Working on a paper about women in software development

dandelionI just submitted a paper on agile values and the underrepresentation of women in software development.

This is not an original topic but the research I’ve read has focused on how women who participate in agile practices, particularly XP pair programming have more favorable impressions of the work and of their ability to contribute both of which are correlated to entering the occupation.1,2

My belief is that agile practices are tools but it is the agile values that give us the urgency, courage and insight to wield those tools towards a desired outcome.

That is, we are much more capable of making software development more tolerant and inviting of diversity if we believe we should do this as part of our core mission as Agilists to develop with craft and quality and to deliver value to our employers and our end users (do not forget).

So, the rough outline of my paper is this:

  • The shortage of women entering software development and disproportionate share of women leaving mid-career is real and measurable and well documented.
  • The problem is worse in IT than it is in almost all other areas of STEM because, unusually, the percentage of women in software development has actually declined over the last 20 years.
  • This shortage and particularly the attrition of experienced women developers represents a material burden to our industry.
  • Product teams that represent the diversity of their customers have a potential advantage in developing products that appeal to that diverse customer base
  • Women are at least the equals of men when it comes to influencing consumer technology spending and online activity
  • Therefore, it is in the interest of the industry to educate, recruit and retain women developers
  • Agile is a collection of practices united by a coherent set of principles
  • As agile becomes mainstream it is more important than ever that practitioners understand and embody these principles
  • The creators of the Agile Manifesto realize this and are calling us to a principled approach to our work
  • These principles are at stake when it comes to things that affect the competitiveness, insight into end users, and potential for innovation in our teams
  • If we engage our agile practices behind this principled cause we can begin to remove the impediments within our own organizations to the recruitment and retention of women
  • When we do, we will influence larger changes across the industry, within education and in society

I’ll go into more detail and try to defend my arguments in later posts. In the meantime, I’m happy to engage with anyone who finds fault in my premise.

1S. Berenson and K. Slaten. “Voices of women in a software engineering course” in JERIC, vol. 4.1, Mar. 2004.

2O. Hazzan and Y. Dubinsky. “Empower Gender Diversity with Agile Software Development” in Encyclopedia of Gender and Information Technology. E. Taugh, Ed. Hershey, PA: IGI-Global, 2006, pp 249-256.

A plea to my fellow developers and our employers [Harm]

water waveRevelations today about a security breach at Sony Pictures. If the claims are true, the company failed to take even minimal steps to protect the identities of their users. Passwords were stored in plain text.

There are many reasons why this happens: naive business sponsors, inexperienced or pliable developers, poorly thought out or narrowly defined requirements, lack of regard for user privacy, and simple schedule pressure that leads to mistakes and cut corners.

It is unacceptable to assume stored user information is not sensitive simply because your site doesn’t do anything sensitive with it.

People re-use passwords. They shouldn’t but they do. They may only be signing up with you for access to white papers but that username and password may crack facebook, paypal, capital one, or any number of other websites.

We can’t treat websites as something less than software, cram as many front facing features into them with as little time and investment as possible and expect a serviceable, safe, and usable consumer experience.

We can’t treat developers as disposable widgets that are there to “work hard” and “do what they’re told” and expect them to watch our back by behaving as ethical professionals and crafts people.

We can’t expose customers to this kind of risk and expect to retain them as customers.

The best way to encourage new and onerous legal obligations is to act irresponsibly because there is no current legal obligation to do otherwise.

There is a historical pattern. A new field starts generating significant wealth and the resulting products and services become widely adopted by society. As a result of that success, failure becomes more visible, more frequent, destroys more wealth and harms more people.

The industry, practitioners and the government step in to reduce the failure rate. The typical result is government licensing of practitioners and regulation of businesses, accreditation of training organizations, and professional bodies with codes of practice and certifications.

I’m not against any one of these things if they evolve gradually.

But if we create another “software crisis.” This time one that affects the safety of large swaths of society or the wealth creation their trust of the internet represents. Then these things will happen too rapidly, too thoughtlessly.

So, here’s my plea to product people and executive sponsors:

  • Realize software is complex and websites are software.
  • Hire experienced, thoughtful developers, encourage them to tell you the truth and LISTEN TO THEM.
  • If you take risks to get something to market, take the time later to circle back and invest to bring that risk down.
  • Don’t take risks that can harm your end users.
  • Realize a website is not a onetime upfront spend but an ongoing commitment of time attention and resources.
  • Realize if you intend to use a website for a short time or an experiment, follow through and dispose of it — or be prepared to invest significantly more in turning it into a long-term asset.

Here’s the plea to my fellow developers:

  • Take the quality of our work seriously.
  • Learn, learn, learn how to write good code.
  • Take our end users seriously. DO NO HARM.
  • Band together and demand the best of each other

Boots on the ground [war]

I’ve just finished reading Obama Wars by Bob Woodward which centered around the Obama administration’s decision to add troops to Afghanistan. It made me curious how troop strength had ebbed and flowed through the last ten years of war.

A quick search on the internet found a 72 page paper prepared for the Congressional Research Service, Troop Levels in the Afghan and Iraq Wars, FY2001-FY2012: Cost and Other Potential Issues by Amy Belasco. This paper provides an analysis of troop strength in Iraq and Afghanistan and the costs associated with those troups.

Below is a table and graph of “boots on the ground” as measured through 2009 and estimated through 2012. Though the announced strategy is to begin drawing down troops in Afghanistan this July, the paper doesn’t project any reduction this or next year. The report also notes that…

“Although Boots on the Ground is the most commonly cited measure of troop strength, that measure does not include over 100,000 other troops deployed in the region providing theater- wide support for Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), the Afghan War, and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the Iraq War.”

Average Monthly Boots On the Ground in Afghanistan and Iraq: FY2002-FY2012
Reported FY02-FY08, Estimated FY09-FY12, Rounded to Hundreds
Percentage Change
Average Monthly Boots On the Ground in Afghanistan and Iraq: FY2002-FY2012
A Belasco. (2009, July 2). Troop Levels in the Afghan and Iraq Wars, FY2001-FY2012: Cost and Other Potential Issues [pdf]. Available:

MTA ticket machines use WinNT

Since the end time…

Elapsed times since the Rapture per Wikipedia.