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Defining the "Not Enough People" Problem Differently

Recently, Solving the Pipeline Problem: How to Get More Women in Tech and Facebook message: Girls, too, can do computers are two examples of hand-wringing over how few women go into computer science. There's no doubt there's a problem - fewer than 20% of CS majors are women, despite soaring enrollments.

What if we're defining the problem in the wrong way?

We know from computing that the problem definition is an important part of developing a good solution. By using a 'deficit model' - where the problem is with all those women who don't know CS is great - then the solution is to fix the women. What if we think about the problem differently?

I was talking recently to a classmate of Marissa Mayer, in which I was decrying the low numbers of women majoring in CS even at Stanford. She pointed out that Marissa - perhaps the most famous female computer scientist in the US right now - hadn't majored in CS. She majored in something called Symbolic Systems which combines computer science, math, and cognitive science.

At DML, Leah Buckley encouraged me to think about subgroups - the geeky group in the computer lab and the robotics team are important, but so are the digital art club and the group building websites and the finance club who build fancy spreadsheets to calculate their investment returns and net worth.

What would happen if we focused on including everyone who is doing and learning computer science, even if they don't identify as "computer scientists"?

Michelle Friend
CSTA Past Chair

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