Empowerment is one of the dominant themes of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC), according to attendees. It’s also the enduring feeling most important to Taylor Howard, a UNC-Chapel Hill student who the National Consortium for Data Science (NCDS) sponsored to attend the conference in October.
In a time when, according to GHC keynote speaker and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, only 10 percent of high schools offer computer science classes, a young woman’s way to a technology career is often haphazard.
“If I hadn’t found this crazy path to computer science, it wouldn’t have ever occurred to me,” said Howard, a double major in mathematical decision sciences and computer science. Howard’s high school was one of the many that did not offer computer science classes, but she enjoyed her math classes.
When she took her first computer science elective at UNC-Chapel Hill, she found the work to be incredibly challenging. With a few fellow female students, Howard formed a study group, and slowly began to realize the satisfaction that comes from solving challenging computer science and mathematical problems and successfully completing projects. This led her to the Women in Computer Science Club and then to Pearl Hacks, a weekend code fest aimed at young women and girls.
“Pearl Hacks had a workshop on Hadoop and on data science, and I was so inspired,” said Howard. “I thought this could be the intersection between statistics and computer science. It’s so interesting how we can explore the world and make predictions through data.”
This type of excitement is exactly what the GHC and like-minded organizations such as the NCDS hope to inspire in young female technologists and at tech organizations worldwide.
Telle Whitney, CEO and President of the Anita Borg Institute and a co-founder of the GHC, shared in an interview at this year’s conference that she sees many signs of improvement for women in the tech industry: increasing numbers of attendees at the GHC (12,000 this year), more transparency from tech companies regarding diversity and compensation numbers, and focused programs burgeoning in public schools and universities.
“According to the last NSF (National Science Foundation) statistics, which are from 2012, there are indications that the numbers [of women interested in tech] are increasing. Harvey Mudd College increased the percentage of women graduating from its computing program from 12 percent to approximately 40 percent in five years. Stanford just came out that computer science is the number one major for women. There are quite a number of bright spots,” said Telle.
As for Howard, she hopes to be one of those bright spots by advocating for women in computer science, and she plans to continue attending and supporting the Grace Hopper Conference well into her data science career.
The National Consortium for Data Science (NCDS) is a public/private collaboration to help the U.S. take full advantage of the promise of the big data revolution through new jobs and companies, better healthcare, data-driven discoveries in science, and competitive advantages for industry.