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Re: Opening doors for women in computing

Hello all!  A quick introduction before I respond:

This is the first time I've posted to this group.  I am not an OSS developer
(yet; I really do want to see my name "in lights" in a patch note at some
point, but I just haven't done it yet), but I was fairly active on debian-user
for a while, trying to help out.  I got a bit burned out on that and haven't
been doing much in that world lately.

I'm a software developer, currently working on flight software in the
aerospace industry, using lots of yucky proprietary tools that I wish I could
drop-kick right out of my life!  Before that I worked on Java applications for
a government contractor, and before that I was a comp sci student with a minor
in philosophy.

Phew!  Anyway, on with the discussion ...

On 2005-02-19, Helen Faulkner penned:
> Amaya wrote:
>> http://news.com.com/Opening+doors+for+women+in+computing/2100-1022_3-5557311.html
> That's a really interesting article Amaya.  Thanks for posting it.
> I wonder how many other people here experienced a similar thing to what the
> woman interviewed relates: namely that the apparent level of programming
> expertise of the men in her course, before the course even started, was so
> high that she felt incompetant by comparison and was discouraged from
> pursuing it further.

I never dropped comp sci, but I did feel that I was way out of my league
sometimes.  I actually went to college with the expectation of being an
International Studies major, but that kind of fell flat and I started looking
around for something else.  Mom wanted me to take a business class, while my
brother suggested a comp sci class; I figured working with computers would be
more interesting and get my family off my back, so I took CS141, the intro
comp sci class.  Somewhere around there, I visited campus tech support with
some questions, and the questions were astute enough that I was offered a job
(yay for sub-minimum-wage college jobs with no training!).

Anyway, I quickly fell in love with programming; it waS a real rush,
like I was creating my own world with every program I wrote.  And my
grades were great.  But I still felt like I was behind the curve.  The
other guys, and actually girls, in the class were far more experienced
than I was.  I remember one guy talked about falling asleep on his
laptop screen in high school, logged onto IRC, something I'd never even
heard of, and about hacking into systems when he was younger.  I'll admit that
I honestly thought I was screwed; there was no way, as an adult, that I could
take the risk of learning to hack (I guess we'd say crack these days), and I
figured I'd never learn enough about computers to be good without that kind of
illicit experience.  Another guy friend of mine wrote DOS assembly programs
for fun.  And one of my female friends had been taught to program (or
something) as a small child, because her dad was a programmer!

Hrm, I should point out, though, that as usual, I was comparing myself to the
best students in the class.  I know there were other kids there who were just
as inexperienced as I was, and a lot of kids had more trouble than I did, but
it would never occur to me to compare myself to people starting from scratch
like I did.

Maybe in the end my skewed perspective actually worked out well for me,
though, because I worked my butt off to learn everything I could about
all things computer.  I learned at least as much, probably more, through my
own exploration and my tech support job as/than I did through school.

Oh, I started college in 1995.

I was never discouraged from Comp Sci by any of my Comp Sci professors.  The
only disparaging remark I got was from a math professor, who used to teach
some CS courses.  He claimed that I was bad at math (bzzt, wrong!) and tried
to point out to me which courses, like Finite Automata (one of my favorites,
actually) I would supposedly find difficult because I was bad at logic (bzzat,
wrong again, thanks for playing!).  When I told my CS advisor about that
experience, he just shook his head about that professor.  Apparently it wasn't
the first stupid remark he'd made.


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