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A Woman Programmer? No Way!

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Trang Dang

Dr Carellin Brooks

English Writing 1001

5 October 2018

A Woman Programmer? No Way!

        Take a quick glance into any programming office in North America or Asia, one could rarely spot the sight of a woman. Generally, from the perspective of today’s society, programming is considered a male dominant profession. Ellen Ullman uses personal anecdotes, statistics and emotional hooks to create “How to Be a ‘Woman Programmer,’” an article in which she provides insights on being “one of the few female programmers in the 1980s” (726) and the obstacles women face in this profession.

        Ullman commences her argument by dividing the concept of “woman programmer” (726) into two separate words: “woman” and “programmer.” This approach makes it easier for readers to follow her points. First, she explains that being a programmer calls for great zeal towards her work and the ability to accept failures. According to my IT friends, writing code is perceived as bland, complicated, time-consuming and there is always room for error in the process. Hence, it is impossible to become a programmer without passion and enthusiasm for coding. During classes, I can see my classmates struggle with simple tasks on common software like Microsoft Word or Excel. Imagine how confused our class would be if we ever had to write code. That is why Ullman thinks that her job requires a significant amount of patience in order to find the right algorithm.

Ullman seems to meet necessary qualities to be a good programmer; she is passionate about her work, persevering and hard-working. However, what makes her stand out in her profession is the fact that she is a woman, during the time “when women were just starting to poke their shoulder pads through crowds of men.” (Ullman 727)  Since it was fairly new and quite unusual for women to start taking so-called male jobs such as this one, there were barely any rules or regulations to protect their rights. Ullman recalls her own experience of workplace harassment; having to tolerate a disturbing client who touched her back and her bra without her consent while she was doing nothing else other than her job. She was so appalled by his revolting act that she even considered corrupting his system. Nevertheless, she then realizes what’s more important was the “desire to create good systems.” (Ullman 727) This personal anecdote evokes sympathy in the hearts of her readers and makes her relatable to female ones, especially ones in her line of work.

Obnoxious clients are not the only hardship Ullman had to face while she was working as a programmer. Her male employer blatantly expressed his discrimination towards female employees despite admitting their talent. He interrupted them during meetings with irrelevant comments to express his misogynistic way of thinking. Once again, Ullman chooses to use personal anecdote as an emotional hook. She remembers the exact words he used and put them in the article. There is more than one quote, which implies she did not suffer from workplace sexism just once, but in fact many times. This shows how strong the negative impact of that discrimination has on her.

Another hindrance for women in programming is being “sorely underrepresented” (Ullman 729) in a start-up environment. She tells the story of another female programmer working in a so-called gender balanced company, saying that in a “24-person company there were four women.” (Ullman 729) In addition, there seem to be fewer women working at higher level of technical difficulty. The author is obviously not the only woman who goes through discrimination in this profession.

“The question is how we react to this great prejudice against women.” (Ullman 729) Notice how the author uses the pronoun “we,which creates a sense of inclusivity, something women in her time, and probably ours too, rarely feel in technical related jobs. The selective word choice increases the strength of her argument. By including everyone, Ullman expresses that workplace sexism is a serious problem that deserves to be dealt with. Despite saying “the rule of law and social activism certainly are crucial” (Ullman 729), the author acknowledges that prejudice against women is a deep-rooted social issue that cannot be annihilated anytime soon.

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