Yesterday I had the pleasure of being involved at an event that exposed grade 5 & 6 girls to science and technology, the event was fun but it does address a serious issue: the shortage of girls in computer science and engineering.
My son covered his ears as the girls screamed, cheering on their teacher and classmate competing in the 50 metre sprint in Kinect sports on the Xbox. My son was seriously outnumbered yesterday as 218 girls from grades 5 & 6 descended on McGill university for the 4 girls event organized by Clumeq and GenInc and sponsored by Microsoft. The girls spent the day going to different sessions to learn about science and technology.
The day was kicked off by Marie-Jo Leroux of Ubisoft who talked about life as a video game producer. I think I may have enjoyed that presentation more than the girls as she gave us a behind the scenes look at making games like Driver: San Francisco and IronMan. She delivered a great message: my job isn’t easy, but I love what I do, so I don’t mind! Find what you love, your career will choose you!
So why doesn’t the technology career path choose more women? I don’t know the answer, they were asking that question when I went to university years ago as well (I won’t admit how many years ago). Maybe events like this will help. Some of the girls may have been surprised by how cool and fun science and technology can be hopefully they will come to love technology as so many of us do.
McGill student Genevieve L’Esperance, former Microsoft Student Partner and intern, did a workshop using SmallBasic that gets kids to explore programming. She has delivered this workshop at many Teaching Kids Programming events outside of Canada and was very happy to finally have a chance to do it in her hometown! Quoted in the Montreal Gazette she says “I have one or two girls in my classes, I have no biases toward anybody, but’ it’s nice to have like a sister in class”
In my workshop I talked about the different ways to interact with computers, and we discussed how programmers have many tools to choose from and you have to figure out which tool is right for each solution. The kids compared drawing with a mouse to drawing with touch on Windows 8 and Windows Phone, they compared using calculator with a keyboard vs a mouse, we tested the accuracy of voice recognition on the Windows phone and of course they thoroughly enjoyed testing the motion recognition of Kinect. We finished on a more serious note talking about how these new capabilities of voice and gesture open up new possibilities and truly give those of us in the technology field a chance to change the world for the better.
Hopefully reaching girls early in their education and exposing them to the capabilities of science and technology will draw more girls into the field. For Canada to compete globally we need a strong pool of students entering science and technology. Depsite above average wages the computer sector struggles to fill many positions. There is a decrease in university enrollment in fields such as Computer Engineering, Computer Science, and Software Engineering. Girls are a source of talent that could help fill these gaps.
As a student, or a working professional you can help! Speak at a high school, speak at an elementary school, show them what they are missing. Here are a couple of great resources you can use when speaking to school kids about the computing field: Computers unplugged, Teaching Kids Programming. I may be an evangelist for Microsoft, but we can all be evangelists for a career in science and technology!