Tech: It’s computer science, not rocket science
Back in September (doesn’t that feel like a long while ago?!) I attended a panel discussion at Leeds International Festival. Titled ‘Can we really be who we want to be?’, the talk promised to discuss the conditionality of the everyday structures we take for granted. Whether through oversight or intention, many of our institutions and everyday solutions were built around the needs of white men. Despite the success of movements hoping to turn this on its head, we’re still a nation that’s battling bias – conscious or subconscious – with regards to stereotypes.
At Halston Marketing, we work with clients that make up specialist industries including life sciences, logistics and transport, and tech. They’re not sectors predominantly associated with female expertise, so following this event, I decided to dig a little deeper as to why.
The truth of the world built for the…Man
Conversation with friends and family in the run-up to the event provoked a wide-range of strong opinions on the question. And not necessarily from who you’d think. Google anything to do with women and car safety and you find that the subject was discussed at length in 2019 thanks to the publication of Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. It’s a fact that seatbelts were originally designed with men, not women, in mind. Yet both men and women I raised this with weren’t entirely convinced by the fact… Even though it’s a fact. ‘Well, they had to design it for someone!’
And those crash-test dummies we use to trial car safety features? The dummy most commonly used is 5″8 and weighs in at 76kg. The average UK man is 5”10 compared with the 5”4 woman.. ‘It’s got to be modelled on something!’ I wish they’d had attended the event, too…
Before I get too carried away, let’s get back to the discussion. Hosted by Amrou Al-Kadhi, Writer, Performer, and Filmmaker, the panel consisted of:
- Gina Martin, Author & Activist (you know, the one who made up-skirting illegal)
- Stephanie Hirst, Broadcaster & Speaker
- Hashi Mohamed, Author of People Like Us, Journalist, & Barrister
- And Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon, who inspired this piece.
Dr Annie-Marie was a child prodigy who completed her GCSEs, received a John Hopkins University scholarship, and began a Master’s at Oxford, all by… Seventeen. She’s recognised worldwide as Oxford University’s youngest ever Master’s degree graduates. So, it’s safe to say that whenever she spoke, she had a fair few pearls of wisdom.
Mood for thought
When discussing her award-winning social enterprise, STEMettes, set-up to inspire the next generation of girls, women, and non-binary people involved in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and maths), Imafidon made a statement that has stuck in my mind ever since. For context, it’s now November. She said that we need to stop treating computer science like it’s some out-of-this-world rocket science. Because it’s not. It’s just computer science.
And so, the discussion became far wider than its original question. It’s not just people that battle generalisations. It’s the sectors, the industries, the jobs that we work in, as well.
What exactly is computer science?
In a sentence, computer science is the study of computers and computing, including theoretical and algorithmic foundations, and hardware and software, as well as their uses for processing information. Though these words can often sound rather out-of-this-world, when you break it down, it largely comes back to problem-solving. It’s a study readily suitable to those with an analytical brain and, like with most things, a desire to learn.
So why do the industries like the ones I work with generally see women shy away? And is ‘shy’ even the right verb? Is it ingrained into girls from a young age that tech is, on the most part, a man’s world? (Even though research shows women are more likely to own an iPhone than men…) How much of the blame can we put on society? Is it due to a lack of role models in the sector, or relatable insight? In my opinion, it’s a combination of all the above points. And then some…
I won’t pretend that the world of computer science isn’t alien to me. Or at least it was before this talk! This got me thinking: is that because of the associations I’ve been brought up around, rather than my actual skills? It was well-known that I loved maths at school, and I struggle to hide my dissatisfaction if I can’t solve a problem. So why was computer science never on my trajectory during my education?
Where can computer science take you?
A quick look on the UCAS website informed me of the top five destinations for computer science graduates. If I’m being honest, they probably weren’t the (stereotypical) five I had in my head:
- Wholesale and retail trade
- Professional, scientific, and technical
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? We talk a lot about putting people into boxes, and why we shouldn’t. I can admit that previously, the words ‘computer science’ conjured images of a far too geeky guy sat in his bedroom. The science is more than that. Science changes daily. New discoveries are made, research methods are improved, and we have the capability to process and analyse data faster than ever before. Computer science is no exception; the exception is the lack of women encouraged to get involved in the sector and quash those geeky guy stereotypes.
The requirements to get onto computer science courses are also not as out-of-reach as rockets, that’s for sure. Necessary A-Level grades range from CDD to AAA, with universities most commonly asking for BBC. Little-known is the array of jobs relating to the subject, varying massively from cyber security analysts to games developers to web designers. I’m definitely not sitting here reconsidering my career choices…
Working for a marketing agency made up of entirely women and specialising in heavy and specialist industries like technology, as well as innovation, and life science, it’s safe to say we’re not representing the stereotypical industries associated with women. Especially given most of us are under 30 years old…
So, what was that about tech being rocket science? I reckon it’s time that generalisation was blasted off into outer-space… Do you? Let us know your thoughts!