Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Keynote / Attracting Women to Computing and Why it Matters

I was invited to give the keynote for Women and Technology 2015, held at Carleton on June 19.  I spoke about women and computing.

I began with an exercise: how could we generate six different versions of a multiple choice midterm where the three options were scrambled differently on each of 30 questions? I gave some time to discuss the problem, then asked how many people realized this could be easily solved with code.  Of those with hands up, how many felt confident they knew how to write that code? (There were a few!) I mentioned that learning to code can help you automate the boring stuff you don't want to do manually (see, for example, the new book Automate the Boring Stuff With Python).

This lead me into a discussion of the kinds of computational thinking skills that learning to code can give you, and where those skills could be applied outside of coding.  But if these skills are so empowering, then why do so few people have them? And in particular, why are women so underrepresented?

The short answer, of course, is that it's complicated.  (It's not just a pipeline issue!) I shared a few of the factors involved, from gendered toys (see Riley's rant) to a sick tech culture.  I talked a bit about some of my own small contributions (e.g. my mini-course, Go Code Girl, Gram's House and CU-WISE).

I concluded with some homework: everyone should go forth and learn to code (or, learn some more).  If they could get to the point that they could feel positively about computing, it's a lot more likely they will encourage girls that show an interest in it to give it a go.  I hope you'll do the same. ;)


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