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Dear Paul Graham, here’s how to fix the women in tech problem

I am on the west coast and just woke up to all of this of the brouhaha around Paul Graham.

I was considering calming down before I published a blog post, but really, what is the fun in that?

Dear Paul Graham, Fred Wilson & anyone else who would like to read on:

I know how to solve the women in tech problem and the pipeline problem in one fell swoop. You interested?

Would you like to know how you are doing it wrong? And why what you are currently doing to fix the problem is actually reinforcing the issue and feeding into a vicious cycle that will only maintain the current gender ratios?

The biggest problem with Paul Graham’s statements is the UNILATERAL focus on 13 year olds and the TOTAL dismissal of all other women and their technical abilities.

This is A) absurd, B) horribly demotivating for women and girls of all ages (if you haven’t started by 13 you will NEVER do anything of value) and C) most importantly, a scourge that if not addressed will be sure to wreak havoc on generations of women and girls to come.

Women, all women, need to be encouraged to learn to code, learn about technology, start startups, etc. Study after study has established that the biggest factor in whether or not women enter CS programs or think they can be technologists is the presence of women role models and teachers to show them that is possible. (You can read more about it here, hat tip Jane Margolis.)

Let me repeat this for effect. The biggest factor in whether women go into technology is whether they have someone who they can relate to and look up to.

In other words, as awesome as Goldie Blox and Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code and Hopscotch are (and they are F*CKING AWESOME don’t let anyone think I am saying that they aren’t), if we don’t also encourage more adult women to learn about technology and do cool things with technology, this problem will not be solved.

And ironically, this is one of the biggest issues facing the movement to bring CS education to every kid in America. There simply aren’t enough k-12 teachers knowledgeable enough to teach this stuff.

If we take Paul Graham at his premise that if you are over the age of 13 you are too old to start then well, let’s forget about bringing CS to the next generation of k-12 students and while I am at it, let me close my computer, fire Emily our Skillcrush lead developer, and darn it, shut down Skillcrush since you know, the whole endeavor is hopeless.

OR you can believe (as I do) that women of ALL ages can learn awesome technical skills and do bad ass things and show their friends and family members (and students, afterall most teachers in American public schools are still..women!) that women and girls can rock this tech world, and I HONESTLY believe this pipeline problem will solve itself.

Seriously, this belief that they are too old to learn anything useful is the #1 issue we face with women who come to Skillcrush to learn about technology. Women are convinced that it’s too late for them (even before Paul Graham told them it was). And it feeds into a reinforcing cycle that is coming down on all women ESPECIALLY all those 13 year olds.

PS I should of course take this opportunity to mention that we have thousands of women, ALL of them over the age of 13 (some as old as their 60’s) proving this idea all wrong.

PPS Want to talk to me more about this? I would love to chat with you! Shoot me an email at

Adda Birnir

Adda is not only the CEO and founder of Skillcrush, but also an instructor. With her self-taught tech skills, she’s worked on building sites for the New York Times, ProPublica and MTV.

When Adda isn’t developing or teaching on Skillcrush, she enjoys watching Hall & Oates videos on YouTube.