Ada Lovelace and Women in Computing Today

Ada Lovelace is considered the world's first computer programmer. In the world of computer science today it's almost astonishing that computer programming could have first been done by a woman. After all the percentage of woman in computing professions is somewhere around 20%. The reasons for this seem to be completely out of our grasp. It's been suggested that the "geek" stereotype is completely unappealing for women, but the number of female videogamers is around 38% and rising. Additionally, the percentage of female Star Trek fans is somewhere around 40% (which I think we can all agree is far geekier than programming).

There also is speculation that there is a factor of family influence. Of the few women I have talked to in the computer science field didn't start programming until college, and of them most had some family member who was involved in a computing profession. While I see this being a factor in which female students are aware of the field I can't see it as a contributor to very few women choosing computer science. After all, with all the men in the field the number of father's with CS degrees and a daughter should be fairly high.

I honestly don't have the slightest clue what is holding gender back from computer science. I got into it young. No one else in my family was a programmer or engineer. I started out with HTML and learned that I absolutely loved that I had the ability to create something. For an entire year before I wrote my first program I did nothing but read. I read about the hacker culture. I printed out the jargon file and read every bit. Finally, by a hacker's recommendation, I grabbed a C compiler and started teaching myself C (what an odd choice for a first language). Nothing held me back and I wasn't even aware of a gender gap until high school when I enrolled in my first programming class.

Later in college during the TLI Program where I was teaching computer science, to primarily female, students I noticed something. Prior to writing their first programs the girls were apprehensive saying that "it will be hard" and "it's gonna be boring", but once they wrote their first bit of code something changed. Suddenly, they were excited about code and starting to notice that even doing the smallest things felt awesome. I don't know how many of those students are going off to pursue computer science degrees, but at least they found something enjoyable in the experience.

I propose that the number of women in computer science could be aided by simply exposing younger girls to programming at a younger age. I call it the programmer's high when you finish a good piece of code and it works perfectly and you feel ecstatic. You made something. Those two hands of yours reached out into the world and created something that wasn't there before. As the cigarette companies will tell you: "You gotta hook 'em young."

References

  1. What Has Driven Women Out of Computer Science?
  2. FanHistory.com: Star Trek
  3. Hand over the controller, girl gamers say