Sunday, March 30, 2014

How to get more women in tech

It's all about the semantics, apparently. This is a truly remarkable educational program, for varying degrees of remarkable:
With a three-step method, Harvey Mudd College in California quadrupled its female computer science majors. The experiment started in 2006 when Maria Klawe, a computer scientist and mathematician herself, was appointed college president. That year only 10% of Harvey Mudd’s CS majors were women. The department’s professors devised a plan.

They no longer wanted to weed out the weakest students during the first week of the semester. The new goal was to lure in female students and make sure they actually enjoyed their computer science initiation in the hopes of converting them to majors. This is what they did, in three steps.

1. Semantics count

They renamed the course previously called “Introduction to programming in Java” to “Creative approaches to problem solving in science and engineering using Python.”  Using words like “creative” and “problem solving” just sounded more approachable. Plus, as Klawe describes it, the coding language Python is more forgiving and practical.

As part of this first step, the professors divided the class into groups—Gold for those with no coding experience and Black, for those with some coding experience. Then they implemented Operation Eliminate the Macho Effect: guys who showed-off in class were taken aside in class and told, “You’re so passionate about the material and you’re so well prepared. I’d love to continue our conversations but let’s just do it one on one.”

Literally overnight, Harvey Mudd’s introductory CS course went from being the most despised required course to the absolute favorite, says Klawe.
Translation: a woman who couldn't hack either programming or mathematics herself despite majoring one of them came up with a program to retain the very weak students that traditional programs are specifically designed to weed out. This is great news from the college's perspective, as it can now graduate considerably more female STEM graduates.

The bad news, of course, is that virtually none of them will be employable, as the program has been softened and dumbed down to the point that both men and women who were capable of hacking the original one won't be prepared for post-graduation employment. But what does Maria Klawe or Harvey Mudd care? They got paid and they got their numbers up, which means they probably had a financial incentive to do so.

It would be educational to learn where these CompSci majors are in ten years. I anticipate that less than half the original 10 percent, or one-eighth of the currently inflated number, are still doing any programming.

35 comments:

0x0014 said...

There's a very interesting chart on page 3 of an earlier report about this program, linked here:

http://www.cs.hmc.edu/~alvarado/papers/fp068-alvarado.pdf

As you see, as soon as Klawe arrived, the number of men in the program dropped precipitously, to be replaced by women. I suggest that this is prima facie evidence of discrimination against men.

If anyone has data on enrollment beyond 2008, feel free to share it, but also note that as of that year the program had not *expanded* to include more women, it only *replaced* men with women. Women who, by all accounts, were not as well-prepared or passionate about the material.

Yay meritocracy.

Alexander Thompson said...

Colleges should be made libel for the student loans they create, not tax payers. It might give them some incentive to charge a practical price and make their students employable.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

As part of this first step, the professors divided the class into groups—Gold for those with no coding experience and Black, for those with some coding experience.

RAACISSSS

IrishFarmer said...

The quoted article didn't even try to soften the idiocy of what was happening. Maybe because most people have no idea what programming is, even a little bit.

At any rate, starting with Python? Seems like a bad idea to me. I started learning programming out of a book with C++ when I was 15, because I'm a real man. I do work with Python now, and I love how simple it is to write (if you don't mind code that's slower than molasses). But I can't imagine how handicapped I would be now if I had learned on one of the highest of the high level languages. I mean, at the college level, writing with Python is basically writing pseudo-code, it's so simple. And usually you have to take a class that teaches you pseudo-code before you even write your first line of college code.

But maybe it's a good idea. Get them hooked early, and it'll be a wake-up call when they have to learn about pointers and references, let alone anything that's actually advanced, but at least they'll have a foundation.

One thing's for sure, though: If you can't handle introductory Java classes, you're not going to hack it in the field.

Eric said...

They no longer wanted to weed out the weakest students during the first week of the semester.

So. She turned one of the best engineering schools in the country into High School II where nobody fails and we wait up for the dimmest bulb in the class. Outstanding. Were I a student in that program I'd transfer to a different school and ask Mudd for my money back.

Eric said...

You really could have titled this "Women Ruin Everything Part 234534".

cailcorishev said...

I bet they'd like Logo even better. The little turtle is really friendly and welcoming, and it'd scare off even fewer students than Python. Win all around.

2870b918-77c0-11e3-b9bd-000bcdcb8a73 said...

It would be educational to learn where these CompSci majors are in ten years.

I agree, and I mean that without sarcasm. It's possible that if you don't scare off the weak ones right away, you can train them to be competent. Not the way I'd bet, but I'll keep an open mind til we see the results.

lumpypua said...

Y'all need to chill on the python bashing. CS pedagogy is *not* about causing pain.

I worked on c++ and java projects as a software engineer at google. The first language that I learned was C. I actually went to school intending to design microprocessors, so I'm comfy with assembly and hardware description languages too. Still, these days I do a good chunk of my professional work in python.

For intro CS courses the language doesn't matter. The things that matter:

1. The language is easy to install and start playing with. (Any language that doesn't have a good REPL is out.)

2. It's easy to make something cool happen.

Beyond that, people will learn lower level languages as they're motivated to do so.

If any of you actually give a fuck about CS education, look into a prolific ruby community member named _why the lucky stiff. He has an incredibly funny presentation demo-ing Hackety Hack, the programming environment he created to achieve exactly the ends above: http://vimeo.com/5047563

lumpypua said...

It sucks that they put people who've programmed before and those who haven't in the same class.

Understanding things like pointers, memory allocation, and such, while necessary to be a real software engineer, are secondary in an introductory programming course. The only thing you need to pound into their brains is algorithmic and computational thinking—that the computer will do exactly what you tell it to.

The CronoLink said...

"introductory CS course went from being the most despised required course"

the FUCK? You're telling me fucking Java was hard? Who the hell are these wankers?

Retrenched said...

Similarly, we could encourage more short people to play basketball by lowering the hoop to 8 feet and giving the short players double credit for each basket.

SFN said...

Gold and black are the school colors, if anybody’s wondering why those seem like strange choices.

Bob said...

GRRRRGHGHGH this makes me rage. Computing was one of the last fields left about getting shit done. It's now all about PR and looking fancy. There's going to be SO much bad and unfinished code around when they let these women loose. Men want code that is logical, does what it says on the tin, and works. These will be capable of doing none of that.

Also WTF about taking the guys aside who stood out even the slightest. This is in a class of SOFTWARE ENGINEERS, they're hardly going to be football superstar showoff material. The SLIGHTEST pride in their word probably triggered one of those "talks".

tz said...

, oh, it's Harry, not the invisible rabbit. But also see the later episode featuring Mudd for a logic lesson.

Fuzzy logic can be characterized mathematically. "touchy feely" isn't logic. There are ands, ors, and nots, not nices.

from 2005

All the kids who did great in high school writing pong games in BASIC for their Apple II would get to college, take CompSci 101, a data structures course, and when they hit the pointers business their brains would just totally explode, and the next thing you knew, they were majoring in Political Science because law school seemed like a better idea. I've seen all kinds of figures for drop-out rates in CS and they're usually between 40% and 70%. The universities tend to see this as a waste; I think it's just a necessary culling of the people who aren't going to be happy or successful in programming careers.

I not merely assume the MisSTEM U in the article is "accredited", but that there are no black marks or demerits.

A Degree is moving from a plus to something which says you should write a letter of recommendation to your competition.

b1bae96e-6447-11e3-b6bb-000f20980440 said...

Computer languages are like shovels, and the introductory class is a small mound of loose dirt you have to move from A to B. Any of them will do the job, some a little easier than others. And once you know how to use one shovel learning more isn't a real big deal.

I always thought that my computer science major curriculum was entirely unfair to the students because the weed out course (Compilers) happened the second semester of your sophomore year if you were competent, or 1st semester of your Junior year if you were taking things easy. At least the engineers go their weed out courses 1st semester sophomore year when they could just take their 1st year work and use it for Gen Eds after a major switch.

Really if at any point before Compilers you got anything less than an A you should have been washed out for your own good.

IrishFarmer said...

Y'all need to chill on the python bashing. CS pedagogy is *not* about causing pain.

Literally no one here bashed Python. People did bash the idea that intro to Java was too difficult for people who have a serious desire to program, however.

For intro CS courses the language doesn't matter. The things that matter:

Maybe the schools I've been to are unique, but I haven't seen a school that even requires you to write code in the intro to CS class. Normally it's all UML and theory and pseudocode. We're talking about the intro to Java class which was switched from Java to Python. That does matter, since Java is a C-like language which means it'll give you an intro to the family of some of the most popular programming languages (although if Java is as difficult as it gets then there's a real problem there).

There's nothing wrong with an intro to Python class, if someone just needs one programming class to get some otherwise unrelated degree (say, networking or something) but if they offered Python for my computer science degree I'd seriously reconsider going to that school. After learning Java, C++, and C# I learned enough about Python to get by at my job over a weekend, and then started to get the rest of it down as needed while I worked. Taking a class before getting that job would have been an unneeded waste of time and money.

Python is a great language, and I love using it and seeing how quickly I can get results and how quickly I can grasp others' code even if I've never seen it before, but I don't think it has any place in a serious CS degree program.

It's not about causing students pain, it's about not hiding all of the integral details of what the programming language is actually doing behind a relatively simple syntax. They're already writing pseudo-code in their intro to CS courses, they don't need to keep doing it in their actual core courses with Python (an exaggeration, but Python is nearly that simple).

rycamor said...

A. Women are awesome, just for doing things that normal men do.
B. NO, just being a man doesn't make you awesome. How sexist!

A. Modern women are proud capable creatures, ready to take on any challenge. To insinuate otherwise is sexist!
B. Let's be careful to restructure the challenges so we don't intimidate the poor things.

Eric said...

the FUCK? You're telling me fucking Java was hard? Who the hell are these wankers?

You can make a class about anything difficult if you've decided to make it a weeder.

Tommy Hass said...

"Then they implemented Operation Eliminate the Macho Effect: guys who showed-off in class were taken aside in class and told, “You’re so passionate about the material and you’re so well prepared. I’d love to continue our conversations but let’s just do it one on one.”"

What a bunch of degenerate subhumans.

Bob said...

"What a bunch of degenerate subhumans."

Exactly. This is a bunch of male techs, who are already likely quite introverted etc. I'm a Software Engineer myself and hate attention, and it takes a shitload of accomplishment to make me feel like "doing a Boris" (from Goldeneye heh). Can you imagine the level of "showing off" those guys may do? Simply having pride in their work and being pleased when they've mastered something complicated, all to be stamped down on, urgh.

These guys are NOT "macho" superstar showoffs, they NEED to take pride in their work when a complex task is overcome and mastered. Using purely the power of the mind to create something that does not exist is draining as hell, and when a task seems too big or complicated it can be demoralising as hell. Those small moments of pride when overcoming such problems are what keep someone going in those circumstances, yet they're being trained not to allow that, all for the crime of being fucking male.

It's disgusting, and will ruin the future, as well as those bright young minds who could accomplish so much otherwise, all for the sake of PR and feels for a more "deserving" gender. It's throwing someone down and stamping on them for succeeding, completely fucking backwards.

Paul, Dammit! said...

Well, it's hardly a unique issue, but I wonder if it's not a tempest in a teapot here. IT is about more than coding. There are plenty of applied admin jobs, as an example, where coding is less important than knowing who to call to do the scutwork.

I killed myself in an undergrad marine science program. Learned a little about everything and these days I am a captain in the merchant marines. Of my closest friends from those days, the smartest one of us went on to become an oceanographer- the pretty but bubbleheaded blonde is a trainer at sea world. We all work in the field we chose, doing what we set out to do, despite completely disparate skills and ability.

Doorstop said...

This notion that a woman needs to tell a computer exactly what to do to make a woman happy, or a man needs write a translator, is B.S. A REAL processor would figure that out himself...er, itself.

Shimshon said...

Growing up in SoCal, Harvey Mudd had a reputation akin to Cal Tech. That's how highly regarded the school was.

JP said...

back when I was at university, we didn't even use keyboards: we were each given a magnet, a needle and a high-gain microphone. If you wanted to write a program, you would first magnetize the needle by rubbing it with the magnet and then pricking the hard-drive platter like a real man. If you wanted to connect to the internet, you had better know how to whistle at 9600 Baud.

Joe A. said...

Um, okay... so they take enthusiastic, experienced males aside and speak gibberish to them? I guess they want to drag them down to the women's level.

paul a'barge said...

Fail?

Next to the Indians and the Philipinos and the Chinese who are coming over here from the off-shore shops, I would not be surprised if these women were competitive.

Herb Nowell said...

@IrishFarmer:

Maybe the schools I've been to are unique, but I haven't seen a school that even requires you to write code in the intro to CS class. Normally it's all UML and theory and pseudocode.

Thanks for making my Pascal learning mind feel old. My program was Pascal->C (no C++, just straight C) then a parallel of x86 ML and the data structures course. You did some pointers in the C class but really had to grok them in the data structures class.

After that, a lot of classes they didn't care what you wrote in because your outputs were evaluated by a test harness...as long as they could run the program and get the outputs they were happy.

Then again, I wimped out and only got a minor (the BS is in mathematics).

Kiwi the Geek said...

Where I went to school, the whole first year intro sequence was a somewhat boring overview. The only programming was in Assembly. Somehow that year weeded out about 1/3 of the class. Second year was all C++ for Algorithms and Data Structures. It was a highly regarded program in the region, and I was able to learn Java in a week, on my own, for my internship.

Just about the time I graduated, they started making the CS program easier. I think I was more offended by it than the guys were. What I've read about it more recently is depressing. They're full of political correctness, and they understand NOTHING about the actual difficulties of being a competent girl geek. But to be fair, I didn't understand their perspective until reading VP & AG, and wasn't coming across the way I intended.

Dexter said...

So. She turned one of the best engineering schools in the country into High School II where nobody fails and we wait up for the dimmest bulb in the class. Outstanding. Were I a student in that program I'd transfer to a different school and ask Mudd for my money back.

I went to Mudd in the 1980s and I want my money back. =)

Dexter said...

Incidentally, it was clear even in the 1980s that Mudd was coddling intellectually inferior women who couldn't hack it, first of all by admitting them to the school in the first place.

Also, DAMN they were ugly! Good thing Scripps was right across the street.

aurictech said...

I can hear Rusto the Ant God weeping all the way here in Arizona.

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