The piece: can be found here.
I read a great piece about women in computer science tonight, written by a woman in computer science. I’ve read many articles on the lack of women in computer science, and how we can make the field more ‘friendly’ to invite increased participation. I’ve researched conferences and scholarships just for women, and had many people give me a nice ‘good for you!’ for my tangential involvement in the field. And yet, I continue to say things like ‘tangential’ when referencing my involvement in the field. I frequently admit to ‘not being able to code’ or ‘coding not being my strong suit.’ Whether or not that is actually the case is debatable. I’d like to talk about the fact that the language of incapacity or inability persists.
Stubbornella says, “Women are less likely to jump up and say ‘me! me! me!'” I agree. To avoid jumping to say me, I replace acknowledging a job well done with insulting my own work or downplaying achievements. Doing so avoids confrontation, and lets me escape follow-up questions which I may not be able to answer, or may expose my supposed lack of education. I have recently graduated from college, and can now say that I sincerely doubt I suffer from a lack of education. When an individual cannot answer a question, their lack of response should be met with an explanation and offer of help. The CS world should be more of a community, less of a ladder. The most effective work comes from teams, and a successful team makes the team look good, not the individual. In the classroom setting, encouraging one-upping of students doesn’t benefit anyone. I was often avoided as a partner because I wasn’t the fastest coder in the west – just like being picked last for the baseball team. Great coders should be encouraged to teach, partners should help one another and, more than complementing skill sets, should teach each other their skills. This is still a new field, and, female or male, it still needs all the help it can get to meet the challenges ahead. We should all be aware of this, and we should all seek to help each other.
Stubbornella also points out the single aspect I found most challenging about the field: “CS education works best for people who already know how to code before they begin.” This fact compounds the problem. Women are less likely to take credit for great work, but they are also less likely to have the necessary background in CS to get started. And people are judged harshly for being beginners. At first, this judgement seems a mere acknowledgement or passing reference, but it is often combined with low expectations for the individual. I recall being told that I would never write a decent line of code. Was it because I was a woman? I doubt it. But it was because I had never attempted to write a line of code before diving in. And as a woman, it was much less likely that I would be introduced to code before taking a college CS course.
One of the problems with discrimination is that its very tricky to pinpoint when and where it actually occurs. There have been many points where I have heard of or been victim to insulting comments, judgements, and general negativity. I’ve also had a female peer approach me to discuss discrimination and her belief that we had fallen victim to it in one of our courses together. To make such an accusation, however, is a great risk that bears shame and embarrassment as likely costs. We opted not to.
Instead, I will say here that I quite agree with Stubbornella. I find her thoughts on the subject inspiring, and I hope to continue to defy expectations and accusations that I never should have entered this field. Besides, anyone making such a statement, that one person or another belongs or does not in a field, is evidence of the very problem, and it is they who do not belong in the community.