Do brogrammers diminish as automated back-ends arise?

Bas van Essen · Jul 17, 2019

Whether tomorrow’s companies will go low code, no code, serverless, or whatever buzzword, fact is that eventually most of our future back-ends will be run and scaled by service providers. As this trend inherently leads to development teams focussing on one end of their software offerings, the front-end, an opportunity arises to deal with the brogrammer problem.

Huh?! How are brogrammers and working on one particular software end related to each other? And what are brogrammers anyway? Well, to start with the latter, a brogrammer is slang for a stereotypical masculine programmer, watching the world around him from his own sexist lens. Such a perspective leads to particular masculine jokes, conversations and dominant opinions.

And that isn’t cool, despite a typical brogrammer thinks it is. According to academic research a brogrammer culture namely creates an entry barrier for new team members, that hasn’t so much to do with their capabilities, but rather their image and looks. It is a culture that is not welcoming for geeks and women. 

Software industry is victim of its own success

Think about it: continuously expressing passion for IT is not so much appreciated in a bro culture, while good-looking women automatically gain more respect over others. The result: companies are facing difficulties to retain introverted yet accomplished geeks, and establish a gender-balanced work floor. I have now worked for a decade in companies with a vast majority of developers, experienced the increasing number of hipsters, and looking back it’s kind of surreal realizing I heard some engineers talking about stuff like the weight of a colleague.

As such the software industry is kind of victim of its own success: over the past 2 decades its high salaries have not only appealed keen engineers focussing on their job, but as well more and more male engineers with a fraternity mentality. Brogrammers tend to make a career by building a young boys network, with a shared culture of masculine jokes and perception of coolness. They still are more or less proficient in what they do, but with them culture and productivity are at stake.

Front-end teams have more female input

Now, how does an increased focus on the front-end potentially diminish the bro culture? Well, the yearly Stack Overflow survey conducted amongst more than 100.000 devs has shown us that women, although underrepresented in all engineering professions, tend to work as designer, front-end dev, mobile dev, test engineer or data scientist. Most by male engineers represented professions are system and data administrators, back-end engineers and DevOps specialists. 

Source: Stack Overflow survey 2018

In other words: dev teams with great future job opportunities are more gender-balanced, while teams that tend to become more automated are very strongly represented by male engineers. Additionally, taking into account that the face and the UI of a website or a software application are becoming more and more crucial to seduce the ever more critical consumer, attention to the front-end and its design will most likely continue to increase. 

Full-stack teams push collaboration with female engineers 

At the same time, we witness already for a while that engineering managers are re-organizing their teams into end-to-end structures. Features provided at the front-end, that need some kind of business logic or other functionality from the back-end, are now more and more built by full-stack teams. They fade out the borders between back-ends and front-ends, as they exist of engineers that are proficient in both the back-end and front-end. 

Developer organizations that are transforming into fullstack teams, open up opportunities for women to become allround and learn back-end fundamentals. And yes, it is true that back-end engineering is relatively challenging, so it’s not an easy chance. But knowing there’s this general conception of back-end engineering to be truly complicated, as compared with the front-end, the end-to-end trend can turn out to be beneficial for the internal culture in that sense too.

See for example the following popular discussions at Quora:

Alpha behavior as a means of enforcing respect based on your internal position, is especially common amongst males. Back-ends are being crafted by almost only male engineers.

No doubt: there’s no difference in potential

We do not have to discuss whether or not women are naturally suited for software engineering. Just look at our history. Ada Lovelace is broadly known as the world’s first programmer. There even was a short time in the 1840s when pretty much all programmers were women. And in the sixties, computing still was seen as a female job. A quote from this time in the article ‘the computing girls’ illustrates this well: 

“You have to plan ahead and schedule everything so it’s ready when you need it. Programming requires patience and the ability to handle detail. Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming.”

Source: Computerboys.com, the IBM story

Mass media framing

But after the sixties, the rate of female engineers uninterruptedly decreased. In 1987, male engineers formed the majority, with a representation of 58%. You could say that in that time the mass media machine was experiencing its high tides, and we all know that popular magazines are portraying women mostly surrounding topics like beauty and family. This could have had a very strong impact on the perception amongst women in which way they live a successful and respected life in society. Fortunately, the days of mass media experience a count-down.

So the percentage of women graduating in computer science continued to drop from 37% to 20% between 1984 and 2006. And the 2018 Stack Overflow Survey shows that nowadays only 6.9% of worldwide developers are women. The rate of female engineers has hit an unimaginable low compared with the past. Although we need much more societal change to get a 50/50 balance, hopefully future dev team structures will turn out to be important contributions to turn the tide.