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What Bell Labs Was Like C.1967 (theguardian.com) 264

New submitter niittyniemi writes: There's a rather interesting photo-gallery over at The Guardian which gives an indication of what life was like at Bell Labs c.1967. This was the year that Dennis Ritchie joined Bell Labs and went on to produce a body of work which has been pretty much unrivaled in its influence on the modern computing landscape, even some 50 years later. What's noticeable about the pictures, is that they are of woman. I don't think this is a result of the photographer just photographing "eye candy." I think it's because he was surrounded by women, whom from his comments he very much respected and hence photographed. In those times, wrangling with a computer was very much seen as "clerical work" and therefore the domain of woman. This can be seen as far back as Bletchley Park and before that Ada Lovelace. Yet 50 years later, the IT industry has turned full-circle. Look at any IT company and the percentage of women doing software development or similar is woeful. Why and how has this happened? Discuss.
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What Bell Labs Was Like C.1967

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 15, 2016 @01:38AM (#51509245)

    I think the simplest explanation for why women fled the tech industry is that the industry became toxic due to

    • Long hours
    • Incompetent management
    • The inherent disposability of code
    • A work-for-hire model that deprives programmers of true ownership of their code
    • A growing societal belief that computing was for obssessive/autistic men too attractive to get dates on Saturday night
    • by Suferick ( 2438038 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @04:14AM (#51509741)

      Cooling in machine rooms might have had something to do with it. Try wearing a Sixties-style sleeveless dress in a computer room or data hall today

    • by supremebob ( 574732 ) <themejunky@nOSPaM.geocities.com> on Monday February 15, 2016 @10:24AM (#51510787) Journal

      Yeah, I'd like to think that most women are too smart to get into IT at this point.

      For an example, my wife is a pre-school teacher. In that job, she gets:

      1) A pension that pays 80% of her salary for the rest of her life when she retires.
      2) 12 weeks of vacation (mostly summer break) a year
      3) A 35 hour (8 to 3:30) workday
      4) Government health benefits that beat almost anything that you can get in the private sector.
      5) Tenured status after 5 years that basically guarantees that she has a job for life

      Meanwhile, my IT job looks more like this:

      1) A lousy 20% 401k match on 4% of my income. I'll never be able to retire on that.
      2) 3 hours of vacation a year (that you almost don't want to take, since you know that everything will go to shit while you're out)
      3) A 45+ hour workday, plus on-call hours.
      4) Lousy health benefits with huge deductibles and co-pays
      5) The constant threat that my job will be outsourced to some third-world country.

      And we both get to deal with spoiled brats all day :)

      So... who made the smarter career choice?

      • Dude, your job *sucks*. Sounds like you really need to polish that CV and get a job somewhere that doesn't treat you like utter crap.

    • Wouldn't these things also cause men to flee the tech industry? I don't see why any of those would only apply to women.

    • A work-for-hire model that deprives programmers of true ownership of their code

      The exact opposite is true. If you work as an employee, everything you do is property of your employer. If you work for hire, the specific code you produce belongs to the employer, but the development is yours, and the development material is far more important to the programmer than any specific code implementation.

  • Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AlphaBro ( 2809233 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @01:40AM (#51509249)
    It turns out software development is engineering, not clerical work.
    • Re:Easy (Score:5, Informative)

      by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @01:50AM (#51509279)

      It turns out software development is engineering, not clerical work.

      At least some of what was going on there was hardware work. The first picture shows a woman holding a 'scope probe, connected to an advanced, (for its time). Tektronix oscilloscope. And if she used the equipment for more than just that photo op, then her role was considerably more than clerical in nature.

      • Re:Easy (Score:4, Informative)

        by Zaelath ( 2588189 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @02:11AM (#51509319)

        She's the exception to the rule in that gallery though... Not that there's any reason women can't be engineers (they're usually better than us; more focus, less stupid errors).

        • Re:Easy (Score:5, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 15, 2016 @03:10AM (#51509481)

          FEWER stupid errors...

          • by jiriw ( 444695 )

            Let's get pedantic, shall we?

            If it's about countable errors, you AC, are absolutely right.
            If it's about the magnitude of the errors (the stupidity of them), you are definitely not.

            GP didn't specify. So he could be correct in his use of language. No need to go full Grammar Nazi here. Maybe women engineers both make less AND fewer stupid errors and GP's list of women engineering benefits simply isn't complete. Can hardly fault him (probably he is ... by the way, I am too) for that, can we?

            Unless you have irre

      • Re:Easy (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 15, 2016 @03:02AM (#51509463)

        It turns out software development is engineering, not clerical work.

        At least some of what was going on there was hardware work. The first picture shows a woman holding a 'scope probe, connected to an advanced, (for its time). Tektronix oscilloscope. And if she used the equipment for more than just that photo op, then her role was considerably more than clerical in nature.

        Yes, but if you read the captions, most of them were actually clerical workers, keypunch operators, or tape handlers, as the OP said.

      • by Jawnn ( 445279 )

        It turns out software development is engineering, not clerical work.

        At least some of what was going on there was hardware work. The first picture shows a woman holding a 'scope probe, connected to an advanced, (for its time). Tektronix oscilloscope. And if she used the equipment for more than just that photo op, then her role was considerably more than clerical in nature.

        It is much more likely that the woman was "...posing with a scope probe..." Not that she could not have been an engineer holding one of the tools she used every day, just not very likely.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      > software development is engineering, not clerical work

      Thanks God Agile is changing that.

    • by dave420 ( 699308 )

      That doesn't explain anything. You just made a claim, and expected prejudice that women can't be engineers to do the rest. That's ridiculously lazy, even for a misogynist. As the son of a woman who was writing code since the late 60s, I find your comment perplexing. Either you are wrong, or my mother doesn't exist. As I'm here typing this, it seems rather more likely that the former is wrong. I await whatever logical absurdity you intend to use to defend such a wretched position.

    • It turns out software development is engineering, not clerical work.

      Well, yeah. That's a given. The question is: how did that became a factor in skewing the industry so bad as to squeeze the female workforce out?

      I think this is greatly cultural. I see a higher proportion of women going into STEM (including software and CS) in countries like India and China than in the West. So there is a cultural factor at play, and it is one worth discussing (hopefully without devolving into misogyny and faux man-rights.)

      • Re:Easy (Score:4, Interesting)

        by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Monday February 15, 2016 @01:42PM (#51512213)

        Well, yeah. That's a given. The question is: how did that became a factor in skewing the industry so bad as to squeeze the female workforce out?

        I think this is greatly cultural. I see a higher proportion of women going into STEM (including software and CS) in countries like India and China than in the West. So there is a cultural factor at play, and it is one worth discussing (hopefully without devolving into misogyny and faux man-rights.)

        Probably a late 80s thing, to be sure, because even at Atari, there were significant female population creating video games, and there were many females in the history of computer science as well.

        I say 80s because that's when Nintendo came out, after the crash. They did one clever thing to get their NES on store shelves, and it may have had unintended consequences.

        First, you have to remember the video game crash of the early 80s - it got to the point where retailers were shying away from anything videogame-related. So how does a company like Nintendo get their videogame machine in stores where retailers refuse to stock videogames?

        Easy - you sell it as a toy that kids play with. But here's the rub - toy stores were (and generally still are) separated by gender - you have boy's toys on one set of aisles, and girl's toys on another set, and they will not mix. Nintendo now had a problem - is it a boy's toy or a girl's toy - it can only be one.

        They chose boy.

        This has very interesting ramifications - first, the Atari and other early console ads featured a whole family playing videogames - father, mother, daughter, son - all gathered around the TV and playing together. After this, Nintendo ads primarily featured boys - since that's how they decided to sell them. No more parents nor daughters - just boys gathering around playing.

        Which may explain the perchant for people to regard videogames as what kids do, but not adults (because it was sold as a toy for boys, not the entire family), as well as regarding it as a male endeavour - again, Nintendo marketing as a boy's toy.

        Other cultures didn't have this. Japan didn't have a videogame crash, and other countries didn't have to market exclusively to boys, so the whole videogame/computer association with boys never got made through marketing.

  • by Irate Engineer ( 2814313 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @01:47AM (#51509265)

    Yet 50 years later, the IT industry has turned full-circle. Look at any IT company and the percentage of women doing software development or similar is woeful. Why and how has this happened? Discuss.

    The women who first worked with computers were treated like underling eye-candy, and told their daughters to avoid that shit like the plague? And their granddaughters now see it as a field where wages are going down, where they still get treated like second rate coders (even when they are not), and they are still avoiding that shit like the plague?

    Shit, I'm not sure why any male wants to get into IT these days, never mind the ladies.

    • by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @02:17AM (#51509337)

      Women were not treated like underling eye candy. Your generalization matches propaganda, but propaganda does not match reality. Any attempt at explaining very complex social and economic issues with simple gender claims is wrong, and will be wrong.

      Women in the 60s and 70s were looked upon with sadness and sympathy if they had to work. If a woman had to work, it was because her husband was not capable of supporting his family. If the guy was not in bad medical straights, he was a loser, a bum, an alcoholic, or an addict. Some women worked for the greater good, namely in sciences and teaching, but generally speaking it was frowned upon. Nothing at all to do with sexism, or the patriarchy holding women down. This modern push to get women working in careers for as long as possible before having a family, if they have a family is a newer trend brought to you by social engineers. It is not beneficial for society, it's beneficial for the wealthy who can cash in on the commercialism. It's also a great way of manipulating an economy to make it look progressive, when at the root it is nothing more than a string of broken window fallacies.

      Women working in the sciences was actually common. Glamorized jobs for women didn't come about until the later 70s early 80s. Then women didn't want to work in Science, they wanted to work where they could do what they saw on TV and advertisements. Make huge bucks with sex appeal, marry that rich guy she worked with, and live happily ever after in the mansion. Scientists don't make money, and didn't then either.

      Look at when development were made for like disposable diapers, fast food, the microwave, baby formula. Suddenly this fantasy about men abusing women by not letting them sit in an office for 45-50 hours a week will dissipate. Then you have to work on dispelling the more recent propaganda.

      • Your analysis is mostly correct, but you're off by a decade or more. It all goes back to the 1940s and Rosie the Riveter.

        • Your analysis is mostly correct, but you're off by a decade or more. It all goes back to the 1940s and Rosie the Riveter.

          No, he's right about the timing. Rosie was thrust into work out of patriotic necessity, because all of the men were off fighting. The fact that Rosie did an admirable job did open up lots of opportunities for women to work in the 50s and into the 60s, and it undoubtedly gave some women a taste for the empowerment of making their own money, but that doesn't change the fact that the social structure still expected women to be homemakers. Success for women was about being married to a successful man and keepin

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          It's probably an age thing. He's mostly correct *if you only look at that time frame* - there was a big lull in that after the boys returned. That comes with some caveats and people will try to twist that. A fun stat that people like to toss out is that 80% of the women were "forced" out of work after the war. The reality is, only 20% of them wanted to continue and 18% of the women forced out of work were "colored." (Yes, I've dragged out the citations before.)

          So, 2% of the white women still wanted to work

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by dave420 ( 699308 )

        Sorry, did you just use massive generalisations in an attempt to show why someone else's generalisation is incorrect?

        Also, how can women being looked down upon be anything other than sexism? You glossed right over that claim.

        Your post sounds like a fantasy you concocted, drenched with generalisations that point at women being the culprits, and then drifts off into some weird rant which has absolutely nothing to do with this discussion at all.

        You are trying too hard.

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          Oh, what the hell? It's *kinda* trolling but it's also serious...

          I'll believe you're actually interested in equality when you send me a newspaper clipping that shows you went down to your local courthouse to wave a sign protesting that women don't get equal sentences when they're convicted for domestic violence.

          I mean, c'mon... What else are we supposed to do with this thread? But, in all seriousness... I await a newspaper clipping. ;-)

      • Some women worked for the greater good, namely in sciences and teaching, but generally speaking it was frowned upon. Nothing at all to do with sexism, or the patriarchy holding women down.

        Wait what? How on earth is frowning on women working merely because they're women not sexism?

  • by stoicio ( 710327 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @01:54AM (#51509285) Journal

    Historically some cultures had primarily male clerical workers. Up till recently some had primarily female welders. Social context makes difference. Women have not been excluded for lack of capability. The decline is a sign of sociological bias because of where industry manufacturing was located.

    Also decline of unskilled labor jobs in manufacturing after the decline of post war government funding of large projects drove more men to clerical (techie) jobs. The jobs were just rebranded to make them palatable to the post world war 2 cohort.

    The cold war created the last of the big science jobs funded by government. Many of hose jobs were in research labs and clerical.

    What actually happened in North America was grunt jobs disappeared and the grunts began to occupy the clerical space to make a living. This at it's best would reduce the clerical jobs available to women by 50%.

    So, it probably wasn't a sexist plot. Just a shift in markets.
     

  • Wrong bell labs (Score:5, Informative)

    by sdxxx ( 471771 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @02:13AM (#51509323)

    Dennis Ritchie worked at the Murray Hill, NJ campus, which is also where the transistor was invented, etc. These photos are from some Oakland, CA location.

  • Not full circle (Score:4, Interesting)

    by scdeimos ( 632778 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @02:16AM (#51509329)

    Yet 50 years later, the IT industry has turned full-circle.

    If the industry had turned full-circle then it would be full of women again. Instead it seems that the industry has done a vile 180.

  • by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt@nospAm.nerdflat.com> on Monday February 15, 2016 @02:17AM (#51509335) Journal
    ... although I am worried that I be labelled as a misogynist for even suggesting it, I believe that the reason there may be fewer women working in that industry than there used to be is because back then it was more likely that women had keyboarding skills they may have acquired in training for secretary type positions that men were simply not as likely to aspire to become. While obviously technical training was still required to do the job, the additional factor of being more likely to have acquired the auxiliary training of being able to type quickly I feel would have doubtless led to fewer men being competitive for those positions in that era.
    • by dave420 ( 699308 )

      Schools across the world teach typing, and require a certain speed for passing the course. Also, women make up a rather large proportion of computer users, including writers. Plus, back then they used punch cards for most development, not normal keyboards.

      So no, typing quickly doesn't seem to be the answer.

      • Schools across the world teach typing, and require a certain speed for passing the course.

        True today, not true in the 40s and 50s, when the women in the photos were in school. It really wasn't until the advent of computers that schools decided typing was a generally-useful skill. I took a required typing class in Junior High in the early 80s, but it had only been a few years since it became a general requirement.

        I think the GP has a point, that keyboarding skills were primarily feminine in that era, and that was part of the reason that computer operator jobs were seen as feminine. It was prima

        • keyboarding skills were primarily feminine in that era

          Some people still have that weird perception. My girlfriend will remark occasionally how strange she finds it that I can type so much faster than she can, and I'm "a man". I just shake my head.

  • I haven't seen a Winchester platter pack since visiting the data center at the Enogerra army barracks in the 1980's. I wonder if they're still using them? :)
  • It was learned early in the telephone business females a better job on the other end.

    At first males were hired to be switchboard operators but they flipped bs to the other end all the time. Females replaced them, it worked out so well I guess females were more than welcome in their business outside of the switchboard.

  • by YesIAmAScript ( 886271 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @02:36AM (#51509385)

    Tape library work really was clerical work.

    The computer would put up a number, the tape librarian would find the tape with that number and mount it.

    That was drudge work, and those jobs are just plain gone. Most storage is on-line now, and what isn't is near-line where the tapes are located and mounted by robots.

    I'm not saying women didn't do technical computer work then. But many of these jobs are non-technical. And the statement these women aren't eye candy is undercut by the fact that they are (almost) all dressed up and in some cases showing off their wall hangings.

  • by Daniel Matthews ( 4112743 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @02:36AM (#51509387)
    It was a telephone company and employed a huge number of women in it's office based roles (rather than it's outdoor service roles) so there was a career path for them that opened doors to jobs associated with computing. So what has happened, nothing, now the jobs don't exist that lead to those other jobs, that mostly don't exist either. To confuse the work environment then and now and the skills that are in demand is a mistake.
  • I love those hair styles that required many cans of Aqua-Net. Ah yes, how things have changed. I also think of the hardware is solid steel but failure rate of electronics components? Those big components seem like that can take a beating in temperature and humidity swings or did they? I imagine there were not much issues regarding hackers from outside implementing viruses. And also cigarette smoke was everywhere unless they made these clean rooms.
  • "I don't think ... I think it's because ..."

    So this is very much a discussion on the some random thought of some random blogger, isn't it? Richie was a good photographer, though.

  • by DRMShill ( 1157993 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @03:18AM (#51509517)

    Most of the pics in the article were of woman doing clerical and data entry. These job functions have been largely automated. So it would kind of make sense that the more we automate away the jobs that woman performed in tech, the less women will be there.

    Am I missing something? The article is SJW bate right? But content of the article don't seem conducive towards an good old fashion SJW flame war.

    • by dave420 ( 699308 )

      Yes, you are missing something: A photoset from one company does not represent the entire industry over a decades-long span of existence. Maybe you are so annoyed with "SJWs" because some of them seem to have a better grasp of logic than you, and can show you just where you went wrong.

    • So I kept seeing SJW being used here so decided to look it up. Found an interesting article which explained the history and usage. I particularly like the idea of needing Social Justice Clerics, Social Justice Mages and Social Justice Rogues to balance the party.

      I mostly find it interesting that people on the outer edges of ideological phase space can't think for themselves. Rather than look at the merits of an argument on it's own they're relegated to thinking in terms of acronyms.

  • by Foske ( 144771 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @04:47AM (#51509847)

    Take a look at how male software people treat women and you got your answer. The main reason a -admittedly good-looking- female friend of mine doesn't have a degree in CS is that she was shocked by all the drooling guys in college. During the new student orientation week, there was always this 'magic number' buzzing around: How many females dared to show up. I sometimes really felt embarrassed by my fellow male students.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The submitter of this article did not work at the Labs during the Dennis Ritchie era.

    Women at that time held repetitive jobs that engineers weren't allowed to perform. It doesn't mean that we didn't appreciate their work. We did. They made our own time much more productive.

    What we lacked in those days was the instant feedback that we needed to catch bugs. That is the biggest area where our work environment was not productive. And we had to fight tooth and nail to get TSO terminals and mini-computers be

  • Man here. Best working floor mentor I got was a woman. Loads of respect for people that take ownership of a problem and solve it methodically. Never seen that quality face to face in a man since then and I have been working CS since mid 80s.

    I do however highly respect the people that develop and maintain the wonderful APIs I use on a daily base. Most of them I think are men. Never met them though.

  • even some 50 years later

    That's 48 years, you insensitive clod!

  • Seriously. What else do you expect readers to do? That is a very condescending statement.

    Being old enough to remember when IBM mainframes ruled data centers, I can assure you that these woman are minimum wage clerical staff; keypunch and tape librarians (a.k.a. "operators"). Notice that Bea, the one in front of the oscilloscope is also pictured pulling a tape off the rack.

    Another big part of their job was pulling printouts off the printers and putting them into little pigeon holes for the engineers to pick

  • TL;DR - The ROI for IT sucks in comparison to a lot of other fields. For whatever reason, women as a whole see this better and adjust. I'd like to submit my perspective. These are my observations, so please don't take them as gospel. I grew up in IT back in the 80s as a SysOp for mainframes. I've had two great mentors on the technical side and the first was a women back in the mid 80's Back then, there was a much higher percentage of woman in the field and more importantly the level of skill across the
  • At my place of work, we had n+1 programmers (the '1' being female, Carys where are you?) and 3 x n punchgirls in another room. Too dangerous for chaps to enter there, but the queenbee knew how to plug up the hitherto-vital tabulators. So the COBOL compilers soon ended her reign, poor Dear, but I tell you... those were Good Times.

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