One of the most interesting aspects of pjm's post is that he is speaking from the perspective of an non-stereotypical CS male: someone that's not a hard-core geek in the traditional sense. And as a result, his points and concerns echo some of the concerns I hear from my female students. And this is something I've noticed as well: some non-stereotypical males have an equally hard time fitting into the CS culture, and fight to come to terms with that. The culture hurts everyone, not just women and minorities.
I want to highlight a few things from pjm's post:
[pjm]There’s no room for [turning off interested students] because it’s not just about computers. It’s about what computers can do for everything else. It’s about sequencing the genome; it’s about streamlining business processes. It’s about changing the way we share information.
A friend of mine, who teaches at a liberal arts school, makes the same point: Computer Science is *the* quintessential modern Liberal Art, because it touches on so many other fields. Want to be a scientist? You increasingly need to know how to program a computer. How about a policymaker? You need to understand technology (in an ideal world) before you can start legislating it. And so on. This, I believe, is how the CS field needs to position itself for the future: not as a means in and of itself, not as a neat collection of technical trivia, but as the key to innovation in many other fields. CS needs to position itself so that everyone understands its relevance to almost all aspects of life today: work, leisure, culture, etc. And frankly, so far it's doing a pretty poor job of that--witness the declining number of majors in most programs, even though it's becoming more important than ever to be technically literate.
The other aspect of this is that even though those of us in the CS-related fields need to embrace this message and move forward with it, we still don't value it. I think of the students that are held up as "models" around here, or the ones we discuss the most, and nine times out of ten they are the ones who, well, look and act like stereotypical computer scientists. They know a lot of arcane technical stuff. They are not well-rounded. They live and breathe CS. We ignore the ones who are utilizing CS in many interesting ways: the double CS/Music majors, the political science concentrators, the English majors that show up in our upper-level electives. Until we start practicing what we should be preaching, the culture will not change substantially.
[pjm]I didn’t do CS as an undergraduate...and didn’t get back to it for years, because I got weeded out. I don’t blame my school or my professors; I didn’t have the desire, and I didn’t want to bother catching up with “all the boys who already knew everything.” .... I want a field that’s more friendly to women because that also means a field that’s more friendly to me...
You know what? I do blame pjm's school and his professors. Because by doing nothing to dispel the kind of environment that drove him away---the "everyone else knows more than I do" environment---they are part of the problem. That said, now that I'm on the other side of the desk, I know how hard, how very hard, it is to fight this sort of (very false) attitude. There's only so much you can do to create the kind of comfortable environment where everyone can learn the material---you can't be in the lab 24/7, and your words only go so far to dispel what's sometimes deeply ingrained. I've had some of my brightest, most talented students---men and women---tell me with a straight face that they "can't do" computer science because "they don't know as much as everyone else". Even though they're the ones getting the A's and doing the most creative work in my course, while the ones who supposedly know it all are handing in the crappy assignments and barely squeezing by. Guess who's more likely to go on? The field suffers when we remain silent, when professors and TAs stand by and do nothing to rein in the loudmouths.
Anyway, go check out the original post(s)!