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How About We Stop Pushing People Away from Computer Science?

In one of my recent articles for The Lion, I had the opportunity to interview Kathy McKeown, a Comparative Literature major who is now a leading data scientist and a Computer Science professor here at Columbia. It was refreshing to hear about someone’s journey into CS, especially for someone like me who is currently trying to do the same thing. As noted on the department website, Columbia’s Computer Science department saw a 30% increase in students declaring a Computer Science major last year and has recorded double digit increases for the last several years.

While it’s nice to see such a large increase in interest in the field, it is abundantly clear that not everyone has decided to take on the major or join the field. In recent months, major technology companies have been releasing diversity reports of their workforce and the results haven’t been pretty. While Columbia, one of the most diverse schools in the Ivy League, does  not release data on the ethnic or gender breakdown for classes due to FERPA laws, its numbers are also quite dismal.

In a student-submitted question for Honors Introduction to Computer Science asking for the gender breakdown for the course, Professor John Kender said:

I think it’s horrifying that we live in a time where people keep pushing for more diversity in the technology sector, but at the same time continue to push people away with passive comments such as “This person just doesn’t fundamentally understand how to code and never will,” or “This is way too easy; no one should need to explain this concept to you.” I have actually heard CS people say these things. With comments like that, why would you want to spend your life in a field with people always looking down on you, whether vocally or behind your back?

Even though it’s hard, I think it’s crucial that everyone gets the opportunity to learn how to code and that they get the opportunity to do so without being looked down upon by more advanced programmers. Major props to my fellow classmates for also working on this issue by launching ColorCode to encourage more people to enter the fields of technology and entrepreneurship.

If you want to learn how to code; do it. And don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t.

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