[OCWIC] Do Women Write Better Code?

Bettina Bair bbair at cse.ohio-state.edu
Mon Jun 16 13:07:04 EDT 2008


 June 6, 2008
Men Write Code from Mars, Women Write More Helpful Code from Venus

We all know men hate to ask for directions. Apparently they loathe putting
directions in computer code, too.
[image: venus_art_160_20080605204217.jpg]

She would have been one heck of a coder

Emma McGrattan, the senior vice-president of engineering for
computer-database company Ingres–and one of Silicon Valley's highest-ranking
female programmers–insists that men and women write code differently. Women
are more touchy-feely and considerate of those who will use the code later,
she says. They'll intersperse their code–those strings of instructions that
result in nifty applications and programs–with helpful comments and
directions, explaining why they wrote the lines the way they did and exactly
how they did it.

The code becomes a type of "roadmap" for others who might want to alter it
or add to it later, says McGrattan, a native of Ireland who has been with
Ingres since 1992.

Men, on the other hand, have no such pretenses. Often, "they try to show how
clever they are by writing very cryptic code," she tells the Business
Technology Blog. "They try to obfuscate things in the code," and don't leave
clear directions for people using it later. McGrattan boasts that 70% to 80%
of the time, she can look at a chunk of computer code and tell if it was
written by a man or a woman.

In an effort to make Ingres's computer code more user-friendly and
gender-neutral, McGrattan helped institute new coding standards at the
company. They require programmers to include a detailed set of comments
before each block of code explaining what the piece of code does and why;
developers also must supply a detailed history of any changes they have made
to the code. The rules apply to both Ingres employees and members of the
open-source community who contribute code to Ingres's products.

There's a big need to fix testosterone-fueled code at Ingres because only
about 20% of the engineers are women, McGrattan says. (Most of them are in
jobs involving quality assurance or adapting the product to a new locale,
she says, and not the "heavy lifting" of writing code.) She's on a mission
to get more women interested in computer-programming careers. But "it's
proving very challenging," she says.

*-Rebecca Buckman*
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