Craftsmanship without the Man


Recently on the Devchix mailing list, aimee brought up the software craftsmanship movement and asked whether other women felt awkward about being labeled “craftsmen.”

Some of our members were fine with it, while others said they felt alienated by the term. Beth explained that it was because of its usage in the movement—“master craftsman” is held up as an ideal that everyone should aspire to, but its male bias makes it difficult for some women to relate to it.

We discussed alternatives like craftsperson, crafter, and artisan. After a bit of brainstorming, Tess came up with “codesmith.” Many of us were excited about this term—it has a fun and geeky vibe that captures the enthusiasm we have about our work, while having the same emphasis on creation present in “craftsman.”  While it’s certainly based on words like blacksmith, I like to think of it as more similar to wordsmith—a person who is skilled at using language to make something great.

As the sort of programmers who get into debates over small differences in syntax and rack our brains to come up with the most appropriate name for some variable, we know language is important. It’s a shortcut for identifying something, but over time it can create expectations and beliefs. Making changes to language can be difficult, but in the case of being inclusive to women in a women-starved field, I think it’s worth it.

19 Responses to “Craftsmanship without the Man”

  1. Raymond T. Hightower

    I enjoyed this post. Yes, language is important because words shape our thoughts & actions. Thank you (and the other members of DevChix) for making this brainstorm public.

  2. Kevin Taylor

    Hi Victoria,

    As someone who is helping to push the Software Craftsmanship movement forward, I can say that I, and others in the movement, have also struggled with the term craftsman. Thanks for the feedback from your group on the term.

    I have a daughter who is today learning how to program using MIT’s Scratch. Hopefully, if her passions take her there, she will be a craftsman some day. I don’t know if she, or we, will be using that gender-biased term in 10 years to describe it, though.

    Codesmith as a very nice ring. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Justin Beck

    I had (in my own male way) really embraced the term ‘craftsman’. On a somewhat related note, I’ve also loved the term ‘wordsmith’ (and longed to hold the traits the moniker carries).

    Not only does ‘codesmith’ bring an equality to our profession that is sorely lacking (and mightily deserved), but it also marks a change in who we are and how we approach our work which is also undeniably valid.

    ‘codesmith’ – It’s an excellent re-branding, I love it. Thank you!

  4. David Wright

    Gender terminology aside, our goals should be higher than practitioners of a ‘craft’. Craft implies one-off products, unique to the creator. We need a lot more software than can be crafted, we need engineering and automation. Otherwise, we will never catch up with the demand for reliable software that needs to be available when the need exists, not months or years later.

  5. Steve

    Can’t we just accept that our amazingly rich language has some more or less archaic connotations that don’t neccessarily reflect our current thinking? The word ‘man’ means a human being and a male human being. So sometimes its appearance suggests a male when no such thing is meant – ‘all mankind.’ But ‘victim’ meant a sacrificial animal or person, ‘charger’ meant a plate for 300 years before it meant a horse; isn’t our language richer for its web of connections and historical influences? Can’t we be delighted that women have gone from getting the vote almost to the white house in 80 years, and not look for ways to feel disenfranchised by the most gender-egalitarian age the earth had yet seen?

  6. Steven Mak

    Why not “Softwaresmith” then?

    As English is not my mother tongue, while in our language the word “Craftsman” is gender-less, so I am not that into the discussion with gender.

    Happy Coding :)

  7. Till

    I’m with Steve here: Language is a tangled thing, if you start cleaning it up, you probably end up with newspeak: Isn’t a smith always male? You know: Big, sweaty person with a hammer over at the fireplace, maybe not the brightest chap, but hey, the very male prototype, including the hair on his back… ;)

    Yes, language shapes our thinking, but our thinking shapes language, too. As does reality. Ok, I’m male, and biased (both because of the way my own native language was assaulted by p.c. constructs, and because I believe in equality). But I would ask: Do you want to convey mastership of a craft, or gender neutrality? You know, the latter is well and good, but the former is where wearers of your badge would put their pride.

    If you manage to enroll visibly enough women, nobody would question that your title does not imply a gender preference. On the downside: If you can’t, you will have created a new gender-biased title. If you allow yourself to think in this categories.

  8. Raimond Garcia

    It’s awesome to see more female action in the field. Wish we could come up with terms that everybody feels identified with. In my case, the word “craft” really means something, I don’t think software has reached nor will reach the state of pure science, it will always have a creative side. However, the word “smith” does not represent does connotations for me :( . I personally prefer softwarecrafter :)


  9. Peter Gillard-Moss

    It is interesting that most over industries have shed their gender-specific job titles. Even the sexist city uses the neutral term Chairperson these days.

    Isn’t it telling that the IT industry invents a new term only for it to be gender specific with a male bias?

    Also to Steve, the whole man (human) argument was over in the 80s when people realized that language isn’t static and can shed it’s rich heritage of sexism. Also Googles dictionary definition (if we want to go by populist and most accesable) of craftsman states “A _man_ who practices a craft with great skill”

  10. Bill

    > So sometimes its appearance suggests a male when no such thing is meant – ‘all mankind.’

    The best counter-statement to this I know is Hofstadter’s satire “A Person Paper on Purity in Language.”

  11. Ken Auer

    Like Kevin, I’ve been pushing the term. I like the term “Artisan” for a lot of reasons, but since it is more obscure in “common” vocabulary, it has a sense of “elitism” in a negative way for me… I’m trying to connect with people who have an idea and want someone to care about the idea. Craftsman seems to work for those in the “higher echelons” and those who consider themselves the equivalent of “blue-collar workers”. I don’t put a value judgment on either, but they look at themselves differently and both can relate to craftsmanship… Higher end car manufacturers celebrate craftsmanship, and you can find craftmanship at county fairs.

    “Codesmith”, to me, has the connotation that we are talking about a “coder” who is really good at “coding”… which is separate from those who analyze a problem, draw ideas from their clients, look at the big picture, etc. A craftsman, to me is a “codesmith” and much more. (Would “Softwaresmith” or “softsmith” work???)

    So, I’m sticking with Craftsman for now, with no offense intended. Keep looking for a good word. I’m open to changing what I use in my advertising and general description of what we do.

  12. Nolan Egly

    Codesmith is unfortunately also the name of code generating tool (first hit on Google). I would suggest continuing the brainstorming…

  13. Dave Frey

    We need the movement, whatever its name, and we certainly need more women in our field. I’d prefer if my daughter claimed craftsman as her own term, but if it’s effectively a barrier I would the name.

    Codesmith fits my very code-centric view of our work, though for some it suggests something more menial — leading me initially to favor artisan.

    But the menialists are terribly, tragically mistaken, and rallying around the c-word is an ideal response in that sense, at least.

  14. Chris Parsons

    Aimee and I work together and we had a conversation about this the other day.

    We’ve started using the term today on Eden’s new website, and I believe the advantages to the term outweigh the disadvantages. I’m personally pro using the term as long as we are very clear it’s absolutely gender agnostic.

    For example, we’ve made this gender neutrality explicit in our website copy: “…once a craftsman has finished *her* apprenticeship…”

    Terms and language are extremely important to any movement: they unify a community and beget common understanding. We should be careful not to be too quick to throw out useful terms which have gained some traction.

  15. Gavin Clarke

    I like codesmith, mainly because it is less cumbersome than software craftsman, I also like the emphasis on code – the raw material we work with.

    However, I don’t think this means we have to lose the value that comes with talking about craft and crastmanship. After a blacksmith is is still a craftsman.


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