Women in computing

When I ran a team of R&D programmers, a while ago, at one point, we had one person from a visible minority, one person with a slight handicap, two women, two immigrants (one of which was one of the two women, the other was me) and at least one phytopathologist (me). We beat most of the statistics with that team, because there were about ten of us at the time. One of the members of my team remarked that it was the first time he’d worked in a team with two women in it – and he had worked in larger teams before.

I find it rather strange that women are so rare in computing in these parts of the world – and I am not aware of any part of the world where they form a majority. I think this is strange because in the history of computing, women have played, and are still playing, a very important role. After all: the first programmer ever was a woman (Ada Lovelace), compilers were invented by a woman (Grace Hopper), technologies like Bluetooth and WiFi would not be possible without spread spectrum broadcasting, co-invented by Hedy Lamarr. The first person to use a computer in a private home was a woman (Mary Allen Wilkes) who also developed the first OS for the first minicomputer. Adele Goldberg helped invent object-oriented programming with her work on Smalltalk; Sally Floyd helped make the Internet possible with her work on TCP; etc.

In fact, come to think of it, most of the technologies I work with on a daily basis have a woman’s influence in its history. Women have traditionally played an important role in anything ranging from the esthetic to the very, very technical. One of the women in the team I referred to earlier was in charge of quality assurance for the team while the other worked on a firmware, written in C.

So why is it that computing tends to be such a masculin environment (in that there are a lot of men working in this field)? Maybe it’s just because women are smarter than men..? They’ve moved on to greener pastures where their superior intellect is more needed, leaving us to do the footwork. The few women remaining in the field are just there to keep an eye on us…

Nah.., that can’t be it, can it..?

About rlc

Software Analyst in embedded systems and C++, C and VHDL developer, I specialize in security, communications protocols and time synchronization, and am interested in concurrency, generic meta-programming and functional programming and their practical applications. I take a pragmatic approach to project management, focusing on the management of risk and scope. I have over two decades of experience as a software professional and a background in science.
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3 Responses to Women in computing

  1. Geneviève says:

    I don’t know why, but I am under the impression that I am one of those women you are talking about ;o)

    If my memory is right, at one point, we had three immigrants in our team! But I can’t find who you are talking about when you said “visible minority”… strange!

    I don’t know why the world don’t have more women in computing but I am almost sure it is not the only field with a lack of women. One think I can say though is that there is only a slight percentage of people who start a bachelor degree who will graduated in the end. If you take into account that when I started mine, we were only 5 of 6 girls, the chance of having a lot of girls on your graduation picture is not big!

    But it’s was not only in university, now that I recall it, because I choose programming as an option in secondary 4, I ended up in a class with 5 girls and 28 boys!

    And if you want to bo back even more, the first time I saw a computer, it was because my second grade teacher (a woman) went out of her way to introduced us to computers even though our school didn’t have any yet.

    Well I’m sorry about this comment with a total lack of coherence written with my poor English skills…

    • Hi Geneviève,

      Yes, you are one of the women I mentioned. As for the “visible minority”: I was thinking of Jamal.

      I don’t know why the world don’t have more women in computing but I am almost sure it is not the only field with a lack of women. One think I can say though is that there is only a slight percentage of people who start a bachelor degree who will graduated in the end. If you take into account that when I started mine, we were only 5 of 6 girls, the chance of having a lot of girls on your graduation picture is not big!

      But it’s was not only in university, now that I recall it, because I choose programming as an option in secondary 4, I ended up in a class with 5 girls and 28 boys!

      And if you want to bo back even more, the first time I saw a computer, it was because my second grade teacher (a woman) went out of her way to introduced us to computers even though our school didn’t have any yet.

      I wonder why there are so few women who enroll in computer science classes? 5 vs. 28 makes for about 15%, which is still higher than I think the percentage of women in computing is in general.

      I know of at least one development team with more than thirty people in it, with only one woman…

      Well I’m sorry about this comment with a total lack of coherence written with my poor English skills…

      Your english is fine 🙂

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

  2. William says:

    Coming from another programmer who has worked in various teams I would have to agree with your post.

    At university we had about 15% female in the class and even that went down in the final year. But saying that, the women I’m speaking about aren’t doing development now but rather application deployment and UNIX training while most of the men are now in development type jobs.

    I have often wondered why more women don’t enjoy/become enthusiastic about programming. Guess it will probably remain a mystery to me.

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