Women have made great strides toward breaking through glass walls and ceilings, but women are a minority in the STEM professions, including the field of computer science. This was not always the case. In 1987, 42% of software developers and 34% of systems analysts were women.
So, why do we have so few women in Computer Science today, and how can we encourage young women to consider a career in IT?
The popular TV comedy, The Big Bang Theory, considered the problem in their episode aired March 7, 2013, “The Contractual Obligation Implementation.” Mayim Bialik, who plays a neuroscientist on the show, is a PhD neuroscientist in real life, and is partnering with DeVry University and HerWorld Initiative to promote STEM careers to high school girls. Bialik suggests stereotypes — science is for boys, the lone scientist in the lab — contributes to the lack of interest among young women. Bialik credits one of her tutors with opening her eyes to the possibility of a career in science.
Hackathons, Hack Days & Code Camps
Hackathons and code camps are great places for girls and women to learn about coding and to work on real projects.
- Microsoft Research provides a complete kit with checklists, schedules, activities, projects and customizable posters. This program is geared toward women in universities.
- Girls Who Code offers a summer immersion program, an eight-week program of intensive instruction in computer science, robotics, algorithms, web design, and mobile development. The nonprofit group is running pilot programs for developing clubs for schools and communities, and hopes to release the programs nationwide soon. Kristen Titus, Executive Director, was named to Forbes’ 100 Women Changing the World list in 2012 . Follow Girls Who Code on Facebook , Twitter @GirlsWhoCode, and Tumblr.
- Black Girls Code provides events for girls aged 7-17. Their most recent event focused on building a webpage in a day, using games and activities to introduce HTML, CSS, etc. Follow Black Girls Code on Facebook and Twitter @BlackGirlsCode.
- DEFCON Kids was co-founded by a 10-year-old hacker girl who goes by “CyFi”. Partners include AllClear ID, AT&T, the DoD, EFF, Hackid, Max Kelly, the NSA and Parallax.
Look for groups on LinkedIn. Tech Savvy Women and Women in Technology are only two of several groups for women interested in or who have careers in technology. Look for hackathons in your area at http://www.hackathon.io/ or MeetUp.
Start your own – for your daughter, niece, or yourself. Provide a safe and fun environment for girls to learn and explore code, and they will come.
Where are the Role Models?
A picture is worth a thousand words. The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology has created a Pinterest board filled with images of famous women in computer science. It’s well worth a visit to see and read the brief bios of these remarkable women.
A few highlights in the history of women in computer science:
- Augusta Ada King, also known as Ada Lovelace, is credited with being the first computer programmer. A mathematician, she wrote the first algorithm for Charles Babbage’s computer, the Analytical Engine (1842-1843).
- Actress Hedy Lamarr, with composer George Antheil, developed a method of frequency hopping, a technology well ahead of its time. Technology advanced enough by 1962, when the US military used their frequency hopping during the Cuban blockade. Their theories provide some of the underlying technology for today’s WiFi, CDMA and other wide spectrum broadcasting.
- The original programmers of the ENIAC were women: Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Fran Bilas, Kay McNulty, Marlyn Wescoff, and Ruth Lichterman (1943).
- Grace Murray Hopper developed the first compiler for a computer language. Rear Admiral Hopper is often credited with calling computer glitches “bugs”.
- Sister Mary Kenneth Keller is generally credited as the first US woman to earn a PhD in Computer Science (1965, University of Wisconsin-Madison). Canadian computer pioneer Beatrice Helen Worsley earned her PhD in Computer Science in 1951.
21st Century Stars
Check out these sites to learn more about women who are shaking up the technology industry.
- 10 Women to Watch in Tech in 2013 (inc.com)
- National Center for Women & Information Technology
- IEEE Women in Engineering
- ACM’s Women in Computing
Teach a girl to code, and watch her imagination soar.
This month we celebrate Women’s History Month. The theme for 2013 is “Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.”
~Catherine Buck Morgan
Corporate Media Specialist, DPP
Image: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos
- Big Bang Actress Loves Being a Scientist – and Playing One on TV (bu.edu)
- Prepare for Computer Science before College (computerscienceonline.org)