Posts tagged ‘women in computing’
C is Manly, Python is for “n00bs”: Our perception of programming languages is influenced by our gender expectations
Surprising and interesting empirical evidence that language use is mostly gender-neutral. Our expectations about gender influence how we think about programming languages. These perceptions help explain the prevalence of C and C++ in many undergraduate computing programs.
There is also a gendered perception of language hierarchy with the most “manly” at the top. One Slashdot commenter writes, “Bah, Python is for girls anyways. Everybody knows that PERL is the language of true men.” Someone else responds, “Actually, C is the language of true men…” Such views suggest that women might disproportionately use certain languages, but Ari and Leo found in their programmer surveys that knowledge of programming languages is largely equivalent between genders. Women are slightly more likely to know Excel and men are slightly more likely to know C, C#, and Ruby, but not enough to establish any gendered hierarchy.
I mentioned (in a previous blog post) Google’s awards program to fund innovative efforts that deal with rising enrollments in CS while improving diversity. They’ve just announced the six awardees: CMU, Duke, Mount Holyoke, George Mason, Rutgers, and Berkeley. The plans include mentor training, teaching fellows, new kinds of class structures (e.g., optional mini-lectures, small group sessions, self-paced elements, and periodic skills demos based on martial arts), new technology tools, and collaboration spaces.
More details are in the Google blog post below.
One of Google’s goals is to surface successful strategies that support the expansion of high-quality Computer Science (CS) programs at the undergraduate level. Innovations in teaching and technologies, while additionally ensuring better engagement of women and underrepresented minority students, is necessary in creating inclusive, sustainable, and scalable educational programs.
To address issues arising from the dramatic increase in undergraduate CS enrollments, we recently launched the Computer Science Capacity Awards program. For this three-year program, select educational institutions were invited to contribute proposals for innovative, inclusive, and sustainable approaches to address current scaling issues in university CS educational programs.
The Always Super Bowl commercial “Like a Girl” was compelling (see video here). When did “Like a Girl” become an insult?
The blog post linked below (thanks to Kate Harlan for this) offers several stories of female programmers presumed to be less-of-a-programmer because they’re females. These are sad stories.
People are generally willing to believe that I can program, since I’m a white, male CS professor who has written programs in the past (e.g.,the original Swiki and Emile). In my family, we all know that Mom is the expert programmer. All three of our kids took AP CS, and they all asked Barb for help, with me only as a last resort. When we were writing our books, I’d leave notes next to my searching or sorting examples in the LaTeX source for Barb, my co-author: “Yeah, I know that this isn’t quite right. Can you fix it please?” I wrote the first version of the Java class files for Media Computation and JES. Then Barb looked at them, tsk-tsk-ed a bit, and made them work well and made them readable. My wife is an amazing programmer, far better than me #LikeAGirl.
I’m sure that Barbara has had people question her as a programmer, and more than they typically question my abilities as a programmer — while the real ability is the opposite.
One category of reactions that I receive all the time as a programmer that presents as feminine is: No one believes I am a programmer.
I can’t tell you how many people, when meeting me and hearing my profession, tell me that I look like a designer, someone in accounting, someone in marketing, anything but a programmer.
I have been a TA for weekend workshops that teach women to code. My male co-TA’s constantly asked me throughout the workshop how I was enjoying learning to program.
Apparently, presenting as feminine makes you look like a beginner. It is very frustrating that I will either look like not a programmer or look like a permanent beginner because I have programmed since age 8. I have basically always wanted to be a programmer. I received undergrad and grad degrees from MIT. I’ve worked as a visiting researcher in Honda’s humanoid robotics division on machine learning algorithms for ASIMO.
I don’t think that any of these things make me a better programmer; I list them because I am pretty sure that if I were a white man with these credentials or even less than these credentials no one would doubt my programmer status.
While disturbing, these first-person accounts of the sexism that women face in computing are also fascinating (see another one here and another one here). I haven’t had the experiences, and the accounts give me fresh insights into what others’ experience might be.
But dresses and kimonos stand out in a sea of techie uniforms—jeans and free tech company tee-shirts. I noticed I got better feedback from interviewers when I “looked the part.” So on days I had on campus interviews, I sacrificed my dresses for boxy company tee-shirts. Even when I did wear company tee-shirts, I was sometimes assumed to be a recruiter in the same way women in scrubs are assumed to be nurses.
My high-pitched voice also became an unexpected source of frustration as team meetings became small battlegrounds for respect. At another company (which I prefer not to name), I noticed that management listened more to what my male counterparts had to say even though I was offering insightful feedback. Managers asked my male coworkers about the status of projects, although I was touching all the same files. The guys were praised more on their progress although I was pushing the same amount of code.
Starting from the students to build engaging computing courses for non-CS majors: Response to Goldweber and Walker
Michael Goldweber and Henry Walker responded to my blog posts (here in Blog@CACM and here in this blog) in the Inroad blog (see article here). My thanks to them for taking the time to respond to me. I found their comments especially valuable in helping to see where I was making assumptions about common values, goals, and understanding. It’s too easy in a blog to only get responses from people who share a common understanding (even if we violently disagree about values and goals). I found it helpful to get feedback from Dr. Goldweber and Dr. Walker with whom I don’t correspond regularly.
“Pedagogy” isn’t just “how to teach” for me. They argue that their articles are not about pedagogy but about what should be taught in a course that students might take to explore computer science. The page I linked to at the US Department of Education is about evidence-based education, not evidence-based pedagogy. The definition of pedagogy is “the discipline that deals with the theory and practice of education” (Wikipedia link). One meaning of pedagogy is the whole field of education, which is how I meant it in that piece (as in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.) What to teach is part of pedagogy. If we don’t use evidence for making decisions what to teach, we are practicing folk pedagogy.
My larger point was about the role of evidence rather than intuition. Whether we’re talking about how to teach or what to teach, I believe that we have to gather evidence (or in Paulo Freire’s terms, have a dialog with the students and stakeholders). Certainly, we want to gather evidence about the effectiveness of our teaching. We also need to gather evidence when designing education. My background is in education and HCI. For me, “Know thy users for they are not you” is a given in HCI, and “Student-centered” is a given in Education. Both saying suggest that we start with not-me: not the designer, not the teacher, not the domain expert. But for Dr. Walker, “The starting point is identifying the themes and Big Ideas, not pedagogy.”
The unspoken assumption behind my posts, which may not be shared with Dr. Walker and Dr. Goldweber, is that any CS course for non-CS majors (whether a service, elective, or exploratory course) should aim to increase interest in the field of CS, and especially, should be designed to attract and engage women and under-represented minorities in CS. If we are happy with just having the male white and Asian students that we typically attract now, then sure, Dr. Goldweber’s right — we can just do like Philosophy does and build the course based on what we think is important.
Dr. Walker is absolutely right — there is too little time in a course to fit in everything that we think is important about CS. Even if we leave programming out, there is still too much material. How do we decide which Big Ideas to include?
In my process, I start with the students. What are their life goals and desired careers? What’s needed from computing for them to be successful? What are their values? How can I show that computer science is relevant to those values? To choose among the ideas of computer science, we should use what the students need. To teach the ideas that students may not know they need, we should speak to their values.
I disagree with Dr. Goldweber on these points:
The design of a non-major’s course in computing, which is not a service course for some other department/program, should belong in the hands of the CS faculty. Students electing to explore a discipline take these courses. Surely, discipline experts are those who can best decide what to present from the discipline.
We can just design courses for non-CS majors based on our own experience and intuition. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, if we mostly attract white or Asian males and if we fail to engage diverse audiences. Since all three of us (Dr. Walker, Dr. Goldweber, and me) are white, male, CS professors, I believe that we’re the wrong people to use only our own experience and intuition when designing courses for non-CS majors, for a more diverse student population. Yes, we’re disciplinary experts, but that’s not enough. It is our responsibility to design the courses — on that, we’re agreed. It’s our responsibility to design for the students’ success.
One of my favorite quotes about computing education comes from Betsy DiSalvo and Amy Bruckman. “Computer science is not that difficult, but wanting to learn it is.” (See article here.) If we our goal is for students to learn computer science, we have to figure out will make them want to learn it.
Every year, Barbara Ericson does an analysis of the AP CS exam demographics by state. The 2013 analysis (see here) got a lot of media attention (see on-going list). Here’s the run-down for 2014. Her detailed national analysis (from which I quote in this document) can be found here, and her detailed race and gender analysis (which I include some) can be found here.
Nationally, 37,327 students took the AP CS A exam in 2014. This was a big increase (26.29%) from the 29,555 students who took it in 2013.
- The number of schools who passed the audit (which is a reasonable proxy for the number of AP CS teachers) went up by almost 300: 2,525 versus 2,252 the previous year.
- The number of female exam-takers was 7,458 (20%) which was up from 5,485 the year before (18.5%).
- The number of black students was 1,469 which was an increase from 1,090 the previous year. The number of Hispanic students was 3,270 up from 2,408 the previous year.
The top 10 states in terms of the number of exams taken were in 2014 were (with their 2014 and 2013 positions listed — Florida rose and Maryland dropped):
But California is also the largest state. If we control for population, here are the top 10 states by # exams in 2014 / estimated 2012 population / 100,000:
Eight states had a decrease in the number of students taking the AP CS A exam from the previous year: Oregon, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Kansas, Montana, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Maine.
Eighteen states had less than 100 people take the AP CS A exam in 2014, with Wyoming still the only state with no students taking the exam.
Barbara had help from Phil Sands from Purdue this year in doing the demographic analysis.
Females: The top three states with the most women taking the exam in 2014 are:
- California with 1599 exams (24%) and a pass rate of 65%
- Texas with 1102 exams (24%) and a pass rate of 51%
- New York with 504 exams (18.4%) and a pass rate of 56%
The top three states with the highest percentage of females taking the exam are (number of women / number of exams)
Mississippi (1/4 = 25%), Washington (260/1048 = 25%), Oklahoma (42/171 = 25%).
Tennessee, which had 31% female exam-takers in 2012, is no longer in the top ten of states.
No females took the exam in Montana (0 women of 4 exam takers) or Wyoming (but nobody took the exam in Wyoming). Eight more states had at least one woman but less than 10 women take the exam:Mississippi (1/4), North Dakota (1/14), Nebraska (2/71), Kansas (3/40), Alaska (4/30), South Dakota (4/29) and Utah (5/104) and Delaware (7/79).
African American: The top three states that had the most African American students take the exam in 2014 are:
- Maryland with 192 exams and a pass rate of 30.2% for African Americans compared to the overall pass rate of 62.1%.
- Texas with 161 exams and a pass rate of 40% compared to the overall pass rate of 55.7%.
- Georgia with 155 exams and a pass rate of 23% compared to the overall pass rate of 45.8%.
Thirteen states had no African American exam-takers in 2014 (number of African Americans / number of exams)
Alaska (0/30), Idaho (0/58), Kansas (0/40), Maine (0/99), Mississippi (0/4), Montana (0/4), Nebraska (0/71), New Hampshire (0/108), New Mexico (0/61), North Dakota (0/14), South Dakota (0/29), Vermont (0/71), and Wyoming (0/0).
Hispanic: The top three states that had the most Hispanics take the exam in 2014 (the College Board separates this into Mexican American, Puerto Rican, and Other Hispanic)
- Texas with 968 and a pass rate of 32% compared to the overall pass rate of 55.7%.
- California with 610 and a pass rate of 45.2% compared to the overall pass rate of 67.3%.
- Florida with 450 and a pass rate of 39.1% compared to the overall pass rate of 42.5%.
Seven states had no Hispanics take the exam in 2014: Iowa (0/119) which is 5.5% Hispanic by population, Mississippi (0/4) which is 2.9% Hispanic, Montana (0/4), North Dakota (0/14), South Dakota (0/29), West Virginia (0/48), and Wyoming (0/0).
A nice list with interesting history — I didn’t know most of these (Thanks to Guy Haas who sent it to me):
Although “Amazing Grace” Hopper is sometimes mentioned, Lovelace often serves as a token when talking about women in technology. However, her isolation in the midst of the male-dominated history of computer science does not reflect reality: There have been many, many other women who have made their careers in computer science, but whose stories have been erased and forgotten, many of their successes snubbed due to sexism. In fact, says Kathy Kleiman, founder of the ENIAC Programmers Project, “Programming was a pink-collar profession for about the first decade. There were some men, but it was actually hugely women.”
Lest we forget these female pioneers, here are ten that should be remembered alongside their male counterparts.