I know I belong in CS, but sometimes I wonder

Sometimes my Compilers professor will introduce a topic saying, “Who knows what lexical analysis is? No one? What, don’t you guys do this constantly in your spare time? All right, I’ll show you …” I know he’s just joking, but every time he does this, it reminds me of one of the barriers to women in computer science that I am particularly sensitive about: wondering whether or not I really belong in programming because I don’t program all the time.

If my CS experience were limited to my college, I wouldn’t be very worried – I go to a liberal arts college where no one has only one interest. In the first few weeks of my freshman year when we’d ask what other people wanted to major in, it was always, “Classics and chemistry” or “Neurobiology and art history” or another pair of an art and a science. In my social sphere, everyone has broad interests, so it shouldn’t worry me that I like cognitive science, philosophy, Japanese, and knitting in addition to programming.

However, in the past few years, I’ve met more students who study CS in engineering schools. When they talk about how they live to program and never leave the lab, I feel like I’ve been wasting time by having other hobbies when I should have been keeping up with my competition. I worry that my skills aren’t up to snuff because I’ve been knitting or reading Japanese books instead of programming and reading compiler books. Continue reading

Many high schools offering “Computer Science” really aren’t

The following post is an excerpt from a research paper I wrote this semester examining the use of high school computer science classes to increase the number of women in computer science. Yes, the high school I reference is the one I attended.

A major issue in teaching computer science in high schools is that not only do the students not understand what computer science is, but frequently neither do the teachers and administrators. High schools frequently offer classes under the heading “computer science,” that are actually courses on keyboarding or using applications. Continue reading

Giving an overview improves your presentation

My housemate Jackie writes the blog Agent Plus Environment about her life as a Cognitive Science student. She and I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women In Computing this October, and she recently posted some presentation tips based on her impressions at the conference. Full details can be found on her entry, but the highlights are:
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Diversity of perspective and interview breakfasts

I had the pleasure of attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Atlanta a couple weeks ago, and I left excited for job-searching for the coming year. I submitted my resume to the conference’s resume database and received quite a few responses, several of which resulted in interviews at the conference. One company in particular invited me not only to interview with them, but also to attend their company breakfast for candidates to learn more about the company. I joined them for breakfast, and as expected I enjoyed myself thoroughly and learned more about the company.

As I left the breakfast with another candidate, I asked her what she thought of the event. She said that she enjoyed the food and conversation, but was worried that the hiring department was biased because all the people we’d spoken to had been “strong women.” When I asked her what she meant by that and why she would worry, she explained that because all the company representatives we met were charismatic, forceful women, it implied that meeker women did not make it through the hiring process, so that due to biased hiring a women had to be “strong” in order to be hired. Continue reading