Skip to main content

In war for talent, 'brogrammers' will be losers

By Gina Trapani, Special to CNN
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Thu May 10, 2012
Companies that are inclusive, like Facebook, have an advantage in recruiting talents, says Gina Trapani.
Companies that are inclusive, like Facebook, have an advantage in recruiting talents, says Gina Trapani.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Silicon Valley has a problem with brogrammer culture of frat house fun
  • Gina Trapani: Tech start-ups that want to hire the best people will reject brogrammers
  • She says sexist offenders are likely to be shamed into modifying their bad behaviors
  • Trapani: Inclusive tech companies that value diversity will win the war for talent

Editor's note: Gina Trapani, a web and mobile app developer, is the creator of ThinkUp, a social media insights engine. Follow her on Twitter: @ginatrapani

(CNN) -- Start-ups are fighting a war for talent in Silicon Valley, and the companies that actively welcome men and women are going to win it. Smart companies don't recruit "brogrammers."

The term brogrammer is a joke, of course.

Male software engineers don't actually pop their collars, wear sunglasses and lift weights while writing code and share hot tubs with bikini-clad women. But the joke is funny for some people because it reflects a truth about a community where certain places exclude great talent in favor of frat house fun.

The tech industry's testosterone level can make the thickest-skinned women consider a different career. But the rise of the brogrammer joke and its ensuing backlash has some benefits: It helps talented women choose worthy employers, it gives a name and face to a problem that plagues the industry and it publicly shames some of the most sexist offenders.

Gina Trapani
Gina Trapani

In 1999, Google's Marissa Mayer almost didn't take the job at the all-male start-up because there were more women at another firm that made her an offer. If Mayer had just graduated from college today with offers from two equally compelling start-ups -- one all-male and one not -- it's clear which one she would choose.

If you write software for a living and you're located in Silicon Valley, you have your pick of employment options at an array of tech start-ups -- yes, even in this economy. When a recruiter's pitch is: "Wanna bro down and crush some code?" -- like San Francisco-based Klout's was -- you get a sense of what that company is looking for. If you're a woman, it's not you.

That's pretty sad, but it's not all bad. As a woman and a software developer, crossing Klout off the list of places where I might work helps me narrow my options. I'd rather find out that an employer glorifies young dudes before I take a position than afterward.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook.com/cnnopinion

That's one small way brogrammer culture is actually useful. It's a red flag for women engineers, product developers, designers, project managers, marketers, business development and PR specialists. It says: This is a company that you'd want to avoid.

Conversely, companies that assemble inclusive teams are more likely to snag great hires of all stripes. Tech start-ups founded by women are few and far between, but they're highly attractive to female and male candidates who don't want to join a boys' club.

Established companies with executives who are vocal about women's issues, such as Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, also have an advantage. (Sandberg's TED talk is one of my all-time favorite career advice presentations for women.)

The spotlight on Silicon Valley's brogrammer problem has focused on some of the worst public offenders. I find sexism in 2012 corporate America appalling, but I'm also an optimist. The folks perpetuating this culture are probably not overt misogynists. Most of the time, they simply don't know any better.

Path's Matt Van Horn "feels terrible" about the sexist comments he made during a conference presentation that caused disgusted attendees to get up and leave. Geeklist began a women in technology committee after mishandling the retraction of a promotional video that featured a scantily clad female dancer.

Cynics would argue that apologies won't resolve the underlying problem. But humiliation is an effective behavior modifier.

I don't think these people will make these mistakes again. Sometimes the road to enlightenment is paved with public shaming. And there's a bonus: Onlookers have real life examples of what not to do at their companies.

The tech industry has always been male-dominated. But the perception of those men has changed. Billionaire geeks of Silicon Valley are no longer considered awkward nerds who can't get a date. Instead, they're superheroes, the protagonist in epic movies and biographies. A new generation of young people from all walks of life aspires to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. They'll want to work for the most attractive companies -- the ones who built welcoming, diverse teams.

Brogrammer culture celebrates frat house values, youth over experience and men over women. In the war for hiring great talent, the companies that embrace this culture rather than reject it will lose. That's a good thing.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gina Trapani.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT