-- This blog entry is the winning essay written by Jennifer Cabral, recipient of the 2014 iQmetrix Females in Techology Scholarship --
Name: Jennifer Cabral
School: University of Manitoba
Year and Faculty: 2nd year Computer Science]
(See press release about Jennifer's scholarship win)
How to Get More Women Interested in Computer Science
To increase the number of women in computer science we must focus on two areas. The first is how do we increase interest in the subject prior to university or college entrance. The second is how to encourage the women that do take introductory computer science courses to pursue computer science as their major.
The first area of focus requires introducing computer science at a younger age. For example, a “basics of computer science” course as early as elementary could be created. It would show young girls the basics of the topic and ease young minds into it. In a world filled with computers and programs it will become increasingly essential to understand how the world around them works. If computer science is made a part of the core curriculum in schools right along math, English, and the other sciences, girls would automatically have a greater chance of following the topic through to a higher level of education. I also feel that having teachers that are comfortable with technology and who allow girls to take chances to learn will help build programmers instead of end-users.
A second way to grab the interest of younger females would be to have presentations showcasing the varieties of jobs available in the field. The stigma of siting in a cubicle coding all day is what many girls think of when they hear computer science but if they knew about the careers available perhaps things would be different. There are people who say that females aren’t drawn to the field because it lacks social communication, but the industry requires people to manage teams, communicate with clients, as well as other means of socializing as part of the job. If younger girls knew this, perhaps they would be more inclined to follow a computer science path.
The second focus must be on retaining the women who do choose to take an introductory computer science course at a post-secondary level. Although the ratios are still skewed in favour of men in intro courses, there are significantly more women in first year computer science courses than in higher levels. We need to focus on keeping these women interested in computer science. Perhaps intro courses should focus less on the history of the field and more on the future. If women are not shown where these skills will take them when they are done, they may not be interested in pursuing a major in the program. If the intro course must focus on history, perhaps more recent examples of women in the field could be showcased. Paying attention to the ratio of male to female historical programmers highlighted can help provide women for young coders to look up to.
Intro courses should include group work to better represent how work is done after graduation. You may end up as a part of a development team once you are in the workforce, and the intro courses do not focus on this characteristic at all. Allowing women to see this aspect of the industry may be just the encouragement they need.
To get women into computer science we need to introduce it at younger ages, show them what possible careers are available within the field, and let them know that this a viable future. Providing opportunities to work in groups and focusing on the future of the field may just be the pushes needed to increase the number of females in the computer science industry.