One thing I noticed in the years I've studied CS and wrote code is the arrogance that a lot of programmers have within the CS community.

I remember in high school, coding was just for the tech savvy children. God forbid you ask them a question about a topic because you would often get a rude response.

Then I went to college and a lot of people were acting the same way. Everyone kind of doing their own thing, very anti social, and keeping to themselves. I now teach CS and notice the same behavior with kids whereas in other classes (like reading, writing, art) kids are more expressive, outspoken and creative.

If CS were more widely accepted, I believe more people would pursue a career in it. I think that is the problem with CS - people are afraid to try it because it seems intimidating and is surrounded by this anti social behavior that repels a lot of people.

How do we educators improve the negative attitudes and behaviors that some of our students seem to exhibit?

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    $\begingroup$ What age students are you mostly concerned with? I think the interventions may differ a bit with age. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ I see this behavior among high school and college students but more so with college/university students. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ I don't often see this behavior in students. I do, however, see this in online communities. Open source savants pretending they have no idea what late adopters are talking about when they reference some extremely well known function of a popular commercial software title. Getting down voted because the standards for "general knowledge" are so high, etc. The elitism of the CS world is tied to the "l33t h4x0r" webisms of the late 90s. It's a cultural thing that is somewhat alleviated due to CS topics being considered less esoteric. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ I remember a quote by a famous author in an interview where she explained something about the task of being an author by saying, "Normal people do not write." Perhaps normal people do not program either? $\endgroup$
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 13:18

3 Answers 3


I reject a lot of the assumptions implicit in the question. Computer science isn't just for geeky or "smart" students. And I don't think it's fair to say that students in other classes are "more expressive, outspoken and creative." Computer science is full of art, creativity, and expressiveness. It's a teacher's job to show that to students and encourage every student to try it out.

I advise you to work on your own assumptions first. If the teacher thinks that computer science is not for creative students, then what hope do the students have?

Things to consider:

  • How are you "advertising" the computer science courses? Are you highlighting the artistic and creative aspects of it? Are you appealing to students who might not self-identify as programmers?
  • What types of programs are you using in your lessons? Are they "boring" command line applications, or are they interactive and visual?
  • What types of programs are you assigning for homework? Do they encourage students to express creativity?

In addition to working on the assumptions of both your students and yourself, I'd also advise you to consider the needs of students from "non-traditional" backgrounds. More things to consider:

  • Are you "making room" for students who often get drowned out by louder or more active students? "We've heard from Grace already, why don't we give somebody else a chance to answer?"
  • Are you recognizing the work done by every student? I'd like to show you all a really creative example of how Ada used for loops in the last homework assignment...
  • Are you calling out bad behavior? Are you encouraging good behavior? Hey Grace, I know you know this stuff really well, so during lab today would you mind helping me out by answering Ada's questions?

These types of change have to start with you. I don't agree with a lot of the assumptions in the question, and I encourage you to take a harder look at some of the assumptions you're bringing to the classroom (which your students pick up on and perpetuate). Fix those, and you'll be able to help your students fix their own assumptions.

  • $\begingroup$ It is only my observations, my friend. I am not the only one who sees this type of behavior and the other responses support that. At first I thought it was a cultural thing but I can tell you that teaching in USA and Spain and it is very similar. I like for every student to participate in discussions and make it as fun and enjoyable as possible by making this material accessible to everybody (not just the smart tech savvy children I mentioned earlier). It is these tech savvy children that exhibit this rude behavior that I speak of $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ @AndresAlvarez I still think you're bringing a lot of assumptions with you, but let's agree to disagree. In any case, my answer still offers several suggestions for creating a more inclusive environment that encourages non-traditional students to participate. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 20:47

There is so much about this issue that it becomes difficult to provide a useful answer without writing a thesis. I'll try to give a bit of background and provide a couple of hints toward an answer.

First, I think this is an issue with males, not with females. You only very rarely come across a woman who exudes arrogance and engages in put-down behavior.

I think that part of the reason for this sort of thing among young males is evolutionary. It also explains the too-frequent occurrence of risky behavior in boys and young men. For about 200,000 years, the way that humans survived was that young men engaged in violent and competitive behavior as a consequence of being the protector of the tribe/band in a world filled with lions, bears, hyenas, etc. If they didn't take risks and promote other such behavior, humans would still be in the trees. But now we depend on mind instead of muscle so there is no real excuse or reason for such things to continue. Young males are also raging with testosterone. Unfortunately that has behavioral effects that don't go away quickly. Raging hormones are at least as much of a male as a female problem.

Note that Junior High School in the US at least can be a brutal place (for all youngsters, not just boys). A certain amount of toughness is required to survive. It lessens a bit as kids get older, but the evolutionary trends are still there. Civilization is a very recent phenomenon. So, kids are under pressure and aren't, by definition, experienced enough to always deal with it constructively.

But, they can be taught. Evolution isn't destiny.

As a teacher, I can immediately think of two things that you can do. One is to always in every encounter provide a good example. Never belittle a student. Never suggest that they are inferior or unable to succeed. Conduct your classroom so that for them to gain your respect they must also show respect. Be the role model that they need.

The second thing is to permit no abuse. Every instance of arrogance or "lording it over" others or smugness should be turned into a positive lesson. You may need to spend some "private" time with offenders, of course. Making a public show of "putting down" an abuser both contradicts the first point I made, above, but also just makes the problem worse. You can spend some effort to publicly praise those who offer constructive help to others.

I note that for most professionals, an ability to work well with others is an absolute requirement for the job. There are a number of exceptions, but that number is vanishingly small. If you can't work in a team you can't work here. Maybe some manager will be happy enough with your work (assuming you are top 1%) to keep you confined to your cubicle, but you won't advance. You will just always be the goat that no one works with or talks to. Not a happy life even if you are also extremely introverted. If you do, somehow, get promoted, everyone under you is likely to quit or work to subvert you. I won't name names of exceptions to this rule, but I can count them on one hand among thousands in industry who behave better.

In an office hour you could talk to an offender about the above consequences they may see if they continue. You could also ask them how they might have behaved better. You might even ask them to apologize to someone they have offended. However, laying down the law with specific instructions ("DON'T DO THAT EVER AGAIN") is not likely to be successful. It makes you the arrogant jerk. Don't give the frequent offender an example of "jerkiness" either in public or private.

If you use pairing or teamwork in your class it is useful to also use peer feedback and to let the class know that part of their evaluation will be based on how their peers respond to them. It is necessary, of course to make this safe for everyone, as it is normally seen as risky. See How can I effectively manage peer evaluation among my students? for more. A search on this site for "Peer Feedback" will turn up other ideas.

  • $\begingroup$ Female students don't act arrogant, elitist, or competitive? This seems like a very bias observation. I've observed it to be equally prevalent across genders. Evolutionary tendencies aside, everyone competes in their own way. It is perhaps the case that male students are more likely to end up resorting to combat, although this is rarely the case in a University setting. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 18:57

I think that "arrogance and shaming" are side-effects of personality traits which are indicative of the type of effort needed to master something abstruse like programming. The people who drill down in to it and self-learn succeed because they are not social people who take time with peers or really give a rip what others think of them. If someone is more social and pleasant, they probably will not have the drive to accomplish the learning, they will be out with friends instead. Having no friends is a strong incentive to do something alone that is intrinsically rewarding: master the computer!

A similar example can be found in other fields: look at the 'best' doctors or lawyers. Are they nice, kindly people, or are they a bit ruthless? My father was a successful lawyer, but smart enough to be nice when necessary, and tough enough to work long hours, almost always. He was rewarded, but not by being considered personable by those closest to him (family).

I think we have to assess the nature of drive and consider carefully what it takes to succeed in fields where an enormous amount of effort is needed to gather and master a range of very abstract concepts. Niceness is peripheral or even an impediment to drive. That said, we can move people from their natural tendency (of arrogance, for example) toward more effective ways of relating, but that will be an add-on.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you are wrong. I've worked with many people over a long career and relatively few of them are as bad as you describe. Some are a bit odd and remote, but not abusive. My medical doctor is a wonderful person. I wouldn't see him if he were a jerk. I think that such behavior doesn't lead to success so the jerks disappear eventually. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Buffy I think there is a little truth in this. However I agree most people are all right. It is just that we remember the ones that annoy or traumatise us. 2nd I am currently looking at ways to make programming accessible e.g. worrydream.com/LearnableProgramming $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ I think, actually, that it is having power over people that makes for bad behavior. Witness the spate of sexual harassment cases recently coming to the fore. These are power issues, not sex issues and it doesn't derive from the effort to achieve success. If some people have power they think they can misuse it without consequence or regret. Arrogance among students is a different issue, though. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ Another argument against the ideas in this answer is the fact that most of the bad actors are male. If it was a by product of a hard driving personality and the efforts to master programming, etc, wouldn't you expect to see similar behavior among girls and young women. I'm pretty sure that you won't find it there, though many of the females I've encountered have as much reason to be arrogant as any male. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ Still another reason for rejecting this idea is that it would seem to make any amelioration impossible. "It is what it is. Nothing to see here. Move on." or maybe "Boys will be boys." I worked long hours and had a lot of drive for my doctorate. It didn't turn me into a jerk. (Other things maybe, but not that). $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 19:10

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