It’s time we realised Computer Science isn’t just for boys
Currently, only 11 per cent of software developers are women
Computer programming is a huge and lucrative business, but it’s not surprising that the percentage of women coders in the industry is pitiful. The tech industry is famously male-dominated, but coding is particularly bad with only 11.2 per cent of software developers being female.
If coding is a language, then discrimination against women is even more ironic, considering there is statistical evidence that women learn languages better than men. Some might pass that off as academic folklore, but scientific research is beset with studies from over the past 40 years that illustrate the superior language skills of girls (I say as a proud modern languages student).
Of course, it may be a sweeping statement, but it’s mainly down to the way girls process language, their study strategies and tendency to converse more and communicate better. So women should in fact be better at coding than men. In any case, it’s still appalling that one of the world’s leading industries is lacking so many women.
One of the highest-paid models in the world, Victoria’s Secret Angel Karlie Kloss, endorses women getting into coding with her campaign “Kode with Klossy” which aims to spark an interest in both women and girls in computer science. She both runs and funds camps for young girls ages 13-18 for two weeks over summer, free of charge. The camps teach girls how to build real apps using code and are incredibly popular.
But I wanted to know what it was like, first-hand, to be a woman and a coder today. So I spoke to Rubi Quiñones who, at 21, is graduating with a bachelors in Computer Engineering from The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley and whose Facebook profile description reads: “A woman who loves CCC (computers, coding and cats).”
What got you into the idea of coding initially?
When I was young, I was lucky enough to have parents who never saw my gender as an obstacle towards realising my dreams. My dad encouraged my logical mind. He pushed my limits, whether it was through solving puzzles or playing logical games such as Picross, or even just messing around with a Rubik’s Cube.
He spotted my love for mathematics and saw my potential for being a very successful woman in computer engineering. That said, my Hispanic background presented difficulties because traditionally women are expected to be stay at home mothers. I was fortunate that my parents saw past that for me.
Can you describe your university experience as a female student in computer engineering?
Growing up in Texas, the lifestyle is a bit backwards anyway, so I found myself being the only girl in a class full of boys. Every day I would get an offer from a boy who was willing to “help” me with my assignments simply because they assumed I would need the help. Or, when discussing different algorithms and codes with male teachers, they would constantly check up that I knew certain concepts which are considered basic knowledge for an engineer such as calculus and binary trees.
This was extremely patronising and I imagine that is the case for women in the industry generally, who face sexism every day in their careers. If the social norm, which sows its seeds in education, is to say women can’t code because of their gender, then it’s no wonder that women don’t see coding as a viable career.
How would you suggest that we both encourage more girls into the field and support women who are currently facing discrimination in the tech industry?
If you enjoy mathematics and sciences, if you love solving algorithms, then think about a career as a coder. Similarly, if you find yourself excelling in learning languages, then a career in coding is much more linked than you’d initially think. It is a language after all. Education is where it all begins and girls should be inspired to go into computer science early on, because our future lies in technology.
But where you don’t feel encouraged, I would recommend beginning at home, researching and trying to learn independently. There are so many resources online that are beneficial and will give you ideas as to mini projects you can do on your own. Go to Hackathons and apply for camps and courses. Most of all don’t ever think just because you are surrounded by boys that you aren’t capable of being a talented and accomplished coder.
For the many women who feel the pressure of feeling insecure or belittled in the field, stand up to the discrimination vehemently. It is inexcusable, systematic misogyny that we need to start addressing head on. Become active in professional organisations such as ACM-W (Association for Computing Machinery-Women) or WTT (Women in Telecoms and Technology) and don’t be afraid to have a voice, and use it.
Coding isn’t meant for just men, women can code too. This is about changing the way the world perceives women in the tech industry, and giving them the well-earned validation they deserve.