DISCLAIMER: I USE SOME STEREOTYPES TO BACK UP AN OPINION. IF THAT OFFENDS YOU, GO AWAY.
I have an hypothesis. Mind you, I’ve not yet undergone any scientific-method based testing of said hypothesis to confirm or refute its accuracy. It is currently based on observations borne out of the question, “Why aren’t more women majoring in Computer Science and related High-Tech areas?”
When I entered my Computer Engineering program in 1981, approximately 20% of the Freshman class were female. By the time we graduated that number had dwindled a bit, but let’s just say it was still near to 20%.
Today, the number of women choosing to major in Engineering is hovering roughly near the exact same volume as it was when I started (Reference). Also, those are just the percentages choosing to major in it; I personally know quite a few who have chosen not to stick with it as a career.
Because this topic is being written/reported on reasonably frequently at this time, I found my self wondering “Why? Why are girls shying away from CS?”
I started paying attention to the flocks of programmers I see occasionally in town. I live in a town with a very high concentration of them, so it isn’t unusual to see them in the wild. Mostly during the daytime, I noticed, lunching at Mexican restaurants. That piqued another thought. Why don’t I notice more of them out and about, socializing, at night?
I remember my college days. I remember how socially awkward a lot of tech majors were. Not to say that everyone is, but a higher proportion than the typical med student or political science enthusiast. Face it, Computer Geeks are stereotyped as anti-social, gamer, dark room dwelling, hidey-hole living, programming bots FOR A REASON.
Now, through time, CS majors have been predominantly male. They love video games. They will immerse themselves in them, sometimes for days at a time (Yes, I am guilty of this a time or two, I used to have the time to play them, not recently, though). Keep those facts in mind for a few minutes. Stay with me, now.
A few weeks ago, we took our teenaged-girls to a new spot in town that re-creates the old arcades of my teen and college years. It is FILLED with all the old classics – Joust, Gauntlet, Galaga, Frogger (alas, much to my disappointment, no Burgertime was to be found), as well as an entire wall full of pinball machines. The kids played for three (3!) hours. They were laughing, and wandering from game to game. They would stop and watch me or my sister play something for a bit, and then move on to something else. Once or twice, they joined in with us at Gauntlet.
Girls are definitely social creatures. All humans are to some degree or another, but teenage girls make a career out of it.
Observing them at the arcade provided me with an aha moment. During my formative years, late high school, gaming was done in a very public venue. You had to go to a destination to play, for the most part. Once there, you socialized. Maybe you hung out and gabbed with friends while the other ones were playing.
Contrast that with the gaming of today. Most of it is done, alone, in one’s home, with a virtual reality type set up. Boys seem to stay with video games longer, so they are isolating themselves. We girls do not like that. We want to be out. Video games are just fine with us, but we want to touch your shoulder or have you lean on us while running through that maze.
I cannot really put a finger on it, but deep down, I think that is one reason why women are turned off of tech and tech programs. There seems to be LESS in-person social interaction among fellow students than 30 years ago. And girls might need it more than boys.
I don’t know what the solution is, though. I try to encourage the girls I know who are interested in tech and engineering by dispelling their fears that they’ll be thought of as geeks or nerds. I remind them that campuses are full of other students with lots of interests and they will not be relegated to the basement with only a small group of buddies.
I can only do so much, though. I think the solution is to bring back arcades. But, add a few pool tables into the mix. That was my game.