Did you know that the world’s first computer programmer was a woman? That’s right, Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician and writer, is widely considered the first person to recognize the potential of a computer. She realized it could go beyond mere calculations and handle symbols and logical operations (besides numbers).
Yet, many scholars still argue that Lovelace’s contributions to the field have been vastly overstated, going as far as denying them altogether. Unfortunately, it all boils down to a belief that a woman “didn’t do, and shouldn’t do, and couldn’t do” such a thing.
Perhaps similar beliefs are the reason why women continue to be underrepresented in the field of computing today. Since Lovelace, many female tech visionaries have made significant and varied contributions to this field. And yet, the gap persists.
Is this how it will always be? Or can something be done to pave the way for a more inclusive future in computing? That’s what this article will explore.
The History of Women in Computing and Computer Science
Ada Lovelace’s work in the mid-19th century laid the foundation for modern computing, earning her the flattering title of “World’s First Computer Programmer.” But she wasn’t the only woman to make monumental contributions to computer science.
To understand the ever-growing push for equality in computing, you must first take a journey throughout history, highlighting some of these women’s most notable (and often overlooked) contributions in this field.
1952: Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper, a U.S. Navy admiral and computer scientist, invented the first computer compiler, translating English instructions into the target computer’s language. Code optimization, formula translation, and subroutines are just some computing developments inspired by Hopper’s groundbreaking work.
That’s why it shouldn’t be surprising that the world’s largest gathering of women technologists is named in her honor – the Grace Hopper Celebration.
1962: Katherine Johnson
Katherine Johnson, one of the women immortalized in the 2016 book and film “Hidden Figures,” was the one to run equations needed for John Glenn’s historic orbital flight in 1962. She would go on to work on other groundbreaking NASA missions, including the Apollo program.
1970s: Adele Goldberg
Though Adele Goldberg has made many contributions to computing, she’s best known for developing the Smalltalk programming language, which was crucial in shaping modern graphical user interfaces.
1985: Radia Perlman
The fact that Radia Perlman is often referred to as the “Mother of the Internet” probably tells you all you need to know about her importance in computing history. Perlman is renowned for inventing the Spanning Tree Protocol, a technology that greatly enhanced the reliability and efficiency of network communication.
1997: Anita Borg
In 1997, a U.S. computer scientist, Anita Borg, founded the Institute for Women in Technology. This institute had (and continues to have) two simple goals – to increase the representation of women in technical fields and enable them to create more technology.
2018: Joy Buolamwini
Joy Buolamwini, currently one of the most influential women in computer science, is primarily known for her groundbreaking graduate thesis uncovering significant racial and gender bias in AI services. She also founded the Algorithmic Justice League, a non-profit organization focusing on making tech more equitable and accountable.
The Present State of Women in Computing and Computer Science
There have undoubtedly been strides in increasing women’s representation in computing and computer sciences. Though it’s challenging to determine what came first, one of the most significant moves in this regard was giving credit where credit’s due.
For instance, the “ENIAC Six,” the six women tasked with programming the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), weren’t initially recognized for their historic contributions. It took decades for this recognition to come, but this doesn’t make it any less monumental.
But even with these recognitions, initiatives, awareness campaigns, and annual events, the gender gap in computing persists. This gap can be seen by examining the number of women in three crucial computing and computer science stages – education, workforce, and leadership.
Today, there’s no shortage of degree programs in computer science, both traditional and online. But one look at the data about the students attending these programs, and you’ll understand the issue. Though more women hold tertiary degrees in the EU, they’re notably absent in computer science-related fields.
The situation in the computing workforce is no better. Currently, women occupy only 22% of all tech roles across European companies, and to make matters worse, this figure is on a downward trajectory.
Just when you think it can’t get any more dismal, take a look at the highest levels of professional leadership in computing and technology. One look at the C-suite (senior executives) stats reveals abysmal figures. For instance, only 9% of the U.K. C-suite leaders are women.
The Reasons Behind the Current State of Women in Computing
By now, you probably agree that something needs to change to address the gender disparity in computing. And it needs to change drastically. But to propose effective solutions, you must first examine the root of the problem.
Though it’s challenging to pinpoint a single explanation for the underrepresentation of women in computing, let’s break down factors that might’ve contributed to the current situation.
The Lack of Women Peers and Mentors
Paradoxically, women might be less willing to enter the computing field due to the lack of visible representation and mentorship. Essentially, this creates a never-ending cycle of underrepresentation, thus only deepening the gender gap.
Societal Stereotypes and Biases
Deep-rooted stereotypes about gender roles can, unfortunately, dissuade women from pursuing computer science. The same goes for stereotyping what average computer scientists look like and how they act (the “nerd” stereotype often reinforced by media).
Fortunately, initiatives promoting diversity and inclusion in computer science are breaking down these stereotypes gradually yet efficiently. The more women join this field, the more preconceived (and misguided) notions are shattered, demonstrating that excellence in computing knows no gender.
Hostile or Unwelcoming Work Environments
It’s well-documented that highly collaborative fields were less welcoming to gender minorities throughout history, and computer science was no different. Though the situation is much better today, some women might still fear working within a predominantly male team due to these lingering concerns from the past.
Numerous studies have shown that precollege girls are less likely to be exposed to various aspects of computing, from learning about hardware and software to dissecting a computer. So, it’s no wonder they might be less inclined to pursue a career in computing after lacking exposure to its foundational aspects.
A Worse Work-Life Balance
Many big tech companies are notorious for long working hours. The same goes for computer science as a field. The result? Some women might perceive this field as too demanding and impossible to reconcile with raising a family, leading them not to consider it.
How to Change the Curve
Though the past might’ve seemed bleak for women in computing, the present (and future) hold promise for positive change. Of course, no fundamental changes can happen without collective commitment and decisive action. So, what can be done to change the curve once and for all and promote greater gender diversity in computing?
Striving to Remove the Barriers
So, you believe women should experience all the opportunities that come with a career in computing. But this can only be done by actively addressing and eliminating the barriers impeding their progress in the field.
This means launching campaigns to dismantle the deep-rooted stereotypes, introducing policies to create supportive working (and learning) environments, and regularly recognizing and celebrating women’s achievements in computing.
Making the Field Exciting for Women
Educational institutions and companies also must pull their weight in making the computing field more appealing to women despite the existing challenges. This might involve hands-on and collaborative learning, showcasing diverse role models in the field (e.g., at the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing), and establishing mentorship programs.
Relying on Mutual Support
As long as women have a strong enough support system, they can conquer anything, including the often daunting field of computer science. Here are some organizations that can provide just that: (See if you can spot some familiar individuals in their names!)
Other than that, women now have access to a whole host of resources and opportunities they can use to advance their knowledge and excel in the field. These include the following:
- Coding bootcamps
- Career fairs for women in tech
- STEM scholarships
Gaining Access to Education
Allowing equal access to education to women might be the most crucial element in changing the curve. After all, proper education serves as a direct gateway to opportunities and empowerment in computer science (and beyond).
With the popularization of online studying, many of the obstacles (both actual and perceived) that traditionally hindered women’s involvement in computing have disappeared. Now, women can learn about (and engage in) computer science from the comfort of their own homes, going at their own pace.
That’s precisely a part of the reason Alona, a Latvian student at the Open Institute of Technology, chose to pursue online education in computer science. Even with two children and a job (and a Bachelor’s degree in linguistics), she can find time to study and potentially earn her degree in as little as two years. Talk about an outstanding work-life balance!
When pursuing a degree in computer science at the OPIT, there are no hostilities, inadequacies, or barriers, only boundless opportunities.
In this unite.ai article, Riccardo Ocleppo, Founder & Director of the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT), leverages his experience from Docsity to revolutionize higher education. OPIT aims to innovate and modernize education by offering high-quality tech degrees at an affordable price. It prioritizes hands-on learning to bridge the theory-practice gap and fosters diverse skill sets and networking opportunities.
Discover OPIT’s innovative approach, which includes embedding AI across all its degree programs, in the full article at unite.ai: https://www.unite.ai/riccardo-ocleppo-founder-director-of-opit-interview-series/
The Open Institute of Technology (OPIT) is a unique institution through and through. From an unparalleled support team that guides you every step of the way to state-of-the-art virtual resources, OPIT redefines online learning. This institution also proves that online education can be as enriching as its traditional counterpart. Better yet, it can outperform it in numerous aspects.
This fact alone begs the question – how did it all begin?
To answer this question, we’ll go straight to the source – the founder of OPIT, Riccardo Ocleppo.
In this article, Riccardo will walk us through his journey of envisioning (and building) OPIT and transforming online education in the process.
The Pre-OPIT Years: Where It All Began
To understand how Riccardo came up with the idea for OPIT, we must travel back to the year 2006. That’s when Riccardo graduated from Politecnico di Torino with a bachelor’s in electronics engineering.
This institution is arguably the most prestigious in Italy (and one of the most reputable in Europe). So, it shouldn’t be surprising that Riccardo chose to continue his education here, pursuing a master’s degree.
He completed the master’s program in 2008 and did so with honors.
Yet, Riccardo couldn’t shake the impression that it was all in vain. In his words, “When I left the university, I had the impression that I could do very little, and I knew very little that could help me in my professional endeavors.”
But Riccardo decided not to sit idly by.
He saw it this way – it might be too late for him, as he was done with his studies. But it’s certainly not too late for future students who deserve a better education. That’s why, only two years later, in 2010, he founded Docsity.
Docsity is an online social learning network with over 20 million registered students. Thanks to this network, over 250 universities worldwide received help in improving their study programs (and finding students).
Docsity also gave Riccardo a chance to fully immerse himself into the education sector for over a decade, finding new ways to reform it from within.
OPIT’s Inception: From Vision to Reality
With the knowledge (and the resources) from Docsity, Riccardo started working on a platform designed to provide the kind of education he wished he had received. The platform in question was, of course, the Open Institute of Technology.
The primary goal of OPIT was to bridge the gap between “what students expect, what companies need, and what higher-level institutions actually deliver in terms of training and education.”
From Riccardo’s experience, this gap was pretty huge. Remember that even with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in electronics engineering, he felt he had little to offer to companies.
This perceived shortcoming primarily comes from the fact he received a lot of theory at the university but very little practice. And that’s not to mention how outdated the curriculum was, as well as laser-focused on electronics engineering. In other words, bid farewell to “competencies on the most recent technologies and project management methodologies.”
This perspective made him determined to create a holistic educational solution. Or, as Riccardo puts it, “When designing OPIT’s degree programs to address the skills in high demand today, we chose to start from scratch to go beyond the limits of traditional higher education.”
At OPIT, you’ll receive valuable knowledge beyond theory. Essentially, OPIT equips you with everything you need to enter the job market, ready to excel in your field from day one (or day zero, as Riccardo calls it!).
Tailored for Triumph: OPIT’s Unique Programs
Designing any online curriculum is no easy task. However, the computer science field comes with its unique set of challenges. Why?
This field is constantly evolving. That’s what makes it difficult for most traditional higher education institutions to keep up. As Riccardo puts it, “[These institutions] are very slow to adapt to this wave of new technologies and new trends within the educational sector.” Of course, thanks to Docsity, Riccardo speaks from extensive experience, as he’s seen “multiple times how difficult it is to help these institutions update their study curriculum.”
Companies have it no easier.
Riccardo says, “A company needs one to two years to make people that should be trained on today’s technologies and on today’s skills effectively enter the job market and be productive when they enter these companies.”
Again, Riccardo speaks from personal experience. As a founder of a tech company (and a manager in others), he was tasked with creating and managing big tech teams on several occasions. However, despite interviewing hundreds of candidates, he couldn’t find those trained in today’s technologies, not those from 20 years ago.
With this in mind, he designed OPIT’s curriculum to effectively “train the next generation of leaders and managers in the field of computer science.” Many people helped him in this endeavor, chief among them Professor Francesco Profumo, current head of institution at OPIT and former Minister of Education in Italy.
This unique approach makes OPIT’s programs different in terms of how they’ve been conceived and how they’ll be delivered.
Take the Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Modern Computer Science program as an example.
Riccardo says that to be a great programmer, “you cannot just dive into programming itself.” First, you must understand how a computer is built and how its various units operate and communicate. This way, you’ll have no issues debugging a code in the future since you’ll understand the underlying mechanisms.
These underlying systems and foundational skills are precisely what is taught during the first term of the modern computer science program. Afterward, you’ll move toward the latest advancements in computer science, including machine learning, artificial intelligence, data science, cybersecurity, and cloud computing. This way, you’ll have quite a broad perspective on computer science, rarely seen in other educational programs, online or offline.
It also means you won’t have to specialize in a particular field, as you’re forced to do with many other programs. In Riccardo’s opinion, the master’s degree is where you should begin your specialization journey.
OPIT offers as many as four master’s degree programs, but Riccardo focuses on Applied Data Science & AI this time.
In Riccardo’s words, “The whole purpose of this [program] is actually to train people that do not want to pursue a super technical career but actually want to pursue a career at the intersection between the tech and the management of a company.” In other words, individuals who complete this program will acquire all the necessary tech skills. However, they’ll also be able to ensure the tech team is “correctly understood by the management of the company,” thanks to the managerial skills earned during the program.
Of course, this program also covers all the essential theoretical knowledge, from Python to machine learning. But it also has a solid applicative angle, teaching students how to use the most valuable tools available in today’s market. Simply put, you’re training “for what you’ll be doing when you enter your next job.”
Breaking the Mold: What Sets OPIT Apart
The unique curriculum isn’t the only thing that sets OPIT apart from other higher education institutions in the same field. Here’s what Riccardo singles out as OPIT’s most appealing characteristics.
Learning at your own pace can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have all the flexibility and freedom to organize your studies (and life). On the other, you might start procrastinating without a traditional daily commitment of in-classroom learning.
OPIT ensures this unfortunate scenario never happens by doing away with one big final exam you must cram for. Instead, you’ll be continuously assessed throughout the program, allowing you a much better approach to learning and a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
As Riccardo puts it, OPIT will give you “multiple checkpoints,” preventing you from getting “lost” throughout the learning process.
New Learning Resources
According to Riccardo, most of today’s available resources were created for the “oldest wave of education.” That’s why he (and his team) created all OPIT resources and learning materials from scratch, giving you a fresh perspective on the tech world. These resources also come in the form of engaging videos, which are short enough to keep you fully focused yet detailed enough to provide a deep understanding of the topic.
Let’s not sugarcoat it – modern resources mean nothing if the professors teaching them still stick to old-school principles and approaches. Luckily, this isn’t the case with OPIT’s faculty.
Every member of this faculty has been carefully selected based on their academic expertise, business experience, and global perspective. These professors aim to “help you learn in a more engaging and interesting way,” as Riccardo puts it.
He also adds that OPIT’s faculty breaks away from the common saying in academics, “Those who can’t do, teach.” In his words, “We didn’t want to have people that can teach because they cannot do,” so that’s the standard he prioritized when bringing people on board.
Future-Proof Your Career
Now that you know the fascinating tale of OPIT’s conception, all that’s left to do is to get in touch with our team of experts and take the first step in future-proofing your career. As you’ve already seen, OPIT will take care of most of the subsequent steps. All you need is a desire to learn and an interest in developing new skills, and success is imminent.