Did you know that when you look to start a business built on software, you are likely to be told you need a technical co-founder? Someone who can build the first working prototype of your product, be it website, phone app, or refrigerator that can order milk? Someone who will code for free, for however long, before anyone will invest?
No? Understandable. I would expect it to be news to many, as, despite working in Silicon Valley tech since the 1990s, I am surprised. I found out in recent investigations of a business I might like to start myself.
But so what, right? So what if capital flows to those who can build vs. those who can imagine? Here’s the thing. Given that the ratio of men to women in computer science is incredibly high, we’re pretty much handing the future of American software-driven innovation to men and saying, “Here. Tell us what matters.”
OK, so I exaggerate. There are a few women who lead top tech companies now, and a good deal more at high levels in smaller ones. But my issue is not how many women work in tech.
I am concerned instead with the degree to which women’s ideas are now and will in future be represented in the field. Tech dictates the evolving stuff of life.
This is not new, technology has always moved society one way and another. Think about automobiles, electricity, and washing machines. Do you know how much time women, or their servants, used to spend doing laundry? Today we’re run by software and computer processors, humming no longer in the back room, sparking everywhere. That’s not news.
But given that software programming has gotten more and more accessible, meaning easier for everyone, and given that women now have control over their fertility, because let’s face nobody is going to do much focused cerebral work if they are at home with an infant, now is the time to seize the day. To seize the binary day.
I always wonder, if I’d gone to school 20 years later, would I still have majored in Comparative Literature? My instincts tell me programming would still have been too precise for my brain, but that I might have loved User Interface Design. Anyone else feel the same way? Or do you recoil in horror at the idea?
In any case, those of you with girl children, ask them to consider programming. Consider science. Not to say that our boy children shouldn’t consider science too, they should, but they may need less encouragement. Science learning already works for those boys so inclined.
Which elicits one more thought. The rise of China and India is predicted in equal parts on inexpensive hourly labor and a focus on technology. I read, as I pass, stereotypes about Asian students doing All The Science. This is not genetic. It doesn’t have to be political, or national. Scientific learning requires focus and willingness to move past failure. It requires the capacity to delay gratification, as one waits for data, as one corrects errors. Parents and the environment raise children.
Here’s a great link to a female Chinese professor at Stanford, on why and how she came up with her solar power stickers.
You might ask, “What about your kids, Lisa?” Fair question. My scientific daughter majored in Psychology and Neuroscience. Had I been on the ball, perhaps I would have encouraged her to learn programming early. It might not have taken, of course. She is moved by humankind more than sheer problem-solving, and has gone into medicine. Science enough. I strongly encouraged my son to take Comp Sci in college. He did, good kid that he is, but after one semester in which he performed swimmingly, he knew that he needed to work in a less binary medium.
One can only encourage one’s children as they grow, directing causes more harm than good.
Here’s the only thing of note in what I’m saying. Don’t encourage your girl to enter science so she can get a job. Do it so she can shape the future.
Have a good weekend.