Are Women Really Better Developers?

Remember back in February 2016 when some folks analyzed Github contributions and found that women wrote code that was accepted more often, as long as it wasn't obvious that they were women? Well, yes, that was one, relatively isolated, data point from which you really can't draw any conclusions, regardless of headlines like...

  1. "Women considered better coders"
  2. "Why women are probably the best coders on GitHub"
  3. Or my favorite, "Suck It Dudes. Science Proves Women Are Better Coders."

Well, I can't provide any definitive conclusion on the subject either. However, I can add one more data point to the discussion. Since I started teaching in January of 2015, one of the things that I implemented for my cohorts was some awards to be given out after every course. The idea has since been adopted by other instructors, and I've now compiled the data of the award winners since we started to give them out.

  1. Most Improved - Women 7. Men 9.
  2. Most Valuable Teammate - Women 7. Men 9.
  3. Catalyst - Women 10. Men 6.

The Catalyst award, or, as it's sometimes referred to, the Top Developer award, encompasses all of the three major aspects of what we look for in a successful student/developer.

  1. Passion for learning/improvement of skills.
  2. Being a good teammate by sharing knowledge and helping teammates.
  3. Having very strong problem solving skills, and quickly comprehending how to solve them with code.

When I started instructing, I knew of the struggles that women face in the software industry and one of my goals was that, while they were at NSS, they would be free of the bias, ignorance and ugliness that we hear about. However, they would not be ignorant of it. I talk to each cohort about important meta issues in the industry - even the ugly ones.

I knew that women were just as capable of being good software developers as men, so I expected to see an even distribution of abilities in the cohorts of students, even as I saw a smaller representation of women. In some cohorts, female representation has been as high as 40%, while in others it's been as low as 8%.

I did not expect to see women hold such an advantage for winning the Catalyst award. At one point, it was a 7-1 advantage. I could write a full article expressing my opinions on the why behind it, but so far, the women in the class are more likely to be the strongest candidates for the award, even though they have smaller representation.

Yes, I realize that a sample size of 16 awards is not large enough to draw any real conclusions. That's why I stated that I am just adding a few more data points to the pile. However, it is encouraging and noteworthy - but only a trend that may end up being becoming a true pattern, and I'm excited to see how it plays out over the next few years.

When I look back at the top 10% of students, it's an even mix of men & women. One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that, during my time here at NSS, there have a small handful of students who have stood head & shoulders above all other students - across all other cohorts.

The 1%.

They have all been women.