Friday, July 22, 2005

Articles about women in computing

Two cool and interesting articles about women in computing in recent news:

First, there is an article in last week's Seattle Post-Intelligencer about 10-year-old Arfa Karim Randhawa, the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional in the world.

Some of my favorite quotes from the article:
"She made an impression through a combination of charm, flattery and boldness uncommon for someone her age. For example, during Arfa's meeting with Gates, she presented him with a poem she wrote that celebrated his life story. But she also questioned him about what she perceived to be the relatively small proportion of women on the campus. 'It should be balanced -- an equal amount of men and an equal amount of women,' she explained afterward."

(amen, sister!)

"Although she has had a birthday since passing the certification test last year, Arfa is careful to point out that she was 9 when she took the exam. More precisely, she says, she was nine years, nine months, 11 days, and six hours. Fully aware of the fact that she's the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional, she wants to be specific about her age at the time, in case another young programmer emerges someday to challenge what she calls her 'world record.'"

(hee hee....I just thought that was cute.)

Second, an article on about the "new computer whizzes". The article title is a bit misleading, but the article itself is fascinating: it discusses how institutions like DeVry and Strayer U grant more CS degrees (although there's no distinction between associate degrees and bachelor degrees) than the big powerhouse schools (MIT, Carnegie Mellon). More fascinating is the profile of the typical CS student at these schools: female and minority.

The article goes on to discuss the declining enrollments in CS at "traditional" colleges and universities (although at my school, we actually saw a rise in majors this year, so I don't know how much stock to put in "the sky is falling" declarations like these), how students are shying away from CS at the undergrad level because of image (HELLO! what have I been banging my head against a wall for all these years!?) but realizing later in life that a degree in CS, or some proof of IT skills, can increase one's job prospects and promotability.

But the gender/minority issue is fascinating. On the one hand, I think it's awesome that these women are pursuing technical degrees, that they don't let themselves be intimidated by "geek culture", that they "get" that mastery over technology is important to success in our modern world. On the other hand, I think it's sad that we don't foster these realizations in girls as they are growing up, that we actively discourage them from thinking of themselves as future technologists, that we close so many possible career paths to them because of "societal norms".

In my dream world, I'd enter my classroom on the first day of class and see equal numbers of men and women, in addition to a variety of cultures, races, backgrounds, and interests. I am glad to see that the "melting pot" is happening somewhere, and fervently hope that I will someday see that in my own classroom.


Laura said...

Hear, hear! Mr. Geeky has almost all women in his classes (women's college, of course). Even at an all women's college, there is a definite shying away from CS. Both Mr. Geeky and I work hard to convince people. He sends people to my summer program to get more soft skills in software applications, web design, etc. And I send students to CS to get database structures, programming, etc. In fact, one of my students this year is dropping one of her majors so she can minor in CS. I will say that between Geeky Boy and Geeky Girl, my money's on Geeky Girl to become the CS/IT person.

jptrumptone said...

I'm new to reading your blog and I enjoy it. Anyway, I wanted to point you to this article as well since I wasn't sure if you had looked at it.

Thanks for pointing out these other 2 articles. I've always wished there were more women in my classes. The thing we (the female grad students) have noticed at my graduate school is there are many foriegn (esp. asian) women because in places like china and kuwait it is slightly less taboo for women to study CS.

Jane said...

Thanks for the link, jptrumptone (and welcome to the blog!). That was a really interesting article, and no, I hadn't read it.

Laura, I'll keep my fingers crossed for Geeky Girl! :)

Now here's something that touches on both of your comments: When I was interviewing for faculty positions a few years ago, I interviewed at a women's college, and at a state school whose CS program was something close to 50/50 (if it wasn't equal, it was darn close or slightly more women). In both places, the women students were overwhelmingly international students. This shocked me at first in both places, but was understandable once I heard the reason. I guess most of the women in my grad program were also foreign, but I never made the connection. (Plus, there were still very few women, even with the international students, in my program, so I guess I didn't notice the demographics all that much.)

Anonymous said...

While the article would be good news for Computer Science if it was correct, the problem is that DeVry and Strayer do not offer Computer Science degrees. The author of the article may have conflated CS degrees with the business school's less technical CIS degrees that those for-profit schools actually do offer.

John C. Hathaway said...


The article notes how one of the reasons that people shy away from CIS degrees is the idea of "sitting in a cubicle programming code." I know plenty of people who opt for CIS precisely because CS is too technical, and involves concepts that most people just would never use as computer professionals.

I'd like to point out, too, that a large number of Strayer's faculty are women and minorities.