Why ‘Women in Computing’?
|Everyone who has taken an introductory course in computer science has heard of Lady Ada Lovelace, reputed to be the “first programmer” ever. Reading through any “History of Computer Science” textbook, you would find more women than men amongst the early pioneers. Not just the first programmer, the first person to develop a compiler was a woman, Grace Hopper. The first electronic computer – the ENIAC was programmed by six women, not only that, it’s technical documentation was also done by a woman.|
Now have a look at the number of women enrolling for a CS major in universities across the globe. It’s been shrinking since the eighties. No more than a quarter of the computer science undergrads across the United States are women. If women were amongst the early pioneers in computing, what is the reason for such dismal statistics today? Why are fewer and fewer women opting for computing as a career?
For ThinkQuest 2008, we wanted to investigate an issue that is relevant to students – highschoolers and undergrads worldwide. In the 21st century, we all talk about gender equality – how modern societies extend equal opportunities to both women and men. Born in modern times, free of the male dominance so common to other sciences and engineering fields, computing should have become a model for gender equality. However, statistics show otherwise. There are far fewer women in computing careers than men.
Barbie dolls, tea-party sets and teddy bears for the daughter; Lego sets and video games for the son. Are today’s parents and the society in general responsible for turning women away from computing and other related fields? Or is it because of what former Harvard President Lawrence Summers famously called “innate preference”? We explore the various reasons that have been given by researchers and social scientists for the disproportionate number of women and men in computing – what is plausible and what is not. Are the causes so numerous and deep-rooted in our institutions that the society is unwilling to make changes to promote gender equity?
There are signs of hope. As we found out, among preteens, girls are more likely than boys to use computers for their homework. Maybe these girls will break the so-called traditional barriers and venture into computing for their career.
Let’s find out what has kept women out of computing in the recent decades? Is the situation improving? What will the future bring?
Two cricket crazy computer science sophomores, a music loving Business undergrad, a graphics expert studying Computer Engineering, an Economics freshman who loves dancing to Bollywood music and a budding photographer from India who also happens to study Computer Engineering comprise our ThinkQuest team.
Let’s put in a word about our coaches as well. A rock music fan, our coach Amit loves tinkering with electronic hardware. He also happens to teach Information Systems in a university in Singapore. A trivia freak, our assistant coach Devayan regaled us with his quirky stories during those all-nighter sessions when working on the website. Being just a year older than most of us, he loved to keep telling us that he was the “coach” whenever his voice would be drowned out in our super loud brainstorming sessions.
Who are we and what all did we do to build this website?
A sophomore from Singapore, cricket-crazy Sparsh is majoring in Computer Science. A ThinkQuest 2007 winner, Sparsh worked on the creative design of the website. Editing interview videos, making the webpage layouts, creating the survey, he has done it all. Sparsh’s stories about his San Francisco trip (how that was the most awesome trip he has had, how he would love to go there again, the mist-covered Golden Gate Bridge…) were the major motivators during those how-will-we-finish-it times.
The design guy of our team, Sachindra is a freshman studying Computer Engineering in India. The template of our website was made by him. The terrific graphic designs that you see on the banners on each page – are all Sachindra’s work. With the other two team members who were working on the design and layout based in Singapore, VoIP and instant messengers became Sachindra’s main mode of communication with the team. Sachindra’s interests are in graphics and animation and he spends most of his free time designing website templates.
Indian by birth, Omani by residence, and currently studying Business in Singapore, Shreya was our Research Guru. Over the three months that we worked on the ThinkQuest site, Shreya read over a hundred journal articles in order to find out the reasons for the existing gender disparity in terms of the university enrolment in Computer Science and the IT workforce. A feminist at heart, she dreams of working to promote the empowerment of women in developing countries. When not reading up on women’s issues, what does Shreya do? Listen to Sinatra and Elvis on her iPod.
A computer engineering undergrad from India, this budding photographer is our repository of information on women pioneers. Which university did Grace Hopper go to? What was Ada Lovelace’s mother called? Ask Pooja and she will tell you. With frequent power cuts and network shutdowns in her university campus, sometimes the only way to reach out to Pooja was through marathon international smses.
The baby of the team, Muscat educated Kamika is studying Economics in Singapore. This dance enthusiast read up journals and searched websites to find the latest statistics on women in computing – whether it be U.S. university enrolment data or data on the number of women being employed by the outsourcing industry in India. She also donned the interviewer hat on many an occasion and helped compile the different interviews that were taken.
What you should not miss
Through our website Breakthrough: Women in Computing we want to highlight the issues concerning gender disparity in computing.
The content on our website is divided into four main sections – PERSPECTIVES, WOMEN PIONEERS, STATE OF PLAY and OUTLOOK.
- PERSPECTIVES gives an insight into the different theories regarding the existence of such disproportionate statistics both in universities as well as the workforce.
- WOMEN PIONEERS offers a spotlight on the lives of the women who made their mark in computing and serve as an inspiration for highschoolers worldwide to choose computing as their future.
- STATE OF PLAY looks into the progress women have made in the recent years and the developing trends regarding the participation of women in computing.
- OUTLOOK presents our views on what can be done to encourage more women to join computing. We also provide videos and text transcripts of the various interviews taken by us to understand the current situation regarding women in computing and the efforts needed for improvement.
The template used for this site was created from scratch using Adobe Illustrator and Dreamweaver CS 3. The novel design that you see is the brainchild of our team. Look out for the original artwork we have put on our banners on every page. The banners were made using Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop CS3. CSS Tab Maker was used to provide the tabbed browsing capabilities on our website. The video clips throughout our website were compiled and edited using cutting edge software such as Apple iMovie and QuickTime. We also used a concurrent versioning system (Subversion) for automatic source code control as our developers were based in different locations.
Extensive research has gone into making this website. Check out our References page to see a complete list of the scholarly articles and websites that have been studied to gain an understanding of this complex issue.
Talking about Women in Computing, we decided to interview various people in this field to understand their point of view on this subject. We talked to an IT analyst in a leading investment bank and asked her how it felt working in a male dominated sector such as IT. We talked to various university professors to understand the trends they have witnessed regarding the enrolment of women in computer science and what they feel should be done to improve the situation. We also interviewed various female computer science undergrads to learn what made them choose a CS major and how they felt in computer science classes where they are greatly outnumbered by male students.
Due to space constraints, the full length videos of all the interviews could not be put up on the website. What we have given you instead are small chunks of all the video interviews to highlight the responses we got from our various interviewees. We also provide you with full length text transcripts of the interviews so that you can read about the perspectives of our interviewees in detail.
Using SurveyMonkey.com, we conducted an online survey of approximately 100 undergrads to find out about their awareness on issues related to women in computing. The survey results are available for viewing and downloading in our Resources section.
Teachers will find our website to be a useful tool for explaining their students the various issues related to the participation of women in computing. We have provided a number of presentations that can be used by teachers in the classroom which can be accessed through the Resources page.
You read up on the different women pioneers in computing and the different organizations that promote the participation of women in computing from our site. Now wouldn’t it be fun to see how much you know? Try out the quiz that we have put up. It sure is a fun way to brush up on facts and trivia.
So click along and enjoy!
Browsing made easy and fun
The Three Click Rule
Having four computer engineers in our team, we applied our software engineering skills to create a unique interface wherein each page is accessible within three clicks. The intuitive tab based layout designed by us ensures that you can reach any page in the website in three clicks from the home page. These tabs have been designed to minimize vertical scrolling and provide an enhanced reading experience.
We have also created a printer friendly version of each page on the site. CSS does not render well for printing, but we did not want that to be a hassle if you want to print out an article that you like. By providing an interactive and engaging interface we attempt to make the web browsing experience as lively as possible for the user.
With the numerous articles on our website, reading can sometimes be a hassle. Using an open source software Mary Text to Speech, we have converted all the articles on the website into mp3 files available for download. So if you are tired of reading, just download the audio files. Happy listening!
|Our website is CSS W3C compliant and will render correctly on Opera, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari. Doesn’t matter what browser you use, you can enjoy our website for sure.|
Hope you have an enjoyable browsing experience!
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