27 2 / 2012
When I first starting telling people I was going to major in computer science, these are some of the things I heard:
You’re going to be the only girl in your classes, and the guys will:
- treat you like an idiot.
- assume you can’t code because you’re a girl.
- ignore you.
- be “mean” to you.
- refuse to take you seriously.
- hate you (especially if you’re any good).
They were right on one point, and one only: there aren’t a lot of other girls (if any) in my classes.
The rest of it?
Completely, totally, and categorically untrue.
It should be duly noted that I don’t have much in common with most of my male classmates. I’m not a gamer, I haven’t been programming since elementary school, I am not well-versed in the classics of science fiction, and I wouldn’t have had the first clue how to hack into a database until a few weeks ago. Academically and culturally speaking, I have a lot of catching up to do.
The point I’m trying to make here is that if the guys in my CS program were at all interested in being sexist jerks, I would be a very easy target.
The thing is, they aren’t.
I don’t know why there aren’t more girls in CS, but I’m pretty sure it’s not because of the guys.
Because they are fantastic.
My male peers, as a group, are: chill, hilarious, passionate, exceptionally intelligent, and generally awesome human beings. All male-dominated professions should be so lucky.
Most of them know much, much more than I do. I know this, and so do they— but they aren’t jerks about it. They always answer my questions, and they’re always nice about it. In fact, they often go out of their way to be helpful: a week into one of my first programming classes, one of my male classmates sent me an email saying, in effect, “Hey, I know you’re brand-new to this language, so here are a bunch of Web resources that I found really helpful when I was first learning it.” The striking thing is, this seems to apply even outside the classroom: a male friend who works in the industry explained parameterized SQL queries to me at a bar, over beers, illustrating with code samples on the back of a cocktail napkin.
It’s also not an issue when I do get it. If I do something that gets recognition, like solving an in-class programming assignment first or having my code displayed on the overhead as an example of a good homework solution— I don’t get dirty looks, or asinine comments, or any of the other bad treatment I was repeatedly told to expect. More often than not, the guy sitting next to me will say something complimentary (Nice), inquisitive (So why did you do X instead of Y?), and/or helpful (You could speed that up if you did Z). Or, very occasionally, I’m not getting this, can you explain it to me?
(Okay, in total honesty: I barely managed to suppress an actual squeak of delight the first time that happened.)
The point I’m trying to make, based on the people I’ve encountered in this field so far, is this: they tend to respect the hell out of solid skills and good work, regardless of the specifics of the source (as always, being a decent human being also helps). If you’re good at what you do (e.g., you can code) or you’re clearly dedicated to getting there, your chromosomal makeup doesn’t matter. Your peers don’t care. Neither should you.
CS may be an overwhelmingly male field, but that doesn’t make it inherently sexist. In fact, given the aforementioned emphasis on skill over basically everything else, I feel like my gender “matters” less than it ever has.
It’s kind of great.
27 2 / 2012
26 2 / 2012
- I’m a 20-something female computer science major.
- I am a “non-traditional” student, meaning that I already have a bachelor’s degree (and had a very brief career) in a completely unrelated discipline.
- I decided to learn how to program out of sheer curiosity in the summer of 2011, fell in love, and signed up for a couple of programming courses at my local community college.
- I am currently a full-time student at large university in one of the flyover U.S. states, on an accelerated track to complete a second bachelor’s degree in the spring of 2013.
- I plan to become a back-end software engineer. I would eventually love to work at a company that is both building things and making a positive difference in the world.
- I am obsessed with algorithms, particularly as they relate to optimal, elegant solutions.
- I’m usually one of very few girls (and sometimes the only one) in my CS classes, and because of my background in the social sciences, I’m really interested in the relative scarcity of women in computer science (as well as engineering in general).
- I’m a believer in the “different tools for different tasks” approach to programming languages, but my personal favorites are C and Python.
- I’m in love with emergent technology. I read the blogs, I beta-test like a fiend, I’m a serial early adopter, and I have all the gadgets my college-student budget will allow.
- I love books. I’m constantly reading, and I collect books, sometimes with total disregard for the aforementioned college-student budget.
- I’m interested in connections: human to human, human to planet, humanity to universe. I’m especially interested in the interplay of technology and interconnection.
- I believe (so much) in the importance of happiness, mindfulness and compassion— and, again, I’m interested in the dynamics of these things with respect to technology.
- I plan to write on a variety of topics including, in no particular order: what I’m learning in and out of school; what I’m experiencing as a girl in tech; things, people and words that inspire me; current technological obsessions, and (I hope!) many more.
26 2 / 2012