De Women! How Much For The Little Girl?

This is a good thing on many levels:

First Woman Honored With Turing Award

An excerpt:

One of the most prestigious prizes in computing, the $100,000 Turing Award, went to a woman Wednesday for the first time in the award’s 40-year history. Frances E. Allen, 75, was honored for her work at IBM Corp. on techniques for optimizing the performance of compilers…

First, the substance.  All of us in computer development should get on our knees and thank those who have taken compilers from hindrances of productivity to something we hardly ever think about.  You young whippersnappers who have never known anything but .Net development don’t know how good you’ve got it.  The way things used to be, a simple code change that took minutes, would turn into an hour ordeal with slow compilation, hooking up links, and all the other minutia that is now taken care of for us.  I have no doubt that Allen had a lot to do with that.

Now for the sociology.  It’s never made much sense to me why more women don’t go into computer science.  Now, my more strident friends can blame the patriarchy all they want, but if you didn’t go into computer science, it’s because you made a decision not to go into computer science.

I have a theory, but scant evidence.  My building holds all the “computer people”.  One thing I’ve noticed, especially in contrast to people in the other buildings at the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation is that “computer people” either aren’t as sociable as the “normal” people, or they try but lack very fine tuned social skills.  I’m not talking about the stereotype of nerdiness, just a general unease speaking in front of other people. 

Perhaps, it is belived, one has to be nonsocial to be good at IT.  This is not true, but I think many believe it.  By nature (here comes more trouble from my feminist friends), women are generally more social creatures.  So my theory is that many girls in high school think they’ll have to become an anti-social nerd to go into IT.  Secondly, they may not see the creative side of my business, and think that the job will be nothing but dry logic.  So they leave the data center to the nerds, when they really didn’t have to. 

What is the result?  Well, for the past few years, I’ve gone to Tech Ed, a Microsoft-sponsored convention/seminar for all techies involved with Microsoft products.  This is the only time I’ve seen at a large gathering of people, where women can walk right into the restroom, and men have a line going out the door.  The imbalance is that bad.

I’d like to see more women get into IT.  I’m getting lonely, being the only person I know who looks at programming as a creative, artistic endeavor.  I think my industry could use more of that, especially from women. 

There’s no getting around it, I’ve seen scientific proof: women’s brains actually process information differently from men.  And if I’ve learned anything from almost 20 years in IT, it is that programming problems have to be approached from many different directions before the proper solution can be found.  Right now, we are missing a voice we should be hearing.

So come on, ladies!  Like Frances Allen, dazzle us with your ingenuity!  We could really use you. Plus it would be nice to have a shorter wait for restrooms at IT conventions…  


8 Responses to “De Women! How Much For The Little Girl?”

  1. nm Says:

    Back in the Dark Ages when I was in high school, our school had a hookup to the (huuuge, because computers had to take up a couple of rooms back then) computer at a local university. I think we were the only school in the county to have it. There was one class a semester dealing with computers: Basic Programming. It was all guys except for me (and the instructor). At our school, being smart was cool, and the borderline nerdiness you mention wasn’t that unusual, so the guys in the class weren’t extra-geeky or anything like that. Nevertheless, I wasn’t welcomed (except by the instructor). It was supposed to be a guy’s subject, and I wasn’t supposed to be there. The boys weren’t nasty to me or anything, they just didn’t have anything to do with me, and they did have things to say to each other. Well, I loved the class, but I loved other things, too. And I figured I’d rather go ahead with subjects where the other students might talk to me.

    So, yeah, it was my decision not to make a career in computers. But don’t discount the effect on that decision of the boys not enjoying having a girl in the room. You can’t separate the decision from the social context, really. Women like Allen are heroes, to my mind, for sticking it out with what was surely very little support from those surrounding her most of her career.

  2. KC Says:

    I echo a lot of what nm already said. It sounds like she and I had profoundly similar experiences.

    I tried for years to break into computer science. I had to get special permission to be part of the computer class in 8th grade (1982). I wasn’t the only girl, but I was the only girl who wasn’t there for the typing portion, since the first half of the semester was about learning to type. They figured that was an essential skill for computer folk.

    When I later took a class in BASIC (1985), the teacher didn’t even understand the material. I ended up taking the book home each night, learning it and then teaching the class.

    When I got to college I fully intended to go into Computer Science. I was a UNIX geek who was one of the few UNIX superusers (at 18–in 1988) on campus. I was also one of three girls who were pursuing the department. It was made perfectly clear to me by everyone, professors included, that computing was a boys’ club.

    Sure, I could have stuck it out, busted the glass ceiling, etc.

    Frankly, though, I wanted more out of my college experience than a name for being an agitator. And I liked politics and philosophy and literature and the practice of law so I went that direction instead.

  3. Slartibartfast Says:

    Thanks, y’all. This is really an education for me. I got into IT through the backdoor, so I have no college experience to compare and contrast. It would appear that there was overt discrimination in the day. Certainly it’s not like that now? Certainly? I guess you never know.

    The women I work with have always been peers or even superiors – I just assumed it was like that in the world of education as well.

    By the way, nm – I’m pretty sure in your Basic class (dang, Basic was fun!), the boys didn’t interect with you because they were socially awkward. I’m sure they loved having you there, but girls make socially awkward boys nervous, and they freeze. I know, I still have one deep inside my psyche. Luckily, music helped me overcome it. But most just retread into their code.

    I hope you taught yourself BASIC (which I did). There are three pleasures on earth that are so profound, words don’t descibe them properly:

    2)When performing music with a goup, and everyone gets to some sublime place where the music is prefection.
    3)When code you’ve written develops a personality and temperment. It sounds crazy, but I’ve seen it.

    If not, do it now. BASIC is still basic after all these years.

  4. nm Says:

    Slarti, not so much. It wasn’t that big a school, and I knew these boys in other contexts. They weren’t all that awkward as you’re imagining. And I did stick with the class and learn Basic. I just didn’t go any further with any sort of programming until years later. I liked the teacher — as I mentioned, another female. The guys didn’t know what to do with her, either. She used to put all these jokes into the programs*, and they didn’t get them.

    Let me say, though, that much as I enjoyed the programming, I’ve never been sorry at a deep level that I didn’t go further with it. I’m glad I pursued the path I did, and I’m not bitter about a possible lost opportunity; I think I would have ended up in the same place even if the boys had been friendlier. No, when I get wistful about roads not taken, I wish that I’d gone on with math. I was on my school’s math team, damn it — why didn’t anyone suggest that I could go farther? I did 2 semesters of advanced calc in college to fulfill a requirement and dropped it there. When I read about fractals and stuff now, I just kick myself.

    *Like a program that we had to complete for a quiz: what she gave us counted down from ten to zero, and we had to write the final line. It seemed obvious to me….

  5. Slartibartfast Says:

    nm, do you want to mentor my daughter? 🙂 Well, maybe in a virtual way. I have never in my life seen a more natural, pure “math mind” than that of my daughter. It’s hard to put into words. It’s almost as if she converts every interaction, even language, into some mathematical construct. She was beating me regularly at tic-tac-toe at age 5. She’s good at probablities and statistics. She “gets” algebra, even though she doesn’t know what the concepts are called. Did I mention she’s in third grade?

    What scares me to death is, she hates math class. Despises it. From a very early age, she’s wanted be be a vet or zoologist when she grows up. I keep trying to encourage her in math, and she keeps steering herself back to biology / zoology . I know I should encourage her to do whatever makes her happy, but (and I hate to use this term) it seems like a waste.

    Now I know how my dad felt. He was certain that I was made to be a lawyer. Instead, I became a programmer / wanna-be rock star.

  6. nm Says:

    Slarti, your daughter is in arithmetic class now, not math class. Third grade … that’s what, subtraction? Times tables, maybe? That is boring. It’s memorization, and using that stuff until you know it without thinking, and you can’t do too well without it but it’s no fun to learn. And if she has learned it and the others haven’t, it’s even worse for her. Bo Ring. You don’t have to love arithmetic class to love mathematics.

    Some advice: get her started on learning a foreign language. The same thing (whatever it is) that makes her good at math concepts will make her good at languages, and she’s at prime foreign-language-acquisition age. If there’s nothing available at her school, maybe get her some foreign-language baby books or private classes, if you can afford them. She will probably love it, and whatever she decides to do later on it will be a plus.

    Some more advice: monitor yourself to make sure that your encouraging her in math doesn’t turn into pushing her in ways she doesn’t want to go and/or sounding disappointed in the stuff she does like. I’m not saying you’re doing that, mind you. Just that it’s an easy trap.

  7. Nashville is Talking » Shrinky Dinks Says:

    […] -Why so few women in IT? […]

  8. Lynnster Says:

    This has been a cool discussion to read.

    Me, I’m 100% self-taught and never took any classes so yeah, I’m a hack. But especially in the ’80s, I probably was learning more on my own than a lot of folks were learning in their freshman and sophomore college courses. My dad and I learned BASIC together starting around 1981 and my self-education just went on from there.

    I took one course that was required for my major in college that was basically an Intro to CompSci 101 type course, and stopped going to class early on and only showed up for tests because it was evident almost immediately that I already knew everything in the book. (PS – Also a math hater here!)

    Why didn’t I go the professional IT route and make it a degree and career? Well, it was talked about and considered from time to time when I was younger. Ultimately for me, I have always enjoyed such techgeek things as a hobby and really didn’t want to make a career out of it. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it nearly so much if I’d gone to school for and worked professionally in IT, to tell you the truth.

    I branched out into learning all kinds of different stuff over the ’90s and all kinds of software and hardware stuff. I was one of probably less than a dozen women in the tri-state area here running a BBS in the early part of that decade; was probably one of three that could write extensive batch files at the time; and probably the only one who could take apart a PC and put it back together, or build a new one from scratch.

    As times have changed and things have gotten more complicated, my knowledge level about today’s techie-geeky stuff is growing more on par with the rest of the non-tech world, I guess, and yeah, it’s probably a shame that I didn’t put some of the knowledge and experience I had into some more professional outlet. But like I said, I don’t think it would have been nearly as much fun for me if it’d been my job, or been a requirement. And nowadays, when I run into a brick wall, even though things are so much more complicated today and I no longer really know what all the “pros” know anymore… when something goes wrong, I can usually trial-and-error my way through figuring it out and sometimes fixing it without help.

    Anyway, yeah, there’s my story. And I always kind of reveled in being what my paid techgeek friends referred to as a “stealth” or “closet” techgeekchick. Especially when I was younger and a little more fashionable, nobody ever expected this blonde ex-cheerleader to be able to take computers apart and throw them back together, or build ’em, or be able to write software and code. Bwahahaha….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: