2020 is not cancelled as some claim, it has metamorphosed into the year of human rights as issues such as equality and diversity are being raised globally. Among so many hard talks we need to have and issues to handle is also the role of women in tech. This article goes beyond the role of women in positions of leadership and focuses on women in technical roles such as computer programmers aka coders.
The unknown history of coding
Let’s begin our journey by taking a trip to 1843 to meet the first person to be what we today call a coder. The first coder was actually a woman. Her name was Ada Lovelace. She was a British mathematician who wrote what is often regarded as the first computer program in history. Many years after, when digital computers became a practical reality in the 1940s, women were pioneers in writing software. During the Second World War, women operated some of the first computational machines used for code-breaking at Bletchley Park in the UK. They were given this opportunity not only because men were at war, but because at the time the hardware designers believed that programming was a non-technical job. This type of work became known as coding because ”it was thought to be more transcription or translation, rather than the creation of original content”, as Margaret O’Mara simply puts it in “The Code”. After the war, as coding jobs spread from the military into the private sector, women remained in the coding vanguard.
The fall from glory
If we want to pinpoint a moment when the number of women began to drop, that is 1984. From 1984 onward, the percentage dropped and by 2010 it had been cut in half. One reason for this decline has to do with a change in how and when kids learned to program. For example, boys were more than twice as likely to have been given one as a gift by their parents. The advent of personal computers in the late ’70s and early ’80s remade the pool of students who pursued computer-science degrees at the university. When computer-science programs began to expand again in the mid-’90s, coding’s culture was set. Most students were men.
Filling the gap
Nowadays women hold about 20% of the jobs in tech and less than 18% are studying computer science. From a European Union research Survey at Schools, ITC in Education from March 2019 we find that students rarely engage in coding/programming activities at the European level. In fact, 76% of upper secondary school students never or almost never engage in coding or programming at school. And on average more than 4 out of 5 female European students attending secondary schools never or almost never engage in coding school. Other studies show we are experiencing a talent shortage as the education system is slow to react to new demands. In Europe, we have up to 825,000 ICT job vacancies in 2020.
While this might seem a quite complex problem to handle, some academies and startups think differently. As the story shows, they have a major gap to fill but, by the looks of it, they are on the right path to driving positive change. Check out the full article on Eu-Startups to discover the 10 schools/boot camps leading the way.
Until next time, stay safe and learn something new.