Bridging the gender, race gap in computer science

By Izzi Beer
Flapjack staff

Justin Williams, 19, is a freshman at HSU and a computer science major. Having always had a lifelong interest in computers especially coding and computer graphics, Williams said it was simply logic for him to enroll in HSU’s program.

“I’ve always been obsessed with anything relating to that stuff,” Williams said. “I built my first computer in 8th grade, and have been coding since around that time. It just is so much fun because it combines a sort of engineering aspect as well as a techy one.” However, it hasn’t always been so easy for him. Having attended a high school that didn’t have a very developed computer programming class, a lot of the skills that he know has weren’t very accessible to him.

“There was one period of computer graphics that I took all four years of high school,” Williams said. “I kinda learned on my own though and didn’t really stick to the curriculum since it was so repetitive. I took a lot of online courses, which really helped my coding literacy.”

When asked about the diversity in his classes, Williams painted a pretty bleak picture.

“I was the only black kid taking these classes,” he said. “And I think there was one or two girls. In a classroom of at least 20 kids each year.”

However, he conceded that recently there have been improvements.

“While it’s still not great, there are a few more girls in my classes here at Humboldt, which I think is awesome,” Williams said. “I have a feeling it’s because people’s attention has been drawn to it. Things like Girls who Code or like An Hour of Code, have really improved our numbers because people are starting to realize just how important computer literacy is in the job force now.”

In fact, programs like Girls who Code have helped exponentially increase the number of women in the field.

HSU computer science major Kayleigh Migdoll, 18, has also observed a gender discrepancy in computer-related fields.

“For the longest time, I was one of the only girls in any of my computer classes,” Migdoll said. “I remember in elementary school, we were required to go to the computer lab at least once a week, but as soon as middle school rolled around that didn’t happen anymore!” Migdoll is new to the computer science community, but said she has always expressed interest in the subject.

“My dad is a computer engineer,” Migdoll said. “So I’ve kinda always been around that stuff, but college is really the first time I’ve really been devoted to it.”

Women in these fields are much more likely to face workplace discrimination, unequal pay, and have a much harder time advancing their position. When asked about the adversary, Migdoll stated that it was simply part of progress.

“While it is really unfortunate that I will knowingly be a part of this inequality, I kinda view it as a challenge,” Migdoll said. “I just need to work to also improve this discrepancy and this treatment as well as do my job. Its super difficult, but I think that the direction this field is headed in is a good one. Women will get their chance to succeed just as well as men.”

Computer science is not just a field regulated to those who are skilled at coding, or can build computers out of scratch. The field has a plethora of sub-categories and attracts those who do not intend to become computer programmers or app designers. Bella Colleta, 20, is an art major here at HSU, and has become increasingly interested in the field because of its flexibility.

“As an art major, it’s super difficult for us to get jobs out of college,” Colleta said. “A lot of us just end up becoming graphic designers or something like that to make ends meet. So I thought that taking a few computer classes would help me get on track and kinda figure out what I could be doing with my art major.”

Many art majors actually end up taking a multitude of computer classes including basic coding classes, computer graphics classes, and – in Colleta’s case – animation classes.

“I really like my animation classes because they really help involve my love for art with the skills I’ve picked up in taking computer classes,” Colleta said. “It’s super useful for me, because now I can also add animator to my resume.”

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