Girls in CS: WHY IT MATTERS

National Association for Women in Technology

National Association for Women in Technology

Congratulations to hundreds of high school girls around the country who have just been recognized by NCWIT( National Council for Women in Technology) at the national and/or state level for their accomplishments and participation in Computer Science. In my home state of South Carolina, we’re so excited that 6 of the 12 awards were from Porter-Gaud! I love that our school embraces Computer Science, and our students see that value in their own core education.

But, I am especially honored that girls are an integral part of our CS classes at every level. In many schools, Computer Science classes tend to be all-boys clubs. In industry, the perception is that it is male-driven. But if you look deeper you find that perception is not necessarily reality. In fact, over the last many decades, there have been some tremendous contributions from females(i.e. to name a few: Marissa Mayer, Radia Perlman, Fran Bilas, Helen Greiner, Lixia Zhang, Christina Amon, Anita Borg, Ada Lovelace, and Mary Lou Jepsen). They don’t necessarily get much credit or recognition for that leadership, but they were invaluable to us being where we are now. In many of today’s top companies (i.e. HP, Yahoo, Facebook, Code.org), we are seeing female leaders at all levels of management. And as images of females in those types of roles become what girls in school see and hear, we will start to see the gender-percentage inequalities even out.

…and not only is this crucial for industries related to technology, but also to you and me–the consumer.

why?

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In the CS program at my school, we are now seeing about 30% female. If you look in one of our classes, you might confuse it with a typical liberal arts history or English class…it will have boys and girls of all races, interests and backgrounds—-not the stereotypical super-techno make-up one might expect in traditional Computer Science. And I get why there have been inequalities: when you(a student) look through the window of a classroom, you want to be able to picture yourself sitting there with people you can connect with. I remember recently being crushed when one of our graduating female students took the “Computer Science” tour at one of better universities in the southeast, and was disheartened when she looked into the Computer Science lab on a tour—99% male, and the two females who were in their did not even look up. While there are some universities that have changed the way they do business–and are actively recruiting females–Carnegie Melon, University of Washington, Georgia Tech, University of Texas, Wofford–the majority have traditional recruiting , which means they attract the exact same student they attracted 15 years ago. The world is a different place than it was when computing devices (as we know them) came onto the scene. Now the world around us is dynamic and interactive and engaging. Girls are just as savvy with their tech devices as boys. Technology and it’s place in society, who uses it, who creates with it, what it does, and where it can help us….is completely different. What was once a discipline for the engineering-minded elite, is now an attractive major for those people who might never have been have even given it a second look. Now we see biology students, business majors, educators, and political scientists who need a different set of skills to help them solve the problems in their industries—and that skill set is called Computer Science.

So, it’s working. I am not sure exactly why or how….but it is. Just the conversation itself is a start. Not just Computer Science, but girls in Computer Science as well. It’s all over the news, in our schools, on TV, in movies, and in books they read. CODE.ORG’s Hour of Code initiative has reached millions of students across world. The girls in our program are as excited to be there as we are to have them. And the world needs more females in fields in which females have been underrepresented for far too long. Not really sure if it is a nurture or nature thing, but regardless, we NEED females to be leaders in the world of digital creation. The software, hardware, tools, devices, and gadgets that come on the market need some fresh and different thought processes behind them. We need fresh design ideas from different perspectives. Thank goodness for the different viewpoints, interpretations, and priorities the female mind brings to class. I know our girls are better for the experience…but I’ll also argue that our boys are better off as well. Classes are more balanced. Problems are approached differently. Collaboration happens differently. Boys also see females as a regular part of their technology-creation experience. They see their female peers as significant contributors to class. They see females as skill leaders and as techno-equals.

Creators vs. Users

Creators vs. Users

And that translates to the marketplace, when those students find their way into business, they expect to see the same multi-gender environment there. And they value that mix. Society then reaps the benefits because the new technologies we get solve new problems in new ways, allowing us to make the world a better place.

We are in the infancy of the technological digital age. We barely know where we are, much less where we are going. At our current rates, we already know that there will NOT be anywhere close to enough students of ANY gender to fill the many roles needed in this area for the United States to be a leader. Elementary, Middle, and High schools really have no idea what Computer Science is, much less how and where and when it fits into the educational systems. Business leaders and parents can help by pushing those schools to be more proactive and innovative. And we want females part of this revolution. Colleges and Universities: you have to help by demanding that your incoming freshmen are well versed in Computer Science,

Research indicates that around the 8th grade is where we see dramatic drop-offs in girls being part of the sciences, especially Computer Science. It is crucial that girls get a good dose of Computer Science BEFORE THEN, so they can actively choose to make it a part of their education as they move through school. We have to start early and let our girls experience Computer Science as a regular part of their education earlier and not as something extra-curricular. I am excited when I hear about amazing things happening in schools all over the country (public, private, big, small, lower income, higher income, rural, urban). Programs such as Microsoft Expert Educator program, NCWIT(National Council for Women in Technoogy) ,Grace Hopper , CSTA(Computer Science Teachers Association)

Microsoft Expert Educator program

Microsoft Expert Educator program

and innovative teachers with a CS edge to them such as Becky Keene, Jamie Ewing, Melanie Grace, Alfred Thompson, Lou Zulli, Mark Guzdial Don Wettrick,Andi Li , Robyn Hrivnatz, Bob Irving, Darko Sadler , Todd Beard, Adam Michlin, Aaron Maurer, Barbara Ericson are leading the way, breaking down stereotypes, and storming through barriers to help technology, but more importantly creation with technology, be an integral part of classrooms.

There is a different way to look at education. As a parent, teacher, student, administrator, or policy maker, keep your eyes and ears open, but look differently and listen better. If something I said here makes sense to you, then we should probably connect. Find me.

About Doug Bergman

Head of Computer Science at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC

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