People Who Code – A Call to Action

I am a huge advocate of the women in computer science movement. coding-bannerI am also a huge fan of the Computer Science (CS) field in general and, despite my number of years in this industry, I continue to be amazed at the volume and speed by which new technology is coming at us. Yet, with all that’s going on out there, it is still incredibly hard to find talented developers and designers. So, while I want to see more young girls learning to code and women in professional technical roles, quite frankly I just want to see more people who code.

Three things happened recently that made me realize that I need to focus my efforts on encouraging more young people to get into computer science:

First, there was the scuttlebutt around the “Male Allies” panel at the Grace Hopper Conference a couple of weeks ago. Everyone was so wound up about the gaffes of the three men on the panel that we lost sight of their key messages which were to support gender balance and eliminate wage gaps in tech across all levels of a company. How are we going to make progress for women and minorities in tech if we attack the majority when they aim to support the movement? When will meritocracy prevail over gender? My friend Jocelyn Goldfein has a lot of good thoughts on this topic here. We need to bring men into this conversation without them worrying about being attacked for speaking up and we need to focus on how to build great careers in CS for everyone – not just women.

Second, I have been thinking a lot lately about the preponderance of women and girls’ organizations that are encouraging and supporting women to code and choose technical careers. It’s wonderful that there are SO many of these organizations out schools-codingthere, yet it is so hard for girls and women to know which ones are the best to meet their particular needs and/or interests. I am concerned by how many of them position themselves competitively against each other vs. combining forces to form a stronger, united, movement. A founder of one of these organizations told me recently that when she approached a nearby, similar, group to collaborate she was met with “hostile resistance”. Also, that some of the members of her organization did not want to be part of meta-organizations because it drew too much “adverse attention” to their roles – akin to the extreme circumstances of #gamergate where women are fearful for their lives because of their chosen profession. Certainly there are varying views on how best to encourage girls and women to code, but imagine how powerful these groups would be if they combined efforts instead of competing with each other or fearing retribution (or worse) for participating. Perhaps the mere size of these groups would deter those who attack them today or maybe, even, convince their attackers to support vs. challenge their mission.

Finally, I was recently enlightened by my friends at the MassTLC Education Foundation on the rather pathetic state of our k-12 CS programs in Massachusetts. I view CS as basic literacy in the 21st century, yet in most publicmassCS_stats and private schools it is treated like an elective, not a core math or science requirement. In 2012, only 1000 students in Massachusetts took AP CS and 559 passed; of those who passed, only 24 were underrepresented minorities and 89 were female. There are also no standards or licensure for teachers who teach CS in k-12. According to this NPR story, only an estimated 10% of k-12 schools in our country teach computer science. This interactive data chart shows the steady decline of CS majors in the US. With all the money out there to invest in new technology and innovation, we are not making the same level of investment in the people we need to make these innovations a reality and sustainable into the future.

From the past we have learned that big issues such as the civil rights and feminist movements took large groups of likeminded people to go from controversy to significant policy and cultural changes. We take for granted that women can vote in the US and in many, but not all, other countries around the world and we tend to forget that not too many years ago, schools and busses were segregated. Today, we are fighting for equal pay and career opportunities for women and there is controversy about how few women there are studying CS, but there is a bigger issue to solve. If Venture Capitalists and technology industry leaders want to support these movements, we need to do more than just attend conferences and speak on panels. We need to change policy – like eliminating noncompetes in MA to allow talent to move where their passions take them instead of feeling trapped in their jobs or eager to depart from the field of technology altogether.  We need to band together instead of standing on hundreds of different platforms to solve a greater issue. We need to fund programs for young people – not just girls – that foster interest in creativity and technology. We need to enlighten high school kids about the opportunities in technology and be available to mentor these kids when they go to college. We need people who code.

Do you agree that we need to do more to encourage young people to code? Join me the week of December 8-14 for CS Ed Week where the MassTLC Education Foundation will be championing Hour of Code in cities and schools across all of Massachusetts. This national program is designed to inspire students to learn more, dream more and be more through Computer Science.

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