A famous video game developer and exec, Alex St. John, caused an uproar in the game industry last week when he published a controversial article in VentureBeat.
St. John has been an exec in the video game industry for decades, creating a sound/video technology called DirectX for Microsoft, working on Microsoft Windows Game technology, founding gaming company WildTangent software.
In the article, he advocated video game developers stop complaining about the well-documented insanely long hours and low pay in their industry because this is creating “a culture of victimology and a bad attitude toward their chosen vocations.”
During the furor, a slide deck he created for recruiting came to light that was so sexist and offensive, Vox’s Aja Romano called it “Everything wrong with Silicon Valley culture in one gross presentation.”
Here are some of the statements people are objecting to:
“You don’t recruit and retain male engineers you recruit and retain Wives and Girlfriends … The paycheck goes to HER.”
“Coding is NEVER work, it’s a calling. People who think it is… aren’t real software engineer. Real engineers want a team and a mission that requires long hours and sacrifice.”
“Real engineers don’t value money.”
“Long hours and overcoming hardship together binds teams.”
“The Young the Old and the Useless. Nothing beats youth for speed and innovation.”
“Be on the look out for the holy grail… the undiscovered Asperger’s engineer. (usually found on open source forums). They have no social skills. They generally marry the first girl they date”
“Seasoned veteran’s, married, 9 kids, severely battle scarred, seen and done it all… need balance in their dotage.”
“Sandwiched between the young and untainted and the grizzled war veterans is a vast sea of The MEDIOCRE. ‘Balance’ is their priority in life… they see their job as WORK.”
“The NOT male engineers. Better communication skills often make them better architects, technical writers, QA, or technical support people.”
“There may actually be more female engineers but nobody can identify them…”
St. John’s own daughter publicly slammed him
St. John’s viewpoints in his article and slidedeck were so outrageous, his own 24-year-old daughter, also a game developer, wrote a post on Medium condemning her dad.
He used pictures of her in his slide deck to illustrate how “nobody can identify” female engineers.
“As his toxic waste trash fire not only is associated with my last name but also my face, I felt compelled to respond to my father’s sexist, ableist, and racist rants.”
She called her dad’s article “a horrific toddler meltdown” writing:
My father’s article led to a massive outcry from the gaming industry and a subsequent invasion of my father’s blog by the (rightfully) angry internet masses.
On the blog, they uncovered extremely distasteful recruiting slides and supplemental blogs with revolting opinions regarding women, minorities and the mentally handicapped in the tech industry. Since these findings, countless others and I have found ourselves at a loss for words how anyone, especially someone in a position of power, can think that it is acceptable to broadcast such offensive material.
As his toxic waste trash fire not only is associated with my last name but also my face, I felt compelled to respond to my father’s sexist, ableist, and racist rants.
The myth of the ‘Real Programmer’
In other words, St. John was spelling out in detail how execs and employers like himself have created the myth of the “Real Programmer.”
This myth tries to get developers to believe that a “real programmer” lives only to code.
“Real programmers” not only survive unreasonable demands from their employers to work 80 hours a week, they embrace such demands, and would do the work for free.
To do otherwise, says the myth, means that you are a mediocre hack and not a “real programmer.”
Or as St. John wrote in his initial article:
Many modern game developers have embraced a culture of victimology and a bad attitude toward their chosen vocations. They complain that the long hours and personal sacrifices great games require are a consequence of poor management. Don’t be in the game industry if you can’t love all 80 hours/week of it — you’re taking a job from somebody who would really value it.
While this myth might be good for employers who can want to get their employees to work harder to keep the company’s costs down, it’s extremely unhealthy for the workers, as you might imagine.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just a figment of St. John’s imagination.
Back in 2014, we reported on how the myth of the “real programmer” was taking hold and how its caused some really sad stories, like a coder who worked so hard he had a “complete mental breakdown.”
And there’s been research that shows that overworking someone, no matter how skilled the person is or how much the person likes the work, is counterproductive.
For instance, a decade ago, during the Internet bubble, a book called “Death March” became a best seller. It documented how insane hours for programmers led to health issues. It concluded that poor project management was to blame.
A study by Stanford students also showed that overworked coders tended to produce less high-quality code than when they were refreshed and working a normal 40-hour week.
A backhanded apology
Since the firestorm, St. John posted an apology of sorts on his blog.
“I apologise,” he wrote. “Clearly there are a lot of folks out there upset with me, so I wanted to take a moment to apologise to a few of the disenfranchised minority victim groups I failed to address in my previous blogs.”
He then goes on a tongue-in-cheek discussion of how to recruit people who are lactose and gluten intolerant, says some stuff about vegans, and then tells an alarming story of a former employee with a skin condition using the word “vampires.”
It’s a scary look into the mind of someone in the game industry who’s been making hiring decisions for decades, and it explains a lot about why the gaming industry has been struggling with working conditions for decades, as well as sexism.
St. John could not be immediately reached for comment.