Speak with a Geek - taking tech beyond the bros

David Reed, director of research and editor-in-chief, DataIQ

Sometime in 2012, a new word entered the lexicon - “brogrammer”. It described the way that software engineers (SWEs) were shaking off the classic introverted loner behaviour and opting instead for a frathouse-style atmosphere in their coding rooms. 

On the one hand, allowing such business-critical and skilled individuals to work in whatever way suits them makes good sense. After all, contemporary workspaces, especially in digital businesses, no longer look like old-school offices, but are littered with pool tables, food prep areas and soft furnishings. It also reflects the demands of a group who know their value and are looking beyond just the high salaries on offer.

Sarah Noyes, Speak with a GeekBut on the other hand, this new outlook has had a significant consequence. “There is a leaky pipeline of talent in STEM with not enough women choosing tech and having a career in it. Those women who do graduate in these subjects are still facing gender discrimination during internships and the culture of the ‘brogrammer’,” pointed out Sarah Noyes, director of inclusive diversity and partnerships, at US-based tech recruiter Speak with a Geek (SWAG) in an exclusive interview with DataIQ.

“Inclusivity is further along in its journey and big companies have set themselves goals. They need to start from the very top. Unless the executive board is driving it, not much is going to happen and the company is unlikely to become inclusive,” she noted.

SWAG has set out on a mission to be a tech talent platform what will build a community of “geeks” and place them into tech companies, whether short-term, long-term, contract or full-time. Within that space, encouraging diversity and inclusivity are vital to help increase the volume of talent in the pipeline. As Noyes said: “Every company now is a tech company, so the need is prevalent out there. But there is not enough talent there to meet all those needs.“

Noyes was recruited into her role in September 2016, having run diversity talent acquisition at Capital One. Her personal biography is almost a text book example of how to encourage the number of female and ethnic candidates entering world of tech (and by consequence data and analytics).

“I went to West Point and graduated a batchelor of science, which was my first exposure to STEM and of being the only female in class, even though the Army is 16% female. I had to major in systems engineering and that experience made me intererested at the way things were moving and where they were going in the future,” she recalled.

Prior to moving into fintech, her main professional experience was working on diversity with the US Army’s HR department. It has a good track record for seeing the capabilities, rather than the colour or gender of individuals. As Noyes noted, “even the Old Guard, which is the oldest regiment, has guarded the tomb of the unknown soldier using women soliders.” If the first American regiment to be organised back in 1784 can progress, no organisation should be able to make an excuse.

“We are a responsible company that truly believes it is not just about placing people into tech positions - there is not enough diversity out there. Diversity is best business practice,” she argued. 

One of the difficulties in challenging established hiring policies is that the lack of female STEM graduates has its origins so early in the educational pathway. “I asked my 14 year-old step-daughter about going to a coding class and she said she was not interested because it is boring, yet she loves apps like House Party,” said Noyes. 

“It is hard at high school to get more girls to do software coding, perhaps because of their perception of software engineers. What we need is computer science courses at high school taught by female teachers. By now, we should have been seeing a recognition at grass roots of the need to promote the opportunities, provide scholarships, run coding boot camps, but we are not seeing that,” she added. 

But Noyes argued that, even without this societal shift, the economic argument is becoming clear. “Companies that are most aware of diversity and inclusivity are seeing two things. Firstly, they get recognised as diversity-friendly organisations. Secondly, once they have built those programmes, it allows them to speak about that journey.”

SWEs are all too aware of how attractive they are to other employers - Noyes said top programmers get approached at least once a week. To stand out in that crowded of pitches, organisations need to be memorable. “It takes a lot of effort to cultivate talent and everybody wants a piece of that, so they are pulling out all the stops to attract it. So, you’d better be memorable when reaching out to them because they are seeing these messages so often,” she noted.

Even brogrammers are waking up to the more beneficial nature of a workplace that is diverse, so companies able to boast of their policies and demonstrate positive hiring practices can achieve a level of standout. A growing number of organisations are focusing on the issue, such as Blavity, a tech company which describes itself as “for forward-thinking Black millennials pushing the boundaries of culture and the status quo.”

Noyes attended a conference it organised and, even with her professional experience and personal history, was still able to discover a new perspective. She recalled: “What I learned is that it was not just African Americans hearing about other black technologists, they brought in CEOs and VCs who believe in the inclusiveness effect. As a female, Asian veteran, being in the room made me understand the importance of what we are doing and of having allies and champions.”

Director of research and editor-in-chief, DataIQ
An expert commentator on all things data, David has been editor of DataIQ since its inception in 2011.

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