I Googled looking for women in CS who blogged relatively recently. I didn’t find much, a vitriolic article from 2003 by a girl in a CS undergrad, complaining about the other girls on the course and this post from Stubbornella stood out. I remember reading that Stubbornella post and thinking that I should have something to add to the debate. But I didn’t have anything new to say – it sucks to be a minority, we all know it – perhaps I could add some noise.
What brought it home so strongly, how hard it had been to be a minority, is that at the time I wasn’t. Extreme Blue Canada had an amazing number of women in the program this year. There was a girl on every team – two on some, including the team I was on. It was noticeable compared to the US teams at expo – Canada had exceeded the magic ratio, at which the women were not minorities, but normal.
It was different for Maggie, who was one of two women in her building. We talked about this – we had very different coping strategies. Towards the end of the summer, I floated the idea of a blog to her – the natural next step from the many conversations we had that summer. We thought that whilst you might not want to brand yourself as a woman in CS (every woman in CS I know is so much more than that, perhaps it’s like evolution, only the most awesome/stubborn/motivated/interesting survive), you could brand a platform, provide a forum for women who don’t have the time, or inclination to run their own blog. Maggie was excited by the idea as well, and we started to sketch out a vision and pitch (EB gave us a lot of practise in that) our idea to people. They were interested. They promised to blog for us. CompSci Woman was born, although unnamed.
Computer Science – and we take the broadest possible view of what that is – is a multi-disciplinary, multi-dimensional subject. The women who work in this area are multi-faceted people. What we aim to do is create a place where all these different opinions, views, experiences can come together. Where visitors can see not only a broader view of what the challenges are, but the triumphs and creations too. They can see who a CompSci Woman is – that there’s no one size fits all; some of us like visualization, or UX, and some like compilers and concurrency. Some of us refuse to compromise our sense of style to fit in, and others study in order to master the necessary topics of conversation in the geekdom. There’s no one way to cope – or succeed.
Personally, I think Computer Science is where the most important developments are happening right now – because of what it enables, not just the internet, but things like breakthroughs in medical analysis by virtue of the sheer volume of data that can be crunched. Google has revolutionized the way we find information, and Facebook has fundamentally altered the way we conduct our social lives. If programmers/software engineers/computer scientists/data scientists are inventing the future, I don’t think we should be entrusting the construction of that such a heavily male-dominated group. Not because I hate men, but because as we alter society, I think it would be helpful if the people leading the way were more representative of society as a whole.
What can I do? Find mentors and be one myself. Be visible and findable so that girls debating a degree in CS see there are nice, normal, happy women who love to code. We can’t fix this overnight – enrollment needs to increase, and women need to stop leaving at a higher rate than men.
But, with your help, we can build a platform, and a community. Because more people means more mentors, and more role models, and more inspiration. And that – well, I hope it’s just the start.
Cate Huston is an alumna of IBM’s Extreme Blue program and will finish her Masters in Computer Science at the University of Ottawa researching influence and media contagion on Twitter by the end of 2010. She has a BSc (hons) in Computer Science from the University of Edinburgh. Cate has trained in martial arts in China and is a CSIA Level 2 certified ski instructor. She has taught programming in the UK, US, China and Canada and has developed programming curricula that was taught across the US. You can find her latest CC-licensed curriculum, developed for uOttawa here. Cate is the former president of Women in Science and Engineering at uOttawa and is currently Instigator of Awesome at Awesome Ottawa and an Editor of CompSci Woman. She blogs about technology, programming, effectiveness and life at Accidentally in Code and twitters as @catehstn.