    – What’s your point when saying that immigrants are doing the grinding programming jobs? They have also founded 51% of the billion-dollar companies. Except in someone’s crazy fancy, they are well-respected, well-paid, skilled jobs, not for ‘chumps’ as you claim.

    I don’t even understand what your point in the end is? That you should train your daughters to ask for VC money without having an idea of what to do with it?

  6. “Programming is for chumps, which is why we give 74% of software jobs to immigrants”

    What racist, derogatory drivel.

      1. These aren’t “facts”. We don’t “give” jobs to immigrants like they’re some sort of lowly workers of last resort. Those jobs are EARNED by immigrants as the best people for these, high paying, jobs.

        That said, I assume the original quote was quite tongue–in-cheek.

        1. Nope, it’s fact. If you don’t believe me, look at the salary information for H1B visas:

          The average H1B worker in computer systems design makes $79k a year. I’m sure that’s considered a high paying job compared to what they might get in Bangalore, but this is pretty weak by Silicon Valley standards.

          Senior Software Engineers only make up a few percent of the jobs we give to immigrants. The rest are entry-level positions.

          1. H1B visa holders may well underperform locals doing the same job (though you didn’t provide any evidence to support the point other than your vague suppositions about what “Silicon Valley standards” are). That doesn’t make it a “fact” that these jobs are for “chumps”. These are good, high-paying jobs that are earned.

          2. I take it you’re not from around here? The median Silicon Valley income is $115k:

            Sure, $79k/year is a good, high-paying job compared to the minimum wage jobs that we give to migrant farm workers. And I’m sure the minimum wage fruit-picking jobs are good and high paying compared to what those workers would otherwise get in Mexico.

            But the point of this blog post isn’t to compare the living standards of computer programmers to those in developing countries. It’s to compare computer programming to other career opportunities here in the SF Bay Area.

          3. Well you can twist the facts as much as you want to fit your agenda. However doing some very basic research on the subject paints a very different picture.

            – You mention Computer Systems Design and an average salary of $79k/year. However systems designers are paid less on average than software developers. If you take a look at the “Software publishers” section you will see something completely different – an average salary of $114k. This seems to be much more in line with reality. Also keep in mind that usually those numbers do not include relocation packages, which would be paid out before that and be taxed in the country of origin of these people.

            – When it comes to wage slavery in software dev – it is a bit of a complicated matter. It does happen that people would immigrate for a job and it would turn out that the job isn’t exactly what they were initially sold. However they are still getting paid well and still have the option to either apply for a different company or look for opportunities outside of the US. So they’re not really slaves. Developers actually have a lot of freedom globally, mainly because the software development market is in great need of good software developers.

            – “74% of jobs go to immigrants in Silicon Valley” – yeah that is true. But software development in the US is not only Silicon Valley. Amazon is based in Seattle. Microsoft – in Redmond. 2 out of the 5 biggest software companies are based outside of Silicon Valley. Apart from the tech giants, there are numerous mid to large companies that also offer software development opportunities. Also Silicon Valley is considered a R&D hub. The american education system cannot keep up with the needs of the businesses, hence companies start looking for quality engineers abroad. Don’t assume that software engineers are getting low-balled and working for pennies, just so that they can “live the american dream” or “make America great again”… See my previous point of foreign engineers getting paid the same as natives.

            – The assumption that all engineers want is to “realize their ideas” and “Programming is for chumps”. That’s laughable, hahaha. I guess that makes the likes of Dan Abramov, Douglas Crockford, Robert Martin chumps. And I guess the biggest chump of them all is Martin Fowler, who, instead of building his own ideas, works for a software delivery company. Essentially building other people’s ideas for a living. Some engineers, like myself, really enjoy solving problems. Writing nice and elegant code.

            I’m not even going to start on your ideas on parenting. I was never pushed towards computing, I always found it fascinating, having been raised around computers all my life. And being curious by nature this naturally extended in my teenage years and eventually became a career.

            And finally – as an immigrant yourself you should be a little less racist.

  7. It’s no secret that immigrants tend to take the jobs that Americans favor least. That’s not racism; it’s an empirical observation.

    Through the H1B program, a job in silicon valley is not far off from institutionalized wage slavery. Go visit eBay and observe how the H1B visa employees are treated in comparison to the native employees within engineering. Managers know they can better get away with over-working Indians and Chinese, as many fear getting fired and being unable to find a new job within a few weeks. And if they cannot find a job within a few weeks, it is back to China/India.

  8. shubhamjain makes a good rebuttal.

    I’d also argue that programming is a good bridge to getting into an elite university, which is a good bridge to getting a job at Goldman Sachs (if that’s the desired end game).

    Rowing crew isn’t exactly an enormously useful life or career skill, but 1% parents push their kids to engage in these type of activities because they give their kids an edge in the college admissions process. I have to assume a female student expressing serious interest in computer science is part of a highly desired demographic. Even if said student doesn’t make a career out of it, this “edge” is probably sufficient reward in itself. And if study of computer science leads to learning a few things about methodical thinking, complex logic, and sustained diligence, that doesn’t hurt either.

  9. “Nobody becomes a software engineer because they love writing code; they become a software engineer because it allows them to build out ideas.”

    Huh? What universe is this person from? I started programming when I was 10, and by twelve was writing specific programs for my Dad’s coworkers in exchange for them giving me copies of games. I’m 46 now and, quite literally, never stopped coding. When I finish coding for my boss at work, I go home and code on my home projects (I have an ESP8266 firmware project, a telnet/ansi terminal for a unique platform, and there is always tons to do on my 16 year old MUD server project).

    Perhaps eventually I’ll lose out to immigrants who will work for less. That’s fine. I’ll still be ahead of where I thought I would be when I entered college in 1990. Back then I imagined that, with a great deal of luck, I might land a job writing scripts for mainframes at a big bank, while wearing very uncomfortable shoes. The journey instead has been amazing, and if it disappears tomorrow, I wouldn’t trade a day of it for anything.

  10. Actuary is a good job if you are very good with math. I presume a woman who passes all the (quite difficult) actuary tests can take her late 30s off to have kids, then come back and work into her 60s, then retire well. That sounds like a better career path for a very smart woman who wants children than would be coding.

    1. Yes, obviously an actuarial career is a lot better than most programming careers once and if you get past the exams.

  11. “Nobody becomes a software engineer because they love writing code; they become a software engineer because it allows them to build out ideas.”

    I like writing code! I taught myself to code at age 8 out of pure interest. No one else among my family or friends is a programmer.

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