I’ll admit that I’ve got a habit of calling people of both genders “bro.” But there’s a time and a place for it. I wouldn’t use it, for example, when I’m teaching my WordPress development class.
Instructor Jason Millhouse warned me away from using dollar signs in my variables, chiding “don’t be that guy.” A properly named variable was presented in the form of praise: “goodNameBro.”
Great variable, but I’m not your bro.
Sexism Or Oversensitivity?
Language has power, and for programmers that’s true on multiple levels. It can be exclusionary in what it doesn’t include … just as missing code can crash a program. Likewise, enough subtle omissions and a woman or girl might think she ought not to pursue code at all.
To Equalize Code, Begin With Real Life
There’s a Magic: The Gathering comic I love (yes, those are M:TG posters in my photo) that sums up the freedom of not always ruminating on equality.
“Can’t I have fun without dealing with these social issues?” a man in the comic exclaims. “That’s the same thing I’m asking for,” a woman replies.
In other words, the Code School module that made me feel invisible probably wouldn’t even have registered a thought about gender equality for a man.
Pollack said this was the case at Code School a few years ago, before the company began hiring more women. It wasn’t a matter of leaving women out intentionally, only that male employees were creating avatars that applied to people like them.
“When employees created the modules, they were thinking about what they knew, people like them,” said Ashley Smith, operations head at Code School. “As more and more women joined the team, that changed.”
Pollack told me Code School began making a special effort to hire more women a few years ago. Today, the Orlando-based company is one-third female. To attract women, he said Code School offers perks that appeal to women, like yoga classes.
“We take these issues as seriously as bug fixes,” said Smith. “If a course leaves a student with the feeling that it isn’t for them, we’re not meeting our goal.”
Readers might wonder why I’m taking Code School to task. While programming education sites like CodeBabes—which features female instructors who remove their clothes—make me feel disgusting, all Code School did was make me feel invisible for a moment. But if our standard in tech education is simply not to be as exploitive as CodeBabes, that’s a pretty low bar to set.
Instead, it’s worth celebrating that Code School holds itself to a higher standard, where even a few minutes of user discomfort is a big enough problem to need fixing.
Photo by Lauren Orsini for ReadWrite