John and Wally, Part 2.

John: “Er, hello? Mrs. Thrush?”
John: *observes a matronly white-haired old lady, whose cube is strewn with brightly colored decorations, pictures of grandchildren, and large, black tomes with titles like ‘Advanced SQL Optimization’ in serious fonts*
Mrs. Thrush: “That’s the one! Welcome to the team!”
John: “Thanks! So, I heard there was a data problem…I started to look at it myself, but I got lost somewhere in the 10,000 undocumented COBOL programs…huh?”
John: *observes Mrs. Thrush pull up a terminal window, and sees non-GUI menu choices and snippets of code fly by like a time-lapse shot of the Matrix*
Mrs. Thrush: “Aha! I see the problem! It looks like some scamp updated a table without updating the corresponding view! Well, that’s easy enough to fix. And done! Candy?”
Mrs. Thrush: *offers bowl full of hard candies*


John: “So, Wally. Mrs. Thrush. Was she for real?”
Wally: “Ah, you get to a very deep and existential question for fictional characters! What does it mean to-”
John: “Is there actually a Mrs. Thrush out there, or did two stereotypes collide?”
Wally: “Ah. Yes.”
John: *ponders, sighs*
John: “Is there actually a Mrs. Thrush out there xor-”
Wally: “Nice! But to actually answer your question, yes, she is an archetype, but yes, there are a lot of her out there. You see, it has to do with a time period when computing was looked at as women’s work.”
John: “Wait, what?”
Wally: “Yup. See, this was back in the old days, when computers were just taking off. When they first showed up, programming wasn’t really done; it was just people putting in punch cards and later terminal commands very precisely. And who do we know in the offices of decades past who were really good at accurate transcription and such? The secretary pool, of course! Now, the state of the art advanced slowly, but quite a lot of professional women kept up with it quite nicely.”
Wally: “What changed things depends a lot on who you ask. One turning point you can ID pretty closely, however, is the development of the personal computer, and them starting to become household items. Women might have ruled the mainframes, but it was boys who cut their eyeteeth in BASIC and the like.”
Wally: “Here’s the thing though; any large company with any kind of major data needs does mainframe work. And there are next to no colleges who teach it, or platforms to learn it. So, a lot of companies put out job offers for COBOL or mainframe programmers, and get a little surprised when a little old lady asking for double their inital offer shows up. But if they read her resume, they’d see that she had been programming this stuff for a lifetime, may well have been involved in the initial infrastructure stuff, and is still with it decades later because she is a true programmer, and loves the craft. If those companies were smart, they’d snap up those women before they go off to consult with the big boys for megabucks.”
John: “And I’m assuming that doesn’t happen, what with you being cynical and all?”
Wally: “Sometimes yes, often no. Stereotypes still rule the roost when it comes to hiring decisions, and if you don’t look like what people expect a programmer to be like, it can be really hard to get a job as a programmer.”
John: “Wait, what? Why? That doesn’t make any sense!”
Wally: “Ah, my young padawan, that is a lesson for another time. But first, you must read this book.”
John: “Huh. Seeing Like a State. You’re assigning me a sociology text? I graduated college already, you know!”
Wally: “Then you should be used to homework. Go on, read it and get back to me.”


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