Posts tagged ‘women in computing’
The website https://www.madewithcode.com/ is really nice, with high-quality videos. I like the direction. It’s not clear to me how all the different Google initiatives in CS education integrate. Does MadeWithCode, CS First, their new CS teaching repository, and the CS Fellows program all fit together in a strategic direction?
Made with Code’s mission is anchored by a website where girls can use basic coding technique to make bracelets and other items; Google also will dole out grants to host girl-coding parties at Girl Scouts and Boys and Girls Clubs around the country, as well as fund a range of marketing and other awareness campaigns.The idea is to de-couple coding with dry tech chores, and instead show how the skill is vital to everything from movie-making to helping cure malaria.
The title is right, but the article (linked below) doesn’t really explain what “encouragement” means. We do have an answer to that from our “Georgia Computes!” work. We found that a sense of “belonging” was key to retention in the Computing major, especially for women and under-represented minorities.
More encouragement will be needed to attract girls into the IT profession, according to a BCS survey.
BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, found that 79% of BCS members believed that the IT profession would benefit from having more women working in it.
Currently, women account for just 15-18% of IT professionals, a figure that has fallen significantly in recent years, said the BCS.
Interesting post on how STEM isn’t all male-dominant, but Engineering and CS are SO male dominant, it shifts the average.
Computer science is a particularly strange case, as it has seen more fluctuation both in raw numbers of students data not shown here and gender balance than any other field. Other fields have seen large shifts in gender balance, but they have generally been gradual and nearly monotonic—not reversing course in the early 1980s. It seems to me that the biggest drops in the ratio of women in CS came at times when the overall number of students in CS was dropping like after the dot-com bubble burst in the 2000. When CS grew, the number of women grew faster than the number of men. When CS shrunk, the number of women shrunk faster than the men. Perhaps if CS education had had a steady growth, rather than the boom-and-bust cycles that have plagued it since the late 1970s, it would not have had such a mysterious rise and fall in proportion of women in the field. The boom-and-bust cycles are not driven by the real need for CS degrees, but by media hype about relatively small shortages or excesses of personnel. I believe that the demand for CS degrees has been stabler than the supply unlike most other fields, where the supply has been steady even as demand has fluctuated.
After the NCWIT Summit, we had two days of meetings with ECEP State Partners and our Advisory Board, hosted by Debra Richardson at the University of California at Irvine. Then, Barbara and I got a chance to visit with Alan Kay for a few hours on Friday. As always, we came away with pages of notes and a long list of things to read and think about. All of these meetings were productive and interesting, but the next stage on our California adventure has had me thinking about how we teach hard science and hard computer science.
A former student at Georgia Tech and one of the first MediaComp Teaching Assistants, Jim Gruen, now works at SpaceX. He invited Barb and I to come up for a tour. We rented a car and drove to Hawthorne.
Barb at SpaceX
What an amazing place! The front third of the building are where the 40 programmers (“Everything is software,” Jim told us) sit with other engineers and developers. The back 2/3’s of the building is the factory floor where rockets are assembled. As you walk onto the floor, there is mission control to your right, and above your head is the actual Dragon capsule that first docked with the International Space Station. It is an inspiring sight as you walk onto the factory floor.
We saw rockets being built! Jim showed us where engines are being assembled into racks, where carbon composites are molded into parts, where detailed metal parts are made with 3-D (metal!) printers, and where the parts of the fuel tanks are welded together then painted. We saw the shop where they’re making prototype space suits. We saw via live video stream (on a giant TV on the wall of the developers’ floor) the amazing Dragon Taxi that was just recently unveiled. We saw lots of people (mostly men, unfortunately) working to build a future where humans are space-faring.
I was deeply impressed. SpaceX has a corporate goal to put human beings on Mars. What a noble goal! (Perhaps we could compare that to a corporate goal of, say, getting more people around the world to drink fizzy, flavored sugar-water?)
Jim does kernel-level hacking. He works on the boot sequence for the flight computer, networking, and device drivers. He showed us his current project. He is integrating in the module responsible for firing the rocket that will pull the astronauts off of the rocket in case there is an explosion during take-off.
I left the SpaceX feeling like I just had a glimpse of the future. The discussions when I tell people about our visit have had me thinking about how we prepare students for that future.
SpaceX is exciting and motivating to everyone I’ve talked to. Admittedly, I tend to hang out with people interested in science and engineering. Our daughters were jealous that we got to visit SpaceX. The other night, my 16 year old daughter had a girlfriend over for dinner, and the friend had questions for me about SpaceX. I was shocked — my teenage daughter is telling her female friends stories about her parents’ adventures?!? All the undergraduate and graduate students that I have told about SpaceX were impressed and had questions about our visit, both male and female students.
I do believe in the literature that suggests that women are socialized to be motivated to help people, and that efforts like service learning can motivate women to study CS. That’s part of the motivation for efforts like HFOSS. Many people are asking the question why women aren’t pursuing the “hard sciences.”
Maybe we’re using the wrong context in the hard sciences. Many people (not just women) don’t get too excited about physics, chemistry, and engineering. Everyone I’ve talked to is very excited about SpaceX. Working at SpaceX requires lots of “hard science.” The stuff that Jim is doing is low-level and geeky — rebuilding the Linux kernel stuff. My kids are still fascinated about it. Maybe women and other students would be more excited about science if the connection was made to end goals like SpaceX and to helping get humans onto other planets.
Computer science is not that difficult but wanting to learn it is.
Maybe that goes for “hard science,” too. SpaceX is a great reason to want to learn a lot of “hard science.”
Postscript: I told my daughters about this blog post. One daughter said, “We’ve both been to Space Camp (in Huntsville). Space Camp would be great except for that one annoying guy who always thinks he knows everything and wants to tell everyone all about it.” The other daughter agreed. Context is important, but we have to get the social stuff right, too.
The 2014 National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT) summit was fantastic. I was at the first NCWIT national meeting ten years ago, and I have been at several since. They are always thought-provoking and enlightening. I may have enjoyed this one more because I got a chance to present as well as be in the audience.
(Thanks to Robert Walker for the picture and for allowing me to post it here.)
I offered a workshop on how to change state education public policy to improve and broaden access to computing education. The slides from the workshop are available here in PDF and here in PPTX. The workshop was offered twice: Tuesday afternoon (SRO packed room of about 40!) and Wednesday morning (maybe 25). I had a half-dozen hallway conversations from people who wanted to talk about their state in particular. Overall, there was a significant interest.
All the workshop presenters advertised their workshops as a Flash talk. A Flash talk is intense: exactly 20 slides, presented for exactly 15 seconds each. No control over either. Jeff Forbes hosted the Flash talks. They were all recorded by Turner Broadcasting, and you can see them all here. (I’m the first one.) My slides are available here in PPT format.
What can you possibly say in exactly five minutes? I worked harder on that five minute talk than on most of the keynotes I have ever presented. I’ve been thinking about this since last December when I wrote the initial blog post on this idea. In the end, the structure of what I was saying was good, and I ended up using it for the workshop, too.
To change a state, start here
I proposed a four step process to start changing a state:
- Find a leader(s): Computing education reform doesn’t just happen. Someone (or a small group of someones) has to take the initiative.
- Figure out where you are and where you’re going: The hardest part is seeing the big picture (of how schools, higher education, businesses, and state politics have to work together) and figuring out how to make change within a state. Two years into ECEP, and I am still surprised at the state differences. Here’s one I just learned. Hawaii makes all education decisions at the district level (like California and Massachusetts), but all of Hawaii is one school district. All those islands, one school board.
- Gather your allies: Find all the high school teachers, university faculty, business leaders, and state Department of Education leaders who want to work together. We find that efforts that speak with multiple voices from different sectors to promote computing education tend to get more influence in state government.
- Get initial funding: There are big ticket items for computing education, like professional learning opportunities for all your high school teachers. But there are smaller ticket items that need to happen early on in the process. One of these is a landscape report: Where are you now. There are several of these available at the CSTA website. Another is a summit, a face-to-face meeting of all your allies, along with the people that you’d like to influence (the ones who will come), to develop a set of shared goals and a shared strategy for getting there.
Plenaries: 80-hour work weeks are a human issue, not a women’s issue
NCWIT summits always have a mix of alliance meetings (Academic Alliance, K-12 Alliance, Workforce Development, Social Science Advisory Board) and plenaries, besides workshops. All the plenaries were recorded and are available here. A few of the plenaries were just so amazing that I want to highlight them.
Michael Kimmel is a social scientist working in masculine studies. His talk on engaging men to support women in technology was the my favorite talk of the summit. He was hilarious, yet grounded in real data. He explained what Larry Summers got wrong in his comments when he said that “many women with young children are unwilling or unable to put in the 80-hour work-weeks needed to succeed in those fields.” Kimmel pointed out that that framing implies men inviting women into a world where men’s values rule. If men and women had equal status in science, would we require 80-hour work weeks? Do we want anyone to work that hard at science and the consequent neglect of other priorities? Survey results show that men value time with their families more, but feel pressured by other men to be the “unencumbered worker” who will put in those hours and value work above all else. “Why do we call these concerns women’s issues when they’re really family issues or even human issues?”
Dr. Chelsea Clinton spoke and was amazing. She was articulate, confident, and well-prepared to speak to issues of gender diversity and technology. She just completed her doctorate at Oxford, so this was her first talk where she was introduced as Doctor Chelsea Clinton.
I didn’t really know who Donna Brazile was before she spoke. I didn’t know that she ran Al Gore’s presidential campaign, or that she’s a CNN commentator and columnist, or that she’s done cameos on shows like “House of Cards.” I’ve looked her up since she gave such a terrific speech at the NCWIT Summit. She was funny, irreverent, and compelling.
All in all, it was a great summit. I learned a lot and made a lot of useful contacts. We now are talking with people in several other states about ECEP working with them to improve and broaden participation in computing education.
Google is going to take a lot of heat for these low numbers, but let’s not forget how long the computing industry has hidden and actively protected its diversity numbers. Kudos to Google for coming forward! Now, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook? (Thanks to Rick Adrion for sending me this link.) And then let’s get to work on making this better.
In an industry that has been famously guarded about its workplace diversity, Google on Wednesday disclosed its record when it comes to hiring women, African-Americans and Hispanics. The data reveals statistics that the company itself admits are too low and strikingly below other industry averages. Women comprise just 17 percent of its global tech workforce, according to data Google published on its website and released exclusively to the PBS NewsHour. When it comes to leadership, women only account for 21 percent of the top positions in the company, which has a workforce of just under 50,000 people.
Salon.com wrote about the boycott that’s emerging because a major chemistry conference is all male. The linked article, from the President of the University of Cincinnati, talks about what’s needed to retain and grow women in STEM. I wouldn’t have guessed that we’d have this problem in Chemistry before Computer Science.
The recent threat to boycott an upcoming international chemistry conference because of its all-male speaking program reminds us how far we still have to go when it comes to women in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The challenge remains that many STEM professions remain male-dominated, especially in academia.
I’m speaking today at the NCWIT Summit, and this is a good article from NYTimes to re-read before the summit:
After the Titstare presentation, a commenter calling himself White_N_Nerdy wrote on Reddit, “I’m honestly trying to understand why anyone says that females are ‘needed’ in the tech industry.” He continued: “The tech community works fine without females, just like any other mostly male industry. Feminists probably just want women making more money.”
Online gathering spots for engineers, like Reddit, Hacker News and 4chan, where people often post anonymously, can feel like hostile territory for women.
An important message to post on the first day of the NCWIT Summit for 2014. There is a significant role for guys in making the culture better for women. Do read the whole article — it’s frightening.
How do we fight this war? We stop enabling. We check ourselves and, when necessary, wreck ourselves. Do you know a guy who’s hate-following women on Twitter just to troll them? You check him. Do you know a guy who’s writing disgusting screeds to women journalists because they don’t like the same things he likes? You check him. Do you know a professional whose discourse with women in his field is loaded with gender-specific language and condescension that could enable further abuse? You check him. Are your Twitter followers identifying you as a sympathetic ear for their sexist views? You check yourself. Is your website’s message board a cesspool of ignorance and hate? You check it like you actually give a damn. Do you know a guy who’s sending rape threats to women for any reason? Oh, you report that guy.
Let me make it plain:
A woman objecting to the content of a comic book — even if you think she’s dead wrong — does not rise to the occasion of vicious name calling and rape threats.
I had some off-blog responses to my post about women in hackathons. Here are a couple of them:
- Shriram Krishnamurthi sent me an article about Brown’s hackathon. It was 35% female, and all of the attendees said that they’d come back.
- Yasmin Kafai told me about StitchFest.org at Penn where they doubled the number of women attendees by including e-textiles.
These both look interesting and successful, in terms of drawing more women in. I’m still left with questions. Why do a large-number-of-hours hackfest/stitchfest at all? The Brown article does give a reason: to build community. I do believe that a sleepless all-nighter experience can build community. Are there other, maybe better ways?
Are these replicable models? Both of these examples are at Ivy League institutions. Both of these efforts had significant corporate sponsorship. The Brown hackathon had a professional engineer to work with almost every student group. Can other schools duplicate that draw? There are interventions that are easier at an Ivy League institution. The Harvard CS50 experience is absolutely amazing, but will Facebook sponsor pizza party coding sessions for every school in the US, and is Microsoft willing to host every school at the NERD Center? I know I’m at Georgia Tech, so I need to watch for being painted with the same brush. Not everything we do is easily replicated elsewhere. We explicitly design for replicability and measure it.
Maybe there is value in hackathons, and maybe it can even play a role in improving diversity in computing. Microsoft and Code.org are supporting hackathons for women. If we’re going to do this, we should articulate the desired value and role, design for it, and test to see if it’s happening. I’d rather not believe that hackathons are simply there, part of the new computing culture, and now we can only learn how to make them as not-awful as possible.
Yup, Herminia has the problem right — if CS MOOCs are even more white and male than our face-to-face CS classes, and if hiring starts to rely on big data from MOOCs, we become even less diverse.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. One of the developments that will undoubtedly cement the relationship between big data and talent processes is the rise of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Business schools are jumping into them whole hog. Soon, your MOOC performance will be sold to online recruiters taking advantage of the kinds of information that big data allows—fine distinctions not only on content assimilation but also participation, contribution to, and status within associated online communities. But what if these new possibilities—used by recruiters and managers to efficiently and objectively get the best talent—only bake in current inequities? Or create new ones?
I hadn’t heard about this theory before the below blog post — recommended reading. As usual, I appreciate Kevin’s analysis.
As parents and teachers we encourage children to pursue fields that they enjoy, that they are good at, and that can support them later in life. It may be that girls are getting the “that they are good at” message more strongly than boys are, or that enjoyment is more related to grades for girls. These habits of thought can become firmly set by the time students become men and women in college, so minor setbacks (like getting a B in an intro CS course) may have a larger effect on women than on men. I’m a little wary of putting too much faith in this theory, though, as the author exhibits some naiveté.
The story is interesting and disappointing. Why would GitHub go through all these contortions just because they had this one female engineer — and would have there been less drama and stress if there had been more than just one female engineer? The story has been updated in Sunday’s NYTimes.
The exit of engineer Julie Ann Horvath from programming network GitHub has sparked yet another conversation concerning women in technology and startups. Her claims that she faced a sexist internal culture at GitHub came as a surprise to some, given her former defense of the startup and her internal work at the company to promote women in technology.
In her initial tweets on her departure, Horvath did not provide extensive clarity on why she left the highly valued startup, or who created the conditions that led to her leaving and publicly repudiating the company.
Horvath has given TechCrunch her version of the events, a story that contains serious allegations towards GitHub, its internal policies, and its culture. The situation has greater import than a single person’s struggle: Horvath’s story is a tale of what many underrepresented groups feel and experience in the tech sector.
Hackathons seem the antithesis of what we want to promote about computer science. On the one hand, they emphasize the Geek stereotype (it’s all about caffeine and who needs showers?), so they don’t help to attract the students who aren’t interested in being labeled “geeky.” On the other hand, it’s completely against the idea of designing and engineering software. “Sure, you can do something important by working for 36 hours straight with no sleep or design! That’s how good software ought to be written!” It’s not good when facing the public (thinking about the Geek image) or when facing industry and academia.
So why try to make them “female-friendly”?
OK, so there are a number of valid reasons women tend to stay away from hackathons. But what can hackathon planners due to get more females to attend their events? I found some women offering advice on this subject. Here are some suggestions for making your hackathon more female-friendly.
Amy Quispe, who works at Google and ran hackathons while a student at Carnegie Mellon University, writes that having a pre-registration period just for women makes them feel more explicitly welcome at your event. Also, shy away from announcing that its a competition (to reduce the intimidation factor), make sure the atmosphere is clean and not “grungy” and make it easy for people to ask questions. “A better hackathon for women was a better hackathon for everyone,” she writes.
Great to see Dan Garcia and his class getting this kind of press! I’m not sure I buy the argument that SFGate is making, though. Do female students at Berkeley find out about this terrific class and then decide to take it? Or are they deciding to take some CS and end up in this class? Based on Mike Hewner’s work, I don’t think that students know much about the content of even great classes like Dan’s before they get there.
It is a predictable college scene, but this Berkeley computer science class is at the vanguard of a tech world shift. The class has 106 women and 104 men.
The gender flip first occurred last spring. It was the first time since at least 1993 – as far back as university enrollment records are digitized – that more women enrolled in an introductory computer science course. It was likely the first time ever.
It’s a small but a significant benchmark. Male computer science majors still far outnumber female, but Prof. Dan Garcia’s class is a sign that efforts to attract more women to a field where they have always been vastly underrepresented are working.
“We are starting to see a shift,” said Telle Whitney, president of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology.