Fake Trend Stories

‘Brogramming’ Phenomenon Being Taken Way Too Seriously

Insufficiently ironic BusinessWeek article cues hysteria.
douglas macmillan Brogramming Phenomenon Being Taken Way Too Seriously

BusinessWeek's Douglas MacMillan, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?

BusinessWeek is feeling some backlash from a story on the rise of the brogrammers, programmers who supposedly drink beer and pop their collars and make out with girls, just like frat guys. We love a fake trend story just as much as the next blog, but yeesh. Even we’re starting to get embarrassed. This is like the time the news media thought owling was a thing. “I think BusinessWeek got punk’d,” tweeted TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotsis.

But did they? At this point, who is in on what joke has gotten rather muddled.

The brogramming Facebook page posted this last week:

Big news broskis. We’ve been given an opportunity to bring our message to the mainstream media. Various prominent members of the Brogramming community have been contacted by a major publication:

“Hey <censored>, I’m a reporter for <censored>. Writing a story for next week’s magazine about brogramming. I know this is more a joke internet meme than a real thing, but calling around and asking people how much truth there is in this idea of club-going alpha male programmer versus the nerd engineer stereotype everyone assumes. You able to talk about this?”

Okay, so the writer, Douglas MacMillan, is halfway hip to the joke. But the story still farts out overserious lines like, “In business, the brogramming culture seems to be confined to smaller outfits” and on the whole gives a highly unflattering portrait of guys at tech startups today, overlooking much of the nuance of the meme. It’s self-deprecating, for one, which makes it a lot more progressive than BizWeek gives it credit for. One response to the above post, from Michael Trompeta: “Troll…like you’ve never trolled before…for example, brogrammers create iPhone apps while getting bottle service at the club to pay for bottle service at the club.”

There are a few things at work here.

1. Tech + testosterone is not new.

Look, tech is male-heavy. If you’re in a room with nothing but sausage and computers, things can get a little macho. Pound some Red Bull! Eat an entire pizza! MANLINESS! The brogramming meme and its attendant exclusionary aspects—women basically cannot participate in brogramming at any level of seriousness—is just another manifestation of how tech can be a young boys club. N.B.: If any lady can gin up a counterpoint trend, ladygrammers or whatever, we will love you and write a million fake trend pieces about it. Maybe like, really girly “lipstick programmers”? That would be funny.

2. The story assumes an over-the-top stereotype of programmers as incorrigible nerds.

It’s true that lightweight programming tools have made programming more mainstream. But it should not be earth-shattering to think that people who program computers also drink beer. Sometimes they even smoke cigarettes and have girlfriends, and even party and do drugs, if they’re Sean Parker. (KIDDING.) Bottom line, programmers are not by definition basement-bound, owl-eyed losers.

2a. Focusing on the brogramming pseudo-phenomenon also neglects the more significant segment of the programming population who are socially-adjusted but not bro-y.

“This guy is a nobody making us all look bad,” Marak Squires, a coder and cofounder of Nodejitsu, said over Gchat, referring to Danilo Stern-Sapad, the coder quoted so damningly by BusinessWeek saying, “We got invited to a party in Malibu where there were naked women in the hot tub. We’re the cool programmers.”

“And I can list like, all the coolest most badass developers I know who are the fucking real deal and not tools from L.A.,” Mr. Squires said.

So wait, are brogrammers a real thing? “Life imitating art imitating life imitating art,” he said. “It’s real now. That’s how these things work.”

Since the story and accompanying backlash, Mr. Stern-Sapad claims the whole thing is a joke.

And the story, syndicated from the New York Post to the Syndey Morning Herald, is already causing confusion. Computer Weekly just invoked the term in its Women in Technology survey: “With the phrase “brogramming” on the rise (less male-geeks and more cool male testosterone-fuelled coders) women may be finding themselves even more alienated then they previously did.” We eagerly await the CNN segment.

3. People who invented and use the term “brogrammer” are being ironic.

Part self-mockery, part acknowledgement of tech’s new sheen of cool (thanks to the media, again), part pillorying of real bros, and part Dadaist joke, the existence of the brogramming meme belies its true character. Bros, in the traditional sense, are not self-aware. Bros lift weights and go on spring break. Bros are not ironic. (While we’re on the subject of irony, don’t even ask us about scrogrammers.)

“It’s demoralising and absurd that the tech press is taking something that clearly started as a sarcastic in-joke as an actual marker of a real trend,” Adam J. Sontag, a New York-based developer wrote in an email. “”Brogramming’ was coined in large part to lampoon, not celebrate, the culture of pounding Red Bulls and crushing code. I think it’s great that there are programmers who enjoy having social lives and partying, but it’s been really depressing to see this taken seriously.”

Rob Spectre, a developer who created the original viral “brogramming” video while at Twilio, weighed in more explicitly. “It is just a joke, for fuck’s sake. Anyone acting like it is real is an idiot.”

Take a look at the “how to be a brogrammer” Quora page, which quoth:

  • Polo, tight so the chicks can see how defined your muscles are
  • Sunglasses, mostly mirrored aviators and multi-colored wayfarers, but mostly any type of sunglasses are accepted
  • Writing code with blankets seem to be popular, but not mandatory

Coding under blankets, you say!? Perhaps a trend story about the Snuggie in Silicon Valley is in order. Excuse us, we’ll be right back after we find three of these.

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com