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Brogramming: The disturbing rise of frat culture in Silicon Valley
A new generation of programmers is fostering a culture that's more Animal House than Revenge of the Nerds — and that's not necessarily a good thing
Allegedly hard-partying Napster co-founder Sean Parker, who was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in "The Social Network," may have been one of the first "brogrammers."
Allegedly hard-partying Napster co-founder Sean Parker, who was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in "The Social Network," may have been one of the first "brogrammers."
REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
M

eet the "brogrammer," a new generation of engineers and app developers who party hard, swill cheap beer, hold bikini contests, and still find the time to code. Of course, not everyone is amused by these so-called brogrammers. Sexism in an already male-dominated tech community just isn't funny, says Tasneem Raja in Mother Jones. Here, a brief look at the disturbing frat-boy-ification of Silicon Valley:

What is a brogrammer?
It's "a term that seeks to recast the geek identity with a competitive frat house flavor," says Raja. Effusive profiles in publications like Bloomberg Businessweek depict the brogrammer as a "testosterone-fueled breed," as comfortable throwing back shots of Jägermeister as they are navigating pages of HTML or Java. "We got invited to a party in Malibu where there were naked women in the hot tub," self-professed brogrammer Danilo Stern-Sapad tells Bloomberg Businessweek. "We're the cool programmers."

And this is a real thing?
Some engineers say it's all just a "big joke" that "doesn't represent any actual streak in tech culture," says Raja. But for some companies, like social media ranking platform Klout, it's "real enough." The company was recently blasted for hanging a poster at a Stanford career fair that read: "Want to bro down and crush code? Klout is hiring."

Are there any big-name brogrammers?
Though he wasn't exactly frattish, per se, late Apple founder Steve Jobs helped make geeks cool in contemporary culture, says Haya El Nasser at USA Today. And Napster co-founder Sean Parker's hard-partying persona, portrayed by Justin Timberlake in 2010's Facebook movie The Social Network, can arguably be characterized as the godfather of the scene.

Why is this an issue?
One of the main problems is the fraternizing culture's "exclusionary aspect," which further "alienates women from an already male-dominated profession," says Rebecca Greenfield at The Atlantic Wire. It's "a club ladies can't join, unless they're wearing bikinis, or serving beers, or grinding." And the problem was particularly evident at the now-infamous South by Southwest talk given this year by Matt Van Horn, a 28-year-old executive at photosharing start-up Path.

What happened there?
In a talk titled "Adding Value as a Non-Technical No Talent Ass-Clown," Horn shared a personal anecdote about getting a job at Digg by sending the company's co-founders "bikini shots" of campus coeds; he warned against hiring employees by committee (a term he labeled "gangbang interviews"); and he talked about the recruitment process on campuses as a way to "attract the hottest girls." "Van Horn wasn't even 10 minutes into the talk [when] several clearly irritated women (and a couple of men) had gotten up and walked out," says Raja. "I joined them." 

How can this be fixed?
As it stands, women remain "acutely underrepresented in the coding and engineering professions," says Raja. Recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that women accounted for just 20 percent of programmers as of 2011. Women interested in learning to code, says BetaBeat, should look to services like Skillcrush, which teach useful programming skills and seek to get women on equal footing with their male counterparts. But "even if some women get an in," says Greenfield, "the whole bro-culture is born out of and operates on exclusivity, something a once creative culture doesn't need." Time to clean up your acts, bros.

Sources: The Atlantic WireBetaBeatBloomberg Businessweek, Mother Jones, USA Today

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