Maria Klawe, Harvey Mudd College president and head of the drive for more women in computer science, wrote in a 2011 report that the school’s strategy addressed women’s lack of interest in computer science, their lack of confidence with technology, and their discomfort in men-dominated computer classes.
Changes made to Harvey Mudd’s introductory computer science class included switching from the Java programming language to Python, a “more flexible and forgiving language … which allows more focus to be placed on problem-solving,” Klawe wrote.
Klawe’s advocacy for women interested in computer sciences extends beyond the classroom. Harvey Mudd, using contributions from people and technology companies, has offered to pay for students to attend the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the nation’s largest conference on women in computer science. Klawe said it costs about $750 to send each student to the conference.
“The conference has proved to be a powerful tool in encouraging females to take more [computer science] classes and in attracting females to the major,” Klawe wrote.
Simply seeing that women can carve out a spot in the competitive technology industry, Schofield said, has been a key part of attracting women to computer science courses at Harvey Mudd.
“It’s been all men for so long, there’s an expectation that perpetuates itself … and it just keeps going like that,” she said. “It’s unappealing to women in part because there are no women there.”
The ‘brogramming’ culture and its backlash
Technology startups’ less-than-subtle appeal to men has attracted attention—and scorn—from many in the industry and in higher education.
The social media analytics company Klout recently released a job ad asking applicants, “Want to bro down and crush code? Klout is hiring.” A series of comments made by an executive at social-media startup Path at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in March drew dozens of critical tweets from festival attendees who perceived the remarks as overtly sexist.
In late March, San Francisco-based Geeklist, a social portfolio company that employs “code monkeys around the globe,” according to its website, engaged in a high-profile Twitter back and forth with a woman programmer who took issue with a Geeklist promotional video that featured a woman wearing only a small company T-shirt and underwear.
While Harvey Mudd College officials and computer-science faculty members appeal directly to women, Adda Birnir, a computer programmer and web entrepreneur in New York, has launched a site called Skillcrush, designed to bolster interest and comfort for women interested in learning code.
Birnir, in a blog post, wrote that she “felt some sympathy” for tech industry startup executives driving the brogrammer phenomenon, because it was a nationwide attempt to expand computing programming beyond the “sovereign domain of the geeky, the nerdy, the under-socialized guy.”
(Next page: Sexism in tech is rampant)