Quick, picture a computer programmer. Did some combination of social awkwardness, extreme smarts, and possibly an unhealthy obsession with video games come to mind?
True or not (and many advocates for women in tech spending their lives battling these stereotypes), in our unpolitically correct moments most of us would admit that we hold an image of programmers as shy but brilliant types who don't mind being holed away with their computers for hours or days on end.
But are these common stereotypes accurate at all? A recent study aimed to find out. The German academic behind the research decided to investigate by searching through all available studies that measured subjects' programming ability, personality traits, and intelligence, gathering 19 such studies for his efforts.
The stereotypes aren't all wrong...
What did he discover? As is true with many stereotypes, they spring from a kernel of truth. The higher a person's intelligence, the better a programmer they're likely to be. And the same goes for introversion. If you're quiet and inwardly focused, it seems you're more likely to excel at the profession.
That "makes sense seeing as introverts generally prefer a quiet environment away from crowds, and working on a computer and writing code fits with that preference. Conscientiousness was another relevant trait. Again this makes sense, because conscientiousness is about attention to detail," explains the writeup of the findings on British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog.
...but they're incredibly incomplete.
But while these first results aren't exactly shocking, the biggest takeaway of the analysis will likely surprise some people. Smarts and shyness may go together with programming skill, but these weren't the traits most highly correlated with success in the field. What is? A trait tightly linked not to nerdiness, but to creativity.
"The personality trait most strongly correlated with programming ability was not introversion or conscientiousness, but openness: a trait that's related to being creative and imaginative. What's more, over time to the present day, openness has become a more important correlate of programming ability, while conscientiousness has become less important," reports BPS.
There is no techie type.
We should be cautious with the takeaway here, however. While openness and intelligence tend to predict success as a programmer that doesn't mean if you have these traits, this is definitely the field for you. Nor does it mean you should run out and switch career paths if you're less than exceptional when it comes to one of them. As the analysis notes, there is huge variety in the types of personalities that end up succeeding, even if these general trends hold true.
The real lesson may be just the opposite of any attempt to find the "ideal" programmer type -- what we really should learn from this study is just how limited (and limiting) our stereotypes are. How many talented people didn't go into tech because they thought their creativity wouldn't be well used there, or that they didn't have the requisite love of Dungeons and Dragons? The real takeaway here is simple but valuable -- your stereotypes about tech are probably wrong or at least very incomplete. Don't lean on them when deciding whether a person is well suited to the field.