This particular day’s reading provides a lot of different possible areas for discussion. Not only does it include the conclusion of Ullman’s The Bug, but Ensmeyer’s 30-page piece on Making Programming Masculine also deserves some strong discussion. That said, even though we just finished a very odd novel, I am going to focus on Ensmeyer’s piece because I feel that its conclusion makes a big mistake and that the topic of this error deserves just as much analysis as the initial rise of masculinity within programming (especially if researchers writing on so closely related a topic do not even recognize what almost happened). Please note that I only take issue with the conclusion of Ensmeyer’s piece and not the piece as a whole. It is true that programming was originally done by women because it arose from the mechanization of the methods from the human calculating engines used previously (such as during the Manhattan Project) and was later masculinized with the most well-known names being men like Von Neumann (with the exception of Admiral Grace Harper, of course).
The specific statement within Ensmeyer’s conclusion that I take issue with is that “In the decades following the 1960s, of course, computer programming has become a hyper-masculine profession” (27-28). While Ensmeyer believes that “of course” programming has been hyper-masculine ever since the 1960s (I can only assume the author is drawing this conclusion from the current gender gap in the field), this disparity was not quite so certain until the late 1980s, 20-years after the end of Ensmeyer’s analysis.
Image taken from www.randololson.com; data sources shown within image.
As shown in the graph above, from 1970 until around 1985 there was a large up-tick in the percentage of Bachelor’s degrees in computer science conferred to women. In fact, if this trend had continued, (as it did for architecture, business, agriculture, and the physical sciences) it was on target for a 40-60, if not 50-50, split of women to men with computer science degrees. The natural question that should arise is “what happened in 1985 to end this trend?” because this turn-around is what really created the “hyper-masculine profession” that we still see in computing today as compared to business or agriculture. While there are some articles posing theories on the decline of females in Computer Science starting around mid-1980 (I still think one factor was Nintendo’s masculinization of video games starting in 1984/1985), I have never seen a conclusive answer. However, we do have The Bug which takes place right at this pivotal time and could serve as a resource when discussing this topic. Ullman herself was a programmer during this era and probably drew upon her experience in writing this novel. As such, the general atmosphere should still be time-accurate even if the individual characters were likely created for plot purposes.