Recently, a friend of mine sent me a link to a Women in Tech event and asked me if I wanted to attend it. A look at the agenda and the speakers lined up got me thinking of what we consider women in tech to be . As a resident of the Silicon Valley where there’s a tech company every few blocks, I know that the perception an outsider has is that everyone who works here is “technical”. But for someone who works in this industry, I know that isn’t the case.
Companies are eager to prove that there are lots of women in tech but if you look at the numbers reported by Forbes, you see that only 24% of the women hold computer science jobs. Of all the women in tech, only one third list themselves as being able to code. In the same article, if you look at the top women in tech, you see Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Youtube’s Susan Wojcicki, both of whom are taking the tech world by storm with their exceptional leadership and management skills. But you also can see the deficit of tech leaders like Google’s Diane Greene and Stanford University’s Fei Fei Li — both of whom have a background in computer science. At the other end of the spectrum, if you look at the men who influence the tech world you see Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Machine Learning Leader Andrew Ng — all of whom are computer scientists at heart.
So imagine the disappointment when you see that the women leaders in tech don’t really know the core and the magic which drives this industry — engineering and writing code. I’m not saying that coding is all there is to be someone in the tech industry, but in order to be an integral part of this industry I think you should know what drives it and makes it what it is. There always will be an important place in the tech industry for skills like business development, marketing, social media strategy, etc. Similar to how having a guitar doesn’t make one a musician, marketing for a tech company does not make one a “woman in tech”. We need to encourage more women to take on the core responsibilities of the tech industry. We have made progress with getting women to work with tech, to market it and support it. But now, we need to get more women to create this very tech. We need to move from having women “support” tech to having women “in” tech.
Why am I so critical about what seems to be a subtle difference in wording? We live in a world where tech influences every aspect of our life and in order to not be left behind we should encourage young girls to take up a career in STEM and not be afraid to code. Teaching girls how to code opens up opportunities and gives them a new way of thinking of solutions to problems which have been created by the world going digital. So this is my plea in order to make sure that women don’t get left behind.
As a data scientist, every time I tackle a problem, one of the basic but powerful steps which helps me make the right decision is that of understanding the domain and getting into the shoes of someone who has the problem. Similarly, there are a lot of ways you can make your presence felt in any industry, but one of most powerful ways at the very top is by mastering the very core of the craft. Computer science and all its derivative fields are here to stay, and albeit it being a hard way, one of the ways we can convince the next generation that this isn’t a field just for the boys is by diving deep into it.