Do we live in a 'brogramming' culture? A few weeks ago, a row exploded
over the cancelling of a UK Ruby programming conference, Britruby. The lineup for the Manchester-based conference was criticised by another conference organiser for its 100% white male lineup. The online discussion quickly escalated, resulting the cancellation of the conference, for what the organiser said were financial reasons.
The whole affair left many disappointed, and regretful, and it also raised a simple question: should the organisers have included a specific mandate to invite a percentage of women and people of colour to speak at the conference? There are some noted Ruby programmers who fall outside the white male category after all.
This blog post
from Avdi Grimm, a speaker scheduled to speak at the conference, suggests that the people he asks who are not white or male were not invited.
Grimm also attended at least one other conference with a diverse set of speakers.
"Does encouraging diversity actually make a difference to the quality of a conference?" he asks. "My answer, based on that experience, is oh hell yes."
The signs are that we need diversity in our skill set when it comes to programming. The European Commission says
that Europe will have a skills gap of up to 700,000 professionals within the next two years.
And yet, in the UK, we're training relatively few women in IT. According to statistics from the UK's Higher Education Statistics Agency, 3465 women received undergraduate qualifications for computer science in 2010/11. 4.5 times as many males qualified.
Encouraging more women into undergraduate computer courses could help by bumping up numbers, but that's also going to take considerable time. There's also evidence that traditional academic courses aren't necessarily producing the kinds of skills necessary to excel at IT jobs in the real world.
Can we short-circuit the process, encouraging under-represented groups into IT jobs even when a person doesn't have an academic record in the sciences?
The Hackbright Academy
thinks so. It is offering a relatively short, ten-week programming course exclusively for women to help introduce more gender balance into computing. Women learn a range of solid computing topics including Python, Git and source control, SQL, and front-end web subjects including HTML, CSS, Ajax and WebSockets.
Becoming an expert in these technologies in ten weeks is a tall order, but it could give women who haven't been involved in IT enough of a grounding to at least secure a commercial job where they could develop a subset of those skills further - and graduates from the course are already getting hired.
Could an active policy of diversity in IT professionals, combined with short, sharp kickstarter courses in specific skills, help to redress some of the skills shortages in IT?