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Ode to Ada

Exploring the discourse surrounding girls in computer science

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  1. Foremother of CS

  2. At first glance, Ada Lovelace does not look like a coder. Lovelace was a Victorian era computer scientist who is credited with writing one of the first computer programs. In today's predominantly male tech-world, Lovelace acts as role model to many women who want to find their place in computer science, whether that be signing up for an "Intro to Coding" class or founding a start-up.
  3. While her portraits show her as a well-dressed Victorian lady, Lovelace relentlessly followed her passion for mathematics, which developed into the foundations of computer science.
  4. UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 27:  Watercolour portrait by Alfred Edward Chalon of Ada King wearing evening dress with a mantilla and holding a fan. Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852) was the daughter of the great Romantic poet Lord Byron (1788-1824). She was a writer and a trained mathematician. King acquired fame by working with Charles Babbage (1791-1871) on the world's first computer, the �Analytical Engine�, which could carry out many different types of calculations. She designed several computer programmes for the engine which were coded onto cards with holes punched in them - thus becoming the world's first computer programmer. The universally recognised computer language ADA is named after her. Dimensions: 250mm x 183mm.  (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
    UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 27: Watercolour portrait by Alfred Edward Chalon of Ada King wearing evening dress with a mantilla and holding a fan. Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852) was the daughter of the great Romantic poet Lord Byron (1788-1824). She was a writer and a trained mathematician. King acquired fame by working with Charles Babbage (1791-1871) on the world's first computer, the �Analytical Engine�, which could carry out many different types of calculations. She designed several computer programmes for the engine which were coded onto cards with holes punched in them - thus becoming the world's first computer programmer. The universally recognised computer language ADA is named after her. Dimensions: 250mm x 183mm. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
  5. With more attention being drawn to her work recently, knowledge of Lovelace and her innovations have reached the mainstream. You can vote for this awesome steampunk-esque set of Lovelace and her collaborator Charles Babbage at LEGO Ideas. The set's "Analytical Engine" can actually house a single-board computer such as Raspberry Pi. **Note that this LEGO set is not pink or purple.
  6. Looking beyond Lovelace, there is a rich (though often unacknowledged) history of women working in computer science. Showing this precedent is important to many of the campaigns encouraging young women to pursue careers in the industry. There is something deeply human in how we recognize ourself in others, and it can often affect how we see our own abilities and potential. Young women may feel less disenfranchised in computer science if they are exposed to female role models.
  7. Marketing potential role models is only one aspect of the discourse surrounding girls in computer science, but it often takes center stage as a visible way to acknowledge women's contribution in the field, and inspire young potential computer scientists.

  8. Coding

  9. Code.org has done incredible work to make computer coding easy and accessible for the maximum amount of people. Between December 7th - 13th, 2015, over 100 million students across the globe participated in Code.org's "Hour of Code" (my classroom included). "Hour of Code" provided an opportunity for anyone anywhere to try coding, but it was especially powerful in introducing young girls to computer science.
  10. More girls tried computer science than in the last 70 years
  11. And it's a good thing too, because the field of computer science is growing exponentially. But, even with all the possibility for future jobs, we still struggle to get girls to stick with computer science after middle school.
  12. In middle school, 74% of girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.4% of high school girls select computer science.
  13. Data points such as these have not gone unnoticed and are usually used to say one of two things: it is better than it has been, or we are still failing them. With coding becoming education's newest fad, work still needs to be done to broaden the demographics of students in computer science courses. You know if The Simpsons have already satirized the problem, then it's probably time to deal with it.
  14. Gender

  15. When the conversation about girls in computer science addresses the gender divide present in most of the STEM world, the messaging splits. The problem is either approached from the position of supporting the goal of balancing the representation of genders in computer science ("CS for All"), or the issue, which is the lack of women pursuing computer science.
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