Monday, March 7, 2016

Is coding the only path?

I just got back from watching Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, a documentary about the abysmal numbers of women in computer science. It's good. Thought-provoking. As the director said (because, yes, the director was there to talk about the film afterward; this is one reason we love the IU Cinema), a lot of people, especially men, say the film is eye-opening.

If you have a chance to see it....

The film tells a story. It tells a story about women in computer science. About the way women originally dominated the field but no longer do. And how that history is being.... maybe not erased but glossed over. How women comprised about 40% of computer science majors in 1985 and the numbers have plummeted since. And the numbers in industry are no better.

In the film there's lots of talk about 'the pipeline', trying to get more girls and POC interested in and confident in computer programming at a young age, to improve the numbers of computer science majors, to increase the numbers in jobs. Which is certainly one way to look at the problem. (As one audience member pointed out after the film, the pipeline still excludes anyone who doesn't have opportunities to get into it early on; looking past the pipeline is also necessary.)

There's talk about the culture at many tech firms being unwelcoming (or sometimes outright hostile) to women, and really anybody who doesn't fit a certain stereotype.

And this is all great stuff to talk about because increasing the number of girls who stick with coding and programming and major in computer science is one way to increase the number who might work in computer science. And stopping the attrition, retaining the women who are already in the industry is a huge piece of the puzzle.

Really, just go see the film.

But I walked out of the film with something nagging at me. It's something that also came up during the Q&A after the film. It's a little thing, and maybe part of a different conversation, but...

What about all the ways computer science doesn't have to fit into the neat little box of what already exists?

As one of the women from WESiT pointed out, they have done research which shows taking the same hardware and software that is used in robotics and putting it into wearable tech has increased women and girls being interested in that technology.

Are we trying to force coding to stay in a rigid box? Having a more diverse team has been proved over and over to improve results (here's a quick search if you don't believe me). Would more diverse teams not just improve results but change the way technology and computer science looks?

Are there more paths than just coding and programming? I know that was the focus of the film, but some of us just plain don't want to code. Can there be talk of what else computer scientists can do that isn't just staring at a screen and writing code? Because maybe that would interest more women.

Anyway, the lack of women and POC in tech needs to be more than just a conversation. But a conversation is a place to start. And this documentary is part of that conversation.