The Next Generation: Where are the female coders?20 September 2013
With the popularisation of smart devices over the past few years, there has never been a better time to become a programmer. Jobs are rife as many software companies embark on new projects to create bigger and better applications for this growing market of digital products. Everything from utilities to video games are easier to create and distribute, allowing the humble coder to make a living without ever stepping into a corporate office, should they not want to.
However, there continues to be a major issue surrounding the programming profession that has yet to find a viable solution; where are the female coders?
The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people moving into the programming profession are male, and by quite a sizeable difference. To get to the root of the problem, we spoke to Caitlin and Niamh Hogg; two sisters with a love for programming that want to see an end to this problem.
"In my computing class there are six of us and I am the only female" claims Caitlin, a student at North Halifax Grammar School who is currently studying for her A-levels. "I am aware of a few other coders in my year but they are male as well".
Even at the age of seventeen, there's a severe lack of female interest in computing in general, making the subject of programming even further out of reach. However, Caitlin mentions that this isn't a trend exclusive to computer-focused subjects.
"In one of the physics classes in my year, out of a class of 30, only four are female. Talking to my female friends, they seem to find the idea daunting".
Is it possible that the lack of female coders in an industry almost half a century old is the result of a general lack of confidence? If this is the case, why is there a lack of confidence, and why does it affect young women more?
"I was brought up with coding. I remember when I was very young putting together Lego Mindstorms kits with my father and making it do cool and fun things. It just kind of carried on from there."
Could Caitlin have gained all the confidence she needed by being exposed to coding from a young age? It makes sense that even a basic understanding of the subject will put many of the fears surrounding the topic of programming to rest.
Niamh Hogg has just started secondary school at Brooksbank School. At the age of eleven, she may not officially start learning about programming for another few years. She already has a love of coding, which is partly due to her previous school; Greetland Academy.
"At one point in ICT we were taught to program in Scratch" claims Niamh.
She also explained that the school even ran an out-of-hours Code Club for those that wanted to learn more. Out of a year of 52 children, 22 of them were girls, all of which will now have at least a basic understanding of what programming involves, due to these mandatory ICT lessons. The optional Code Club was also successful.
"I started programming because I had watched my dad program all my life, so I wanted to have a go".
If confidence really is the barrier preventing young girls from trying out programming, then it's scenarios like this that make them easier to approach. They already have an understanding of the topic, so they'll also know whether they're interested in taking that into a career. This is a huge advantage, and they want to spread the word.
The sisters showed that programming isn't that daunting by submitting an app to the Windows 8 Marketplace. Not only that, but they made it so quickly that the app was ready in the store for the launch of the new operating system.
Armed with this evidence, they showed off their skills to A-level students to encourage them to stick with programming past AS-level. Caitlin explained exactly why they chose to do this.
"I think it is important to tell people how creating your own app worked, getting it out there and show that it wasn't as hard as you would think".
If the majority of school curriculums stay as they are, programming simply won't even be a valid option for many young students. When their main exposure to coding comes at college, are we really to expect that there should be many that will risk their grades to try it out? Schools and clubs like those Niamh has attended are a very positive step in the right direction, but there will need to be broader changes before we can expect the gender ratio to start evening out.