Last night I came across a flurry of furious women tweeting about Valleywag’s article on Paul Graham: Paul Graham Says Women “Haven’t Been Hacking For The Past 10 Years.” The article takes apart a recent interview of Graham done by The Information.
While I fully get the the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” thing, I just have to say there’s really not much here to be pissed about.
13-year-old girls are scary
The first thing Valleywag writer Nitasha Tiku takes issue with is this quote:
If someone was going to be really good at programming they would have found it on their own. Then if you go look at the bios of successful founders this is invariably the case, they were all hacking on computers at age 13. What that means is the problem is 10 years upstream of us. If we really wanted to fix this problem, what we would have to do is not encourage women to start startups now.
It’s already too late. What we should be doing is somehow changing the middle school computer science curriculum or something like that. God knows what you would do to get 13 year old girls interested in computers. I would have to stop and think about that.
Well, frankly, isn’t that what we’re always screaming about–more STEM education in schools? Never mind that most students won’t be interested in STEM, so we’re just piling on more boring subjects for already bored teenagers to ignore. (Buy me a drink sometime, and I’ll give you my full rant on education.)
Graham was just stating the same thing plenty of other people have: if we want to increase the number of women in tech, we should probably focus on the next generation.
As for the the “God knows what you would do to get a 13 year old girls interested in computers” comment, well, God probably does know. Look, it’s silly to get angry at the fact that a 49 year old guy doesn’t understand 13 year old girls. I don’t understand teenage girls, and it wasn’t that long ago that I was one.
Seriously, for the most part, getting teenage girls interested in anything isn’t easy. Are there exceptions, even in computer science? Yes, thank goodness, and those are the girls we need to be encouraging every day. Not the ones we force to sit in computer classes they hate.
Age-ism is the bigger issue here.
Graham pointed out that most great hackers have been doing it for 10 years or more. Again, that’s just true, if we assume the whole 10,000 hours thing. There’s no point in getting mad about it.
The problem with Graham’s logic isn’t that he assumes there aren’t women hackers who have been doing it for 10 years. It’s that he assumes 23 is the prime age to start up. Yes, the biggest outlier success stories of our generation are people who started companies in their early 20s, but they’re just that–outliers.
The average age for entrepreneurs in high growth industries is actually 40. So, theoretically, a woman–or anyone else–who started programming at 21 could get in her/his 10 years and still have 9 years to go before they hit the average entrepreneurship age. That’s great news for those of us who didn’t have the wisdom during puberty (ha!) to choose our career path.
Even so, I’m not eviscerating Graham for this assumption, and here’s why:
There are better things to do.
Is Paul Graham sexist, age-ist, or racist? Probably not, but it sure makes for great media fodder when he says something that can be twisted to sound that way.
Graham didn’t say women can’t be hackers, but if he had, he would be wrong. So what? If you’re a founder and you quit because you think Paul Graham says your gender/age/nationality excludes you, then you frankly wouldn’t have succeeded anyway.
In the eternal wisdom of one of my mentors, “Founders gotta be foundin’.”
In other words, we all have businesses to start. It’s far more productive (and profitable) for us to actually start those businesses than to worry about what some tech gossip blog says about one of the most successful investors in the country. We each have enough obstacles to overcome that it’s just stupid to continue to invent new ones that won’t actually affect our daily business.
If Graham looks you in the eye and tells you your business sucks, you should probably listen. If the blogosphere tells you he thinks women don’t hack, it’s probably safe to shrug your shoulders and get back to work.