Random story. I cannot guarantee that this perspective is the truth, but I was there and it’s what I observed.

As you may or may not know, there’s a term about a type of coding culture people throw around: Brogramming. Loosely defined, it’s like frat culture applied to engineering. Two of the first media pieces I remember reporting it were this Bloomberg piece and this Mother Jones piece. They bemoan the rise of Brogramming culture in Silicon Valley and discuss the problems with it.

So I actually have a connection to Brogramming: I was literally there when it started. Blair was too.

It was a joke. A Facebook engineer was walking through the offices and saw an engineer on our team he liked and for no particular reason, had him pose with a Red Bull, sunglasses and popped collar just because it looked funny. This picture is still around even today on different Brogramming pages but I’m not going to link to it because this is the irony: the particular engineer in the photo is actually one of the nicest and respectful people I know – that picture is not representative of him at all and he doesn’t deserve to be associated with Brogramming. That was in fact part of the joke, but you had to know him personally to get that, and many at Facebook did. Anyway, the engineer who took the pic thought it was funny and made a gag Facebook Page (we did that all the time in those days, around 2011-ish?) called “Brogramming” with that photo as the profile pic. If you look in the background of that photo, I’m in the left side back to the camera; Blair is on the right (so I guess technically, to this day we show up when searching for Brogramming). He then populated the Page with absurd funny posts about things like “crushing beers and crushing code”, random fake posed photos of guys on laptops in Vegas, stuff like that. It was all a joke. No one had ever used the term Brogramming before. And no one actually coded in the manner depicted on the Page. Since I know the guy who made it, I know this to be true – everything was fake, it was a joke. Internally, some other gag Facebook Pages popped up afterwards like “Frogramming” (proflle pic one of the Facebook engineers who had an afro) but none were as funny.

This is where it took an odd turn. Some people started believing Brogramming (as depicted on this fake page) was a real thing. Even weirder – some young engineers started emulating Brogramming – turning it into an actual, real thing. Then it started gaining traction. The Page creator, somewhat horrified (and not a proponent of this culture), shut down the Page once he realized people were taking it seriously but it was too late. It kind of culminated (in my mind) with an mid-series episode of Silicon Valley where Dinesh complains about the Brogrammers at Hooli. While it’s a satire and over-the-top, Silicon Valley does a surprisingly good job about capturing real things in the Valley and that’s when it really hit me that Brogramming had become a real thing. It’s still one of the weirdest things I’ve observed – a totally fake joke becoming real in front of my eyes.

I still wonder what exactly happened. Did people take a fake idea too seriously and conjure it into reality? Or was the Page unwittingly tapping into a latent culture that actually did exist but hadn’t been named? I’m not sure. But I have a hard time believing the second. Software engineering in the Valley has for sure long been male-dominated and there are issues with that. But it wasn’t a frat-like culture. It’s somewhat hard to remember now but back in those days, there weren’t nearly as many programmers and the overwhelming majority of them were socially awkward guys, not bros. In my mind, it’s only when coding became more lucrative and much more popular that it drew on a greater population that made the frat-type possible. If I had to guess, when programming became lucrative, the same frat-boy types who previously would gravitate to business started moving more to coding and that fueled it. But it’s a wild guess.

Anyway yeah, that’s my Brogramming story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.