Have you read the manifesto published internally at Google, that has thrown many people into a tizzy? It’s amazingly stupid. Yet another blinkered male engineer babbling about his biases as if they are factual.
On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:
- They’re universal across human cultures
- They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
- Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males
- The underlying traits are highly heritable
- They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective
Yes, there are real biological differences. But what are they?
Name these universal differences. Which ones are relevant to working as an engineer at Google? Do you realize that engineering, Google, and even working are socially constructed concepts? I rather doubt that we evolved sex differences in being able to code in Java or Python.
Which of these differences have clear biological causes linked to prenatal testosterone? I can think of a few: gonadal differentiation and formation of the external genitalia. Unless you’re banging out code with your testicles these are not relevant to working as an engineer at Google. The factors that do affect competence at engineering do not have clear biological causes.
“Biological” (I am learning to hate that modifier in these contexts) males that were not castrated at birth may still identify and act like females, whatever that means. What does it mean to act like a male or female? Do you realize that those terms are largely socially constructed?
Which traits are highly heritable? Producing sperm? Excessive body hair? Liking to watch football? Are these relevant to working as an engineer at Google, and what makes you think they’re exclusive to “biological” males?
- Since the whole point of evolutionary psychology is to make up evidence to justify the status quo, that is a true statement, since EP predicts everything after the fact. It’s just not much of an endorsement to cite quack science in favor of your claims.
I agree that sex differences aren’t just socially constructed. If you’re born with a penis (a biological property), you will experience a different social environment than if you’re born with a vagina, or if you’re born intersex. You will then experience a cascade of influences that shape how you think about the world, including how you think about sex, and sometimes you’re born with, or acquire responses to gender that do not match narrow preconceptions about how men and women should be. It is flatly absurd to try and reduce the factors that make up a human being to “biological” or “social”. Biology modifies culture, and culture modifies biology. Neither stand alone.
He then builds on this weird misunderstood picture of biology to argue for encouraging more conservative thinking. I don’t get the connection. Does he think political ideology is heritable, and that it is linked to sex?
Viewpoint diversity is arguably the most important type of diversity and political orientation is one of the most fundamental and significant ways in which people view things differently.
In highly progressive environments, conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility. We should empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves.
Alienating conservatives is both non-inclusive and generally bad business because conservatives tend to be higher in conscientiousness, which is require for much of the drudgery and maintenance work characteristic of a mature company.
Oh, pity the poor oppressed conservative male! They only hold a majority in tech companies, especially at the executive level, and have most of the political and economic power in our country.
But I have to ask again about the relevance. Are there no conservative women? If Google oppresses conservatives so much, how did he gain the confidence to publish his 10 page screed?
Also, why, when a company takes on initiatives to reduce race or gender discrimination, do these people suddenly feel that conservativism is being threatened? If conservatives automatically identify with misogyny and racism, I think the problem is how badly conservatives have branded themselves. I can imagine — barely, because its current implementation is so saturated with it — a conservative political point of view that isn’t anti-science, anti-woman, anti-diversity, but it’s becoming harder and harder in the era of Trump to do so.
And then there’s this lovely recommendation to Google management.
I’ve heard several calls for increased empathy on diversity issues. While I strongly support trying to understand how and why people think the way they do, relying on affective empathy—feeling another’s pain—causes us to focus on anecdotes, favor individuals similar to us, and harbor other irrational and dangerous biases. Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.
I don’t need to address this one, because a former Google engineer has shredded it.
Engineering is not the art of building devices; it’s the art of fixing problems. Devices are a means, not an end. Fixing problems means first of all understanding them — and since the whole purpose of the things we do is to fix problems in the outside world, problems involving people, that means that understanding people, and the ways in which they will interact with your system, is fundamental to every step of building a system. (This is so key that we have a bunch of entire job ladders — PM’s and UX’ers and so on — who have done nothing but specialize in those problems. But the presence of specialists doesn’t mean engineers are off the hook; far from it. Engineering leaders absolutely need to understand product deeply; it’s a core job requirement.)
And once you’ve understood the system, and worked out what has to be built, do you retreat to a cave and start writing code? If you’re a hobbyist, yes. If you’re a professional, especially one working on systems that can use terms like “planet-scale” and “carrier-class” without the slightest exaggeration, then you’ll quickly find that the large bulk of your job is about coordinating and cooperating with other groups. It’s about making sure you’re all building one system, instead of twenty different ones; about making sure that dependencies and risks are managed, about designing the right modularity boundaries that make it easy to continue to innovate in the future, about preemptively managing the sorts of dangers that teams like SRE, Security, Privacy, and Abuse are the experts in catching before they turn your project into rubble.
Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers. If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I’m very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to. Solitary work is something that only happens at the most junior levels, and even then it’s only possible because someone senior to you — most likely your manager — has been putting in long hours to build up the social structures in your group that let you focus on code.
Brilliant. This guy has, in a few paragraphs, single-handedly raised my opinion of engineering (not that I had a low opinion beforehand). That’s so right, and it’s also true of science — I keep trying to tell my students that cooperation is key to succeeding in science, and that you don’t get to retire to your lab bench and revolutionize our understanding of biology all by yourself. But apparently some people just don’t get it.
I blame Ayn Rand.
Yonatan Zunger also tears into the nameless Google engineer for being a bad engineer and being a deplorable influence on his colleagues.
You talked about a need for discussion about ideas; you need to learn the difference between “I think we should adopt Go as our primary language” and “I think one-third of my colleagues are either biologically unsuited to do their jobs, or if not are exceptions and should be suspected of such until they can prove otherwise to each and every person’s satisfaction.” Not all ideas are the same, and not all conversations about ideas even have basic legitimacy.