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August 22, 2014

Gaps in code aren’t OK and neither is the gender gap in tech

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By Caroline Davenport

It didn’t surprise me when I walked into a computer coding class and I was one of only three girls in a crowd of boys. But it didn’t bother me at all; I was only concerned with trying to soak up as much information as I could in a week-long summer camp. It seems insane that a rising high school junior would sign herself up for an academic class in the summer, but there I was sitting in front of a computer screen, desperately trying to get the computer to spit out the words “Hello World.”

It’s no secret that the computer programming industry is booming. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the employment of computer programmers to grow eight percent from 2012 to 2022 and the employment of software developers to grow 22 percent from 2012 to 2022, “much faster than the average for all occupations,” due to, “a large increase in the demand for computer software.”

It is clear that a basic understanding of computer coding and programming is an incredibly relevant skill to possess in today’s world. I hope that by exposing myself to coding in high school, I will have a leg up if I choose to pursue a technology-oriented career.

Despite the prolific growth of jobs in the tech industry, there is a severe lack of diversity in who holds those jobs. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women hold 57 percent of jobs in the U.S., but hold only 26 percent of computing jobs.

Under intense pressure, Google released its diversity data this past May, showing that only 30 percent of Google’s employees are women. That figure drops to 17 percent for the company’s tech sector. The release of Google’s diversity numbers prompted other tech companies to follow suit. The percentage of women working for Facebook is slightly higher than Google’s at 31 percent and Yahoo is the highest of the three at 37 percent. NPR called the release of these numbers a “big step” in a June 26 article. The number of women employees is even lower for tech start-ups. “An engineer at Pinterest has collected data from people at 133 start-ups and found that an average of 12 percent of the engineers are women,” said The New York Times in an article published April 5. The numbers prove what everyone has always suspected: the number of women in tech-oriented jobs is discouragingly low.

However, things were not always this way. During World War II, women programmed one of the most famous computers in history, the Eniac, for the U.S. Army. But once programming gained prestige, women were pushed out, Dr. Ruth Oldenziel, professor at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands who studies history, gender and technology, said. Google and many smaller companies are attempting to bring the number of women in the tech industry back up. After disclosing its data, Google received feedback that prompted the company to start an initiative that aims to encourage diversity in the industry. CNET reported this past June that Google has joined forces with Code School to pay for three months of online accounts for many women and minorities who work in tech to give them the opportunity to expand their skills. In addition to this effort by Google, organizations such as Girls Who CodeGirl Develop It and Women’s Coding Collective are taking steps to ensure that women are equally represented in the computing field. “This is more than just a program. It’s a movement.” Girls Who Code’s website says.

It is crucial that this movement succeeds. The tech industry is growing every day and soon there will be more computer specialist jobs available in the U.S. than workers to fill them. At the current rate, by 2022, U.S. universities will have produced only 39 percent of the graduates needed to fill computer specialist positions.

Even major tech corporations admit that more women in the industry would be beneficial. If we do recruit more women into the tech industry, we will more than double the rate of our technology output, Larry Page, the chief executive of Google said.

So what does this all mean for me as a young woman? First and foremost, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to attend camp and expand my knowledge of code. The course challenged me by teaching many difficult concepts such as creating class systems, using variables, using conditionals, using if/then/else statements and using loops. In order to learn these concepts, my fellow classmates and I each built our own game. Although my game was extremely simple–a person moving along the bottom of the screen ate apples to collect points–it utilized many skills and ran on over 300 lines of code. I hope this experience opens a door for me into a new possibility for the future. With many major corporations releasing their diversity numbers and new organizations trying to boost the number of women in tech, I hope that more women than ever will be in computer specialist jobs. And maybe I will be one of those women.

Interested in finding out where you can learn to code online? Check out these recommended resources :

  • Girls Who Code: This organization sponsors “computer science education and tech industry exposure” clubs around the U.S. for 6th-12th grade girls during the academic year by providing a curriculum. It also hosts summer immersion program that includes “seven weeks of intensive instruction in robotics, web design, and mobile development with engaging, career-focused mentorship and exposure led by the industry’s top female entrepreneurs and engineers.”
  • Girl Develop It: This non-profit group “exists to provide affordable and accessible programs to women who want to learn web and software development through mentorship and hands-on instruction.”
  • Women’s Coding Collective: Women’s Coding Collective hosts classes in the Boston area and 2 week online courses. It also provides an online community that promotes a “supportive, no-stupid-questions environments where women can learn, build, and code together.”
  • is an organization that aims to make computer science available in all schools. It hosts Hour of Code, which encourages students to try coding for one hour. It also has a free, introductory computer science course online.

Caroline Davenport is a junior at Walt Whitman high school in Bethesda, Maryland. A special thanks to and the National Center for Women & Information Technology for their support on this project.

Photo credit: Matt Ehrichs

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