Tuesday was an exciting day for me. I went to my first Tech Meetup! The Meetup was for a group called Jersey Shore Women in Tech. The Meetup was in a local co-working space called Cowerks in the “city by the sea”, Asbury Park, New Jersey. The space had ample natural light, an open office layout, and large windows overlooking a lake.
There were probably 20 women there, so it was easy to mingle and strike up conversation. As a self diagnosed introvert, starting conversations with strangers isn’t exactly my idea of fun, but I know it’s a skill I’ll continue to improve upon. My go to conversation starter was asking if it was someone’s first Jersey Shore Women in Tech meetup. I learned that for a good amount of women, it was their first Meetup!
The Meetup itself was entitled “A Study: Pathways Women Use to Enter the Technology Sector” in which two researchers shared how women in New Jersey have entered the tech field. This topic interested me because as someone who didn’t study CS or IT during undergrad, I was curious to see if my path was similar to other women who wound up in tech. The researchers interviewed 24 women throughout New Jersey and shared the results with us. One of the researchers, Elaine Zundl, concluded that the most common path for women in tech in New Jersey is the non-linear path. She found that most women had humanities degrees but still found their way to tech. This exposed the question of the night- if women are interested and succeeding in the tech field, why aren’t they studying it during undergrad (women only make up ~17% of CS degrees in NJ, for example)? It’s a tough question to answer, but the researchers and the audience alike agreed that it has to do with exposure. Personally, growing up I had no idea what coding was and it wasn’t until my first full-time job that I understood the context and started to gain interest in the craft. Another dev in the room said she started to code only because her dad was a Software Engineer and thought that she would like it.
Elaine shared some policies she had come with in order to expose younger girls to code and to encourage women to improve their technical skills. She thinks having a mandatory Computer Science class would even the playing field. Just like students have to take English and Math, all students should be required to take a Computer Science class. Currently, most students can only get hands on instruction if their parents have the money to send them to a coding camp, which does not reflect an even playing field. She explained a road block would be getting teachers trained for a curriculum. As for adults, Elaine is advocating for a website which would serve as a centralized resource for learning resources in the field, because right now the resources are dispersed throughout the web.
The most interesting part of the night was learning how Harvey Mudd College leveled the playing field for CS graduates. 50% of CS degrees are awarded to women at the college. We didn’t discuss the details of how college president Maria Klawe and the rest of the college achieved this goal, so after the Meetup I set out on my own to discover the how. I learned that Harvey Mudd College splits CS majors into three groups; those who have programming experience, those who do not, and those who are beginners and are interested in the intersection of biology and CS. The intermediate group is challenged by complex topics, but do not get “ahead” of the other groups because the topics they learn are different than those learned in the curriculum’s 2nd CS class. Professors are also told to encourage students to work together on assignments, to frame problems as real world scenarios, and to discourage “macho” behavior such as one student asking/ answering a majority of the questions. This makes CS relatable and more welcoming.
Overall, it was a great Meetup to attend. It was really cool to see that there are local studies and resources going towards helping women and girls lean into tech. Also, learning about how Harvey Mudd College is leveling the playing field was very inspiring! I’m looking forward to attending more Meetups in the future!