Women in Tech

Picture a Scientist

Please watch the film Picture a Scientist (1h 43 m). While the film profiles women in STEM in academic fields, many of the issues faced by these women are similar to issues faced in tech, as you'll see in the following readings.

Here are some points to reflect on:

Women as Programmers Through History

Read "When Computers Were Women" by Jennifer S. Light. You can skip the section "Contemporary Accounts of ENIAC" if you wish (although it is still quite interesting) but please read the Conclusion (p. 481)

Also consider this 1967 quote from Grace Hopper, one of the founders of the field of computer science, who also happens to be a woman: "[Computer programming is] just like planning a dinner ….Programming requires patience and the ability to handle detail. Women are “naturals” at computer programming.” (From the women's magazine Cosmopolitan, in a piece meant to encourage women to enter the field of computer programming.)

Then consider an unfortunate modern take on women programmers, the (sexist and unscientific) infamous memo by Googler James Damore. You do not have to read the whole thing, but the section on "Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech" is the most relevant. Note: contains sexist statements about women and their abilities as programmers. (If you would like a thorough critique of the science in Damore's memo, I encourage you to read, "The Actual Science of James Damore’s Google Memo"by Megan Molteni and Adam Rogers from Wired.

Listen to "When Women Stopped Coding", an episode of NPRs planet money. If you'd like to explore even more, check out "The Secret History of Women in Coding" by Clive Thompson in the New York Times.

In your reflection, consider

  • Consider your personal history with computing. What kind of access did you have computers when you were young? Were you encouraged or discouraged in your interest in tech? Or were you encouraged in certain areas (front end vs back end)? Was it similar to people around you who had different identities?