XX in Tech
Spend much time listening to Silicon Alley types talk about their fair city, and it won’t be before you hear someone issue a lament on behalf of the children—specifically, the quality of the math and science education they’re getting. Indeed, teaching tech skills in the public schools is among the most popular political proposals that the New York Tech Meetup suggested last month, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vision for New York as a center of innovation is rarely far off from a new plan to offer a 21st century education.
In the debate over the dearth of women in technology—just 11 percent of startup founders that take venture capital are women, as an example of one of the many lopsided statistics—one solution inevitably comes up: get ‘em while they’re young. While there are outliers, most of the tech greats got into technology early. Bill Gates went to one of the only high schools in the country that had a time sharing computer in 1968, for example.
As guest columnist Sarah Kunst wrote on Betabeat, women need to get into the pipeline in order to get to the top. This idea, often raised during debates over the gender ratio in tech, makes Stuyvesant High School an interesting case study. All students at Stuyvesant are required to take a year of computer science. As it turns out, the advanced computer science classes skew mostly male anyway. But for a year, boys and girls get exposed to computer programming together.
We asked Mike Zamansky, the head of the computer science program, to share some stories from his female students. They did us one better. Eight students sent in first-hand accounts of what it’s like to learn computer programming as a teenage girl.
Check out these stories of learning computer science as a high school girl. Special thanks to student Ellie Abrams, who coordinated the project.
All students at Stuyvesant High School are required to take an introductory computer science course during sophomore year. Mike Zamansky, the coordinator of Stuyvesant’s bleeding-edge computer science program and a consultant on the city’s new high school tech campus, cold-emailed experts at Google and the University of California, Berkeley while writing it. “It’s a very well-designed course,” he told Betabeat by phone this morning. ”We know not every one is going to be a computer scientist. But how can you give an overview and inspire the ones that should go into tech, to go into tech, and at the same time give other kids—the 80 percent of the kids, let’s say, who are not meant to go into tech—something valuable?”
The exhaustive design of the intro class is just one example of how Mr. Zamansky has been building one of the country’s most rigorious high school computer science programs for the past 15 years. Although the program is still the “illegitimate child of the math department,” as Mr. Zamansky put it, there are seven teachers, three of whom teach a full CS courseload, and more than 270 students.
But the program is bumping into obstacles at the high school, where he has limited resources, he said. Recently the program had to cut one of its senior level courses from three sections to two, and there are regularly more kids interested in the program than can be accommodated, he said.
So Mr. Zamansky decided to get the alumni involved.