Girls and computers

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Bookmark: Starla Pureheart, teenage girl white-hat hacker… Saw her on TechTV and was floored by her eloquance and attitude.

“I feel that the field of Computer Science has become somewhat limited by the computers themselves. It has design stereotypes. Robotics is such a new field; it’s still being born. You don’t have the design stereotypes and you’re only limited by what you can imagine.”

“I feel that everyone should … become a hacker in some field… whether it be poetry or music or computers.”

Amen, sister.

On why girls don’t get into computers, “They probably don’t know about it… because, you know, ‘you’re a girl… you’re supposed to be into the Backstreet Boys and who’s dataing who… not computers and… you know… Quake III”

Getting girls involved in Computer technology is a corollary to the work I do.

The stereotype of a “woman in computers” is the web/gui designer. Very few women doing scrubwork on the backend. To further complicate matters, boys (and girls, as well) hooked on computer games see those women represented as impossible, VERY top-heavy sex kittens (who happen to know kung-fu).

Can we all agree that the geeks will not inherit the earth unless they figure out how 1. to interact with each other and 2. figure out how to work well with non-geeks and 3. figure out how to recruit an ordinary, diverse set of people to the geekhood.

It’s the bizzare, I-wasn’t-on-the-football-team-in-high-school repressed machismo in the IT world that causes male coders to haul their sleeping bags into work, work best in isolation, and abhor helping others… perhaps girls just don’t want to be part of that.

I don’t know why this is, and maybe it’s a sexist thing to say.

It’s a shame, particularly since the women programmers I’ve known have all been substantially better at coding than the men… Could it be something about being more patient and careful? I remember seeing a study somewhere that women are actually better memorizers than men… There’s a rule of “7 plus or minus 2” (where most people can memorize 5 to nine things). However, as Robert Cringley writes in Accidental Empires, the BEST coders can memorize quite a few more than 9….

That makes sense- programs of any substance involve lots of different parts which aren’t discrete and can’t be spec’d out precisely and in offline memory (ex. blueprints of a bridge)… so you have to keep track of dozens of variables and even more paths for dataflow in your head.

If girls are better at that sort of thing, then naturally they’d be better coders.

So this girl (real name Anna Moore) is going to college two years early… says “being smart is more important than being cool” and seems perfectly adjusted – perhaps not quite the cheerleader type, but just a normal teenage girl with an incredibly well-functioning brain.

hmmmm… can’t quite figure out how to apply this anecdote to my work.