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The Gender Gap in Computer Programming

Mind the gender gap

Mind the gender gap in tech

Typically, when you hear someone being described as a “programmer”, you imagine an antisocial guy, who stays up all night and barely leaves his house (only when his supplies of red bull run out).

I find it almost strange that people who want to learn about computer programming are considered nerdy or geeky. In fact, that is exactly the reason why I chose to call my blog “Coding Blonde” – to combine the two stereotypes that seem to be unmixable and to help them disappear to an extent that I can.

Stereotypes are the main reason for the massive gender gap in the programming world. A recent article by the Economist states that women are becoming more educated than men and another study shows that on average, women outnumber men at US colleges as much as 3 to 2. However, when it comes to Computer Science degrees, men still dominate the field with an average of only 2 girls to 8 boys at any given Computer Science class.

Ada Lovelace, the first programmer in history

But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, the first ever programmer was a woman! Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace, is considered to be a Victorian computing visionary and the first programmer in history. Ada’s mother didn’t want the girl to turn out like her bohemian father (who she thought was insane), so she made sure that Ada studied mathematics, as she thought it to be the opposite subject to poetry.

Ada Lovelace saw poetry in mathematics and logic. Her work with Charles Babbage, a British mathematician, as well as her other efforts, are considered to be revolutionary and were very important in the early years of computer history.

Countess of Lovelace is one of the pioneers of Computer Science, but she wasn’t the only woman who helped create the world that we now almost take for granted. There were many other outstanding women, one of the best examples is Grace Hopper, whose nickname was “Amazing Grace”. She led the development of the first high-level programming language, COBOL. Before Grace, all coding languages used number combinations as commands – COBOL was the first to introduce words that are easy to understand and to remember.

In 1960s programming was considered to be a woman’s job. A brilliant book called Your Career in Computer Programming, which was published in 1967, quotes Agnes Bodony, a female programmer of those times:

“It isn’t easy to get started in free-lance programming; don’t get me wrong.  But I know of no other job that can be so easily satisfying to a girl with a logical mind, that can pay her so well, and still keep her close to her family.”

However, it didn’t last long. Soon enough men realised that there is a lot of potential in the field and “masculinized” the profession, as historian Nathan Ensmenger explains. Men started programmer associations and ran campaigns that discouraged employers from hiring women. This is how stereotypes were built, which started the gender gap that we are facing right now.

As a woman, I find it extremely motivating to hear about the female role models that have been almost forgotten. It gives me more confidence to continue developing my coding skills and makes me believe that I can compete with men in this field if I decide to pursue a career in it. I believe that it is the same for most women, so I will continue my research about female programmers and post my findings regularly.

I hope that they will motivate you as much as they motivate me and help to break those stereotypes in our heads! 🙂

<the blonde>


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