“Think Different” is one of those company slogans that may last forever… like McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ it”. However, this slogan used by Apple to market their unique products doesn’t necessarily reflect their internal structure. How can a company that promotes thinking differently employ 80% males in their tech positions? I’d like to discuss the issues women and minorities are facing in the technology industry and the impact a lack of diversity can have on the field of computer science.
I am a firm believer that early education is paramount for igniting interest in the field of computer science. I can attest to this idea because I do not think I would have chosen to major in computer engineering had I not been exposed to Java as a sophomore in high school. While efforts are being made, computer science is currently not a standard subject being taught in our public (or private) education system. Many of the schools that do teach computer science are in affluent districts which tends to favor specific demographics. Part of the reason is the weak supply of qualified computer science teachers. One way to diversify the tech industry is to expose younger children of all genders and ethnicities to qualified, passionate computer science teachers. The supply does not meet the demand right now, so it is up to us to make an effort to increase the supply or find other ways to expose a more diverse young audience.
In addition, learning computer science requires access to resources – expensive resources that many fortunate students take for granted. I think most people in the tech industry love what they do, using cutting edge technologies to create innovative software. In order to pass along this passion to a more diverse group, we must make an effort to increase the accessibility of tech resources. Whether that means creating public tech spaces for students to meet up and work on projects or raising funds to provide individual students with computers for programming… I am not sure. I do know that there are plenty of kids out there who could become talented programmers that do not have access to the resources necessary to learn about computer science. I have already began planning to volunteer as the leader of an after school computing club at my dad’s school (he is the principal of a junior high) next year. My goal is to bring together students who want to learn more about computers in a setting where they will have the resources necessary to create fun and exciting projects. Being aware of the diversity issue, I believe my dad’s school is a great place to experiment with a club because he has a diverse student body.
I also think the masculine stigma of the computer science field affects the amount of women. I was interested to read about the introduction of personal computers, and how the marketing strategies were aimed at males which essentially alienated 50% of our population. Growing up, the effects of this were very obvious to me. I often spent lunch hours discussing video games with my guy friends, but rarely around the ladies. Blabbering about your favorite video game or the success of your recent campaign definitely wasn’t the move when the cute girl you had a crush on showed up at the table. Back in the day, I thought nothing of it! Us guys would talk about our computer games and sports while the girls chatted about girl stuff. However, as a senior in college I have seen how this sociological phenomenon has affected my female peers. Bottom line, there aren’t that many girls studying that boy stuff we used to talk about out lunch. Even when I discuss my passion for computer science with my girlfriend, she often portrays me as her cute, nerdy boyfriend who likes computers. I believe the challenge of overcoming this sociological effect will be the greatest diversity obstacle the tech industry is going to face.
Some people will say – why does it even matter? I completely agree with Martin Fowler when he suggests that the lack of diversity in computer science poses a threat. Diverse groups of people often make the greatest teams and produce the most innovative ideas. This occurs because different people think differently. Individuals in a diverse group of people approach problems differently based upon their knowledge and experiences. If we can increase the diversity amongst computer scientists, than we will also increase the amount of problems that can be solved by the tech industry.