Bloomberg News

Brogrammers Bring Frat-House Ethos to Geek World of Coding: Tech

March 02, 2012

Danilo Stern-Sapad writes code for a living, but don’t call him a geek.

He wears sunglasses and blasts 2Pac while programming. He enjoys playing Battle Shots -- like the board game Battleship with liquor -- at the office. He and his fellow coders at Los Angeles startup BetterWorks Inc. are lavished with attention by technology-industry recruiters desperate for engineering talent.

“We got invited to a party in Malibu where there were naked women in the hot tub,” said Stern-Sapad, 25. “We’re the cool programmers.”

Tech’s latest boom has generated a new, more testosterone- fueled breed of coder, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its March 5 edition. Sure, the job still requires enormous brainpower, yet today’s engineers are drawn from diverse backgrounds, and many eschew the laboratory intellectualism that prevailed when semiconductors ruled Silicon Valley.

“I don’t need to wear a pocket protector to be a programmer,” says John Manoogian III, a software engineer and entrepreneur.

At some startups the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that it’s given rise to a new title: brogrammer. A portmanteau of the frat-house moniker “bro” and “programmer,” the term has become the subject of a Facebook Inc. group joined by more than 21,000 people; the name of a series of hacker get-togethers in Austin, Texas; the punch line for online ads; and the topic of a humorous discussion on question-and-answer site Quora titled “How does a programmer become a brogrammer?” (One pointer: Drink Red Bull, beer and “brotein” shakes.)

‘Much More Sociable’

“There’s a rising group of developers who are much more sociable and like to go out and have fun, and I think brogramming speaks to that audience,” said Gagan Biyani, co- founder and president of Udemy Inc., a startup that offers coding lessons on the Web.

One popular online video featured Brooklyn-based programmer Rob Spectre giving a presentation entitled, “Learn Brogramming the Hard Way.”

“It’s entirely a joke,” said Spectre, who works at the startup Twilio Inc. “Developers by nature are not super confrontational ’Jersey Shore’ types, which is why we find brogramming so funny.”

There’s also an audience that has been left out of the joke. Women made up 21 percent of all programmers in 2010, down from 24 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Turned Off

Anything that encourages the perception of tech as being male-dominated is likely to contribute to this decline, said Sara Chipps, founder of Girl Develop It, a series of software- development workshops.

“This brogramming thing would definitely turn off a lot of women from working” at startups, said Chipps.

A poster recently displayed at a Stanford University career fair by Klout Inc., a social-media analytics company, tried to woo computer-science graduates by asking: “Want to bro down and crush code? Klout is hiring.”

Chipps’s response: “No. I don’t want to bro down. I can’t imagine that a girl would see that and say, ‘I totally want to do that, it sounds awesome.’”

Klout Chief Executive Officer Joe Fernandez said the sign was just a joke, and “definitely not meant to be an exclusionary thing,” and that the company hired a female programmer at the fair. At the University of Pennsylvania, a computer science club had to back down from plans to wear T- shirts saying “Brogrammer” to a school festival when female members objected to it.

Resident Bro

In business, the brogramming culture seems to be confined to smaller outfits, said Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, the first female engineer at mobile-ad startup AdMob. When the company was bought by Google Inc. (GOOG) in 2010, she was surrounded by a more diverse team of programmers.

“The frat-boy mentality among engineering men is a little more pronounced in the startup world than in the more mature organizations,” she said.

While a few startups such as BetterWorks, which has an engineer population of 14 men and one woman, may be overrun by bros, at most others the trend is confined to a few.

At Santa Monica, California-based Gravity, engineering director Jim Plush is referred to as the “resident brogrammer,” and has affixed his computer monitor to a treadmill so he can exercise two to three hours a day while programming. At Justin.tv Inc., in San Francisco, co-founder Justin Kan rides a motorcycle to work and listens to Swedish dubstep music on his headphones.

“It’s not like a frat house,” Kan said. “My desk is the brogramming lounge.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Douglas Macmillan in New York at dmacmillan3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Barrett Sheridan at bsheridan3@bloomberg.net


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