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Looking for a Match, a Geekier Way

As unlikely as it seems, the "match" the heading refers to is not a regular expression match. Being in a longstanding relationship with computers, I also pay a certain bit of attention to opposite sex subjects of my species. This involves two immediate conclusions:

  • I have a shortage of such subjects available for dating in my nearest social circle;
  • The more information technology-abundant the process of mating is the more I'm likely to succeed.

Which, in turn, makes it obvious that I like to visit dating sites. If your first guess was that I use a geek-oriented fully-automatic neural-bayessian-expert-system-network-powered social site, you would be wrong. Automated matching engines appeared a bad solution: the criteria they use are too generic for a person with perfectionism syndrome, common for programmers though; besides they're not as popular as those that target generic audience. Therefore, the only option I have is to look for the one at generic-purpose dating sites.

The problem with generic-purpose dating sites

These sites (I tried several) share a common issue: they are annoyingly inefficient.

What's the source of the inefficiency there? It's the way search results are presented and managed. Or, to be more specific, how they're unmanageable by design. When you try to look for a woman to date, you're presented with a search result page, which is sorted by a complex weighted formula. A large weight is assigned to the last visit date, however, an even larger weight is of a paid (or, sometimes, free) service to move yourself up in search results page.

No wonder that a lot of women you have already considered as a potential mate and have rejected keep showing up in search result, distracting your attention from those potentially dateable. This decreases the efficiency dramatically.

I already tried to apply a "geek-like" approach to another "real-life" problem I head, an overweight. The solution I found appeared to be quite efficient: the graph of my weight is still the biggest motivator for making myself less fat.

A solution

A solution to this would be to filter search results on server side, discarding girls a user has already seen. However, aside from the apparent marketing-related problems—how would you sell good places in search results if they're so easy to hide permanently?—user-specific search yield should suffer from performance impediments, especially on popular sites.

Therefore, a filter on the user side could solve the problem. And the web browsers (at lease, some of them), do already have such mechanism. User scripts.

I used Firefox and GreaseMonkey to make a simple script to improve the girl finding experience. Here it is:

This script sets up an event listener to the ENTER key. When you press it, it locates the parts of the web page that look like girl userinfo or like search results. If it finds the search result that has already been seen, it shades it, making the other girls more visible. If the script finds that I'm currently at the girl-specific user info page with a lot of details, it will strike out the user next time, because a girl I closely looked and rejected should be even less visible.

The script uses GM_setValue and GM_getValue special functions. Greasemonkey Firefox addon specifically provides them to access a permanent storage that persists across browser invocations.

Here goes the rant

The script, however, looks a bit more monstrous than it should, and there is indeed a number of issues for this. I found a nice JavaScript reference; it was not as unhelpful as many other ones, but some issues left unresolved anyway. Let's enumerate them.

Ajax loading

The simplest architecture for the script, of course, would be just to fix up a page after it's loaded. Why do we need a lot of creepy event listeners?

The key here is after it's loaded. We can't tell when the page, or a piece of its content is loaded when running a userscript. The dating site I targeted was a complex piece of software with a lot of frames, with ajax-powered search result loading, etc. It heavily suffered from the issue described in this StackOverflow question, and the solution presented there with onhashchange event didn't help.

Therefore, I had to retreat to the User Brain Slowness. A user should hit ENTER after the page is loaded, making the script parse everything correctly. However, this worked badly too, hence all these event handlers that seem excessive at first sight.

XML traversal

Okay, so assume we have successfully loaded the document HTML tree. How can I now traverse it, spending as few keystrokes as possible?

As far as I know, there's no way to do this. All ways are browser-specific, and do not look even closely as a foreach loop. You may see these ugly constructs back from 90s near the FIRST_ORDERED_NODE_TYPE constants in the code above.

***

Having tried this, I really do not understand why JavaScript-based interfaces are becoming industry standard. Perhaps, I know JavaScript too badly to see its full power (this is my first JS program). Or, perhaps, programmers that prefer and are capable to make convenient languages merely steered clear from web-programming, and preferred to lock themselves up in ivory towers...

The only conclusion I'm sure about is that, the night I wrote the script, programming successfully distracted me from women for several hours again. What a jealous activity it is!

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Are women worse programmers than men?

The idea behind this blog post has always been to make peace between two things. One of these is my honest belief that sexism is unwise and disgusting, and all human beings are equally smart regardless of their gender. The other thing is dismal amount of women in programming profession I observed at that time and place. In 2010, a StackOverflow question (it provoked a flamewar and has been deleted, but you can view it if you have 10k+ rep there). finally gave me the idea how these two things are possible simultaneously, and I wrote a provocative and--as one of the commenters puts it--"needlessly argumentative" post about it. Here it is, slightly, rewritten.

Are women worse developers than men?

There are slightly more women than men among humans. However, there's just a small amount of women in software development, as observed and acknowledged by us daily. I observe this in the place I work, and I hear a lot from others that they observe the same at their workplaces. If you're a software developer, take a look who surrounds you: how much of them are women? Not much I guess, much less than 50%.

So does this mean that women are somehow inherently worse in programming? No.

I used to dismiss participation rates in countries that do not completely satisfy the definition of "free" (Qatar, Singapore, Malaisiya.) But women are disadvantaged in such countries, and forcing women into one of the toughest and well-paid STEM-related occupations doesn't really scream oppression.

A survey of participation of women in computing over the world demonstrates that it varies dramatically from country to country: from 6% in Denmark to 55% in Thailand (anecdotal evidence reports 60%+ participation in Qatar). If somehow women were worse at this, these rates would have much more similarity.

The thing, however, is that whether women are worse or better at it is completely irrelevant for most situations that occur in practice. That's right: even if you are somehow sure that women are inherently worse at programming, this does not warrant any kind of different attitude towards them in the workplace, and here's why.

Why shouldn't one just fire all women if one thinks they are inherently worse at programming?

Short answer: because conditional probability. Longer answer follows.

Assume you are doing an interview, and assume also that you are sure that women are worse programmers than men. Does that mean that the probability that a woman who comes to your interview is a good programmer is lower than the probability that a man in similar position is a good programmer? No, and the reason is that the group your interview candidates come from is no longer "all women" or "all men." Instead, these are "all women who chose their careers in computing" and "men who chose computing".

Conditional probability demo

Demonstration that the skill of job applicants or of those women who chose software development as their career had nothing to do with how good of a programmer an average woman is.

The probability that "a woman is a good programmer" (A) given that "a woman chose programming as her career" (B) is not equal to the probability that "a woman is a good programmer" (A). This probability can be both greater or less than this, according to conditional probability definition (see illustrations):

P(A given B) = P(A and B) / P(B)

The definition of conditional probability.

And something tells me, that this very particular group "women self-selected as professional programmers" will have more good programmers than general population. In any case, no matter how small the ratio of good programmers among all women you believe is, it tells you nothing about women in the profession. Any kind of unfair treatment of female peers can't be justified by reasoning about general population, and understanding of conditional probability gives us a mathematically solid proof why.

Why is there a debate about whether women are good at programming in the first place?

Because many people believe that participation of women in software engineering and the skills of women in general are correlated, while in reality these numbers have absolutely nothing to do with each other. The application of basic probability theory to this debate finally settled it down for me, but many are deluded by less relevant questions.

Some see low participation of women in engineering as a sign of their inferior skill, and therefore reason that women should not be hired, or should be not taken seriously. This line of reasoning is mathematically wrong, as shown in the previous section, even if it somehow turns out that women are indeed worse programmers, which I do not believe is true.

Others believe that women and men have equal programming abilities (which is a completely justified belief), and make a conclusion that they must be equally represented in the workplace regardless of other factors, thus interpreting the disparity we observe as deliberate diminishing of women's programming skills. This line of reasoning is as unjustified as the previous example because, again and again, skill and participation may have nothing to do with each other.

Errors in math observed in both sides make the debate much more heated than it should because everybody makes illogical conclusions from the wrong math, which receive justified critique. Instead of trying to eliminate bias in prior perceptions, which can't be eliminated completely as well as may have nothing to do with the debate, I would like to see more focus on fixing what is easier to fix, and is not mathematically irrelevant.

There still exists this vicious cycle when female programmers are considered uncommon, and this wards off women by itself, making them uncommon, again. People stop caring about women because there are none on their team, and there's simply nobody to care about; they forget--or even never learn!--that programming, like many things in this world, is a two-gender endeavour. Feminist websites like this have a lot of advice to offer to mitigate this.

***

Once when we were celebrating an event at work, I made up a toast. I said that women are not welcome only in the most awful things in the world, namely the war. And that I wanted to lift a glass for the women currently there who justify our domain, software development, as something that is worth being.

So, to you and to all of the women in the field!

Post Scriptum

I'm kind of tired of being used as an example of sexism in programming. You probably come here via a link on some website claiming that there's yet another chauvinist hampering participation of women in computing or whatnot. This is not true, and has never been true. The gist of both new and old versions of the article is that a lot of debate around "women in computing" revolves around badly applied mathematics. Refresh your knowledge about conditional probability, please.

By the way, none of the visitors by such links, totalling to 4000 throughout several years, have sent me a message or made any attempt to comment on this post and correct something. Not a single one! I can only explain this that a demonstration of sexism you can link to is much more welcome out there than a person who corrects other' math.

For those interested in getting the old version of the article, which you may need to point a finger to, I'll spare you from going to webarchive and getting it from there. The one you see here is an updated version.

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Software engineering as Kama Sutra

At the meeting today we thought that the idea of our bored manager (you've seen it in Dilbert) to adapt Scrum is not so bad. It seems we're experiencing sudden attempt to use yet another cool software engineering framework; that is all developers usually don't like. Having been unusually and weirdly excited about such a commonly undesirable change, I tried to figure out why's that...

And I think I got it. Tomorrow we're trying to try a new sex position with my beloved wife. Yes, I lately realized that I'm totally married to my job (which I unconsciously referred to in a recent blog post). And the excitement is that we're finally going to switch that missionary position to something new and with more... movement, I guess.

But then I suddenly realized. The whole software engineering thing is just a large group sex Kama Sutra.

Just look at it.

"Agile methodologies" will totally require you being in a good physical shape to satisfy the project and do a lot of different things for that.

We actually started doing scrum at work a couple of months after this post was published. Here's a post with my impressions on what Scrum is like.

Scrum, with all its "chicken" and "pigs" being a reference to "men" and "women", requires rhythmic moving. However, I think, constantly questioning the partner whether things go well doesn't work well in the bed. Hell, "think"; I know; you too do.

Some techniques are even worse, however. "Extreme programming", that values fast delivery, isn't that women usually want. And this DSDM technique... I don't think it needs further explanations.

Of course, while in nearly every domain of human activity you can find sexual reference, it was funny to look it up in software engineering. However, it appears to be not that funny as I expected. So, basically, tomorrow I'm having a new sex. Isn't it what 80% of blogs are about?

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