More women in tech

Read an interesting article today in the NY Times on how Some Universities Crack Code in Drawing Women to Computer Science. The article discusses how Carnegie Mellon University, Harvey Mudd University and the University of Washington have been successful at attracting women to enter their Computer Science (CompSci) programs.

When I was more active in IEEE there was a an affinity group called Women In Engineering (WIE) that worked towards encouraging female students to go into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  I also attended a conference for school age girls interested in science and helped to get the word out about IEEE and its activities.  WIE is still active encouraging girls to go into STEM fields.

However, as I visit startups around the Valley and elsewhere I see lots of coders which are male but very few that are female. On the other hand, the marketing and PR groups have almost a disproportionate representation of females although not nearly as skewed as the male to female ratio in engineering (5:6 in marketing/PR to 7:1 in engineering).

Some in the Valley are starting to report on diversity in their ranks and are saying that only 15 to 17% of their employees in technology are females.

On the other hand, bigger companies seem to do a little better than startups by encouraging more diversity in their technical ranks. But the problem is prevalent throughout the technical industry in the USA, at least.

Universities to the rescue

The article goes on to say that some universities have been more successful in recruiting females to CompSci than others and these have a number of attributes in common:

  • They train female teachers at the high school level in how to teach science better.
  • They host camps and activities where they invite girls to learn more about technology.
  • They provide direct mentors to supply additional help to girls in computer science
  • They directly market to females by changing brochures and other material to show women in science.

Some Universities eliminated programming experience as an entry criteria. They also broadened the appeal of the introductory courses in CompSci to show real world applications of doing technology figuring that this would appeal more to females.  Another university re-framed some of their course work to focus on creative problem solving rather than pure coding.

Other universities are not changing their programs at all and finding with better marketing, more mentorship support and early training they can still attract more females to computer science.

The article did mention one other thing that is attracting more females to CompSci and that is the plentiful, high paying jobs that are currently available in the field.

From my perspective, more females in tech is a good thing and we as an industry should do all we can to encourage this.



Photo credits: Circuit Bending Orchestra: Lara Grant at Diana Eng’s Fairytale Fashion Show, Eyebeam NYC / 20100224.7D.03621.P1.L1.SQ.BW / SML

Technology selection and trusted information sources

iblioteca José Vasconcelos / Vasconcelos Library by * CliNKer * (from flickr) (cc)
iblioteca José Vasconcelos / Vasconcelos Library by * CliNKer * (from flickr) (cc)

A rather comprehensive selection of papers on Information Overload was compiled for the recent IEEE Engineering Management Review (EMR, vol 38, #1, March 2010).  Among the many excellent papers was one that seemed somewhat important for many of my readers: Managing Technology Information Overload; Which Sources of Knowledge are Best? by C.J. Rhoads on the faculty at Kutztown University and with ETM associates.

Rhoads surveyed top decision makers in businesses listed in the Chamber of Commerce and in newspaper directories regarding information technology (IT) use and selection decisions.  Industries surveyed included Education, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Media & Publishing, Non-Profit, Retail, and mostly Services.  584 responses were received. (More information on the research can be found in the article.)

There were many questions that were asked but the two most significant items of interest to me were:

  • Who in an organization was involved in technical decisions?
  • What source did those people most trust to help them decide?

Who decides?

It turns out that ” … the person in the technology experienced role was involved in the decision only 19% of the time.”  According to Rhoads research the CEO was most involved at  51% of the time.  Now as Rhoads explains, this could be due to the research being done across a statistically representative sample of businesses where a high percentage of businesses were “… on the smaller side.” I suppose most sales organizations would agree wholeheartedly with this result.  Nonetheless, clearly such minimization of technical insight makes the information these people use to make technical decisions even more important.

What do they trust?

Rhoads selected five information sources to discover which was most used and most trusted by IT decision makers.  The information sources chosen included “Top” consulting firms (such as Gartner, Giga, Meta, Forrest and others), Friends & Family, publication and web resources, vendors, and local consulting firms.  Rhoad’s survey results revealed, by a statistically significant margin, that people making IT decisions trusted local consulting companies more often than any of the other sources.  Once again the size of the companies surveyed may be biasing the non-use of top consultancies due to their relatively high expense. Nevertheless, even local consultants aren’t as inexpensive as some of the other sources of information. (Almost makes me glad that I represent a small, LOCAL consulting company).

In addition to the above resulst, Rhoad’s study classified IT use effectiveness of the organizations surveyed.  As a result Rhoads was also able to determine which “savvy”, “blossoming”, “base” or “unversed”  users of IT were influenced by which information source.  The survey found that savvy users were most influenced by local consultancies and that both savvy and blossoming IT users were secondly most influenced by publication and web resources.  (Makes me also glad to be a blogger.)

A lot more interesting stuff in the article and I found at least two other papers in the EMR compendium to be worth reading.