Girls & Women -- It's Time to Code

A large fraction of the world consumes technology in one form or another. Unfortunately, the number of people that develop and work to advance technology pales in comparison. The estimated number of professional developers around the world is only 11 million people. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020, employment in all computer related occupations is expected to increase by over 20%. But the workforce will not keep pace.

This is a critical time. We need children and adults to transition from being technology consumers to becoming technology producers and innovators. Just as we worried about reading literacy in the 80s, we need to worry about computer literacy now. Otherwise, we will create a large divide between those who understand how technology works and those who can merely use it. Coding is the key to obtaining computer literacy. Coding teaches you how to solve problems. Coding teaches you how to organize your thoughts in new ways. Coding stretches your mind.

Even though there are so many benefits to coding, a small number of girls and women are involved in coding. Only 18% of undergraduate degrees in computer science are awarded to women (see https://www.ncwit.org/). Computer science is the only field in science, engineering and math in which the number of women receiving a college degree has deceased since 2002. While there has been a recent increase in college degrees in computer science the last few years, the number of men getting a college degree in computer science is rising faster. If you look at the top employers in Silicon Valley, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Apple, over 70% of the workforce is male. In some cases, the female technical workforce is only 10% (Fortune Magazine, 2015).

This was not always the case. There was a time when the number of women in technology was 20 to 30 percent higher than today. But over the last few decades, our culture has encouraged young women to play with dolls instead of robots. Personal computer applications were designed for boys not girls.  And the stereo-typical computer scientists was an awkward geek who smelled funny, wore large rim glasses, had acne, and cared about playing and programming video games that blew things up.

Well, I am a bit of a geek, I don’t think I smell funny, and I am a pacifist that works on data privacy and data mining for the social good. I am in computer science to find ways to create technology to help solve some of our largest societal problems, including forced migration. Computer science is bigger and broader than its stereotype. Ladies, this is a call to all of you.

It is time to change the image of a computer scientist.

It is time for girls and women to be a significant part of this technology revolution. 

Lisa Singh is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Georgetown University.

An Interview with Betsy Sigman

Dr. Elizabeth Sigman is an OPIM (Operations and Information Management) professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. She serves as the departmental coordinator and advisor for the OPIM major. Sigman specializes in technology, social media, electronic commerce and information systems.

What is the OPIM field?
The OPIM field includes operations and information management and decision sciences. These are all really hot areas for hiring right now. We have students doing all kinds of jobs coming out of the OPIM major. Some go to work for high-tech companies, some become entrepreneurs, some go to investment banks and do operations there, or do finance with a background in data. We have people that go into data jobs as well as people that go into social media jobs. Right now we have students at Facebook, Google, and other very exciting companies!

What got you interested in the OPIM field?
I’ve always been a data person. My dad used to draw normal curves on napkins when I was a little kid; it was only natural that I would always been interested in data! I’ve always been fascinated by it and I’ve always been fascinated by the way it can be used for better decision-making. I just think the power of data is so important today for making decisions to have the impact that you want. I think it is hugely important that people understand data and understand how to use it to help the business world, as well as the world at large.

What do you think about women in OPIM?
My classes are pretty much evenly split actually! There are a lot of women that come to Georgetown and have an interest in data. I haven’t seen a huge difference in the number of men and women in my classes.

What do you think about women in STEM?
I think the opportunities are so vast out there. I think it is a wonderful field for women to be in right now. There are a lot of jobs out there in this area—huge, well-paying jobs, important jobs, jobs that will help change the world. I think it is a really great time to be a woman in STEM.

What do you attribute to the lack of women in the STEM field?
I think sometimes women aren’t encouraged as much as men to go into the STEM fields, but I think now, more and more women that are global leaders have become interested in STEM. So that is definitely changing! There are a lot more role models for young women out there and I think you will see more and more women seeking out this field.

Compared to when you were growing up, what is different today regarding women in STEM?
I think there is more interest now with women in STEM than when I was growing up. I’ll always be thankful that I took two computer science classes when I was in college. I think that was life-changing in some ways—to know how to code. I did an assembly language, which not many people learn nowadays. But it was really tough and we had to learn about all the registers—but it was formative and it was really helpful to do that. I was a political science major undergrad, but I always wanted to do statistical and quantitative political science. I think that’s what ties my whole career together, which is working with data.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? What connotation does it have in today’s society?
I want women to have the opportunities that they want. I’m a huge family person. I have four kids. I think there are a lot of options open to women: I have worked full-time, part-time, stayed at home. I think women should balance their lives as they see fit. Every woman is going to make different choices and I think it is nice to have those options. Women can help each other with their choices.

Sonya Patel is a junior in the McDonough School of Business.

For Wearable Tech, One Size Does Not Fit All

From the arrival of smart watches and fitness trackers, to 3D-printed rings that double as bus passes, consumers have been an integral part in the development process. However, most companies aren’t quite resonating with one key consumer group: women.

Silicon Valley is the hub of innovative technology, and in recent years, companies have been competing to construct the latest in wearable tech. Unfortunately, the development teams behind these amazing products are primarily male. These skewed dynamics result in devices with solely male consumption in mind – like smart watches with bands that do not fit around small wrists. 

Isabelle Olsson, the head designer behind Google Glass, states that the male dominated tech development environment is why she encourages women to enter the tech industry, “not just as designers, but in all capacities.”

Wearable technology is unique in that by being displayed on the body, it offers a more intimate experience than products – such as computers and phones – that are considered unisex. Wearables should be optimized to physically fit every individual of each gender, race and body type. A major part in making this new technology as adaptable as possible is having input from a broad range of people, specifically women.

As women make up nearly 50% of our consumer base, increasing the amount of women working in technology will be beneficial to both consumers and producers. 

I encourage everyone to walk into the door of tech, and this is not to say that you need to be a computer science major or engineer to design the next big thing. Who knows? You may even be the next Isabelle Olsson – jewelry designer to lead designer of Google Glass.

Lulu Spalding is a junior in the McDonough School of Business.

Source: For Wearable Tech, One Size Does Not Fit All

Coding Isn’t Just for Computer Science Majors

When I first started my career in journalism four years ago, I knew that I’d need to be a talented writer, communicator, researched and reporter. What I hadn’t anticipated was the value of coding skills.

According to Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab, there are plenty of job opportunities in news organizations across the country. This might seem contrary to the common narrative of the dying media industry, but in fact it’s the type of jobs available that are changing.

The majority of open media positions are reserved for those who can code for digital media and news applications. This shift isn’t unique to the journalism industry either.

In an op-ed penned in The Washington Post, two leading education researchers argue that coding abilities spark innovation across all industries, from medical assistants to auto mechanics, and students with this knowledge will be more successful in securing career opportunities in their chosen field. In fact, 55 percent of hiring managers reported prioritizing hard skills, according to Entrepreneur magazine.

Understanding the demands of modern employers, GU Women Who Code was formed as an organization for female students of all academic interests to develop coding skills in a welcoming environment. The need is especially great for women to take part in the movement, as USA Today reports that the tech workforce is overwhelmingly composed of men of white and Asian descent.

The DC area boasts several other organizations committed to advancing professional development, training and networking opportunities for women interested in technology including Hear Me Code, Women Who Code DC, PyLadies and Girl Develop It.

So if you’re looking for that professional edge, remember that coding skills will make you stand out regardless of industry and there any many great and affordable ways to get started right in your backyard.

Nayana Davis is a graduate student in journalism at Georgetown University.