April 17, 2007

Women in Computer Science

Filed under: Not Tech — Chris @ 3:23 pm

It’s always been a problem and, apparently, it’s getting worse. (Though, in fairness to the discipline, enrollments in CS are down dramatically across the board and seem to be down proportionally somewhat less for women, especially at the doctoral level (which I inferred from squinting at this graph)).

What can I say, ladies? It’s not all programming, but programming is an important part of it. If you don’t like staring at a screen all day… well, then you’re probably not cut out for 21st century office work. You can only read so many papers (and even papers don’t have to be on paper if you don’t insist on it).

CS could do a better job of selling itself as a mathematical rather than an engineering discipline—it’s really a little of both, and you can choose the proportion that works best for you depending on your interests (for instance, my work is probably 60/40 math/engineering; most of my peers/colleagues are probably more math-centric). Neither math nor engineering are at gender parity, but math is better than CS and engineering is worse.

On the glass-half-empty side, CS is—and is likely to remain—a male-dominated discipline. And the men you’ll find, while not necessarily the classic pocket-protectored nerd (I’ve never once seen a pocket protector on a computer scientist; I think that’s a slide-rule-era stereotype), tend to be socially awkward in one way or another. (But academia, in general, seems to attract introverts.)

On the glass-half-full side, universities, research labs, and funding agencies are absolutely desperate to encourage women to pursue computer science as a career. If you are a math- or technologically-inclined female (especially if you are an American female: China and India produce proportionally more female computer scientists (I think, no data to back that up)), you’ll have a comparative advantage in CS vs. math and the physical sciences. Which is not to say you’ll get a free ride. But there will definitely be a thumb on the scale in your favor.*

* Must… suppress… white male… resentment… So hard… being white… and male…



  1. Hey, I’m female and taking CS! Of course, I’m one of 7 females in a class of 300 . . . Actually, it’s an RTIS degree, aka video game programming.

    I don’t understand why any girl wouldn’t want to learn how to program. It’s a lovely marriage of creativity and problem solving.

    The big problem is that women mainly follow trends, and this just isn’t trendy enough right now.

    Comment by Kelly — April 18, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  2. Kelly, game programming? That’s even worse than academic CS, with the testosterone and the smack talk and the booth girls at E3…

    Comment by Chris — April 18, 2007 @ 11:50 pm

  3. You think it’s tough being white and male now, honkytown – well how about I gonna get my coalition on your ass and show you what it’s like. And if you think i’m lying, just try me – because i would LOVE IT.

    Comment by Al Sharpton — April 19, 2007 @ 6:47 pm

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