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."
"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 MSNBC.com 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.