Sexism in IT?

Mark Shuttleworth recently copped some flack for allegedly sexist content in a talk. I wasn't there, and haven't seen the talk, so I can't really comment on the material itself, but a few things struck me about some of the online responses:
  1. Many of the people complaining weren't there - they watched the video footage online. Why would you do this? If you suspect that there's going to be content that offends you, don't watch it. If you do decide to watch it, I'm not sure you can complain too loudly when (surprise surprise) you are offended by it.

  2. Yes, IT is a male dominated field - for whatever reason (there's lots of research discussing why this is, but that's for you to find). That's not to say that sexism should be inherent, or even tolerated, but it is to be expected. Anyone shocked by this statement should try working in other male-dominated fields, such as construction or engineering. No, it's not right, but it's how it is.
I met Mark briefly at a Linux conference a number of years ago and he seemed to me to be a straight-talking, reasonably honest, good natured kind of guy. I'm sure he made an honest mistake, and regrets his choice of words. I would urge Mark to apologise, and urge everyone who complained to spend the same amount of energy protesting equally important matters such as software patents, or advocacy for open, sane standards.

Spolsky loses his cool

Today I stumbled across Joel Spolsky's article "The Duct Tape Programmer". Essentially it's a thousand word rant to make this simple point:

A 50%-good solution that people actually have solves more problems and survives longer than a 99% solution that nobody has because it’s in your lab where you’re endlessly polishing the damn thing. Shipping is a feature. A really important feature. Your product must have it.

Of course he's right - however, his post is ten agonising paragraphs wherein he rants about design patterns, extended C++ features such as template classes (wait, they've been around for a while now - can we still call them "extended" features), and multi-threading (!!!), and finally one succinct paragraph in which he makes his point (most of which I have quoted above). Now don't get me wrong - I am by no means criticising his writing style ("people in glass houses..." and all that) - all I'm suggesting is that someone with Joel's reputation may wish to think a little harder before posting this sort of tripe online, lest he tarnish his otherwise good reputation. Let me give an example:

One principle duct tape programmers understand well is that any kind of coding technique that’s even slightly complicated is going to doom your project. Duct tape programmers tend to avoid C++, templates, multiple inheritance, multithreading, COM, CORBA, and a host of other technologies that are all totally reasonable, when you think long and hard about them, but are, honestly, just a little bit too hard for the human brain.
So Joel Spolsky is seriously suggesting that C++, templates, multiple inheritance and multi-threading are invariably going to "doom your project"? Come on. Multi-threading is critical to the success of many projects - without it, or something similar, a huge portion of applications simply wouldn't exist, or at least would be a lot more complicated. I challenge Joel to write a print spooler as part of an interactive application in a single thread. I challenge Joel to write a tool for scientific analysis that must process lots (gigabytes? exabytes?) of data while maintaining an interactive user interface.

As I mentioned earlier, Joel has a point - however, instead of suggesting that any slightly-complicated technology be banned outright, I'll instead suggest that any slightly complicated technology had better be understood by your programmers before you use it in your project. Don't use multi-threading because it sounds cool, use it because it's the right tool for the job.