Network: Women reap rewards but prospects look grim

Silicon Goddesses have one thing in common - someone inspired them at a very young age to learn to love maths

ONE OF the best parties of the summer season in Silicon Valley must be the annual knees-up of the Women in Technology Association, where beautiful Pamela Anderson lookalikes get together to celebrate their love for technology and their wise career choice. This year, some 5,000 women programmers and computer scientists gathered in San Jose, California, to celebrate being in the right place at the right time.

They had good reason to break open the bubbly and toast their good fortune, since the past year has seen huge increases in salaries in the computing industry. Women have not only benefited from these larger pay packets, but have also been getting involved in leading-edge projects, managing larger teams and, in short, breaking all the ceilings that were left from the old macho days of computing.

A number of Silicon Goddesses, as they are called there - have joined the ranks of IT directors, and there has also been an increase in the number of women professors employed in computer science departments. So have we managed to complete the transition from Fifties housewives into Nineties engineers? Hardly, as Tracy Camp, an assistant professor of computer science from the University of Alabama, found in her recent study of trends concerning the uptake of computer science students.

Today's female successes in information technology were part of the peak intake of women computer science students in the early Eighties, when almost 40 per cent of entrants were women. Ten years later, Camp found that female intake had dwindled to around 25 per cent. She attributes the drop to women having less experience playing computer games as children, gender discrimination, the long hours programmers are required to work, the lack of role models and the antisocial image of the typical computer hacker.

This picture is even more worrying in the UK, where the last few years have seen the intake of female computer science students drop to less than 5 per cent, from 33 per cent a decade ago. So where have we gone wrong? The reasons Tracy Camp lists in her study are no doubt contributing to the problem. However, from reading the biographies of great female computer scientists or programmers such as Ada Lovelace and Grace Hooper (who published the first paper on compilers), and from chatting to the current Silicon Goddesses both here and in the US, it is clear that they have one thing in common. Someone inspired them at a very young age to learn to love mathematics.

Perhaps the biggest failure of our education system is that it allows girls to drop the subject at the tender age of 14. Talking to some of the key female players in Silicon Valley, I heard the same story: of women being encouraged by their parents to continue studying mathematics. Kathy Richards, of Digital Equipment Corporation, told of how her father encouraged her to stick with the subject when she was 15 despite her desire to be a ballet dancer. She took his advice and studied maths at Yale University (following in Grace Hooper's footsteps) and she has never looked back.

Mathematics are the cornerstone of computing careers, and young girls should be encouraged, be it by mild persuasion or bribery, to carry on with the subject at least until university age. Then they may want to take the traditional option and study for an arts or business degree, but at least they will have the choice of taking up computing. Someone who hasn't seen a maths book since the age of 14 does not have that choice any more. Those who have encouraging parents or inspiring maths teachers are in a better position to seek a computing career that pays well, is creative and provides the opportunity to work with nice, mild men (male computer scientists are not sexists, as Tracy Camp suggests in her study; in fact, they tend to be creative characters who in general make wonderful friends and colleagues).

So how do you help your little girl to become a Grace Hooper of the 21st century? Thankfully, in the Internet era this is a lot easier than before. Start her on http://www.horsewhisperer.co.uk where she can see the beautiful trailer for the chic-flick of the year. Then get her to create a website for her own horse, cat, or pop idol. Seeing her own pictures being published to the world and receiving some

e-mails as a result usually does the trick. Before you know it, she will be buying JavaScript for Dummies to work out how to do rollovers on her new, animal-oriented website.

Carry on until she is 18, and then call Janet Stack from Women Into Computing to help her get in touch with the rest of the Web crazy female gang (http://www.awc- hg.org). But that is assuming you have spent the first 18 years of her life holding her hand through homework on non-Euclidean geometry and advanced algebra. That is what helped Grace Hooper and many other women to become key computer industry players.

It is you, the parents, who can help get more women into computing. So if your little girl wants to be a computer scientist, start early; either sort her out with an Internet connection or drag her to your local cybercafe at least once a week to join other girls playing in cyberspace. Then a good computing degree from somewhere like Imperial or University College London should be followed by a PhD from, say, Standford University, and voila, she'll be on route to her first scientific breakthrough (and possibly first pounds 1m). You hold the key to her career; make sure she has all the options.

eva@never.com

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent