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Stories, not Stats, about Diversity in Technology: Part 1 of 5

You know what keeps me up at night?

The uncertainty of whether or not I’m pursuing the right major, whether or not I’ll feel comfortable being a woman in the tech industry like I do here in school, and whether or not life as a software engineer can be for me.

A couple of summers ago — back when I was trying to decide which colleges to apply to and which major to pursue — Google decided to publicly acknowledge the minimal diversity among its employees. Several other companies followed suit. As The Atlantic mentions, there’s a pretty standard formula when it comes to companies posting their diversity stats:

“1. Write a blog post about the importance of transparency, acknowledging how your company has a long way to go and outlining a few diversity-related initiatives

2. Include a sleek graph showing how few women and minorities you employ

3. When asked to talk about the issue, decline interview requests and redirect people back to the original blog post”

Don’t get me wrong — the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that we have a problem, and I’m thankful tech companies are doing so. Numbers are low across all ages, with less than 20 percent of high school AP Computer Science exam-takers being female, about 15 percent of CS bachelor’s degrees awarded to women, and about 25 percent of professional computing jobs held by women.

I left a small town in Texas for another bubble — Stanford University. At my school, CS, or Computer Science, is the most popular major among women, even though we don’t make up half of all CS majors quite yet.

But there are times when I’m truly lost as to why we still have this huge gender gap, even with men and women doing so much work to close it. I apologize if this post comes off as a rant, but my objective here is to convince you that everyone — regardless of their gender — is capable of pursuing CS, and if you know a woman or minority interested in pursuing a STEM field, please put in that extra effort to make them feel included in their field of study.

To gain insight into why there’s a lack of gender diversity in the field of computer science, I decided to look for stories of women in tech, not just statistics. I interviewed six women either studying CS or working in the tech industry. I chatted with two high school students, two college students, a lecturer in the Stanford CS department, and the CTO of the tech company Evidation Health. In doing so, I found that there isn’t one age group that suffers from the biggest gender gap — the gap persists throughout the timeline.

Here are the women I talked to:

Top left: Julie Black; top middle: Briana Berger; top right: Cynthia Lee; bottom left: Julia Hu; bottom middle: Priya Ganesan; bottom right: Sunny Wu
  • Julie Black: CTO at Evidation Health, B.S. and M.S. in computer science
  • Briana Berger: high school junior in Florida
  • Cynthia Lee: lecturer at Stanford University, Ph.D. in computer science
  • Sunny Wu: sophomore at Stanford University
  • Priya Ganesan: senior at Stanford University
  • Julia Hu: high school junior in New York

I asked each of these women a similar set of questions, and I didn’t expect to hear such unique, personal responses. In an effort to keep it as short as possible, I have only included a few responses for each question and broken the questions up into five posts. So here are the stories of six incredibly talented, accomplished, and inspiring women.

“How did you get started with technology?”

Julia (high school junior): “In sixth grade, I wanted to know how the internet worked, so I found a few tutorials about HTML and CSS on CodeAcademy. The next summer, I took a fundamentals of CS course at Johns Hopkins. The teacher and TA were female, but I was still one of few girls. Then, I did a software engineering workshop at the Flatiron School in New York City, which was a lot more diverse. I launched my first web app there, and it got me hooked on what I could accomplish in the future.”

Sunny (college sophomore): “I attended a Bay Area high school that was one of the top STEM schools in the nation, and every single one of my friends applied as CS majors during the college application season in senior year. However, even though my community was extremely tech-oriented and I took a Java programming course in senior year, I was very much a humanities person at heart, and I was never interested in pursuing the science and engineering fields after high school. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do in my future yet, and I think there was this rebel in me that didn’t want to conform to what the majority of my peers were doing — despite the popularity of what they chose to do — when I didn’t have a solid grasp of who I was yet and what I really wanted to do in my future.

“During freshman year of college, I found myself wanting to pursue psychology after taking a number of psychology-related courses. However, my life had an unexpected plot twist at the beginning of this current quarter. Due to a capacity limit in a psychology seminar that I had hoped to take but wasn’t able to enroll in, I ended up taking a course called CS106A, an introductory computer science class and one of the most popular courses at Stanford. I tacked that class onto my study list mostly because I needed the units, and I never expected to become so mesmerized by lecture and obsessed with the first assignment to the point of completely neglecting all of my psychology reading the first week of class. By the end of that week, I had decided to drop two of my psychology courses in order to enroll in a second CS course, and I’ve just recently declared my major in computer science.”

Julie (CTO at Evidation Health): “I’ve had a computer in my house since I was two years old. My dad was an engineer, and he wrote a program so that when you typed in your name, it’d spit it back to you in bright letters. We spent tons of hours playing various computer games together, and [I] even learned to program. When I was in high school, I explored different computer science classes — I took one in school and even signed up for a summer program. When I went to Stanford, however, I wanted to be a chemistry major, but once I took CS106A, I was hooked.”

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