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[NPR] When Women Stopped Coding

post #1 of 53
Thread Starter 
Saw this posted elsewhere and it is quite fascinating.
Quote:
Mark Zuckerberg. Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Most of the big names in technology are men.

But a lot of computing pioneers, the ones who programmed the first digital computers, were women. And for decades, the number of women in computer science was growing.

But in 1984, something changed. The number of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged.



Source

The gist of it is that when women were prominent in CS, most programming was done on computers that no one could have access to outside of college or work. When computers first came into the home, they were often marketed specifically to boys as toys, because of videogames (a whole 'nother story). Computers and programming began to be seen as a "guy" thing and a lot of the baggage in regards to women found in male geek culture became associated with computers, making women feel unwelcome.

The boys that learned programming went to college with that experience. Suddenly colleges started to expect prior programming knowledge going into intro courses. Women, who were less likely to have experience with computers, would end up dropping the major regardless of how good of a student they were or how much potential they had.

It's a great episode and it makes me think even more about how much of myself is shaped by what marketing/society/stereotypes etc says I should or shouldn't be. I can honestly say a lot of who I am comes form me mimicking the male nerd stereotype as a kid.
post #2 of 53
I don't disagree that computers might have been heavily marketed towards men at a young age, but in my experience in college there are very few guys who have "prior experience" at coding in the introductory classes. I think there is more equal footing than you might think in the classroom with regards to prior knowledge of how program.

It may be so that men were encouraged into programming by society, and women on the other hand discouraged, but that is mostly a thing of the past.

There are lots of women who despite encouragement to do coding, refuse to, they aren't interested in it. Even when it begins at an early age.

At present a lot of people end up in college without hardly any coding experience I think, but now it is common that both men and women are encouraged to go into programming, still though there are few women in computer science or related technology majors.

Some people have refused to accept this and you'll often even see unfair advantages given to women, at my college if you have a woman in your senior project group, you get significantly more funding. Also, if as a woman, you apply to somewhere like microsoft, they even give preferential treatment, even if you are less qualified than male candidates.
Edited by 1keith1 - 10/19/14 at 9:31am
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post #3 of 53
i disagree with part of the analysis. 84 was right around the time all the affirmative action and equal opportunity employment laws were fully extended to women, it also is around the time women started to see a larger chunk of money, and better wages. It was also right around the time the equal rights amendment was nearing the end of it's lifespan.

84 is also TOO SOON for computers = boys toys... that really didn't come around till a bit later (closer to 88-90).

I suspect the reason why there was equality between the genders up to 84 in computer science is for a much simpler reason. Computer science isn't any different from other "engineering" course work, it tends to be heavily weighted toward men, so this is nothing new, however the early parity was likely artificial. You see, until the early 80s the almost all typists were women. computer science, computer programing had a very real technical wall to hurdle, it required typing proficiency skills not found in men, which left the door open wide for women. I am willing to bet the number of people in computer science grew pretty much in line with the number of men in the field... see... 84 is around the time the home pc became "affordable"... while typewriters had been around for decades many men saw them as tools for "women", as unfortunately it was almost exclusively a device women used. this was true in my house. When we got our first home pc, it was right around 85... we had a typewriter and an apple II. My mother continued to use the typewriter, while my father used the apple II almost the moment it entered the house.

BTW: my mother was not a technophobe, our first home video game console (an atari) was something my father bought my mother for xmas, and she was most certainly the biggest fan of it, mastering frogger and pong and pretty much every arcade game she played as a kid. that said she DIDN'T like the apple II... it was too much hassle to type stuff up and use it like her typewriter so she simply was frozen out of PCs until they became more user friendly. (which would take another 10 years)

What happened in around 84 was boys learned how to type. and they learned it on PCs. computers back then were so archaic you had to know a little something about tech to use them. So they created an artificial barrier to people not interested in tinkering. I suspect the root of the issue lay in older stereotypes about typewriters and women, it probably wasn't until the late 80's - early 90s that the "atmosphere" and the stereotype of computers being a "boys" thing took root.
Edited by azanimefan - 10/19/14 at 9:41am
 
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post #4 of 53
Thread Starter 
I find the attempt to rectify the problem at Carnage Mellon interesting. By creating an intro course they were able to even out the gender ratios. I wonder if any has been to Carnagie Mellon recently?
post #5 of 53
I worked in India for 4 months about 8 years ago and something struck me immediately in the office was that programming teams were more or less 50/50. Considering most teams I had been in at home over years of my career were entirely men it was great to see that it was more even in India. The management roles however were exclusively men, the women were expected to marry and leave the workplace in their 20's but since most of the office was pretty young this didn't change the ratio all that much.

It was interesting to see. There is definitely a cultural aspect that stops women going into the field, likely an image of misognist or nerdy men which in reality the job is nothing like depicted on TV nor are the workmates anything like the characters depicted. I do wonder just how much impact a negative media against the job from an ignorant stand point and using stereotypes to drive the message home with anti social men made women think it would not be environment in which they are welcome.

I will say this, one of my jobs was chock full of misogynists. In the middle of it was this poor Russian lady who refused to give up the job but man that was a brutal workplace and I left as soon as I could. But of all the projects I have worked on that is the only one where I had a problem and it just seemed to be a place where the worst of programmers seemed to be accumulating.
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post #6 of 53
Thread Starter 
And it might be getting worse with the rise of BRO-grammers in silicon valley.
post #7 of 53
Having known women in computer science I will tell you one little dirty secret, men encourage women to program. It is other women that tell women NOT to do computers. Not joking. My partner was in college for computer science, she was told by her female college supervisor that she would be unhappy in computer science and she should go into nursing.

If you ask the women if they have ever seen male geek culture push women out? Yes. But they will also finish that sentence with, "not nearly as much as other women do."

Yes, computer science is male geek dominate, it requires you to prove you know what you are doing, but that is not why women are avoiding it.

The stigma of computer science being men only is set up by men, but it is enforced by other women.
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post #8 of 53
so what's the argument now considering all college and high school students have access to computers? why hasn't the number drastically risen over the past decade?

you have to consider in 1984 as well that this was the birth of personal computers and at the edge of the creation of visual uis. the number of people hired by the industry and the scope of the industry was about to broaden drastically. looking at one factor because it fits your narrative is not very objective not to mention, many of these areas in the hard sciences do not fair much better for women.

something like 90% of professors who teach in the hard sciences are men...that's a much worse percentile than for comp science majors specifically.
post #9 of 53
I heard this the other day on the drive home, was very interesting I have to say.
post #10 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by azanimefan View Post


I suspect the reason why there was equality between the genders up to 84 in computer science is for a much simpler reason. Computer science isn't any different from other "engineering" course work, it tends to be heavily weighted toward men, so this is nothing new, however the early parity was likely artificial. You see, until the early 80s the almost all typists were women.

Thanks for the informed post, I hadn't thought about women being the primary typists in the past as a reason for the fast early adoption of women as programmers. Looks like the original article did not look at this issue from all angles. There are usually many motivators behind a trend.
 
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