Last Thursday I attended the joint Chicago Women in Big Data – Netflix #sherules event at the Palmer House. Women in Big Data is one of several meetup groups in Chicago that supports and enables women to support each other in the technology field. If you work in technology, it’s no secret that women are severely underrepresented in the industry. A number of explanations have been brought up, from workplace sexism and “macho male culture” to in group favoritism. Chicago is actually a bit better than most places with respect to those two issues, but what can we do in this ward? (and why does anyone here care?)
A recent article in Wired Magazine said it best, “The Next Big Blue Collar Job is Coding“. Google, Apple, and IBM (where I work), no longer require college degrees. This is because many people have learned to code, not in college, but at Dev Bootcamps, or just by reading the Internet and figuring it out.
I don’t claim to be the best engineer that ever walked, but I do have a fair amount of code in production (that is tech-lingo for “in live user facing systems that people depend on”). I picked up a book on programing for a 7th grade “how-to” speech, and kind of just kept playing with it. (My formal training is in economics, mathematics, and business administration). This is another reason that I am a huge advocate for people learning to code from a younger age (don’t write your first lines freshman year of college).
But let’s say you don’t want your kids to grow up and work a “blue collar job”. OK fine. Let me tell a little story. When I was in college, a buddy of mine had a summer internship in an office. The people in the office were older, and they would give him assignments- usually to create some spread sheet. This is 2007 (I spent about 10 years in college off and on), and he knew how to use Excel. He would do the work in about an hour, play on Facebook and the Internet for about two days, then turn it in. Everyone applauded him for working so quickly, they were amazed! “This would have taken us a week if not more!” they would exclaim. That story continues to terrify me. Technology is constantly coming out to make slow tasks exponentially quicker. If I don’t stay sharp, someone will learn a new tech and I will become a relic, like the old people in that office. So here is the punchline:
What Microsoft Excel skills were to the workforce of 1998-2018, programming languages will be to the workforce of 2018-2038.
Can you get a job and get by with out them. At first, sure. But over time, other people who know how to program will come up and start “eating your lunch for you”. Private schools such as St. Ignatius, Lake Forrest Academy, and U of C Lab Schools are already steaming ahead with programs to introduce youth to computer science / coding concepts. Chicago Public Schools even see there is a need (but no concrete time line for addressing it).
We can huff and puff at length about what the city “ought to do” to address these issues. In the Apache Software Foundation, there is something called a “do-acracy”. While we should get consensus to work on projects, the person “doing it” gets a lot of say in the final design. Instead of waiting for CPS and a number of other things which are totally beyond the control of a lone alderman, I recommend partnering with organizations that want to also promote tech and women in tech to run after school and summer camp programs.
These can be public service organizations such as Girls Who Code, an organization the explicitly works to encourage girls to get involved with programming from as early as elementary school. It can also be through charitable programs being run through public companies such as the Netflix #sherules campaign.
Focusing on the future, we need to start incorporating technology programs into our schools. We can wait for CPS to do this, or we can be the “doers” of the do-acracy and start connecting local schools and organizations to create after school programs and summer camps that will train the bright minds of the next generation and put them on a level playing field with the kids going to fancy private schools.