Geeks drive girls out of Computer Science

I’ve been a voyeur into a discussion between teachers about how geeks drive girls out of computer science. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject and how teachers, boys, and girls themselves, can all work to help fix this problem. Please leave comments! Are you a guy or girl in the industry? Then what is your experience? Are you a guy or girl who never even thought about computer science? Why?

Disclaimer, for seven years, I taught APCS in small, all-girls, private boarding schools, so all the kids in my classes were girls. I’ve worked in the industry as a Technical Writer, in Quality Assurance, and currently as a Software Engineer. So there are jobs in the industry for computer scientists (I have a BS and an MS) that don’t involve programming constantly in an office alone.

Dear Girls

  • Start thinking for yourself.

    I know it is hard to take a class that your friends think is stupid or geeky, but trust me, those friends you have in high school will be distant memories, saved in Facebook, in ten years. So where do you want to be in ten years? Bagging groceries in your hometown or having a job you can do in any coffee shop, any where in the world?

  • Try everything.

    You won’t know what you like until you try it. Have you ever tried programming? No? Well then how do you know you don’t like it?

  • Make a difference.

    Okay, okay, Computer Science is overrun with geeky boys. I won’t deny it. They are everywhere. But just a couple decades ago, a woman’s place was in the home. There were few women in any industry. So look at it this way, Computer Science is your way to help the feminist movement. Do your part!

  • Be different!

    You remember Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde”? I know the movie is a little old now, but the thing I like about her most is that she sticks out in the crowd and isn’t afraid to be herself. She is so confident. Be confident. Do what you want to do. Be you. And don’t be afraid to wear pink in a room of black!

  • We need you!

    How many times have you used an application and something has gone horribly wrong and you blamed yourself? Well, it isn’t your fault. Applications should work seamlessly. They shouldn’t allow you to feel like you screwed up. Can you do better? Can you make an application so easy that your mother could use it? Do you think about details? Do you notice when pixels aren’t aligned properly? Do you think it is important for an application to look sexy and work as advertised? This is why we need you!

Dear Boys

  • Ask a girl to try APCS.

    Do you know a girl who would be really good at computer science? Have you asked her to try taking a class? She needs some convincing. She needs to know that you have her back if the geeks start picking on her. Ask her. Insist that she try it. She just needs some encouragement.

  • Get a makeover

    So part of that reason that the girls aren’t joining your class is that you might be a geek. Being a geek is cool, but it is even cooler to be a geek who dresses well. Girls like a smart guy who dresses smartly. Find a cool guy to give you some tips. Do something besides play video games. Music, sports, something to make you more well rounded. It will help you get some dates as well!

  • Learn about design

    Most programmers are just good at programming. Solving a problem. But they don’t care about how it looks. How do you feel while you are using an application? Does it make you happy? It is kind of like cars. You can drive a lamborghini or you can drive an old Ford Escort. Both will get you from point A to point B, but which one would you rather be seen driving? The same is true of computers. They should be functional, but should also be beautiful. Form & Function are both important. So learn about design. Learn about human-computer interaction. It will make you a better programmer.

Dear Teachers

  • Computer science is not just programming

    Although, you must be a programmer to be a computer scientist, a programmer does not have to know much about computer science. Programmers are often good at creating applications and scripts from a small set of (or one) languages. This is like building a house with only a hammer. A good computer scientist understands the concepts behind languages, the difference between language paradigms, why one language might be good to use to solve one kind of problem, and is able to quickly learn a new language when the language they need is not one already in their repertoire. One of my favorite classes in college was the study of different programming languages. To me, it is like learning a new human language without having to speak it. Computer Science is also about learning algorithms and data structures. It is about the application of those concepts in things like artificial intelligence, data mining, or networking. Programming is what you do to reinforce learning the concepts, syntax, and semantics of a language.

  • IT is also not Computer Science.

    And I have found the IT crowd to be much more sexist than the CS crowd. In college, I was never put down for being a woman. I was pointed out as the only girl in my Operating Systems Fundamentals class, but that just meant that everyone wanted me in their group. Whereas, when I was running a school computer system and called our service provider to get help with a denial of service attack, the guy who was supposed to help me blew me off and said it was just because I had too small an internet pipeline for a boarding school. It didn’t seem to help when I explained that it was 2 am. During spring break. I was the only one at school. That is the only time I’ve gotten so pissed off that I asked for a supervisor, who happened to be a woman. She immediately said, You are having a denial of service attack. And then she helped me configure my switches and made some changes on her end. In six years of being a software engineer, I have never had a sexist encounter.

  • You don’t need a degree to start being a successful programmer.

    Encourage your kids early on to start making shareware programs or iPhone apps. A number of my friends paid for college that way. Some of the most brilliant minds in the industry started as teenagers.

  • Teach vocabulary.

    Your girls are coming in cold. They have no words to talk about technology. One of the best things I could do was to spend a couple classes talking about how to buy a new computer. What is the difference between a Megabyte and a Gigabyte? What is a harddrive, ROM, RAM, motherboard? What is the difference between Windows, Mac OS, and Linux? What is the history of Unix? They don’t know these things. One of the most rewarding moments I had was after Christmas break when one girl came back and said she helped her grandparents buy a computer, another girl had a conversation with a stranger on the plane ride home about computers. Giving girls a vocabulary is one of the best things you can do for them. Boys won’t talk to them before they learn some basics, but once my girls learned a little, they came back from break and talked about how much they had learned from the boys they knew, now that they knew how to speak their language.

  • Remove consequences.

    I know this is a generalization (like everything I’ve written), but girls think about consequences, boys don’t. Every year, I would start class with the same question, “Have you ever opened your home computer and looked inside?”

    Every year, the answers were the same. No girl raised her hand. So then I asked a follow-up question. How many of you have watched as a brother, male cousin, father, have opened you home computer and done something to it.

    Everyone would raise their hand. They were all curious as to what was inside, but every one of them was afraid of the consequences of doing it on her own. What if it didn’t work after she opened it?

    So I gave them computers that didn’t work, and I had them tear them apart. We talked about all the parts. They saw how everything was connected. And they didn’t have to worry about putting them back together because I recycled them.

    Then I gave them computers and had them insert RAM and ethernet cards. I told them about electrostatic shock and gave them instructions on how to avoid it. Every computer worked afterwards.

    Then we started programming. And I took away consequences there by telling them there was no way they could do something that I wouldn’t be able to fix just by erasing the hard drive and reinstalling. So they weren’t afraid.

  • Form & Function are important!
    • Take a class in Human Computer Interaction

      Computer Scientists are notoriously good a solving problems, but bad at design. For a good example, look at a couple different websites and think about which ones you like and which ones you just tolerate. What are the differences between MySpace and Facebook? Between WordPress and Blogger? Dell and Apple? Design matters because it is humans that are using computers. Do you stress that in your class? Are the final applications so easy to use that my grandmother could understand how to use it?

    • Get a makeover.

      Okay, maybe you already are cool, but odds are against it, since you teach APCS. I should know. I’m still not totally stylish, but I try. This is a good time to find a cool, fashionable coworker, or your wife, to take you shopping. A couple well-fitted button-up shirts without stains on them. Pants that are tailored to the proper length and not worn two inches above your belly button, is a good start. High school is still a popularity contest. Become popular.

    • Your classroom style is important too!

      It isn’t just you, it is your classroom. Is it inviting for girls? Is it clean and organized? Inviting? The kind of place where girls want to hang out? If not, get a group of cool girls to redecorate it for you.

    • Be involved in the school in other ways.

      Coach a sport, lead a club. Do something where the students see that you are human! If you get good exposure, you will meet more kids that you can encourage to join your class.

    • Do cool stuff.

      One of the things that my kids liked was that we took field trips. Of course those field trips were things like the GE Computer Science Competition. I used it as a practice exam for the APCS exam, so I took my entire class of 10 girls. They were rock stars! Not because they would win, but because they were the only girls there. The girls loved it!

      Do stuff in your class that will benefit the school. I can’t remember what we did, but in one class, we made an application that I then loaded onto all the computers so that the kids not in APCS could use it and think about joining.

  • Don’t think that questions about quilting are going to get the girls interested.

    Girls use computers to work or socialize, not usually for games. When I had my girls pick projects, they were often related to something they were doing in another class, or personal to them. For example, one class was really stressing about learning the periodic table in Chemistry, so we wrote an application that would read in a file I constructed, insert the elements into objects or a data structure, use arrays to store each element, and then write searching and sorting algorithms to get information back out. They all used the program to study for their Chemistry tests. Another class was interested in building an address book, which uses the same concepts as the periodic table application.

  • Just because there aren’t girls in a field is not a good reason to think they just don’t want to be there.

    These are kids. They don’t know they like writing or history, or math, or science until they try it. They may try it and not like it, but they may love it. We are missing many girls in Computer Science solely because they don’t know anything about it and aren’t trying programming on their own like some of the boys are.

  • Teach kids the social part of computer science.

    What is the social part of computer science? Well, truth is, in industry, you probably aren’t working on an application entirely by yourself. You probably only are responsible for one little piece of the program, but it has to work with everyone else’s little piece of the program. So design an application and break it up into a couple pieces. Make each kid responsible for their piece and that it works with everyone else’s piece. This is a good end of the year project after the exam. Everyone will be focusing on something different, but they all have to work together to get the whole application to work. They have to explain to other students the objects they are providing, what methods are public, what the inputs and expected output are, and how they can be used. And it is good practice for the guys in your class to learn they aren’t working in a bubble either.

  • Talk about ethics.

    Having interesting debates about what makes downloading music illegal. Ask them how they would like it if they wrote a program and asked for money but no one paid for it and downloaded it from a file sharing site. These kinds of discussions get girls interested in the class.

  • Girls need encouragement.

    Ask a girl to try the class. You have to do this personally. And if you don’t think she will respond to you, find a teacher she will respond positively to, and have them ask her to try it. Girls are much more likely to try something if someone else encourages them to do it. I once sat in a group of female heads (principals) of boarding schools. Each woman talked about how it was that she decided to go after the Head of School job. Out of 8 Heads of School, only one of them admitted that she had wanted the job and pursued it. The other seven all talked about having a friend, coworker, or administrator who encouraged them to apply for the job. And every one of them was more than qualified for the position, but was timid about seeking it without some encouragement.


30 responses to this post.

  1. BTW, don’t tell the kids, but being good at computers will earn you free dinner/drinks at the local pub sometimes if you fix the bartender’s problems while writing blog posts. ;-)


  2. Per your tweet :)

    My background: I’m not very interesting…sort-of-a-part-time college student working towards a BS in CS, co-founding a niche social networking startup as the (regrettably) only developer, doing a little freelance work here and there. I’ve always been interested in computers one way or another, so I suppose this was inevitable.

    I tweeted to you about my HS APCS horror story of how a whole bunch of us totally knew how to write programs for our TI-83 calculators, but nobody ever took the actual APCS class. I had the great honor of being a high school dropout (to go to college ;) ) so I’ve never had a chance to take the class, but I do know it was always a very small one of only a couple dozen people at most in my high school of over 3000 students. The class had combined the A and AB students (the latter could be counted on one hand), and it was really the only actual CS and programming class available. The rest of the computer classes offered were like introduction to typing and very basic Word skills, so really not comparable. This usually meant that everyone in that APCS class knew quite a bit about computers and maybe programming already, so there was an intimidation factor for anyone wanting to start out. The teacher also never really bridged the gap between knowing all these concepts for the exam and actually using them somewhere, and never presented any sort of challenge to the students so they were bored. Nobody thought the class was worth taking as a result. Not even the people who were writing and modifying entire *games* for their calculators because it was fun.

    Those kinds of classes or the complete lack thereof and that kind of attitude are disastrous, not only to the male/female imbalance but also to anyone that might be even the least interested in CS. If I had gone through that kind of class I would be disillusioned for a long time and it wouldn’t be because I was female and felt out of place or something.

    But I’ve mostly been lucky avoiding the bad- I had one professor that was a *huge* positive influence on me, especially because I had taken one of his classes back early in 6th grade after hassling my teachers in junior high to sign off on college math and programming classes and he’s been a great mentor ever since. Another are some of the guys who’ve encouraged me over the years that it’s okay and actually pretty cool if I’m one of the rare girls into all this…but nothing was as cool as meeting other women. Teachers and boys and parents can do whatever they want to encourage, but if they’re men, they’ve never (to me) compared to meeting women to make you realize that you’re not alone in a sea of guys and studying and working in this field is totally doable. Just finding out about influential and famous women in tech was awesome enough, from Grace Hopper and Barbara Liskov to even Leah Culver. Going to something like an all women lunch meetup at WWDC (where you’d regularly see men lining up at the restrooms)? Mindblowing.

    Anyway, I should stop rambling :) Thanks so much for this list, it is so on target and anyone teaching CS pre-college should be following the advice.

    BTW, speaking of quilting…I was on a discussion board on Ravelry (social networking for knitters/crocheters) where I read someone tell another woman to set up a website for some use and that she can’t complain about not knowing computers because she had the brains to figure out how to knit complicated things. And that got me thinking that many of these knitters know how to read non-chart patterns, which is totally like simple code down to the loops and even goto-like statements. I eventually used that idea to teach this younger girl who knew how to knit a little bit about programming, and she loved it because of the similarities between the two. Doesn’t work for everyone, but you never know :p


  3. Men and women see the world differently. For men, it’s black and white. For women, there are millions of shades of grey. I’m guessing the “does it work, or not, and how do we fix it?” mentality that is naturally hard wired into men lends itself more towards men being in the industry (in general). For those of us men who see the world in at least a FEW shades of grey (ie-artists) then we’re simply glad there are hard working, kick ass babes out there helping us out with our computers! K, you rule.


  4. Well said!! I went into computer engineering in college before I realized it just wasn’t my thing, but your approach is spot on. It almost makes me want to try my hand at being a computer geek again. :)


  5. When I was 12 or 13, the gender dynamics were very intense, presumably because we were all at an age where we had only recently discovered some crucial gender differences.

    Granted, I was a shy girl, but I was very sensitive to the or maybe just aware of the stereotypical cliques. I’m not sure my school had a computer geek clique, but they did have a heavy metal clique (all boys). The heavy metal clique was excessively masculine, grubby, and obsessed with heavy metal. Because those boys were such a tight clique (and a little icky), I assumed that I would hate heavy metal music. I didn’t even try listening to any of it for years because I was so put off by the clique.

    I know this isn’t specific to computer geeks, but I suspect that the psychology is the same.


  6. Posted by Clark Cox on January 6, 2010 at 11:05 am

    The problem that I’ve always had with the mindset that “geeks drive girls out” is that it is simply inaccurate. Geeks, as the slightly asocial, psuedo-asburgers that we are, don’t go out of their way to welcome (or exclude) *anyone*, female or otherwise. To geeks, it doesn’t matter who or what someone is, it only matters what someone can do. Isn’t that the whole point of the feminist movement: All people are equally valuable, should be treated equally, and should have the same opportunities. Given two people who are equally disinterested in CS, one male and one female, why should I give more encouragement to one over the other? Isn’t showing preference based on gender completely counter to the ideals that we should be working towards?

    And taking gender out of the equasion, if I, as a student, really didn’t want to do something, “encouragement” coming from someone else would be really unwelcome, and I would probably feel as if they were trying to force me to do something that I really didn’t want to do. Admittedly, this may be a very “male” or “geek” mindset, but I wouldn’t want to push my ideas of what is best for someone else onto them, any more than I would want someone to do that to me.

    If I want to do something, I do it; if I don’t, I don’t. It is very unlikely that any encouragement from others will change that.


    • Posted by Judith S. on January 7, 2010 at 12:51 am

      Have you ever talked to a close female friend who is in CS? If they’re lucky they’re treated like one of the guys including crude sexual humor, and being accused of not having balls if you say you can’t do something. If they’re not lucky, you will be stared at, and accused of cheating if they code is better, and generally treated like an idiot.

      I would love to take the gender out of CS, but I can’t do that without having a sex change operation.

      Been there done that, and I can assure you that geeky guys often don’t use what social skills they have in interacting with women.

      Speaking of teachers, I would add “call on the women in class, and let them talk.” I have found that there are few women who are willing to push themselves into the discussion, which generally leaves them silent in most classes.


    • Clark, I think you kind of have blinders on.

      I agree that “geeks push girls out” suggests that geeks intend to or want to push girls out, when the reality is that many geeks don’t want to push girls out. Maybe that’s a problematic wording. But I think that the basic idea is true. Being a geek can be a badge of honor for a guy: “Look, I’m not good at football, but I am a master of this machine.” For a high-school aged girl, it isn’t usually considered a badge of honor. That’s just the truth. I know that it feels like guys who are nerds are totally marginalized, but trust me, female nerds are even more marginalized. I promise. Furthermore, it’s not always the case that geeks don’t want to push girls out. I could give you a list as long as my arm of all the times I’ve run into sexism among geeks, especially in the open source world. So the statement is at least partially true.

      And, nothing above suggests “showing preference to one gender.” Can I just point out that men get preference in, well, pretty much everything? I am not going to engage any further, but dude, if you think that women and men are on a level playing field in the world, you need to reexamine your assumptions and understandings of the world. Just because you do not typically behave in a sexist way does not mean the same is true for every other geek out there, or that the same is true for the way the world’s set up.

      As for encouragement, I don’t think that the intention was that one should encourage students who don’t really want to program to program. I think the intention was to let students know that (1) You might not have ever thought about programming, because it’s such a guy thing or such a geek thing, but (2) you should give some thought to taking a class in it, because I think you would be good at it, and (3) I’m telling you this because I care about you and I would be so proud to see you as a programmer someday, just as proud as if you did something else awesome.

      That (3) is really important. Every girl should know that her father would be just as proud if she was a successful programmer and won a major award, as he would if she were a successful fashion designer that won a major award, or if she were a successful novelist, or even on the day he walked her down the aisle. And, in fact, that there are lots of other people who feel this way too. But I can sure tell you that that’s not the impression that most girls get. Girls get the impression that they are failures if they’re not socially successful, and they get the impression that they’re bound to be socially unsuccessful if they’re in CS or IT. A lot of this post seems to be trying to combat that impression.


  7. Posted by bjh on January 6, 2010 at 11:31 am

    One more group: Parents. A lot of the “Teachers” section is useful there, but mainly impart to your children as many varied skills as possible. Sewing and cooking have stood me in good stead and I will certainly be passing them on to my son; if I ever have a daughter, I intend to teach her about computers, electronics, and mechanics (among many other things).

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    -Robert A. Heinlein


    • Posted by Nancy on January 7, 2010 at 10:26 am

      Amen!! Parents–quit holding down your kids–let them go–explore.


    • Posted by Josh Grams on February 9, 2010 at 6:34 am

      I remember running across that when I was 16 or so and thinking that you’d have to be some kind of crazy overachiever to do all that. But…I’ve never been all that ambitious, I mostly just go with whatever interesting opportunities present themselves. And here I am at only 30, and with the exception of “die gallantly”, :-) I think I’ve done everything on that list.

      So yeah, amen to that. It’s OK to be careful, but don’t let it keep you from at least trying anything. The worst that can happen is that you waste a few hours doing something that you turn out to dislike.


  8. Posted by Barry on January 6, 2010 at 11:44 am

    I have two daughters, and one thing that struck me as they were growing up was how different they are when it comes to technology: one took the path of makeup and jewelry and fashion, the other is a quintessential engineer.

    I don’t think there is a way that women’s brains are wired that is different from men’s. I think that individual people are disposed to be a certain way, and that society puts pressure on people to assume gender roles. I’m really glad I have two daughters and not a boy and a girl, because I might have been lead into the trap of assuming that their differences were due to their gender. Breaking down gender stereotypes is a good thing.


    • Just wanted to say – I think this is a great example, and I really am glad you shared it. :) Cheers!


    • Still too simplistic. Just because the genders are less polarized in temperament and cognitive strengths than pre-modernist assumptions does not mean there are no differences. There are intellectual and emotional differences that are biological. To deny it is to repeat the error of the past. Viva la difference, and take advantage of genetic predisposition where ever found, rather than fighting it out of delusional ideology = happier people.


  9. The APCS class at my school was more or less gender-balanced. It helped that the instructor was a woman and an outstanding teacher. It helped that some competitive students took the class solely to accumulate more AP credit, and many of the most competitive were female.

    I was a TA for that class for two years. I talked three girls into taking it. None stayed in CS, but all did well and one went on to be an engineer. She later thanked me for this introduction to the technical fields, which she otherwise probably would have avoided.


  10. Posted by Ship on January 6, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    I took APCS in high school and had the most wonderful teahcer/advisor ever! :)

    But then I got to college at a school with an extremely rigorous computer science program (Carnegie Mellon). In advance I decided to pursue a degree in Cognitive Science but to also get a minor in Comp Sci. The courses I took for my minor were so difficult! At a school like CMU, the CS program is so intensive that it’s only possible to succeed if you program alone in your room 80 hours a week. I certainly was never willing to make that kind of commitment. And it was very difficult to take a few courses on the side because I was so far behind all of the kids who majored in it and devoted so much time to it.

    So I guess my point is to be wary of colleges with super intense CS programs, because they may scare off girls who aren’t willing to make their life about CS and CS alone.


    • You know, I’m not your teacher any more, so you don’t have to kiss my ass, but I do enjoy the compliment!


  11. This post is such bullshit.

    The advice to men includes “get a makeover”? Because that’s not sexist. Christ, if I told any woman she had to get a makeover to enter my industry I’d be sued before I could blink. Crap advice like this is no different than Cosmo telling girls that have to act dumb and dress slutty in order for men to like them.


    • Out of curiosity, is there any other part of this post that bothers you?


    • Posted by Bethany on March 14, 2011 at 1:12 pm

      I agree it’s a little flippant, but the reality is that men _and_ women filter and form their perceptions and judgments of others (people AND products alike) based on external appearances; manage the appearance and packaging of an item or a person and you can manage the perceptions and attitudes of the observer or purchaser. The entire Marketing and Advertising Industries are formed around this basic truth. If it isn’t wrong to manage the packaging and design of a website or program or application for the pupose of attracting users, why is it wrong to manage the appearance of a person (your self) to make that person more marketiable?

      I am sure that if i I had a teacher like this I would’ve become a computer scientist! I suppose it’s never too late…


  12. I backed into technology via a support role as a documentation writer. Even though I was interesed in the type of job I could have as a technology professional,that kept me from pursuing more advanced studies was … the wires. Going into computer rooms and crawling under desks to mess with tangled wires just physically upset met. The first time I was on a project that involved opening a raised floor, I nearly went apopletic.

    I’ve discussed this with several women (over 40) and most have the same reaction to messy wires and the general disorder (seemingly) of a lab. We want to make them tidy before we can start to worry about how to make them work.

    Teachers may be able to take this nugget of history and apply it to their content presentation. Provide the girls with exercises that organize and “domesticate” the work area, while they are learning about the science.


  13. I’m a middle school tech coordinator, and I teach Lego Robotics and programming using Scratch. I find both of these are great “gateway” activities for everyone, which includes girls of course. They’re fun, creative, hands-on, not solely geeky. My experience has been that 10-12 year old girls don’t seem to have the aversion to tech that they often develop at age 13 and up.

    Thanks for your post!


  14. Wonderful post Neptonia – thank you!

    A bit of a tangent, but have you seen “The Girl Effect” video? Nice piece also:


  15. Great blog post! I support your techniques and conclusions, young women should be encouraged. Geeks themselves are driven off the the playground into the computer lab by stronger males … so it should come as no suprise that they protect the only place they feel ownership. Geeks need to learn how to share (not a new idea). Both girls and geeks need to learn how to be proud of themselves … a lot of this behavior on both sides is due to low self-esteem. Girls have been shown scientifically to have a natural advantage in “right brain” creative thinking which itself has been proven an important part of 21st century product development. So where is the disconnect? I think it comes down to self-esteem: continue to develop methods that empower young people and they will be proud of themselves and their ideas. If someone doesn’t like a girl’s idea, what you want to happen (sometimes) is for her to go off and do it herself rather than “giving in” to whoever is the most pushy personality (often a geek).

    I highly recommend the book “Mediated,” a modern anthropology making the observation that it is universal in middle school for a group of 7th grade girls to RULE on campus, not even teachers can control them … then over the next few years into highschool/college many young women lose a lot of that power. Not that being mean and catty is a positive trait for anyone but it could be nurtured into something better rather than being cast off and devalued. World/dp/1582343578


  16. FYI, the title isn’t mine—you can blame Fox News for that. I think this is the story that sparked the conversation.


  17. What a fantastic post! As a female with a CS B.S. and currently working on her CS Ph.D., I could write a book in response. But, I’ll narrow down to just one point with regard to your “Teach Vocabulary” advice. I think this is fantastic advice. Here’s why:

    When I first stepped foot into my Junior year APCS elective in high school, I had absolutely no idea how a computer worked (“processor”, “cpu,” “bytes”, etc. were all foreign to me), never mind understanding the notion of “programming” one. When I read the preface to the CS book for the course, I was completely lost in a maze of jargon. By GPA, I was 2nd in my graduating class, so to run into such a wall in the _preface_ of the course book made me feel absolutely terrible about my ability. I felt stupid in the most devastating way. This feeling was only exacerbated when I realized that my teacher had ranked the book highly online and could only sing its praises. “If the book is great, then I must be dumb” was my rationale. And, none of my other (nearly all male) classmates seemed to have any trouble. I read that chapter _three_ times.

    Needless to say, if my teacher had just been aware of the great chasm between my past experience and the other students’, she might have been able to narrow the gap with a quick lesson of vocabulary and some hands-on time with some hardware. Metaphors are an excellent start, too. And, you _must_ tell them that they can do it; it’s just a matter of hard work to catch up to the others that have had a head start. These are things I try to do when I teach CS to students, and I’m very happy to see you advocating them, as well.


  18. […] is similar to what I was wrote in Geeks drive girls out of computer science when I said, I once sat in a group of female heads (principals) of boarding schools. Each woman […]


  19. Posted by Bill on April 3, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    Let’s blame everyone else for why women aren’t going into computer science. There will be hostile people in any industry. The learning environment should be open for any person to excel in whatever field they want to IF THEY WANT TO. I think that people should consider that maybe a whole lot of women aren’t going into computer science because THEY DON’T WANT TO. If the industry is hostile towards women, yeah, that’s a problem. However, just because an industry has more men in it doesn’t necessarily mean it is hostile towards women. It may just be that more men like that field that women.

    Geeks are attracted to computer science. If women are going to be so judgmental about geeks that they will avoid computer science then that is their problem. How about this? Get some thicker skin and go into whatever industry you want, regardless of the other people in it. If for some reason I really wanted to go into interior design (or something else dominated by women)I would go do it regardless of what other people thought. Don’t go around telling me how to dress or that I play video games too much and I should be doing other things. I will do whatever I want and I will not change my lifestyle because the field I am in is not attracting more women. If women want to join then I’ll welcome them and treat them like everyone else in the field. I’m not going to change what I like to do in order to please others.


  20. […] Geeks drive girls out of computer science: This has a very misleading title. Rather than being about, well, that geeks drive women out of computer science, it focuses on the (many) things that can be done about it on the individual level. The list focuses on the junior-high and high-school levels (probably due to the background of the author) but some might apply at the introductory-college level as well. You are not watching this post, click to start watching Tags: Women in CS Permalink […]


  21. Posted by Bro on November 10, 2010 at 6:47 am

    The scene where they’re in the computer science class is completely unrealistic because the class is half girls. In real life the class would be at most 30% girls, and 90% of those would be Asian.


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