Beginning to Code: A Female Perspective

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(Image from Women in Data Science)

Today I want to delve a little bit into a topic that I feel is vitally important to potentially increasing the number of females going into careers such as data scientists that require computer programming skills. Becoming a data scientist is definitely an exciting journey so far and looking at today I want to look at the profession with a bigger emphasis than normal from a female perspective.

First, let’s look at the data on the number of women going into computer and data science. The National Science Board reported in 2013 that science & engineering graduate degrees made up 21.98% of all total graduate degrees granted in the U.S. Computer science degrees (no separate metric for data science as this is a new field) account for 13.72% of all science & engineering degrees. Women computer science graduate degrees are at 27.43% while male computer science graduate degrees are at 72.57%. The number of women computer science advanced degrees and advanced computer degrees in general has remained stagnant since the 1990s.

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Within the last 5-10 years, there has been lots of discussion about ways to change these numbers and about the reasons behind this stagnation of women in tech. There are some great programs out there and positive role models to try to change these numbers with positive action. These initiatives and the men and women behind them are a great start to creating the environment for more women to choose data science like I did.

One way to change the climate for a more gender diverse workforce would be to talk about the emotional side of coding. In Kate Rabinowitz’ talk “Everything I Wasted Time Worry About as a Newbie Coder,” she mentions an aspect of learning how to code that isn’t discussed a lot – the emotional. I think her message needs to spread near and far, especially if companies sincerely want to increase the gender diversity on their data science teams. It’s a message that is an encouragement and motivator for me in my data science journey.

Rabinowitz says that learning to program might feel a little overwhelming at first but you already know more than you think you do. She continues by saying that nobody (male or female) is really ‘that good’ at coding. Her words reinforced what I expressed earlier in a July 2016 blog that Python was not like Spanish. I think the challenge for me and probably some other women is to accept that messing up is always going to be a part of being a computer programmer and to accept our mistakes as part of the process.

Rabinowitz says that coding is a team sport and you shouldn’t feel like you’re not a success if you seek help from StackOverflow or other people. I love her candor and the way she emphasizes that ‘the imposter coder feeling may never switch off’ and that is a normal feeling. Maybe our strategy to include more women in data science and probably tech in general should be to recognize that females are different than males and respond different in our professional lives. Maybe embracing the emotional side of a woman data scientist and talking about our feelings in the workplace a bit might just help truly break the glass ceiling and lead to great data science discoveries and impact.

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