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Monday, May 18, 2009

Comments

Suetta

You are exactly right. I can totally relate to your experience in Indy. Getting my Computer Science degree in 1980, I was always one of a few females in my classes. All of my jobs since 1980, I was one of a few females in the department. Conferences were the same. Even at my first position at SAS, females were the minority and some of them didn't hold developer positions but more 'source librarian/migration' positions.

"Wonder Years" actress Danica McKellar, (Winnie Cooper), has tried to promote mathematics for females. You can be smart, mathematical *and* an attractive girl.

From Wiki: Danica Mae McKellar (born January 3, 1975) is an American actress, mathematics author and education advocate. She is best known for her role as Winnie Cooper in the television show The Wonder Years, and now as author of the two New York Times bestsellers, Math Doesn't Suck, and Kiss My Math, which encourage and empower middle-school girls with mathematics know-how.

It'll take more than her efforts to communicate the possibilities, change the culture, and empower girls to explore computer science careers, but it's a start.

Suetta

PS: Personally, I think females are digressing in respect by others and aspirations. The glamorization, exploitation, marketing devices of females with boob jobs and skimpy clothing. Britney, et al have influenced our culture. Have to have your body parts hanging out and underwear showing. Young girls idolize her and the likes. Girls gone wild, "rainbow parties" in junior high, and constant reinforcement that you have to look and act cheap to be liked and succeed. I guess I'm getting old and prudish. My idols were Donnie and Marie, the Little House on the Prairie girls, Marcia Brady and Gidget. How wholesome. Ok, I'll get off my soapbox.

Ann

Suetta, I completely agree with you about the role models and lack of self-respect in girls growing up today. In fact, that terrifies me as a mother to three of them. Thanks so much for the information about those books. I had never heard of those, but I'll be sure to get them as my girls approach middle school.

Armin

If you don't mind the male perspective, I'd basically add, "What she said."

Also working in a engineering-related field, I think your comments would apply to most technical disciplines, though I would say it's probably not as bad as compared to your field. I dunno. Maybe it's because it's more attractive to work on something 'tangible.'

Overall, though, we're suffering from a dearth of people (male and female) going into these fields. There are a lot of 'graybeards' that are retiring in the next few years, and it's obvious there's not a sufficient supply to make up for their departure.

Regarding the societal pressures--maybe it's me, and maybe it's the fact that I grew up in a rather sheltered area. I'm not used to it. I'd say there are a lot of factors, but basically "Can it make me rich/popular/famous?" is today's driving force.

It's just not cool to be smart...until one is in their mid-30's. But by that time, it's far too late.

Shirley

I was the only girl in our high school computer science classes and one of just a handful in my college courses. I went to a state university so I assume "brain schools" like Ivy league etc would have a better ratio.

In my internship at Phillips Petroleum I had a wonderful female mentor who did Artifical Intelligence. At SAS it seemed like there were so many woman in a variety of roles that I didn't think it was odd. I would have been really surprised at the people at your conference too. Maybe the companies that they work for are much smaller so they don't get the diversity.

Ann

I've certainly always been in the minority in classes at school, meetings or project teams at work, etc., but not to this extreme. At our lunch table today, we had three women, and one of them asked the Flex Project Manager if the ratio of men to women was pretty similar to what he has seen at this conference in year's past. She was wondering if the location played into it since more people had to travel a long way to get to this one (as opposed to some place like San Jose where more people would be local). He said that, sadly, this turn-out was consistent with everything he had seen, and seemed to be consistent across the industry. He did say that at Adobe, they have a higher percentage of women working on the flash/flex team, but that what we were seeing here was very typical. I really don't think the numbers of women were this low when I started out in computer science 15+ years ago. I think we are a dying breed, unfortunately.

Armin

Ann:

Not to throw this right back at you, but what do you see as a potential solution? In all likelihood, it'd be like trying to save the Titanic by bailing with a bucket, but never mind. While you look at the problem as a dearth of women in these fields, I'd say it's a lack of ANYONE entering these fields. And my answer: I don't know.

The lack of hard science/engineering graduates today does keep me up at night...and our ever increasing reliance on foreign-born science talent. I'm not meaning to demonize them...if anything, I would applaud them for emphasizing these fields (that, and the fact that my dad is an immigrant).

You see a lot of grassroots programs encouraging students, but nothing on the national level. I take that back. I DON'T KNOW of any at the national level, primarily because society and the media would rather focus on the President's dog search or Amy Winehouse incapacitated onstage again. If it's out there, it's not well-advertised.

Sigh...when I make my 10 Kajillion dollars, I will fund a scholarship program, with the following string attached: the awardee must major in a science/engineering field. Then again, considering the field where I work, I'll never make 10 Kajillion dollars. Guess I should've kept playing football.

Ann

I don't have a solution. I don't even have any ideas. Honestly as popular as Facebook and Twitter are with young people, it seems like people would be flocking to computer science. When I started out in computer science, my job as an RA in the CS department included doing tape back-ups in a tiny room typing to a black screen with a unix prompt - so NOT sexy. Computers are so cool now and so much a part of everyday life, it seems like this should be an interesting field - to both girls and boys. There are lots of people here at this conference who write iPhone apps.... there isn't much cooler and cutting edge than that. Why that is not something cool that people want to learn, I do not know.

I honestly didn't realize that we have a lack of science/engineering graduates overall. You are educating me. Seriously though, if the iPhone, iPod Touch, Twitter, and Facebook can't draw people into engineering, I'm not sure what will.

Armin

Sorry, Ann...didn't mean to turn your blog into a discussion on saving the world. Overall, I was laughing at your post, primarily the "Wow, you guys are women..." attitude.

I just think overall "The Sciences" do a poor job of advertising. Kids think if they go into CS/Biology/Engineering they're going to spend the majority of their years as a lab rat. Where's the excitement in that?

For one of my classes with Hopkins, we got a presentation from one of the Dr's working for JHU's Applied Physics Lab (APL). These guys are all over the place, doing cool stuff...including stuff they can't talk about. Anyway, this Doctor was just talking about how a lot of his work had included interfacing with the Hopkins medical staff, and he told the story of how they came up with a device to non-invasively detect brain hematoma.

Why was it important? It's fairly time-critical, and (my understanding) is that previously the only real way to check for hematoma was to "Drill, Baby, Drill."

How'd they do it? I think it had to do with basic physics. Something about electrical current and how the impedance changed because of hematoma.

So yes, kids...if you go to school and learn basic physics, one day you can spare people from invasive medical procedures. Maybe that would generate interest.

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