The Computer Boys Take Over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise

Front Cover
MIT Press, 2010 - Computers - 320 pages
Like all great social and technological developments, the "computer revolution" of the twentieth century didn't just happen. People—not impersonal processes—made it happen. In The Computer Boys Take Over, Nathan Ensmenger describes the emergence of the technical specialists—computer programmers, systems analysts, and data processing managers—who helped transform the electronic digital computer from a scientific curiosity into the most powerful and ubiquitous technology of the modern era. They did so not as inventors from the traditional mold, but as the developers of the "software" (broadly defined to include programs, procedures, and practices) that integrated the novel technology of electronic computing into existing social, political, and technological networks. As mediators between the technical system (the computer) and its social environment (existing structures and practices), these specialists became a focus for opposition to the use of new information technologies. To many of their contemporaries, it seemed the "computer boys" were taking over, not just in the corporate setting, but also in government, politics, and society in general.

Ensmenger follows the rise of the computer boys as they struggled to establish a role for themselves within traditional organizational, professional, and academic hierarchies. He describes the tensions that emerged between the craft-centered practices of vocational programmers, the increasingly theoretical agenda of academic computer science, and the desire of corporate managers to control and routinize the process of software development. In doing so, he provides a human perspective on what is too often treated as a purely technological phenomenon.

What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - cmc - LibraryThing

Covers the transition of computing from its early origins and division between largely male scientists/engineers building the machines and mostly female "coders"/programmers through a process of ... Read full review


The Black Art of Programming
Chess Players Music Lovers and Mathematicians
Tower of Babel
The Rise of Computer Science
The Cosa Nostra of the Data Processing Industry
The Professionalization of Programming
Engineering a Solution
Visible Technicians

Other editions - View all

About the author (2010)

Nathan L. Ensmenger is Assistant Professor of the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Bibliographic information