Why are there so few female software developers in Hungary?

Recently I was musing about this topic and was trying to find reasons for this phenomenon.

When I was running my company I interviewed several developers for open positions, and interestingly there was an unspeakable imbalance in the gender ratio. Namely I can only recall two ladies I interviewed, out of about a hundred subjects.

I’m trying to look into the root cause for this matter.

Gender differences ?

This is the answer that comes up easiest, but this is also the most controversial of all. I can almost hear the pro-women league boo. This however has an aspect that should not be overlooked or swept aside too easily.

I do believe that there are no differences whatsoever in the brain capacities of the genders, also I firmly believe that women are equally capable of reasoning and thinking as men. However I think that, probably due to upbringing or whatnot, women are generally better at tedious and repetitive tasks, while men are generally better at innovative jobs. Wait a second here, one would argue, doesn’t enterprise development consists mainly of tedious and repetitive tasks? Yes, I should say, that most enterprise development takes place in a framework, that uses the same pattern over and over again. So women should by all means be better at it then men. They would make less errors and would be better finding them!

So do I think the reason is for having so few of them?

Women don’ like taking risks BS. there is no risk of becoming a high-paid SW developer,

Women are not interested in careers BS. they are, as much as men,

Women won’t sacrifice their families BS. this would mean there were loads of female juniors changing careers,

but wait, lets go back in time a bit, to

Higher education

Anyone knowing me, knows how much I loathe the higher education in Hungary. I believe it’s a relic and should be dealt with the respect it deserves (ie. none) So lets walk through the steps a kid decides gets her/his first graduate job.

  • The kid does the entrance exams, passes and gets admitted.
  • He/she takes classes and does the exams,
  • The student chooses a topic for the thesis, prepares, and submits it.
  • The student passes the finals, and graduates.
  • He/she attends some recruitment fairs, talks to several HR people, submits loads of CVs, and attends several interviews, to get the first job.

What could go wrong? It’s just studies, you decide you want to be in IT and attend a school for it.

Choosing the career

Let’s look at it in detail. How do you choose IT? When a boy plays about with the computer, he’s considered a wiz by the family, “He installed this and that on the computer, and removed viruses, and built his own, look at it with all the flashing LEDs and glow-in-the-dark stickers! He’s going to be a computer guy!” And so be it. The parents push the kid toward the career. As for a girl? This is not the kind of thing she should do. Is there anything remotely related to computer science in that above? It’s only an expensive LEGO, except girls get Barbies (and Apples, as those are more fashionable for a girl :-))

Preparing for the admission tests

If a girl is interested in CS, and wants to know more about it how could she proceed? You must pass your finals and the admission tests for the faculty. This always means, you must do Maths, and maybe even Physics on a higher level. These subjects are not considered to be “girl” subjects, and this is suggested to everyone through a lifetime. Even if she were talented and interested she would be discouraged at a point by family, friends, or the teachers themselves.

Will you actually use these subjects in the field? Definitely NO. Do you have any use of studying them? Unfortunately yes. These subjects are the only way as of now to acquire the basics of logical and methodological thinking.

Studying through university/college

When you’re in you just have to sit through several boring lectures, pass some boring exams high on caffeine and that’s it. Well as for sitting through the classes she’d have to face the same ordeal that she faced before getting there. I know of a lecturer, who told his students plainly, that no matter what he will NOT allow any girls to graduate, as they are not fit for being an engineer! (some still passed though on one of his better days)

I won’t complain about the current state of education, and the impracticality of the curriculum here, that should take it’s own post later on. But it all adds up to the discouraging atmosphere.

Thesis

Choosing a topic is easy, isn’t it? You get a list of topics you are in no respect prepared to wrestle, and in better cases you get a sponsor and and outside consultant to go with, in worse cases you get a topic and an ignorant inside consultant. (If you bring your own topic, than you are either a high-flier, who actually knows something, or a conceited wannabe, who will fail miserably.) Take someone who’s been told/suggested so many times, that she’s not for this career, and you’ll get someone who hesitates. And by the time she makes her mind up all the good subjects are gone. She can take the leftovers, with a disgruntled consultant.

Still the thesis is prepared and submitted. It has to be original, and imaginative. (Gosh, we are talking about preparing for a job that is not much more than patterns glued together with simple instructions!) Good thing they don’t mess around much on judging the thesis.

Recruitment

Now the last (?) hurdle. All she has to do is convince

  • a recruiter, who probably has no idea how a computer works, or what the expectations are at the designation,
  • HR, who are the counterparts of the recruiter,
  • the technical team leader,

at any position she applies for, that despite she knows nothing (this is rooted in the rotten education system and is not her fault), she’s the ideal candidate for the job. She has to fight all their prejudice to even get a job, where she could actually get to learn the ropes. But wait, there are still lots of boys queuing up for the same position. So they either end up in administration, project management or (like the only female member of our study group) working behind a counter at a computer parts shop. If they insist on taking a technical job, the odds are high it won’t be at a respected company but at a web-app sweatshop, with no good prospects, as she won’t get a chance of learning the best practices.

Conclusion

There is no way to change this from one day to another. There is a need to change the general attitude towards women in technical positions. Even if it the change starts it will take many generations to level up.

On the positive side I’ve lately seen several examples of contractors providing ladies as developers, and trust me they are no worse than the guys they sent. They all suck.

Side note

OK. Once you got up to this, I have to admit a few things

  • I’m prepping for an interview tomorrow, so I’m trying to get my English writing and thematic vocabulary in shape,
  • I’m currently working with some aged whiz-kids who get on my nerves at times, who could easily be replaced by hard-working people, or simply working would even be an improvement.

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