The main character is a six-year-old boy named Keisuke played by Dadie Takagasugi. He and his single Japanese mother just moved to a small countryside town. Light and shadow stripe his coffee-colored hand as he compares it to the white faces peering at him. While introducing himself to his class, a kid asks him why he can speak Japanese. The class collectively reacts with a confused sound equivalent to a question mark. It became his film thesis. Born was originally supposed to be shot and culturally embedded in Singapore.
But studying in Japan as an undergrad and interning at animation company Production I. G which co-produced Ghost in the Shell inspired him to shoot the feature here instead. Archaic words have a charm that never fades away, from French sounding to wondrously mysterious ones.
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Barnum's contention that there's a sucker born every minute. The stereotype of the socially-awkward, white, male programmer has been around for a long time. Although "diversity in tech" is a much discussed topic, the numbers have not been getting any better. On the contrary, a lot of people inside and outside of the IT industry still take it for granted that this stereotype is the natural norm, and this perception is one of the things that is standing in our way to make the profession more inclusive and inviting.
So where does this image come from?
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Did the demographics of the world's programmer population really evolve naturally, because "boys just like computers more"? What shaped our perception of programmers? This text is about some possible explanations I found when reading about the history of computing. As a Technical Lead on custom software delivery teams, she is splitting her days between coding, coaching, consulting, and keeping the work fun.
Nathan Ensmenger is a professor at Indiana University who has specialised in the social and historical aspects of computing. Little has yet been written about the silent majority of computer specialists, the vast armies of largely anonymous engineers, analysts, and programmers who designed and constructed the complex systems that make possible our increasingly computerized society.
The title of the book is a reference to where it all started: The women programming the ENIAC — one of the very first electronic, general purpose, digital computers — are widely considered to be the first programmers. More specifically, they were teaching the machine to calculate trajectories of weapons, to be used by soldiers in the field. The ENIAC women were recruited from the existing groups of women who up until then had been calculating these plans manually.
Try entering "first computer" in google. This is just a reminder that the sources for this text are almost exclusively US-American, viewed from my German perspective. The Computer History Museum in Mountain View has an interview with Jean Bartik formerly Betty Jennings on their website that offers a glimpse into the way Jean and her colleagues approached the task. So this work was seen as handicraft and mechanical, as opposed to scientific and intellectual.
So the computer revolution had started - hardware was continuously improving, and a lot of people were excited about the progress and the bright future of computing. But nobody was actually paying much attention to software yet. Stephanie Shirley, who founded one of the very first British software startups in , looks back in this TED talk , saying: Certainly not from a woman. But it turned out that the challenge of software development had been sorely underestimated - they found that programming is hard. The media in the 50s and 60s also picked up on this.
There were stories in the press like that of the Mariner 1 probe to Venus, which left its course and had to be destroyed. There is no evidence that Fortran was even used in the programming of the probe, but these stories strengthened the opinion that only the most skilled programmers should be employed, because programming was so error-prone. It was hard for companies to figure out what skills were needed for this totally new profession. They needed programmers to be really good, because they were panicking about errors.
At the same time, they had no specific idea of the necessary skill set. This was fuelled by the fact that programming was a very idiosyncratic activity at the time, almost every computer operated differently. How do you recruit people for a profession like that, when at the same time the demand increases rapidly?
One approach the big players in the industry took at the time to identify and recruit programmers were aptitude tests. These tests were supposed to filter for traits thought essential to good programming, such as logical thinking and abstract reasoning. In alone, the PAT was administered to more than But these aptitude tests were not enough for some companies, they were also trying to find personality profiles to predict which type of people had a good chance to become happy and therefore effective programmers.
In , about programmers were employed by SDC, which was about three-fifths of the available programmers in the US at the time.
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Only 5 years later, they had hired more. To become better at identifying people with a good aptitude for programming in their recruiting process, they commissioned two psychologists, William M.
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Cannon and Dallas K. Their paper, published in , showed a profile similar to the vocational profiles for engineering and chemistry. It was not particularly close to physics or mathematics, there was a slight correlation with musicians, otherwise it was pretty similar to other white-collar work. Cannon and Perry came up with only one really striking characteristic that they attributed to programmers: The primary selection mechanism used by the industry selected for antisocial, mathematically inclined males, and therefore antisocial, mathematically inclined males were overrepresented in the programmer population; this in turn reinforced the popular perception that programmers ought to be male, antisocial and mathematically inclined, and so on.
If you look at what the stereotype of a typical programmer is today, 50 years later, he makes a very convincing point. Even if you do not believe that this paper could have had the influence that Ensmenger attributes to it, to me it is at the very least a cautionary tale. But still, there used to be more women in computer science, right?