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    I never knew that the “break” in breakpoints referred to a physical wire break until now. Have to assume that I’d spend more time reading my code, and debugging much less, if I had to get off my butt and yank wires out of the computer while it was running.

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      There’s a bit of folk etymology that claims Grace Hopper was the first to use the term ‘bug’ to mean a defect in a computer (and by extension, a program.) Alas, it’s a little too neat to be historically accurate.

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      These are great! I wish they were longer :)

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        Thanks, we are happy you like them.

        Due to time constraints we are having them these long, but our goal is to expand them in an upcoming book.

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          Even better! Please post here when it’s published! I will buy several copies as gifts :)

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            In the posts we left a subscribe form. There we will announce progress on the book project

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        Are you planning on writing anything about any of the men involved in pioneering computing? Babbage? Zuse? Shannon?

        While I can understand the reasons behind representing women in pioneering roles, the fact that not a single man is featured feels like it’s womanwashing history a little. But clearly it’s early days, and it’s not a bad thing if it focuses exclusively on women - I just think that if that’s the plan, it might be a good idea to be more up-front about it. To put it another way, it looks somewhat odd subtitling it “Pioneers of the Computing Age” without any men covered.

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          it’s womanwashing history

          I’m sorry, what??

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            What he said. In vein of whitewashing, womenwashing would be making people think women were responsible for what men created. The article claims to show us the “Pioneers of Computing.” Most inventing or leading key aspects of computing weren’t women. So, it would mostly be men. People new to computer history reading this might think it was all women inventing stuff between the title and women-only list. So, it fits his phrase.

            The goal of the article is clearly to highlight women in computing with their gender taking priority over any man with greater, technical achievements. That’s fine with me if it’s an activist work bringing attention to women to balancing things out a bit in field with lots of gender discrimination. However, an accurate title for that would be “Pioneering Women in Computing” to honestly convey the article’s goal. The current title gives impression the list will be merit-based or inclusive of all genders rather than just one gender with merit sacrificed.

            And if someone did it other way around, you bet there would be howling about men taking credit for women’s achievements. Like when they rightly gripe that women don’t get credit for doing a lot of the programming back in the day when it was considered clerical work. Once men took over, they manwashed them out of many historical tributes.

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              Thanks for writing this, it’s pretty much exactly what I was thinking. I used the term somewhat tongue-in-cheek (and judging by threads below should’ve made it clear with a big sign somewhere in neon lights).

              We get a lot of stuff on the Internet where pieces refer to people in a field, cover just men, and women who made a substantial and valuable contributable are excluded. Rightly, we call this sort of thing out. Because the post uses gender neutral terms, then does this effectively in reverse, it stands out. I’m just highlighting the standing out aspect.

              As I said earlier, I’m happy with a “pioneering women of the computing age” piece. If the authors don’t want the odd standing out element, a change in title may be useful. If they don’t really care, then it isn’t.

              I didn’t write it, it’s not my piece, it’s not up to me to police what other people write.

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            The title of the collection is a play on A Room of One’s Own. Maybe the subtitle could be tweaked, but I think they’re being up-front with the intent.

            I’m not sure how tongue-in-cheek you meant “womanwashing history” to be, but I think we shouldn’t compare promoting minority groups in tech to erasing minority groups in film.

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              Having not read Woolf, I didn’t make the link with the title. I was however, being pretty tongue in cheek, using it as a reference to the zillions of pieces on “pioneers of computing” out there that only talk about men.

              I suspect we’re on the same page, maybe the same paragraph but possibly different sentences.

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              What would be the problem if they don’t cover men in the advent calendar? There’s plenty of content about men in computing out there.

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                There’s no problem. I didn’t take the time to write it. I certainly haven’t had the time to read all of it.

                It’s immediately clear from the link that 1 - there’s an advent calendar, 2 - it’s solely about women. As such, the combination of gender neutral language in the subtitle with gender exclusion makes for a strange juxtaposition. I don’t mind it, but it wasn’t clear to me whether or not they were aiming for it. If they are, cool. If they’re not, maybe it’s worth reviewing to include women in the subtitle. Either way, it doesn’t bother me, I just thought I’d point it out.

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                  It would be the same problem as doing the same thing in reverse.

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                    Let’s say the supermarket always sells milk to you .25 more expensive, the day you realise do you settle down for being charged the same as the rest of people from that moment on or would you at least want your money back? I haven’t suffered any problems for being a man in tech as some of my friends have suffered just for being women, so I welcome this kind of initiatives where they highlight the work we sometimes invisiblize. I don’t see anything negative with this, maybe programmers get offended too easily with progressive views?

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                      Let’s say the supermarket always sells milk to you .25 more expensive, the day you realise do you settle down for being charged the same as the rest of people from that moment on or would you at least want your money back?

                      I do not follow this analogy.

                      I don’t see anything negative with this, maybe programmers get offended too easily with progressive views?

                      I would consider myself politically left-leaning and liberal. However — as do many other left-leaning liberal people — I view Affirmative Action as immoral, illiberal, and regressive, regardless of how much the Western world today insists this is “progressive”.

                      I do not believe my occupation is at all relevant.

                      If this perspective is controversial to you, I can only point you towards the wise words of this guy — who even happens to not be a cisgender heterosexual white male!

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                        I think compensating for past discrimination is fine instead of starting with a blank slate, we disagree on our views on affirmative action then :).

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                          (at @jgt too)

                          I was trying to find examples to understand the problem that could bring it to a wider audience. Here’s one I came up with on a Thanksgiving with the family: the game of Monopoly. In it, people start out equal in terms of money and turns available. Each turn, a combination of their strategy and luck lets them own property. The more property they have, the more advantage they get over other players in terms of taking their money and forcing them into lesser properties. This cycle keeps getting stronger where those with existing properties with high rent and/or people hit a lot just let them buy even more properties.

                          Applying this to reality, whites had advantages getting them more physical property, better properties, money (esp for investments), positions in companies, positions in government and so on. They’re like someone in monopoly that had most of the property. Further, they got those properties by cheating: the other players weren’t allowed to buy specific properties with high value, some couldn’t buy at all, and some had no turns to play while white player did. After so many turns and whites have most property/money, they announce they’re going to fix the situation by forcing everyone to finally play fair. Each person will get a turn and the paltry starting money with everyone following the rules from that moment on, keeping whatever they got up to that point. The white player keeps their property, money, power over other players, ability to take most of their money no matter what decision they make, and get out of jail more often.

                          Is this actually fair and equal? Would anyone continue to play a game of Monopoly with a player who is allowed to keep the proceeds of non-stop cheating? And paying them rent for rest of game on good properties while “fairly” competing over low-value properties? Or would they remedy the cheating by reseting the game or seizing control of some of their properties with fines on their earnings? In other words, wouldn’t we fix the situation the cheating caused if not otherwise punishing the player?

                          We would. That’s a table top game with low stakes. This is real life with high stakes. The basic principles apply. Even on physical property people pay rent for given the effects of redlining’s effects are still with us. Clearly, any real remedy would roll back the problems caused by the systematic discrimination. It should be done in minimally-disruptive, maximally-fair way wherever possible. That’s why I push for shifting more investments into minority talent plus blind evaluation and random promotion. Both focusing on actual, measured results of work so only those that earn it get in. If that’s not feasible, then we might do quotas bringing in otherwise good people followed by developing their talent further (aka fixing the discrepency).

                          The funny part, though, about white males saying they don’t want systematic discrimination based on politics instead of performance is that they do it all the time at the executive levels. Then they give each other piles of money they don’t earn just because they can. This is probably wasting way more money than whatever difference exists between a white or black coder doing .NET. Or doing some occasional bootcamps. Or just paying for in-person tests of folks who learned on their own time via Edx [1], Coursera, private practice, etc. Most of the resistance is to the lesser version of performance-second, politics-first philosophy. It should be going toward the racist, sexist, overpaid capitalists perpetuation most of our problems. Note I use those adjectives to differentiate them from capitalist executives and board members who are not behaving that way who are at worst overpaid.

                          [1] See what I did there applying my own recommended form of remedial discrimination? ;)

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                            Alright. In that case, I believe there’s a family in Germany who owe me a house.

                            Can you guess my heritage?

                            n.b. I’m not that disillusioned that I’ll believe any proponent of Affirmative Action would ever say it also applies to me, given that I have white skin.

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                              We usually only take things so far back under the theory that the effects of harm spread out or dilute so much that it’s hard to say a remedy really is a remedy. That was a counter to reparations solution of just giving folks in specific categories a pile of money for stuff going back to slavery days. The discrimination of the past my game was talking about is so nearby that there’s people currently alive that were either affected by it or were the people doing the discrimination. The practices also continue into the present rather than being an old thing to fix. That means we’re arguing about whether people being discriminated against today as a matter of official or unofficial policy should have another policy countering that discrimination.

                              I’ll happily take in whatever alternative ideas you have that counter discrimination in hiring and promotions with existing majorities with highly-biased reviews of such candidates. As in, they never were doing it only about fair, performance/character evaluation. They’re not today. They won’t in near future. Most people in middle to top positions got there via political maneuvering or being the in-crowd (see Silicon Valley esp). So, your method has to convince them to risk their own upward momentum and/or hire/promote people they don’t like to improve the status quo. I’ve actually tried suggesting better performance management to such people, esp like Topgrader (pdf) with blind reviews, with some support. None implemented any of them, though.

                              You indicate you’re against two strategies that worked so far: quotas on hiring and/or increased investment in minority education or career fairs. Since they’re getting results, we need an alternative that works on uncooperative, discriminating organizations at least as well as they did. What’s your solution? And we do need a solution given Civil Rights Movement was decades ago with similar problems happening today.

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                                From my cursory Googling, slavery in America ended in 1865. My great-grandfather was a slave in a Nazi PoW camp. While I didn’t meet him, I do remember his wife — my great-grandmother — and I’m still a young guy (28). She died a nonagenarian just a few years ago. US slavery is still a hot social/political topic. Genocide in Poland — not so much, even though it’s far more recent. I think the lines drawn around who gets what reparations and for how long are totally arbitrary.

                                I’ll happily take in whatever alternative ideas you have that counter discrimination in hiring and promotions with existing majorities with highly-biased reviews of such candidates.

                                I won’t pretend to have a simple solution; it’s a complex topic, and I believe the hiring biases are a symptom of a wider societal issue. This is more prevalent in certain societies than others — Americans in particular appear to be hyper-focused on categorising people. When you ask your average Joe American where he’s from, he’ll typically say something like “I’m Irish”, or “I’m Italian”, regardless of whether he has ever been there, knows the culture/language/idioms/etc.

                                I agree with your approach of blind evaluation where feasible. Beyond that, as I’ve already hinted, it’s a more general issue which warrants a more general approach.

                                You indicate you’re against two strategies that worked so far: quotas on hiring and/or increased investment in minority education or career fairs.

                                To be clear, I’m only against one of those things. I am totally in support of career fairs or similar in less prosperous communities. But then I’m discriminating against financial status, which I think is reasonable given we’re talking about careers/money.

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                            Within a generation of the Civil War, black men made up a significant portion of the government. Then Jim Crow was enacted, and we started the affirmative action brigade as soon as Jim Crow was ended. Now there are just two black Senators, one R one D, and black people have almost no representation in state governments. Things were more equal between the Civil War and Jim Crow, and that’s why I am against affirmative action.

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                            It’s probably the analogy where others pay for their milk in part by working more overtime, getting more hazard pay and birthing fewer children.

                            That’s why your milk should have a compensated price instead of accepting and celebrating that people want different types of milk, or that milk has been traditionally enjoyed by family units more than individuals.

                            But I can’t be sure because all analogies lie.

                            Addendum: I think the list is a fine idea. Not everything has to be super political just because it reminds us women have been more than relevant throughout computing history and otherwise.

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                              I get it, my analogy is shit.

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                                Addendum: I think the list is a fine idea. Not everything has to be super political just because it reminds us women have been more than relevant throughout computing history and otherwise.

                                If you see my original comment, I agreed that such a list is a fine idea. I looked at the list in good faith. It’s true, not everything has to be political, but this is political.

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                        I’d like to read interesting stories about technical pioneers, but not with any kind of political agenda behind it.

                        However, I did take a look through other things by one of the contributors (blog, Twitter feed), and I don’t see any of the usual flags of SJW craziness.

                        I also don’t know what the gender split of technical pioneers of that era is. Maybe it was mostly women at the time? I don’t know.

                        So, maybe this collection is totally reasonable. Until I see something to suggest there’s some strong political agenda here [and I don’t care to put much effort into looking], I’m taking this at face value as just a nice collection of interesting profiles.

                        edit: Actually, I’ve just seen this:

                        Advent Calendar — Help us make it a book! From December 1st until December 24th we plan to release one article each day, highlighting the life of one of the many women that have made today’s computing industry as amazing as it is: From early compilers to computer games, from chip design to distributed systems, we will revisit the lives of these pioneers.

                        So, yeah. It’s a political thing.

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                          I think focused collections like this are important because they help counteract negative stereotypes and biases against women in computing. The explicit goal is to raise awareness.

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                            they help counteract negative stereotypes and biases against women in computing

                            Is there any evidence of this? As far as I can tell, diversity initiatives divide communities more than they unite them. This was covered rather well on Penn & Teller: Bullshit! S06E07 over a decade ago.

                            The explicit goal is to raise awareness.

                            As the GP comment already noted, it wasn’t immediately made explicit. I didn’t see an explicit mention of political agenda until I read to the bottom of one of the profiles.

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                              I found their style somewhat uncomfortable so I only watched the opening part of the episode, let me know if you think I’m misrepresenting their view and if there are highlights I should watch. The gist of Penn and Teller’s argument seems to be that we should ignore someone’s physical characteristics and focus as much as possible on objective measures of skill when evaluating performance.

                              I think this is an idealistic mindset that can be dangerous. People aren’t easily able to flip off their biases, and finding clear objective metrics for evaluating performance in technology is difficult. There’s a constant risk that our decisions are being made from a biased perspective. To continue making progress, I think it’s important to second-guess ourselves frequently and consider that someone’s age, gender, race, lifestyle, everything could be influencing us, so that we can get as close to making an objective decision as possible.

                              Second-guessing myself forces me to confront a lot of uncomfortable truths. I tend to downplay the accomplishments of women on my team in my head. I tend to assume that older women on teams are in management positions or lack technical background. I tend to chat more casually with men on my team, which leads me to understand their work better and trust them more for code reviews. This feels really gross to think about and write, but I’ve seen this from myself and from other people all over the place in tech.

                              When I see collections of articles like OP’s, I realize “Oh, right, I tend to lean towards men in software when I think about computing history, but there’s a richer set of stories here”. It’s positive for people like me who struggle with bias. I guess instead of speaking in the abstract, I should have focused on myself when I said these things counteract negative stereotypes.

                              So unfortunately, I don’t have evidence to point you to (I’m not well-read and I’m unsure that the effects of raising awareness are well-researched at this point), but I have a bunch of sad anecdotal evidence from myself and others that I could spew out, sad stories of people I like getting hurt by impulses people like me struggle to control. I care a lot about this stuff as a result. I’m sad that I’m getting hung up on the discussion around the type of content instead of focusing on the actual content itself.

                              Sorry for the rant.

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                                Is there any evidence of this?

                                A shit ton of it. I should get it together sometime trying to filter the stuff that might be BS or wasn’t replicated as much. Alternatively, identify the best-looking ones that need more review and replication. One of the best ones I’ve seen recently was this work that proved VC’s were systematically discriminating against women with hard data. Rather than just shaming, they saw it as an opportunity to improve the situation: literally just question the women the same way they do the men.

                                Just for extra emphasis, that shit has been going on a long time with people asking the question you asked every year with nobody noticing or admitting they were treating women totally different. More likely, it was internal with them told to stop whining or get lost as is more typically the case.

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                                  I’m sorry, I might not have been clear enough.

                                  Discrimination is ubiquitous and basically self-evident. No argument there.

                                  I was asking if there is any evidence that initiatives like this collection of CS pioneer profiles actually help counteract the discrimination. I’m not sure “raising awareness” that there are women who write software is an effective way of countering discrimination. Incidentally, I’m not suggesting I have an answer to what would counter discrimination either; it’s a complex topic.

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                                    Oh that’s a more reasonable position. Ive called folks out on same thing. I think one of easiest methods is simply linking to their work, inviting good ones to conferences, trying to boost them in companies, etc. I notice some submissions are already doing that to a degree.

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                                      Kudos, that helps people already in the pipeline. I’m assuming the target audience for the book will be schools and the relatives of young girls and women. You buy this book for your daughter/niece/student to show them that yes, there are women in computing who have done significant or interesting things, assuming you aren’t one already.

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                              I suppose it’s too mildly political for me to really care ;P

                              But about the gender split, a lot of men were off fighting wars and quite messed up afterwards. I’ve heard this cited as a reason for why so many women, during and after WWII, got deeper into computing than just being operators.

                              I don’t know how true it is, never bothered to look into it, but it sounds reasonable.

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                                In 1965, Sister Mary Kenneth Keller became the first American woman to earn a doctorate in computer science. Keller helped develop BASIC while working as a graduate student at Dartmouth, where the university “broke the ‘men only’ rule” so she could use its computer science center.

                                Granted, if they are going chronologically (I can’t really tell, they aren’t mentioning years), she would come later. But, I predict she wont even be mentioned.

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                              thank you

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                                This is great, but I had an almost visceral negative reaction when I saw it was hosted on Medium.

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                                  “A computer of one’s own; brought to you by a computer of someone else”

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                                    OK, so, I totally get this reaction, but I’m gonna pick on technomancy despite my mad respect for a bunch of what he does :)

                                    This kind of reasoning is faulty. Tools are tools. Everyone has to make a cost / value judgement based on what makes sense for them not you.

                                    I build and run infrastructure for a living. I’m pretty damn good at it. That said, I run my blog on Wordpress.com

                                    Why, you might ask? Because I ran my own Wordpress instance for years, then a statically generated blog using Pelican (a fantastic Python based static site generator I can’t recommend enough)

                                    And then, after a few years of that, I decided that running my own Blogging infrastructure Just Wasn’t Interesting any more. I’d learned all I could learn from doing so, I’d even developed a nice set of Chef cookbooks to manage the whole thing for me.

                                    But ultimately, the static blogging experience didn’t work for me. So now I let someone else manage this particular problem for me for a pittance, and focus on actually doing what I want to do.

                                    So can we please consider taking a step back before we criticize others for making decisions that make sense for them?

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                                      Thanks for your comment.

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                                      I’m sorry, but this was the platform/blog we could setup in such short notice.

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                                        Please don’t apologize. Thank you for writing these articles. Don’t take this kind of feedback too personally, it’s the price we pay for having a community of insanely smart, talented people read what we write :)

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                                          Hey, it’s your site; I don’t know anything about the audience you’re trying to reach beyond lobsters, so I can’t speak to the trade-offs. It’s just that the irony in the title was just too much for me to resist. =)

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                                            Should I host my blog out of my own physical machine to resist the irony…

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                                        It reads fine with javascript and even CSS turned off (or if entirely unsupported by your web browser).

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                                          Me too. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has that reaction.

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                                            As already replied to the other person, this was the platform/blog we could setup in such short notice. Thanks for understanding.