Teaching Computer Science: All Are Welcome



I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week in a high school computer science class . . .

“Computing,” I tell the class, “is like most professions in that some groups are under-represented and some groups are over-represented. You may have heard that the reason some groups are under-represented is because computing as a profession is more welcoming to some people than others.

“I haven’t found that to be the case and I’ll tell you why.

“My perspective on this is that if you walk through the workplace at a typical technology company, you won’t see people who look like me. I’m too old and I’ve been too old for quite a while now. At this point, I’m usually old enough to be the CEO’s father.

“So to the extent that people want to work with other people who look like them and people who fit into the group, that doesn’t help me because I don’t fit into the group.

“That being said, I find it to be a total non-issue because technology is a knowledge-based profession. The hierarchy is based on knowledge. If you know things that other people don’t know, and you can solve problems that other people can’t solve, you are at the top of the food chain. You are the king or queen of the jungle.

“It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, your genetics or the environment you grew up in. The important thing is what you know and the choices you make, starting with a decision that I’m going to do this and I’m going to be successful at it. I’m going to study hard, I’m going to work hard, I’m going to take on the hard jobs, I’m going to take on the challenges.

“You get to choose who you hang around with and who you want to emulate.

“Where you were and what you went through is not as important as where you’re going and the choices you need to make to get there.”

A student suggests that I’m dismissing a lot of anecdotal evidence regarding bias in computing.

“I’m not dismissing it but I’m according it what I think is an appropriate weight. When I hear or read about groups X, Y and Z facing an uphill battle in technology careers, I find that the author has interviewed a small number of people — usually one or two people, maybe three if they’re really ambitious.

“That’s a very small sample size from which to draw sweeping conclusions about an entire industry, and you could easily find two or three other people to say the exact opposite.

“If that’s our standard of evidence — finding two or three people to provide some supporting quotes — you could make a case for absolutely anything.

“So I encourage you to consider, in this case and others, the number of data points you have and whether that’s enough to support the conclusions you’re trying to draw from them.”

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