Forces Driving Women From Computer Science

In tomorrow’s NY Times, the Digital Domain article talks about the dearth of women in the computer science profession. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/16/business/16digi.html.  I have been thinking and writing about this topic for years, first in an OJR post and then more recently in an declined Knight Grant application, as well as just talking about it to anyone that will listen.  To me, the reasons women aren’t interested in computer science is that the way it is traditionally taught is irrelevant to them.  However, when technology is made meaningful and increasingly social, women flock to it.  I think that technology should be taught in disciplines in which it can be applied, like Communications.  And, I’m not just talking about design.  There are many opportunities for developers to tell stories via data-driven interactives.  But, our field seems to be looking toward the computer science departments for these future storytellers. That’s a huge mistake.  I think we need to bring technology to “where the girls are.”  Basically, we need to integrate meaningful technology like Web application frameworks into communication and liberal arts curricula, disciplines in which women are already highly represented.  I have taught Web design and development for many years, and I have seen firsthand the way that young women respond to technology, when it is taught to them in a meaningful and relevant manner.  Many of my students have gone on to careers that have stretched their technology skills, and many of these careers have been in communication fields that rely on technology and social media more and more.

So, we need to get with it in the Communication discipline and take technology seriously, make it a central part of our curriculum, not a sideline or nice extra. Technology is communication and communication is technology.  We need to accept that and make it happen.

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4 Comments

  1. Cindy, both blog entries today are spot-on, in my opinion. Web applications and technology absolutely must be a big part of communications and other liberal arts curriculum. I’d hate to be a student graduating today in communications without a strong grasp on social media, and a basic understanding of application development and databases.

    By definition, adding those component to the liberal arts curriculum would reach a more diverse student body, and that can only be healthy. If (and when – ugh) the media and PR firms start hiring again, they’ll be looking for people who have skills to lead not only in communication, but in technology. Even now, I think journalists and PR employees are way ahead of the game if they understand and can use technology to its fullest extent. Five years from now, I think it will be a requirement to land a job.

  2. Maira Garcia said

    I like that what you said, that we need to bring technology where the girls are because it’s true. Our department is an example. The majority of students are female and social tech is something they know well. They can expand on those skills if taught well because they will be engaged and interested.

  3. dee said

    I love this topic. Bring technology where the girls are, make it relevant, and start YOUNG-i think those are the keys.

  4. I wish it were that simple. Job opportunities for women in computer science are minimal unless you’re a super star, a Rhodes Scholar type. And that’s the hiring critieria for the Mom and Pops, never mind the big guys like Apple or Microsoft. Their requirements are stratospheric; you have to be a combination of Grace Murray Hopper and Danica Patrick to even get an interview.

    This year, I wrote to every Presidential campaign to see if there were any tech women on their staffs in actual programming roles as opposed to design or production. No one really passed muster, not even Nader. Very disappointing.

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