Conference 2013

5 11 2013

NWrWIC. Northwest Regional Women in Computing Conference. October 19th. What an amazing day! We, on the planning committee, were exhausted but ecstatic after the event. We could not have hoped for a better day. Our photographer, the amazing Hal Harrison, of Rose City Photography, captured 300+ images during the conference. We look back at those images, and see that the entire day was full of smiles and laughter and focus and interest. Students, as well as professionals, were engaged through the entire day.

Those of you who attended know that Rajani Ramanathan of Salesforce, a veteran technologist, started us off speaking about women and technology. Afterwards, attendees became so involved in our post keynote activity, The Hunt, that we had a hard time convincing them to go take a break before the next talk.

Following The Hunt, Alex Zafiroglu and Jennifer Healey, cultural anthropologist and engineer talked about how they work together. Not only is their research interesting and apropos to the future of technology, but they were FUNNY. Oh, my goodness, had I not know that I were at a technical conference I would have thought we were at a comedy club. Alex and Jen have such differing understanding of the world and how things work, but they were comfortable enough with each other that they could easily laugh about their sometimes difficult communication.

The lunch panel had insightful information about current and future technology jobs and what employers are looking for. We were excited to have an amazing panel of professional hiring folks from Tripwire, Thomson Reuters, Adobe, and Salesforce. Following lunch was the fascinating research from the Ubiquitous Computing Lab at the University of Washington, presented by Lilian de Greef and Sidhant Gupta, covering many of the labs’ current research topics and devices. Then Karl Koscher did the finale technical talk with his research on how he and his fellow researchers were able to hack into car systems and prove to car manufacturers that they need to beef up car security.

Later in the afternoon we had mock interviews and resume reviews for which we had overwhelming demand. We ended with the career fair with still a high level of enthusiasm and smiles and focus. I spoke with most of the schools and companies who had tables at the career fair – they were excited to be there and are looking forward to coming back in the spring.

Take a look for yourself to see how engaged the attendees were throughout the day:

– Pamela

Culture, Stereotypes, and Women in Computer Science

12 08 2013

I attended a WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) conference at the University of Washington 6 or 7 years ago.  One of the talks was given by Sapna Cheryan, assistant professor of psychology, and her research assistants.  They had recently begun research to determine if gender stereotypes discourage women from studying computer science.  I was a computer science instructor at the time, so I knew the numbers – women made up 37% of undergraduate degree recipients in computer science in 1985, and the numbers dropped from there to 18% in 2010.  (Statistics derived from the US Department of Labor.)

Ever since hearing them speak I have contemplated one of the things that they said might be a contributor to shrinking numbers of females in computer science – that it was in the mid-eighties when “nerd” movies became popular – Revenge of the Nerds with shallow girls who like the less than brainy football players on one side, and brainy, less than appealing nerd boys on the other.  Could a movie with such obvious stereotypes really reflect our culture?  Wasn’t it an exaggeration?

I looked online and found that Cheryan’s research was published just last month (July 2013) in Sex Roles (  Based on Cheryan’s two studies, it appears that simply being told that the stereotypes are true will discourage young women from studying computer science, but will not alter young men’s choices.

So I contemplate the women in my classes over the years.  I taught college freshman and sophomore computer science classes from 2002 to 2012.  I knew all along that I had many fewer women than men, sometimes 2 women in a class of 30.  But looking back, I am surprised to realize that most of the women were heading towards their second career.  Very few were there as first time college students.  These “older” women, with 10 years invested in family business, or raising kids, or other careers, were driven.  They knew what they wanted and they were seemingly not concerned about stereotypes.  But where were the young ones?  Why would the more mature women be so driven towards this goal, and the younger ones almost completely absent?  Do we raise our children to be so easily swayed by what they think other people think?

Well, in any case, thank heaven for the coolness of the iPhone – young girls, including my 13 year old daughter, are writing apps, and having fun doing it.

Submitted by Pamela Harrison