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The Image of Computing – Telle Whitney – CEO Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology

One of the questions that arise most frequently for women considering Computing and Engineering as a career is the image of the discipline. Many young women, their parents, and their counselors believe that there aren’t any jobs (the jobs are outsourced), and that engineers sit in front of a terminal “coding” all day long.

One of the questions that arise most frequently for women considering Computing and Engineering as a career is the image of the discipline. Many young women, their parents, and their counselors believe that there aren’t any jobs (the jobs are outsourced), and that engineers sit in front of a terminal “coding” all day long.

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Recently I was visiting my eye doctor, and he was talking about his young daughter who was attending a local private girl’s high school known for its science and math training. She was deciding which college to attend, and what her major would be. He rattled off her choices “bio-tech”, pre-med or “biology”. And said “of course she isn’t considering Computer Science, there are no jobs”. As Caroline said, in her last post, the number of jobs in this area is increasing, and companies cannot fill the posts, but there is a perception issue, especially on the important constituency of high school parents and counselors.

What I know is that Computer Science is a discipline can lead to many careers, not just to becoming an engineer. Here are a few examples:

•CEO – There are a number of examples of CEOs whose first degree is in Math or Computer Science. Carol Bartz (http://yhoo.client.shareholder.com/management.cfm), the new CEO of Yahoo, received her first degree is in Computer Science, as did Diane Greene (former president of VMWare) http://www.networkworld.com/power/2005/122605-greene.html, who has degrees in mechanical engineering and Computer Science.

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•Marketing & Sales – In technical companies, it is very common for the sales and marketing team to have a technical background, it really helps them to understand the product. Carolyn Crandall, now at a Seagate company, has often talked to me about how important her technical background is for her role. http://www.i365.com/uk/en/about/executive-team/carolyn-crandall.html.
Janie Tsao, (http://newsroom.cisco.com/dlls/2004/bio_linksys_janie_tsao.pdf) formerly VP of wordwide sales at Cisco, came from a systems analyst background.

•Entrepreneur – Both Mar Hershenson (http://www.dac.com/events/eventdetails.aspx?id=77-158) and Louse Zweben (http://techher.blogspot.com/2009/02/frpom-process-engineer-to-ceo.html) are women that I admire because their experience as technical woman, contributed to their vision of a company and they set out to make it real.

•High School Student – There are many young women who, while still in High School, contribute to the world of Computing. The NCWIT aspirations award acknowledges some of them (http://www.ncwit.org/award)

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It is always hard to change the image of a discipline. By recognizing people who represent new approaches, it is possible to slowly but surely create and demonstrate a new reality.