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Damn you Big Bang Theory! computer science is for girls too!

Go CODE Girl event at U of G aimed at changing stereotypes that computer science is a nerdy boys' club

How computer science is marketed and presented in the media is one of the main reasons there are far fewer women in the field of computer science.

An event Saturday at the University of Guelph hopes to do its own small part to help change that perception.

Roughly 70 girls from Grade 8 through Grade 12 attended the Go CODE Girl event in the science building Saturday, one of many held across the province.

Hosted by the School of Computer Science, the event is aimed at providing girls with a chance to learn about coding and software development and learn about opportunities in the computing and engineering fields

“Up until high school, girls seem to have just as much interest in technology as guys do,” said U of G computer science professor Deborah Stacey.

“Once they get into high school, there’s a bit of a social perception going on. It got out there in the computer game era.”

Stacey said computer games, and in turn computer science, began to be marketed towards males. Advertising, movies and television all started depicting computer science as male dominated, for nerdy, socially awkward boys and men.

“The perception that’s out there is that a coder is male, geeky, socially awkward and this sort of boring, person … that’s just not true.

“It’s not what Hollywood tells you it is.”

The conversation turns to the hit television show the Big Bang Theory, where scientists are presented in a stereotypical way and it took years before a female scientist was brought in as a main character.

"And even then she was presented as unattractive, nerdy and socially awkward," Stacey said of Amy Farrah Fowler, played by Mayim Bialik.

“To me, the thing is, the culture has to change. We have to say to girls ‘this is great. This is what you should do.’ We have to change society’s perception of what computer programmers, computer scientists and software designers are to get away from this personal of a boys club.”

Stacey said when she went into computer science at university, half the class was female.

“Because it was new and there wasn’t that prejudice against women in computer science,” she said. “Established norms about what you were supposed to look like when you were a computer scientist didn’t exist.”

Industry needs people who communicate, are collaborative and who represent different ideas, genders and cultures, Stacey said.

Go CODE Girl organizer Lauren Zweep said the event will hopefully help open some eyes..

“Coding isn’t about being a code monkey, sitting in your basement all day punching in code,” said Zweep, a recruitment and outreach officer with the School of Computer Science.

“It’s not a standalone discipline and computing intersects many fields, like health care and electronics, public health, veterinary medicine, design, media. All that stuff,” Zweep said.

Coding is a gateway to other things and there will be a payoff at the end, she said.

Following opening remarks from Stacey, the girls broke up into three groups and rotated through workshops on video game development, snap circuits and innovation design. There was also some informal table discussions.

Go CODE Girl is in its third year and attracted individuals, girl guide groups and school groups.

There were also 30 U of G students volunteering at the event.


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Tony Saxon

About the Author: Tony Saxon

Tony Saxon has had a rich and varied 30 year career as a journalist, an award winning correspondent, columnist, reporter, feature writer and photographer.
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