Encouraging Female Programmers, Even the Redheads

On my last post, someone named Bob didn’t like that I’d said: “NYU did not have any sort of club for women interested in CS.”

Did they have a general CS club? If so, they had a club for women interested in CS.

Having special clubs just for women (or just for men) hurts women by making them seem different and an “other”. We don’t have special clubs for red-heads in CS for the same reason.

I joined NYU’s general CS club. When I walked into the room, there were 20 guys and me. I almost turned and left, but I thought, “Fuck it, if I’m not supposed to be here I’ll stick like a limpet and do better than all of them put together.” However, I don’t think most people have the “If people want me to do X, I’ll do !X” attitude. I know that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be in programming.

Being the only woman in a room full of guys makes me feel “other,” not having a special club. It’s nice to having a club that’s all women so that there’s somewhere to do go when I don’t want to feel other. If being a redhead made me feel other, maybe I’d like to spend time with other redheads in CS, but it doesn’t, so I don’t.

I met a guy a couple of years ago who didn’t think women were “naturally” good at computer science. He thought this because his college’s weed-out class had started with 100 students, three of whom were women, and none of the women made it through the process of whittling the class down to 20 students. Being the only woman in the room feels like I’m representing all women: if I fail, I’m showing that all women everywhere aren’t good at CS. Sometimes it’s nice to not have that burden.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in why women don’t enter computer science and what can be done (I find the subject fascinating), check out these resources:

  • Giving that every single woman I’ve worked with in tech has been from pretty competent to absolutely awesome, I think that anything that we do to encourage them to get into CS is a great move. From my personal experience (which, I agree is anecdotal, and probably counts that the average woman working in tech has faced a strong selection process), I’d say woman make better soft. engineers than men.

  • kristina1

    That’s cool, but I think this effect is probably the selection process you mention. I doubt either gender is “naturally” better at programming.

  • Yes, I think the same. But if I relate to my personal anecdotal experience, that’s what I honestly have to say! 😛

  • Bob

    When I walked into the room, there were 20 guys and me. I almost turned and left, but I thought, “Fuck it, if I’m not supposed to be here…” Why would you think you aren’t supposed to be there? You were a computer scientist, of course your supposed to be there! I’m a redhead (which is why I use it as an example) and I’m usually the only redhead in the room (redheads are about 6% of the US population). I don’t view myself as a “redhead” that happens to be a computer scientist, I view my self as a computer scientist that happens to have red hair. I don’t go looking for other red haired mentors, I go looking for the best computer science mentors.

    The problem is that you are viewing yourself as a women first and a computer scientist second. It doesn’t matter what your gender is, it matters how good you are and how much you care about CS.

  • kristina1

    Unfortunately, you cannot force women feel okay about being the only woman in the room.

    > The problem is that you are viewing yourself as a women first and a computer scientist second.

    The problem is that only a few percent of CS majors are female.

    (I’m a redhead, too.)

  • Bob

    I know I can’t force anyone to feel anything. My concern lies in why you feel okay to be the only redhead in the room, but not the only women in the room?

    There is no difference between those traits. Both are arbitrary genetic pheotypes.

  • kristina1

    > My concern lies in why you feel okay to be the only redhead in the room, but not
    > the only women in the room?

    Because of how women are sometimes treated.

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