Skip to main content

In war for talent, 'brogrammers' will be losers

By Gina Trapani, Special to CNN
May 10, 2012 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
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
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT