James Damore is wrong, say girls coding organizations

Commentary: The fired Google engineer slams organizations like Girls Who Code during a Reddit AMA. The groups respond and clearly aren't fazed.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Hour Of Code Brings Coding To Girls

Perpetuating the "women are victims" narrative?

Brent Lewis

For some, James Damore is a hero.

For others, he's an intellectual zero who doesn't know his zeros-and-ones as well as he thinks he does.

On Sunday, the engineer fired by Google after posting a memo that some saw as divisive and anti-women took to Reddit to partake of an AMA. There, he offered some interesting responses. 

He insisted, for example, that he didn't believe women were neurotic (as had been the impression some got from his memo), nor that he was even a conservative. "I'm actually a centrist," he said.

Some might find that hard to swallow when hearing his reply to the question: "Do you think organizations like Girls Who Code do more good than harm?" 

Damore admitted he didn't know all the specifics about such programs. However, he still offered general criticisms of some of them.

"They make coding look more people oriented than it really is in order to attract more women, which is deceitful," he said.

Would coding therefore be, perhaps, thing-oriented or even engineer-oriented? 

And then there was: "They continue the 'women are victims' narrative, which can be harmful for everyone." He added that some of these organizations "can increase intergroup conflict" because they emphasize membership of a group -- such as gender. 

Girls Who Code, a nonprofit whose aim is to encourage more girls into science, isn't impressed with the codes through which they think Damore speaks. 

"We've dealt with lots of figures in tech who stand on a hilltop and confidently proclaim their opinions and assertions based on misinformation or complete lack of it," said Kelly Parisi, the organization's spokeswoman.

She added: "Girls Who Code and similar organizations aren't male-bashing clubs that cry 'woe is me' at every meeting. We're made up of badass coders who know what they have to offer the tech field and have the robots, apps and websites to back it up." 

She said the organization happily invites naysayers to visit and see what it does. 

Hadi Partovi is also deeply unimpressed by Damore's intimations. He's the CEO of Code.org, a nonprofit aiming to expand access to computer science and especially encourage women and minorities. 

"The idea that women are biologically disadvantaged in learning coding or computer science is absurd," he said. "Code.org's own research shows that just a single Hour of Code activity can boost girls' attitudes and confidence towards coding, not because of making it people oriented, but by simply trying it," he said. 

Indeed, Code.org says that the participation of girls in AP computer science is greater than that of boys.

Damore didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Damore insisted on Reddit , though, that the science he offered in his memo represents "consensus." Those opposed seem not to share the scientific basis of his arguments at all. 

It's hard to imagine an open debate when many minds seem closed. However, what would have happened had Google not fired Damore, but instead invited him on stage in front of the staff to debate his thesis? Now, the debate has been sucked into the political realm, rarely one where facts hold sway.

Those committed to teaching girls to code seem clear. Just come and see what we do, they say. Then decide.

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