You don’t have to listen to the stereotypes or stick with the tried and tested. Think about what you want from technology‚ and then go out and make it.
Welcome to the world of computing! I hope it is all that you hoped. It may not be quite what you expected.
As you will no doubt already know, women are under-represented in computer science: that includes industry as well as academia. By taking this step you are helping to change things. As women, we consume technology. We use mobile phones, laptops, tablets, mp3 players. We are a voice on social media, we are comfortable and familiar with apps. We take digital photos, we upload videos and our writing is online. We are consumers. We can also be innovators.
You may have a few concerns about how you fit into a degree and a career in computing. When Belinda Parmar, founder of Little Miss Geek, went to talk to a class of 14 year old boys and girls about the tech industry, she asked them to draw a picture of someone in the IT industry. Most, inevitably, drew a stereotypical, overweight, geeky looking person with glasses. Every single member of that class, both boys and girls, drew a man.
Take it from me, though - that's not really how it is. Sure, some of those types of people exist but most are‚ well‚ normal. The men I have encountered in my time as a computer science academic and a programmer have, pretty much overwhelmingly, been supportive and encouraging (there are a few exceptions, but then there are arseholes in all walks of life). The problem is not, the men‚ per se. The problem is the biased set-up. The problem is the social expectation. The problem is the lack of opportunity. The problem is the stereotyping.
Women have a valuable role to play. If you've ever been told that there are few great women computer scientists, consider that it could be because only a few women have ever been given the chance. Since we were children, the opinions of others have influenced - subtly or unsubtly - how we dress, act, behave and work. Even if we actively shun these opinions we are still susceptible to the unrelenting messages so implicit in society about what our role should be. We learn, as girls, what we are supposed to like. We learn that if we digress from this stereotype then we face problems, not least that we will have to battle to be accepted.
I hope that it is not like this for you. I hope that the degree programme you've joined breaks those stereotypes and gives you exactly the same chances and opportunities that your male colleagues have. That is what we aim for as educators.
Women are behind the greatest inventions in computing: programming, compilers, wifi. Women are taking lead roles in massive tech companies - Sheryl Sandberg, chief of Facebook, and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! to name two prominent figures. There is a long way still to go but by starting your career in computing you are already making a change.
We can offer support: here at Goldsmiths we have a Women in Computing network, we offer bursaries, and we have a wide and varied intake from all walks of life who each bring their own valued perspective. Computing is a subject with wonderful opportunities. From programming to web design, from wearable technologies to gaming, and from robots to music, computing opens so many doors to the career of your choice.
You can shape the field of computing. You don’t have to listen to the stereotypes or stick with the tried and tested. Think about what you want from technology ‚ and then go out and make it.