Archive for April 27, 2012

Facts on women in IT careers

Just got this from NCWIT.  The bullet about 56% of technical women leaving their careers was most interesting and disappointing for me.  Most of the references are in the NCWIT Report, The Facts.

Did you know that there are 903,000 women in computing occupations in the United States? Recently we gathered together some demographics on technical women and thought we’d share them with you. Read on for other interesting factoids.
  • The median age of women in computing and mathematical occupations is 42. (U.S. Department of Labor, unpublished)
  • Of the approximately 903,000 women holding computing and mathematical occupations in the U.S, about a quarter million are between the ages of 25 and 34, and another quarter million are between the ages of 35 and 44. (U.S. Department of Labor, unpublished)
  • The average female senior software developer earns between $74,660 – $100,591 per year and has at least a bachelor’s degree. (Payscale.com
  • In 2008, technical women earned an average salary of $70,370 (Dice.com via The Facts)
  • Of the 20 occupations with the highest median earnings for women, 5 are computing occupations: computer software engineers, computer and information systems managers, computer programmers, computer scientists and systems analysts, and network systems and data communications analysts. (U.S. Department of Labor)
  • Women in the computing workforce are predominantly white; about 2% are African-American, 4% are Asian, and 1% are Latina. (By The Numbers)
  • More than half (56%) of women in technology leave their employers at the mid-level point in their careers (10-20 years). Of the women who leave, 24% take a non-technical job in a different company; 22% become self-employed in a technical field; 20% take time out of the workforce; 17% take a government or non-profit technical job; 10% go to a startup company; and 7% take a non-technical job within the same company. (The Athena Factor via The Facts)
  • About 82% of technical women have a partner who works fulltime, compared with 37% of technical men. (Anita Borg Institute)

April 27, 2012 at 8:44 am 11 comments

Thinking about expression and ways of thought, and what happens to those who don’t C

In his wonderful essay on Alan Perlis’ 1961 Sloan School lecture, Michael Mateas points out that Perlis explicitly saw programming as a medium.

Here Perlis makes it clear that programming is a medium, in fact the medium peculiarly suited for describing processes, and as such, a fundamental component of cultural literacy, and a fundamental skill required of new media practitioners and theorists.

I’ve always loved the idea of programming as a form of expression, and most CS departments used to teach different paradigms of programming as different ways of thinking about problems. Google searching, you’ll find that “Computation/programming as an expressive medium” is being taught out there — but not to computer scientists.  Film students, digital media theorists, even social scientists are being taught about programming as a medium.  But for the most part, not computer scientists.

I realized the costs of that when I talked to one of the Seniors in my educational technology class this semester.  She’s trying to figure out what she wants to do next in her life.  She came to see me at my office hours for some advising.  What does she want to do?  Maybe graduate school, “but definitely not in computer science!  I can code, but I don’t like it. It just looks like hieroglyphics.”  We talked a lot about her interests and her options, but then I circled back.  “What was your most fun programming?”  “When it was done! When I was finished with it.”  “Okay, what languages have you programmed in.”  “C++, Java, and C. A little JavaScript this semester, and VPython but only for physics labs.”  I realized that she’s only ever seen C, and forms of that.  She’s never seen another way of expressing ideas in code, another way of thinking about programming.

As I’ve mentioned, when I first got here to Georgia Tech, we taught Lisp and Smalltalk in required courses.  We did that explicitly to show students that there were multiple ways of thinking about programming. Every student used multiple styles of programming.  I taught a computer music class using CSound and Squeak, and people were able to handle it.  But we don’t teach that expressive purpose for programming any more, and few departments do.  I’ve even heard faculty talk about their departments as being “a Java shop” or “a C++/C# shop,” as if students should get a union card for finishing their undergraduate apprenticeship.

To be clear, the main force on the shift to C-based languages was the students.  They wanted to learn to be software engineers. They wanted marketable skills.  But in the end, they find that they hate coding.  They see it as so limiting, as so fixed.

I showed my student Alex Ruthmann’s video of live coding of music in Scratch, and the wonderful new Web Audio API (Thanks to Alan Kay for telling me about this at SIGCSE!), and her jaw dropped.  She didn’t know that you could do things like that.  “I’ve never saw anybody code anything cool!”

[Side note: My TA came in to talk to me after the Senior left.  I still had the Web Audio examples on my screen.  “What’s that?”  I explained what was going on.  “You know about samples, right?  You took CS1315 (Introduction to Media Computation)?”  “Yeah, but when I took it, they didn’t do sounds.”  Even when you design for expression, it doesn’t always happen.]

I find the Senior’s attitude about computing to be a sad statement on how we teach computer science today.  We have turned off a female CS major from entering the computing marketplace or graduate school, not because of what CS is, but because of how little of it we’ve shown her.  She only thinks coding is slogging through &*!{}++ hieroglyphics.  (That wasn’t swearing — I was simply showing some odd C syntax. I know that it looks much the same.) Coding is such a wonderful, flexible, and expressive medium, that allows you to think about problems and the world in so many interesting ways.  Computer science is related to philosophy, and I think we’ve forgotten that.  We graduate majors that have never even seen that perspective, who don’t even know what that means. We’re teaching computer science with all the life sucked out of it.

April 27, 2012 at 8:30 am 19 comments


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