We need to teach girls that it’s chic to be a geek - The Buffalo News

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We need to teach girls that it’s chic to be a geek

The young women at Buffalo Seminary were engrossed in computers Tuesday morning. A few lounged in beanbag chairs, laptops balanced on their knees. Others sat in pairs, sharing earphones and typing.

But they weren’t doing research or tweeting. This was about coding.

All 209 students and their teachers at Buffalo Seminary were busy learning the basics of programming. “The school has never been so quiet,” said Beth Adamczyk, director of technology.

Adamczyk was behind bringing “Hour of Code” to the all-girls school, where the students were among 15 million nationwide who took part in the hour-long coding lessons last week.

The point Adamczyk hoped to get across: Coding can be fun. It can be cool, and it isn’t just for boys.

It’s a message we’re somehow failing to get across to many girls.

Despite huge growth in computer science jobs, the number of women entering the field is dismayingly small. And here’s the worst part: It’s getting worse.

The percentage of women in computer jobs peaked in 1990 and has slowly declined since, the Census Bureau reports. Back then, women were 34 percent of computer workers – more than double the percentage from two decades before. But in 2011, women made up just 27 percent.

That’s astounding, given the incredible reach computers have had into our lives. Today’s coders are this generation’s wunderkinds. They’ve built companies and created products that have changed society.

Put simply, geek is chic. But sadly, it’s still not chic to many girls.

In 1999, the movie “Office Space” painted software jobs ahead of the new millennium as mind-numbing work that locked employees into desk drudgery. A decade later, “The Social Network” portrayed the founders of Facebook as superstars. Yet the women in the film were stuck in the same old tired stereotypes – objectified groupies.

Pop culture has few female hackers; the cool but disturbed Lisbeth Salander of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” may be the only one.

Exposure to science, technology, engineering and mathematics may be key to enticing girls into these fields. Like anything, they’ve got to discover what it’s all about before they’ll know if they’ll like it. A study by the Girl Scout Research Institute found that girls who expressed interest in studying these fields were more likely to have done hands-on science activities or have visited a science or tech museum.

Computer science, Adamczyk said, is “kind of like a big black box” for many young people.

“Girls will go into medicine and the other sciences because it’s taught, they get exposed to it,” Adamczyk said. “But I think that there aren’t enough schools that actually teach coding, so the girls don’t know about it.”

Adamczyk hopes to change that. At Buffalo Seminary, which started assigning laptops to every student six years ago, freshmen will get a taste of basic computer coding in the spring.

Last week’s “Hour of Code” event opened with a video featuring Mark Zuckerberg and other coders talking about how they got into the field.

The video ended with this quote from hip-hop icon will.i.am: “Great coders are today’s rock stars.”

Tomorrow’s women need to be on that stage, too.

email: djgee@buffnews.com

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