“This test is designed to separate the men from the boys.” This seemingly innocuous statement was made in passing by my computer science professor the other day. It was intended to be a simple explanation for the difficulty of our first exam, but the connotation of those words lingered long after the words escaped his lips.
‘This is not a class for you.’
Though my professor neither said nor intended these words, they crossed my mind nonetheless — and I couldn’t stop thinking about them.
I am one of seven girls in my Introduction to Computer Science class. We crowd into the far back corner, slightly scared but mostly intimidated. The class is filled from front to back with boys, all brimming with confidence and assurance. They eagerly raise their hands to answer questions, all filled with the knowledge that they are meant to be there.
We, on the other hand, are the intruders. We are the variables in this equation. Will we break away from societal pressure, or will we stay strong and remain a part of the handful of females present in computer science? It seems ironic that, despite Calvin College’s 55:45 ratio of females to males, women make up less than one-fourth of an intro to computer science class. What does this say for the upper level classes, where there are, quite possibly, an even greater disparity between girls and boys?
There is no one in particular to blame for this discrepancy in numbers. But that ‘no one’ is precisely the problem. No one ever told me to consider computer science. No one told me that if I liked puzzles and math, that I might also enjoy computer science. No one told me to take a computer class in high school, since I was taking chorus and theater and “wasn’t that enough already?”
I stumbled upon computer science thanks to no one around me. I took Intro to Web Design on a whim my first year. This course exposed me to the beauty of coding. However, throughout that course (and as I continue on in my courses in computer science), I constantly felt inadequate.
I felt as if I wasn’t meant to be there. It seemed that all the boys knew what they were doing. There was them (confident, analytical and filled with previous coding experience) and there was me (the clueless girl typing random commands on the computer screen). Everything about me seemed wrong in that room. Everything about me felt wrong sitting in a computer science class.
But at the same time, everything also felt precisely in place. I finally was able to utilize my problem solving skills and my creativity. I could translate my thoughts into code, into a textual and visual representation. It was something I never suspected I would be doing, but I was glad I had found it nevertheless.
According to the National Girl’s Collaborative, in 2012 4.8 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences were women. That means the other 95.2 percent were men. It’s 2016, and it doesn’t look as if that statistic has changed much. To the girls in computer science, don’t give up. Even when the difference in gender seems overwhelming, press on. Don’t let years of society saying what you can and cannot do determine your future. After all, “this test is designed to separate the (wo)men from the boys” anyways.