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
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT