Women pioneered computer programming. Then men took their industry over.
Between 30 and 50 percent of programmers were women in the 1950s, and it was seen as a natural career for them, as evidenced by a 1967 Cosmopolitan feature about “Computer Girls.”
“It’s just like planning a dinner…You have to plan ahead and schedule everything so that it’s ready when you need it,” Dr. Hopper told the magazine. “Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming.”
But things were already changing. Programming was being recognized as intellectually strenuous, and salaries were rising significantly. More men became interested in it and sought to increase their own prestige, according to historian Nathan Ensmenger. They formed professional organizations, sought stricter requirements to enter the field, and discouraged the hiring of women.
One of they key takeaways of the personality tests was the best programmers were antisocial, and that that was a male trait.
By the time we entered the personal computer age in the 1980s, the stereotype of the programmer as antisocial super-nerd was set, aided by the rise of wonder boys like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Films like Weird Science, War Games, and Real Genius perpetuated the stereotype. And since you could play video games on early personal computers, advertisers marketed them primarily to men and boys (even though girls liked them, too).
“This idea that computers are for boys became a narrative. It became the story we told ourselves about the computing revolution,” wrote Steven Henn on the Planet Money blog. “It helped define who geeks were, and it created techie culture.”