the labor of programming

The effect of information technology and the computer is huge, of course. In the words of some, it has "changed everything." Such change invariably disrupts traditional modes of organizing power and knowledge. Dr. Ensmenger provides insight into a particular element of this disruption: the status and nature of the computer programmer.

His analysis expanded my fairly narrow understanding of the programmer. From my childhood in the 1980s I've always understood programmers as "geeks" who weld a particularly valuable form of expertise. Consistent with Ensmenger's description, in my mind the status of the programmer is unique in that He(?) occupies an ambiguous space of respect but social awkwardness and eclecticism. My mental schema of this person is also very much influenced by the more recent tech boom of the late 1990s when programming, though considered very difficult to master, was a hot marketable career path.

The historical perspective recalls an interesting distinction between programmer and coder, a time when the rational, analytical men would do the thinking and the women who do the tedious labor. But this turned out to be a false distinction as the labor involved with these two sphere was
eventually accepted to be necessarily intertwined. I associate the former with the algorithm (a more top-down, big-picture problem-solving approach) and the latter as a heuristic (finding workable solutions on the fly to fix a specific problem). From what I understand programming involves some of both. Ensmenger's story relates how management unsuccessfully attempted to wrest control of the algorithm half of the craft.

What leaps out at me from this reading is the the evolution of the computer programmer along gender lines. I find it no coincidence that as the computer programmer struggled to define their craft as prestigious and scientific, the labor was no longer relegated to women. Yet these women had clearly been ingenious for a period of time in finding the workarounds. How was masculinity used to validate the computer programmer's position from the challenges posed by management, and in turn, shape the identity of the programmer in later decades?

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