By Dr. Novadean Watson-Stone
Program Director, Information Technology, American Public University
The ability to code or program is central to literally any position in the information technology industry. In an interview with the late Steve Jobs, an exceptional leader who took Apple, Inc. to an extraordinary level of success, Jobs contended, “I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.”
Influential Public Figures Agree that Coding Is A Powerful Skill to Learn
In fact, many people champion Jobs’ position on coding, including former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Other coding supporters include Black Eyed Peas musician and entrepreneur Will.i.am, Miami Heat basketball player Chris Bosh, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, YouTube CEO and 23andMe founder Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and Chairwoman of Prodea Systems Anousheh Ansari and World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee. These are just a few of the influential people who see coding as a powerful skill to learn.
Computer Industry Has Notable Education and Gender Gaps
While learning to code makes sense in the minds of many leaders and profound figures, it is not equally learned or encouraged demographically. Stack Overflow’s 2015 developer survey found that the programming field is expanding at a rapid rate.
However, only about 5.8% of the respondents were female programmers. Conversely, 92.1% of the 25,744 respondents identified themselves as male software developers.
The Stack Overflow Community, which represents a pool of 4.7 million programmers, argued, “Our internal stats suggest the imbalance isn’t quite as severe as the survey results would make it seem, but there’s no doubt everyone who codes needs to be more proactive welcoming women into the field.”
Code.org notes that most parents want their sons and daughters to study computer science, which involves learning to code. But only a few schools teach computer programming.
Start Early to Attract More Females to Computer Industry
How do we address this problem? How do we attract more women with a passion to code into the information technology field? We start by harvesting young women. We start by educating young girls with coding knowledge, skills and attitude early.
Girls Who Code is one of the organizations that recognize the value of harvesting the young. The mission of Girls Who Code is compelling but simple: “to close the gender gap in technology.”
Girls Who Code notes that “Tech jobs are among the fastest growing in the country, yet girls are being left behind. By 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computing-related fields. Women are on track to fill just 3%.” Reading the statistics presented by Girls Who Code, it is clear the demand for more women in the information technology industry is urgent.
The need to act is now! How can we encourage more development in young girls in the STEM field? I recommend the following, which other organizations strongly support:
- Seize every opportunity to highlight the need for young girls in STEM
- Promote and support programs that are central to addressing this effort
- Mentor young girls in information technology and computer science
- Highlight to young girls role models who are programmers, computer scientists, computer engineers, CEOs and more
- Change girls’ mentality by telling them they could become the game-changing programmers of tomorrow and why
- Reframe minds by telling young girls they can code the next creative or innovative app
- Adjust the thinking by telling young girls coding is cool, rewarding and fun
Let’s rally our energy and efforts and stir a change in the information technology workforce, starting with this generation. Computer programming needs to be fully integrated into every levels of education, from elementary to post-secondary.
Our school systems consistently concentrate on reading, writing and arithmetic as the “Three Rs” mandatory for all children. Let’s shift the paradigm to reading, writing, arithmetic and coding (“Three Rs and a C”) by instilling and building key coding skills on the day kids enter elementary school. We need to build a workforce equipped to compete and succeed in this ever-increasing, technology-driven world, without forgetting the young girls in the classrooms.
About the Author
Dr. Watson-Stone is currently the program director for the graduate and undergraduate information technology programs at American Public University (APU), where she serves an aggressively growing department. She has over 16 years of experience in the information technology field. Recently, she published a blog post on Women in STEM – Payment Equality in IT, October 2015 and a Q&A piece on Cybersecurity in Higher Education at evoLLLution.com, November 2014.
Ready When You Are
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