Diversity Technology

Breaking eggs

The discussion associated with the last post, on the display of a pornographic image at a tech conference, has really been civil and engaged. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a discussion of this nature where many of the concerns aren’t rejected almost out of hand. It’s actually rather refreshing.

One person did bring up the long hours and raising babies, but that’s been almost universally rejected in the comments. As women enter into, and even begin to dominate, other fields that require a strong commitment on time, such as medicine and law, this no longer makes sense as a ‘reason’. In particular, as more men become involved with their children, and reject the so-called ‘horrendous’ hours of IT, it makes less so as time goes on.

No, there’s more here than first meets the eye. I’ve had some ideas on this score for a while now, and when I’m not heavily involved in writing on my books and my Missouri site, I’ve also been researching what I can see of the tech industry: specifically the computer science degree programs.

As I wrote in comments at the site, the tech industry is broken. This state isn’t reflected just in the lack of women–it’s programs like agile computing, which are trying to compensate for behavioral characteristics that we’re finding out, now, cause more harm than good. Yet, the colleges gear their programs to people with these same behavioral characteristics. That’s where we need to start. We need to completely change the curriculum of computer science in school. In fact, we need to eliminate computer science as a separate field.

I wrote in comments:

I’m incredibly behind a book, too much so to be able to spend the time responding as I would really like.

I think we need to go beyond looking at a few classes, or behaviors in school. I think we need to completely challenge how the computer science programs are designed.

It’s not that these programs are antagonistic to women, but they’re also antagonistic to many men. These programs are geared to a specific behavior, as much as they are focused at an interest.

I have met many women who have ended in technology but not through the computer science programs. They come in through psychology, music, business, library science, biology, and so on. That’s what we need to look at doing — removing computer science as this isolated, odd field (what other field focuses purely on the tools?) and split it into other departments, as an option.

Take the data portion of the computer science degree, and put this is as part of a library science program focused on data and organization of such.

Do the same with psychology, business, accounting, and so on–degrees in these fields with emphasis on computing.

Not only would we get more women, we’d get a strong computing community. People grounded in fields of interest beyond just computing.

The computer science programs are padded with so many inconsequential classes to make up a full degree. Who really needs assembly language now? And we have a class in Pascal one day, and databases the next — without any rhyme or reason how these interface into the real world.

We’ve already seen the ‘bleed’ of the computer science classes into the other disciplines. Let’s finish the job.

Let’s break this stranglehold of the aloof, obsessed ‘geek’. Let’s remove computer science out of engineering, where it never really belonged. Let’s stop isolating IT, and bring it into the other fields, where it should have been in the first place.

Our programs are stuck in a time when computers filled rooms, and only an elite few had access. This is just not a viable approach any more.

This is just a start, and I don’t have time to do more than toss a few disjointed sentences out.

I do know that the programs to ‘encourage’ girls to take computer science classes are failing. Probably because the entire field is biased–predetermined to a specific gender and mindset.

The tech field is broken. Only drastic means can fix it.

I checked out the computer science program at Missouri and it looks little different than when I tool computer science almost 25 years ago. Oh, there’s new languages, and more on the web, and a focus more on Java and the like rather than Pascal, but the concepts are the same. We have classes in assembly language, algorithms like our friend the bubble sort, disjointed offerings on database management and OO programming with C+. We also have several requirements for analytical geometry and calculus. Perhaps a class on Unix or graphics, and so on.

We spend our entire time focusing on the tools, rather than the application of the technology. We’re still teaching computer science, as if no one has access to computers because they’re still room sized and only available to an elite few.

Computer Science is still too heavily associated with either the math or the engineering departments, neither of which reflects how computers are used today. Computers are used in business and in social sciences, in psychology, medicine, history, and on and on. We associate computer science with calculus, when something like the library sciences would provide more useful integration, with its better understanding of the gathering and categorizing of data.

We didn’t know how to deal with computers and how to integrate into our school systems decades ago, and so we bunged them in, established a ‘core’ curricula and then stuck with it, like flies caught in amber.

I look at the computer science programs now in most schools and frankly, with today’s technology, they’re dull as dishwater. There’s no connection with what’s happening in the world. There’s nothing more than a desperate attempt to hold on to what’s familiar. Unfortunately, though, the side effect is that the programs attract a certain type of person, and frankly, discourage others who could and would add much to the field.

The most difficult step to take to ‘fixing’ why there’s too few women in IT is first by recognizing IT is broken. In our society, where we supposedly encourage women to go into field, and explore any profession, any such that has this few women in it, is broken. No, we don’t need to encourage women, we don’t need to make men realize that showing porn images at a professional conference is inappropriate. It goes far beyond just these simple acts: the field is broken, and how it is taught in university only encourages the flaws that break it.

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