Women & Coding: Why More of Us Should Join the Computer Science Field

One way you can ensure job satisfaction is through making sure you get a job in a high-demand field, and technology is the way to go!  Job positions such as Software Systems Analyst, Software Developer, or Web Developer are in high demand, and they are projected to only grow in popularity over the next decade or so—by 20-25%, to give you an estimate. If you’re not planning to become a software engineer or computer programmer, it may be beneficial for you to research related or support positions in the online and technology sector, such as Internet marketing or copywriting.

If you’re not sure you are interested in coding, per se, but you’re more invested in another field, such as medicine or physical therapy, you might consider an area in which they overlap—for example, health informatics or healthcare innovation.  One student from Arizona State University’s Master of Healthcare Innovation program did just that, developing an app that serves as a bridge between patients and hospital administration: it provides information like appointment wait time, mobile check-in, suggested fasting times to coincide with the time before scheduled appointments, and so on.  This is a clever way to incorporate IT into a field that is currently undergoing major technological advances.  The healthcare field has been dealing with some big changes as patient data continues to be streamlined to be more easily accessible from various locations within the same hospital but different departments or locations.  

Part of the gender gap disconnect between women and computers begins in childhood, historically speaking.  That is, perhaps not as much now as in the past; however, traditionally speaking, boys were more likely to be associated with ‘nerd culture’ than girls, making it less likely that women would opt to pursue computer science and programming in high school, for example.  Therefore, by the time young women get to college, they have quite a bit of knowledge to make up for.  In order to bridge this gap in knowledge, a number of STEM-based curriculum developers have targeted students in grades K-5 in an effort to reach girls at a younger age, when they are most impressionable.  

As a result of these early gender gaps, a large number of women traditionally have come to IT and coding later in life and bit by bit, according to a 2002 study conducted by research faculty at Ohio University.   The researchers who conducted this study surveyed 275 women about the trajectory of their careers in IT.  The study reported that “A surprising number (31%) of these women in IT majored in the arts, social sciences, or humanities as undergraduates and entered the IT field through non-traditional means, primarily as a result of on-the-job experiences”–and only about 30% of respondents actually majored in computer science.  Because of the historical gender gap at younger grade levels, it makes sense that many women come to computer science and IT at a later age (30-50) and by necessity—on the job, that is, rather than in college.

More recently, it has been found that little has changed.  As of last year, women earn only 18% of computer science degrees.  However, there is now also an effort to change class titles and the way computer tech-related classes are perceived in order to attract more college-age women to coding and IT-related classes at schools such as UC Berkeley and Stanford University.  This approach has proven itself necessary because of the aforementioned gender gap earlier on, during the elementary school years.  According to Telle Whitney, “We are starting to see a shift.”  The shift Whitney is referring to is the number of women enrolled in computer science classes, as opposed to men: one recent Berkeley class had 106 women enrolled, as opposed to 104 men.  

The more women enter computer science related fields, the more role models we will have for future generations, breaking the cycle of women not seeing representatives of people like them in the field.  The more women enter the field, ideally, the more comfortable younger women will feel with computer-related study at an early age.  This need for role models exists at all levels and related areas, from teachers and professors to colleagues and managers.  In addition, as mentioned at the outset of this essay, job security is practically guaranteed because the demand for computer programmers is high and only projected to grow.  The average salary is nothing to scoff at, either.  

So if you want to challenge the proverbial status quo, one guaranteed way to do it is to be a programmer and a woman—at the same time!  Remember, there’s no need to dedicate your entire life to working for a high-tech company, either, if you don’t want to.  You can always apply your newfound knowledge to a field like medicine, education, music—or anything, really.  Just use your imagination!  We need to change ‘business as usual’ in the IT world so that the picture includes more women.  A transformation is possible, but only with increased awareness and effort, on all our parts, to effect change.  


Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Boise, Idaho

I write. I also play the piano and sing along, go for hikes in & out of town, and I'm the host of "The Poetry Show!" every Sunday on Radio Boise, KRBX 89.9 / 93.5 FM. Follow me on Twitter @TPS_on_KRBX.

Daphne Stanford is a writer of many things: poetry, creative nonfiction, and songs for vox & piano.

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