Catherine Gracey

Living Life, One Misadventure At A Time.

Where Is This Female Programmer?

on October 24, 2014

I have been reading a lot of articles recently about women in IT, sent to me by various people. They all relate to the same general question: why aren’t there many female computer science students? It is a question that is getting closer to home with every day, and I have spent a fair number of hours pondering this question as it relates to me.

In high school I picked classes that were highly specialised according to my teachers. My final year was an intense blend of mathematics and computing. I learned to program in several languages and I learned enough high level mathematical skills that there is very little in my life that I am not able to calculate if I need to.

After finishing school, I went on to complete a BA with a major in creative writing. My other units were in literature, linguistics and philosophy. I took this further a few years later and completed an Honours year, also in writing. Aside from coding a basic website for myself over a few weeks one summer, I haven’t touched programming since.

Looking back with the vantage point of a few years, I am surprised that I didn’t complete a double degree in computer science and art. It would have been the logical choice given my interest and skills. My two main interests would have been combined, and I would have been able to follow a very different career path where I suspect I would have excelled in both fields.

The problem with retrospective insight, such as this, is that the awareness now was not available then. My first round university selections were all in various business fields: accounting, economics, marketing, etc. The only reason I enrolled in the degree that I did was because on the final day to change our preferences my former drama teacher mentioned her surprise that I had not selected a creative writing degree. I didn’t realise such things even existed, so I went home and put down the first one I could find as my first preference. I didn’t have the time to research degrees, because I literally had a deadline of two hours to do the work and the website was prone to crashing. My academic future changed instantly as a result of a 3 minute conversation.

I didn’t understand what the options were that I could follow. Computer science had always been an area that I saw as hardware, not software. I could build a computer from component parts without help, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do all day. I didn’t see a future career that involved cutting myself open on circuit boards. Programming was absent from my mental list of possibilities.

Now that I am in my early 30s, and I am aware of how many women are making choices similar to my own, I question if it was the right choice. I am certainly young enough that I could go back to university – I’ve done it a few times before – and correct the career mistake that I made. It would be an opportunity to gain a qualification that makes sense, I could complete my family with no time out of the workforce, and I would be young enough that I would still have a long career ahead of me.

I am also old enough to understand that there is more than one way to achieve a goal. Programming tutorials abound on the internet, and I know enough programmers that I could get help with any problems I encounter if I teach myself. Do I want to learn this to balance the numbers in a grand feminist statement, or do I want to learn this for myself? I’m all for promoting the sisterhood, but I’m just as happy to live my life and save a ton of money in the process.

This week I decided to follow the path and see where it takes me. I relearned HTML on Monday and I picked up CSS on Tuesday. Wednesday saw me move onto JavaScript, and that will probably take me the rest of the week to nail, possibly part of next week too. I will have picked up three coding languages before applications for next year’s computer science degrees close. Am I missing an opportunity by leaving the degree to the boys? Possibly, but I don’t have three spare years to waste while I get ready to start something new.

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